CONSUMER ELECTRONICS SHOW: CNET editors cover the Next Big Thing
Media centers, dual-core chips, and much more
By Justin Jaffe
(December 15, 2004)
The big computer companies have been cagey about CES this year, and many are making plans to show their most innovative products only in posh Vegas suites, behind closed doors--not out on the show floor. Frankly, that's OK with us. We're looking forward to checking out all the new desktop PCs, laptops, tablets, and everything in between from the smaller manufacturers who are often quicker to adopt new technology. Regardless, whether it's on display in one of the big boys' desktops or in a boutique laptop, here are some of the tech trends we're expecting to see this year at CES.
This is the year that multimedia will fully blossom on both laptops and desktop PCs. With the recent release of Windows XP Media Center 2005, CES will likely bear a slew of desktop PCs sleek enough to blend in with home-theater components and powerful enough to serve as a home's multimedia nerve center. We're also expecting more portable multimedia systems that combine a TV, a PVR, a DVD player (and recorder), a home stereo, and a computer, à la the Toshiba Qosmio. We've already laid hands on a few MCE 2005 PCs, and at CES, we're preparing for a landslide of other systems that bring all of the key multimedia components in under one roof.
Hard-core speed from dual-core chips
Perhaps the most hyped technical trend for CES is the dual-core (or multicore) processor. Both AMD and Intel are developing this technology (separately, of course), which puts two processors on one chip to improve data flow for better audio and graphics performance--an especially important innovation for gaming. Back in September 2004, at the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco, Intel debuted working prototypes of dual-core desktop processors, and both Xbox 2 and PlayStation 3 are said to be taking advantage of the technology.
BTX keeps it cool
Another development in the desktop world is the imminent adoption of the BTX form factor for PC cases and their motherboards. As processors and other components get faster and subsequently hotter, the old ATX motherboard layout and its variants can no longer adequately handle all of that internal heat. Although it won't be apparent from the outside, BTX will help alleviate this thermal problem, with a smarter motherboard layout that maximizes the efficiency of airflow across the components. In other words, BTX makes PCs run cooler. Gateway is already selling BTX systems, such as the 700GR and the brand-new 7200 series, and we're expecting to hear about products from other vendors soon. Don't expect the new layout to dramatically impact the way you use your computer, but it may allow for as-yet-unseen case designs, and it will definitely let parts manufacturers move forward in their pursuit of ever faster clock speeds.
More PC, less money
For the majority of people shopping for a new computer this year, the most pertinent trend is also the most familiar: both desktop PCs and laptops will continue to get faster, better, and--best of all--cheaper. Dell's bargain-bin desktop retails for $350, and both Dell and HP are shipping laptops that start around $600. At CES, we pledge to keep a budget-conscious eye out for the least-expensive laptops and desktops on the floor.
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