CES computers wrap-up
Computers find their place at CES 2006
By Justin Jaffe and Rich Brown
January 10, 2006
Just a few years ago, CES wasn't much of a show for computers. But in 2005, laptops and desktop PCs continued to make their way out of the office and into the living room, the kitchen, the car, the coffee shop, the park, and the street corner. And at CES 2006, they finally got a piece of the spotlight. We saw some flashes of true PC innovation this year, including the DualCor cPC
, which runs both a laptop and PDA processor, along with a fuel-powered laptop
from Panasonic and a number of experimental PC concepts from Dell
. On top of that, the show was jam-packed with announcements that showed PCs and laptops ready to take their rightful place at the center of the digital home. Below are the highlights. Dual core comes to laptops
As expected, the big laptop news at CES centered around Intel's next-generation Centrino chipset, officially named Duo Mobile
. We saw the new technology on display in systems from Acer
, Gateway, Lenovo
, and Toshiba
. Of all the major vendors, only Averatec plans to hold off on Core Duo systems for a while, probably until summer 2006. While we wait for AMD to catch up with its mobile dual-core product, we're testing the first crop of Core Duo models right now. Look out for reviews posting very soon. Sticker skirmish brewing?
We knew that Intel would announce the specification details of its Viiv
Media PC program, and sure enough, we learned about the chipsets, the CPUs, and the networking capabilities required for a PC to bear the Viiv sticker. We're a bit disappointed by the Viiv announcement, as none of those components introduce any real new technology. The only difference is the instant on/off state, which is really more of new type of stand-by mode than a faster boot/shutdown process. Intel announced a few key content partnerships at the show--DirecTV, AOL, Yahoo, and MTV Networks chief among them--but delivery of that content is set for the latter half of the year. So we'll wait for more from Viiv, but initial fizzle aside, we like that Intel is making it easier for customers to identify media-friendly PCs.
We're also very interested to hear more from AMD on its own media spec announcement, AMD Live
. AMD was a little more forthcoming with details, naming NASCAR as a content partner for example, but again, we were told to wait until fall 2006 for the full picture. It's probably no coincidence that fall is also when Windows Vista is supposed to launch. PC vendors onboard with home entertainment
Regardless of what we think of Viiv, PC vendors were very eager to latch on. Alienware
, and WinBook
all had Viiv-certified systems to demonstrate; Alienware's and WinBook's especially taking advantage of the lower power requirements provided by Intel's new Pentium D 900-series chips. Most of these go on sale in the first half of the year. With Vista right around the corner and its publicity only growing, we expect people will start to think about holding off on a new PC purchase, but it's nice to know that if you want to see what the Viiv buzz is about, you can do so immediately.
Noticeably absent from unveiling a Viiv system was Dell. The market leader showed up to CES with the new hard-core XPS 600 Renegade
gaming PC but did not announce any Viiv PCs. With Windows Vista, the advent of PC CableCard, and the growing demand for home-theater computing, however, we can't imagine that the big blue giant will stay out of the arena for long. Futurama
In his keynote, Michael Dell showed off an experimental, not-for-sale PC that sits somewhere between an all-in-one system and a laptop--the XPS Mobile Concept
. We got a look at the thing in person and were impressed. In addition to an impressive set of core specs that include a 20.1-inch screen, HDTV capability, a pop-up slot-loading DVD player, and eight built-in speakers, the XPS Mobile somehow folds up neatly into a spiffy suitcase.
Dell wasn't the only one trotting out the weird and wonderful at CES. We met with some of Lenovo's lead product designers and got a look at devices that ran the gamut from Lenovo-branded LCD TVs, home stereos, and cell phones
to PDA-size ThinkPads
. We always like to see the fruits of PC vendors' R&D efforts, and we encourage other companies to bring out their science projects next year. Vista appears on horizon
The run-up to Windows Vista
set the mood for computers at CES, as nearly every computer or computer-related piece of hardware seemed to have its release date timed to the presumed fall 2006 debut of Microsoft's new operating system. And while it's perhaps unsurprising that most of what we saw was aimed at easing the integration of the computer into your home-entertainment system, we were surprised by how imminent it all seemed. We've heard about convergence for a long time, but if this year's PC announcements pan out, it looks like it might finally be happening. The savior of the living-room PC
Consumer adoption of the living-room PC has been a slow boil. The system and chip manufacturers can do only so much; without the help of standards integration to streamline the experience, the movement is doomed, or at least limited. We saw plenty of Media Center extenders
, and even a $20,000 media server
, but the most compelling news is PC CableCard, debuting at the show in the form of the ATI's OCUR
card. It will bring cable decoding to the PC, allowing true DVR and channel-guide compatibility. It also introduces wired HDTV to the desktop, where formerly you were limited to over-the-air. We expect we'll see PC CableCard from other vendors during the lead-up to Vista, which is exciting. More than any other technology, PC CableCard may be the key to getting people to think of their PCs as living-room hardware. Who says games are for E3?
Traditionally CES doesn't showcase that much gaming technology, since most vendors wait for the Electronic Entertainment Expo in May. And while we didn't see any PC gaming software, the gaming hardware on display embraced the overall mood of CES, pushing the industry toward higher performance and better customer experiences.
Creative's wireless GigaWorks ProGamer 550W 5.1
speakers help PC gamers minimize wire clutter without compromising the audio. We were also glad to see Western Digital show some love toward the gamers who so eagerly embraced its 10,000rpm Raptor hard drives with its new Raptor X
, which holds twice as much data and has twice as much cache as the original Raptor and also comes with a slick new windowed enclosure.
And while Nvidia stole the PC gaming show with its Quad SLI
technology (that's four 3D graphics chips in one PC) that will debut in Dell's new XPS 600 Renegade PC, we have a lot of questions about that one. We're psyched by the possibilities, and we like the idea of pushing PC gaming to truly high-end heights, but price, cooling, and availability are among our chief questions for Quad SLI, and neither Nvidia nor Dell was willing to talk. We'll know more when the XPS 600 Renegade arrives for our review.