Intel was decidedly close-lipped about its next generation of CPUs (code named Ivy Bridge) at CES 2012, even if it was the worst-kept secret this side of the iPad 3. We expect the third-gen Core i-series CPUs -- still named Core i3, i5, and i7, to start arriving in late spring after a brief delay, and quickly become the standard in nearly every new laptop and desktop by the holiday shopping season. In the past, Intel's higher-end CPUs have hit first, followed a month or so later by the more mainstream parts.
It's been over a full year since the MacBook Pro had a significant refresh, and with upcoming Intel processors on the horizon, it seems highly likely that we're due for new models soon. Perhaps they'll be slimmed-down Pro models; maybe the Pro and Air lines will be consolidated in some way. The Pros haven't seen a design change since 2008: could we finally see a remodeled Apple laptop, or are we already looking at it with the Air? And, speaking of Airs, expect a solid update on that front since Ivy Bridge CPUs are making a strong push for ultrabook-targeted improvements.
Possibly at the same time as Ivy Bridge, $999 and up.
With 'ultrabook' being the closest thing to a computer trend this year, we're sure to see plenty of new, slim laptops. Some will carry the official Intel seal of approval to use the trademarked ultrabook name, while others may look and feel like ultrabooks (or like the MacBook Air), but go their own way. A few high-profile systems have been already previewed for the press, and Acer Aspire S5, billed as the thinnest-ever ultrabook, and the Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga, a clever convertible tablet. The very thin Samsung Series 9, which is getting a spring makeover, is an example of an ultrathin laptop that is an ultrabook in everything but name.
As the release date for Windows 8 is still a matter of speculation, it's tough to say when systems with the new OS pre-installed will be available. This can lead to uncertainty for both PC shoppers and retailers, as it's tempting to put off a new PC purchase until Windows 8 arrives. It's likely you'll see Windows 7 laptops and desktops branded as "Windows 8 ready" at some point in the near future, as well as a coupon for a free Windows 8 upgrade bundled in new PCs purchased closer to the Win 8 launch, currently expected in October.
The divide between PCs with dedicated graphics cards and those without is getting wider for a couple of reasons. Most mainstream laptops, as well as the currently hot ultrabook category, usually skip the discrete GPU, for reasons of cost, space, or power consumption. That Intel's default integrated graphics can handle HD video and some light gaming makes it an even easier call to make. But Nvidia is thankfully not giving up on high-end graphics. The new GeForce GTX 680 for desktops will soon start showing up in high-end boutique gaming desktops, and the GeForce 640M for laptops will appear in some unexpected places, including thin ultrabook-style systems, such as the upcoming Acer M3 Ultra.