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CES 2008: Computers and hardware

Preview of what's to come in computers and peripherals at the 2008 International Consumer Electronics Show.

PC makers rarely flood CES with new product announcements, preferring to hit either the lucrative holiday season just before, or else timing their latest wares to new technologies from component makers such as Intel, AMD, and Nvidia. That's not to say there won't be plenty of new laptops and desktop to see at CES, and we expect a few surprises along the way.

Best of CES 2007: Microsoft Windows Vista CNET Networks

On the desktop front, AMD's Phenom processors and the next generation of Intel quad-core chips should bring quad-core PCs to the mainstream masses with new low prices. More power for fewer bucks always works well as a selling point. PC makers will also lead the way in the HD DVD/Blu-ray war, with HP in particular opting for hybrid drives that work with both next-gen formats--making vendors dedicated to one platform or another look behind the times.

Home theater PCs are still waiting for their moment in the sun after years of false starts. They're limited by lack of clean cable TV input and copy protection woes, so vendors are forced to leverage other features and unique content delivery systems. Cable card, the buggy, DRM-heavy method for delivering HD-quality cable TV content to your PC, hasn't exactly set the world on fire so far.

Putting the consumer first is a mantra we expect to see more companies follow--handy all-in-one desktop systems are on the rise, with recent well-received entries from Dell and Gateway, while Dell will continue to move beyond the online-only (well, and those mall kiosks) world into more retail stores.

On the laptop side, convertible tablets are still hot, even though nearly all of them are built for, and marketed to, industrial customers. Despite the frenzied press every new tablet receives, we still don't know anyone who actually uses one. In a world of commodity products, having a swiveling touch screen is at least something a bit different, even if you're not one of the handful of medical professionals, note-taking students, or graphic artists who actually needs a tablet.

Gamers have always looked down on laptops--even super high-end Alienware ones--but the latest Nvidia 8800 graphics cards for laptops can actually hold their own against their PC counterparts, and we should see this new technology in some surprisingly affordable systems at CES. Solid state hard drives will also take another step towards becoming standard equipment, although users will have to get accustomed to living with less storage space (although we remember when 64GB was huge for a laptop hard drive).

With Dell and HP (and Acer, if we look globally) duking it out for the No. 1 spot in consumer's hearts, PC makers have finally realized that the user experience is all important, especially since--big shocker here--most laptops have pretty much the same exact components inside. Cool designs, such as the Dell XPS M1530 or the Alienware m17x, become the real selling point--not benchmark scores.

The coolest new laptop of early 2008 may not even be at CES at all. Anything we see in Las Vegas will be outshined by a new ultraportable Apple laptop--should one actually exist. If it does, it'll be at Macworld, not CES, but it'd easily be the biggest laptop story of the year if true.

Finally, what happened to last year's Best of CES winner in the Computers and Hardware category? Despite the advancements offered by Microsoft Windows Vista, its reputation as a not-quite-fully-baked resource hog has hindered its adoption among consumers. The disdain is so great that some major manufacturers have reverted to Windows XP on new systems. We still like the look as well as many of the features of Windows Vista, but in practice it hasn't quite lived up to its promise. Consensus holds that buyers should wait until Redmond releases a Service Pack (or two).