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Laptops at IFA 2019 are all about speed

The biggest announcements, for high-end graphics work and uberfast gaming, were an odd fit for this show and dominated by Acer and Asus.

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Asus' ProArt StudioBook One is the first laptop to incorporate Nvidia's Quadro RTX 6000 GPU, which Nvidia claims delivers desktop-class performance with no throttling. Because all the components are behind the screen, the lid is fatter than the keyboard section.

Asus

It was an odd IFA for laptops. IFA is normally a very mainstream show known for announcements like "world's thinnest laptop." And while there were a lot of new releases for general-purpose laptops from companies like Acer, Asus and Dell, the majority fell into the ho-hum-Comet-Lake-refresh category -- existing designs incorporating Intel's less-interesting 10th-generation CPUs

Instead the big debuts were for laptops targeting a much narrower crowd, highlighted by a raft of models with Nvidia Quadro RTX workstation GPU chips for advanced graphics work at one extreme, and gaming laptops with 300MHz-refresh displays, which for the moment only seem to be needed by esports gamers. IFA isn't the first show that pops into my head for either group.

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Intel made a big deal about those Comet Lake updates by promoting its Project Athena certification program for laptops with long battery life and fast wakeup. But almost all of the systems announced with that certification already met the criteria, such as the Dell Inspiron 14 5000, Dell Latitude 7400 2-in-1, Dell XPS 13 2- in-1, HP EliteBook x360 1040, HP EliteBook x360 1030 G4, HP EliteBook x360 830 and Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon. so basically Intel was promoting a sticker. 

The innovative designs that Intel has tied into Athena and Ice Lake are still not available, which may account for how quiet IFA was when it comes to general-purpose laptops; HP didn't even bring anything new this year. We're essentially in a holding pattern. 

Of course, we still got the hyperbole, as Acer declared its Swift 5 "the world's lightest 14-inch notebook" at about 2.2 pounds (990 g). Using the Intel 10nm Ice Lake i7-1065G7 processor, it still packs in discrete graphics with the MX250 (though the performance gains of the MX250 may not be huge over the the G7-level Iris Plus graphics). Razer also incorporated that CPU into its Blade Stealth 13-inch ultrabook, albeit with only the integrated GPU.

The most novel debut was the Asus ProArt StudioBook One, part of the company's ProArt line of professional graphics gear (like the terrific-sounding 4K HDR monitor with 1,600 nits of peak brightness). It launched in conjunction with Nvidia's new Quadro RTX 6000 GPU chip, which the company claims packs desktop-class performance into a normal-size laptop without requiring throttling to keep it cool. It does so by using a novel design that puts most of the heat-generating components behind the display to keep them from scalding your fingers or lap. Asus also brought its Screen Pad 2.0 from the ZenBook Flip 15 into the ProArt fold with the 17-inch StudioBook Pro X.

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The Concept D 9 Pro, based on the Triton 900 gaming system but equipped with a pressure-sensitive display and a Quadro RTX GPU.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Acer also dropped a ton of Quadro-based laptops as "Pro"-labeled variations of its Concept D line of gear for graphics-intensive work with a new Concept D 3 entry-level model starting at $1,000. Like Asus' laptops they fall under the umbrella of Nvidia's RTX Studio.

Asus and Acer also happen to be the companies bringing us the gaming laptops with 300MHz screens; the fast refresh improves sync for games running at high frame rates to prevent artifacts like tearing. Unless you're an esports player, though, it's pretty rare to get frame rates above 240fps to outgame the current 240Hz screens. If you've got the extra performance wiggle room at that point, you probably want to up your quality settings a bit instead for many games. You'll be able to get the Asus ROG Zephyrus S GX701 with the display in October but the Acer Predator Triton 500 equipped with it is available now.

Plus, Asus is now offering the ROG Zephyrus S GX502, Zephyrus M GU502 and Strix G G531 and G731 in a new, very ungamelike but interesting glacier blue.

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