Week in Tech: CES Show Special

By Jeremy Laird on January 9th, 2014 at 9:00 pm.


Pull up a chair, pop the kettle on, stoke the fire, strangle a cat – whatever it is that loosens you up for some serious hardware hotness (Legal disclaimer: Do not strangle a cat) – and brace yourself for my CES round-up. We’ve already covered a few of the major announcements and developments, including Steam machines, high-res Oculus Rift and Razer’s Project Christine easy-upgrade shizzle. So, here’s my guide to the other PC gaming-relevant wonders from the festival of rampant, nihilistic consumerism that is the CES show in Las Vegas. There’s plenty to talk about including the messiah of monitors (Asus’s G-Sync-enabled, 1,440p effort), AMD’s G-Sync-bashing FreeSync and next-gen APUs, high-DPI PCs gone mad, an RGB-backlit keyboard and slick new cases from Corsair and, well, just stuff, stuff, stuff.

First a quick menu of what you’ll find below. The subjects pop up in same order in the text, so that should help you quickjump to the bits you’re interested in.

- Asus’s ‘Jesus’ monitor – 1,440p, G-Sync, 120Hz
- UHD / high-DPI laptops
- Thin-and-light gaming laptop from Gigabyte
- AMD’s G-Sync-bashing FreeSync tech
- AMD’s new Kaveri uberAPU
- New Corsair cases and water cooler
- Corsair’s RGB-backlit keyboard

Not the messiah, just a very naughty screen
The Asus ‘Jesus’ monitor, then, a.k.a. the RoG Swift PG278Q. The headline facts go something like this. 27 inches, 2,560 by 1,440 res, 1ms response, Nvidia G-Sync enabled and 120Hz refresh capable. Sounds like gaming nirvana, assuming you’ve the GPU minerals to drive it.

But hang on? 1ms refresh. Do I smell a TN panel? As far as I can tell, the panel type has not officially been revealed. Tellingly, Asus has not quoted viewing angle figures, which always betray a TN panel.

If it is a TN panel, it must be brand new as I’m not aware of any of the big panel makers producing a 2,560 by 1,440 effort. But before you throw up your arms in horror, bear in mind that the latest TN panels are so much better than before.

Walks on water: Asus’s new high-res, high-refresh monitor promises to do it all

And if this is TN, it will be the very latest tech. So, I’m keeping an open mind even if I’m aware it needs to be shit hot to justify the $800 price tag and overcome the anti-TN sentiment.

Anyway, a proper high res panel with fast refresh is what a lot of people have been waiting for. That it adds Nvidia’s frame-rate smoothing G-Sync tech to the mix is just gravy. Can’t wait to try it out.

High-DPI in the sky
While we’re on the subject of high res gaming, a big theme at CES this year has been high-DPI of all kinds. Toshiba has announced some UHD-going-on-4K 15.6-inch laptops with 3,840 by 2,160 pixel panels. The first is the Tecra W50 which is actually a workstation, lappy.

But the Satellite P50t is more of a multimedia and gaming effort. MSI also had some 2,880 by 1,620 notebooks. But though it’s fair to say I’m a long-established high-res whore when it comes to PC displays, these systems simply do not make sense.

Ludicrous lappy: Toshiba is bringing 4K screen tech to laptops

That’s because Windows (even Windows 8.1) can’t cope with high DPI. In fact, I recently had a play with the new Dell 24-inch 4K monitor and that’s not really usable. So 4K on a laptop is idiotic.

Moreover, graphics performance is at a premium in a mobile PC and 4K is simply too much screen for the best desktop GPUs much less anything mobile. Sorry, but this high-DPI stuff in laptops is epic overkill.

Thin-and-light from Gigabyte
Instead, what is interesting involves the trend towards thinner and lighter laptops with proper gaming chops. Gigabyte pulled wraps off the new Aorus laptop that combines dual mid-range GPUs (Nvidia GTX 765M) with a 17.3-inch 1080p panel and squeezes that into an alloy chassis merely 23mm thick. Could be interesting.

No 4K guff here, just gaming grunt in a thin and light (ish) from Gigabyte

Frame-rate for free
Next up is AMD’s FreeSync tech. It’s a response to Nvidia’s G-Sync tech which we’ve covered in RPS posts passim. To cut a long story short, it’s claimed to enable super-smooth frame rates, the likes of which no other technology has enabled.

The problem with G-Sync is the need for special circuitry in the display. FreeSync, ostensibly, has no such requirement. It leverages an existing VESA standard to enable better syncing twixt GPU frame rate and screen refresh.

AMD demo’ed a boggo, commercially available laptop at CES that was running FreeSync without the need for any new hardware. Problem is, the necessary interfaces and firmware are very likely only found in laptops. As far as I’m aware, no desktop monitors will be able to do it.

In theory, a firmware flash could enable support for FreeSync. But very few (any?) monitors have user-upgradeable firmware. So FreeSync isn’t the killer solution it first seems. Assuming it’s as good as G-Sync in the first place.

AMD’s killer APU
Meanwhile, AMD also gave some airtime to its new Kaveri uberAPU. Kaveri gets AMD’s new Steamroller CPU cores which do away with some of the resource sharing of the Bulldozer and Piledriver cores in the quest for better per-core and per-clock performance or IPC (Instructions per clock) in industry parlance.

AMD’s Kaveri could be killer for cheap gaming portables

For AMD to keep Intel honest, it needs better IPC. And now we have an idea what Steamroller delivers, namely ‘up to’ 20% better IPC. If I’m honest, that’s a bit disappointing. In some ways, it’s a big leap. But it won’t put AMD on a par with Intel, nothing like.

Also, while full details haven’t been released, it looks like kaveri chips will be roughly 10% lower clocked that their predecessors. So the CPU part of the Kaveri package hardly looks killer.

But wait, because it’s graphics where Kaveri could really score. The new chip has 512 of AMD’s GCN stream processors. For context, the XBox One has 768 of same, the PS4 sports 1,152. So 512 is pretty nifty for what is effectively a cheap integrated GPU.

I’m not sure Kaveri is going to shake things up on the desktop, even if it will likely form the basis of really cheap Steam boxes with tolerable performance. Instead, it’s cheap laptops based on the same basic chip that I’m looking forward to. They should be pretty sweet as occasional gaming devices.

Corsair kit
Now onto to some case and cooling kit from Corsair. I’m generally pretty down with Corsair kit. They tend not to make rubbish. The slick looking Graphite Series 760T full-ATX case certainly seems a quality item, as well it should for $180.

A slick bit of mini-ITX kit

But it’s the Obsidian 250D that’s really caught my eye. It’s a mini-ITX item but supports full-length graphics cards and water cooling. It’s in the same ballpark as the BitFenix case I posted recently, just better engineered. It sounds very cheap for $90, so here’s hoping that pricing turns out to be realistic. I’ll work on getting one in for a closer look.

Corsair also showed off it’s latest water cooler, the Hydro Series H105. At $120, it ain’t cheap, even for a 240mm dual-length model.

But if my experience with previous Corsair water coolers is anything to go by, it will be a solid bit of kit. And don’t forget, it’s the kind of item that you can carry over when you upgrade CPUs, mobos, cases and more.

Optimus subprime
And finally…Corsair has also been previewing an RGB-backlit keyboard. Personally, I’m still smarting from the unfulfilled promise of the Art. Lebedev Optimus. Oh, what might have been.

Nice idea, pity about the price

Corsair’s keyboard is nothing like as ambitious. Instead of a mini OLED panel in each key, Corsair has gone for a simple RGB backlight per key. If it sounds like a gimmick, it would allow for highlighting only relevant keys for gameplay, which I reckon is worth a small price premium

Corsair’s RGB board sounds simpler, but pricing could still be a sticking point

The Corsair MX RGB keyboard is still a development product, so there’s no firm word on pricing or if it will even ship as a retail product. At the right price, I reckon it’s a goer. But Cosair had better beware the price inflation that beset the Art. Lebedev Optimus project. There’s a limit to what people will pay for this kind of thing.

And that’s about it. If you chaps have seen anything interesting at CES, do shout out below.

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32 Comments »

  1. db1331 says:

    I enjoyed the latest “PC is Dead” article coming on the heels of CES. I literally laughed out loud when I read the headline. Its executioners this time around? The Chromebook and Steam Machines. Its most menacing foe of all, though, is the curved display that can also double as a cutting board. Well, it was fun while it lasted, guys. Last one out, hit the lights.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-switch/wp/2014/01/08/the-pc-is-dead-and-this-years-ces-proves-it/

    • Moraven says:

      Sensationalist headline.

      “But the era when the PC was a major platform for consumer innovation is over.”

      He is saying the traditional desktop PC and laptop are on the decline. Duh. We are getting more system on a chip like systems that have one purpose.

      G-Sync and graphic APIs is the only thing going for desktop PCs. For us gamers, they are innovative and a big deal. To the general consumer market, not so much.

      And well, he forgot to even mention a single thing that is in this RPS article. Which to fair does not apply to the larger market, but still not an excuse to leave out innovation in the PC world.

    • aldo_14 says:

      They appear to have justified ‘But the era when the PC was a major platform for consumer innovation is over’ by citing a bunch of products which either refine or derive from, er, innovations first seen on PCs. Which is compounded by defining ‘PC’ as solely ‘a Windows based machine with a large tower’… surely the reality is that more and more things are assuming more and more of the properties of a PC?

    • KevinLew says:

      I find it amazing that somebody thinks that a touchscreen display needs to be on a cutting board. You’d end up smearing up your display by moving it up and down all the time, and not to mention you’d probably get food splatters on it and it would just be a hassle to clean. Not to mention that professional kitchens use bleach solutions to clean them so I imagine that would eventually destroy the screen.

    • Premium User Badge

      Gap Gen says:

      I’d hazard a bet that the PC market is a little healthier than the newspaper market, although in general certain tabloids are doing OK, if not seeing any growth.

    • P.Funk says:

      Did I miss the memo when they determined that single purpose limited mobile devices or ones embedded in not so easily moved objects were going to replace a multi-purpose high capacity storage platform?

      Where are the family photos going to get stored? In the fridge?

      Also, since when has it become the future to replace single multi-purpose devices with multiple single purpose ones? I thought technology was always about doing the opposite? What value is there in having to buy the PC’s utility in 5 separate devices for a premium far in excess of the single device price?

      It sounds like a marketing conspiracy almost. These guys must drink some special consumer grooming kool-aid when they write this stuff.

      The future I see is not one of dozens of discrete separate devices, but of dozens of devices linked via a central hub in your household that is most likely going to end up being your PC. Think about the steam box and the streaming of games to it from your PC. These writers don’t even pay attention to the mechanics of whats being developed to see how central PCs still are to this.

      Gah, so funny.

      • Moraven says:

        He was saying that is where the innovation is coming from, not that they were entirely being replaced. The headline was just sensationalist.

        To be fair, more and more services are going cloud or you can simply plug a HDD into a router and access it via tablet or smartphone.

        And well, a smartphone and tablet are “more than one purpose” PCs anyway.

    • zdeno84 says:

      thanks for pointing this article out db1331. I agree the so called ‘traditional pc’ will lose sale numbers, however find it ridiculous when someone mentions SteamMachine as one of the reasons. SteamMachine is ‘traditional pc’ minus cost of microsoft operating system.

  2. Dinger says:

    Windows 8.1′s solution to high DPI seems to be to render at a low resolution and upscale to the actual res. So while it could render fonts native, instead it gives them to you pixelated. This is probably due to an idiotic decision for Win 95 to see the world in pixels rather than to pixelate the world.

    • TechnicalBen says:

      Adobe Illustrator has been around since the dawn of time. It’s had integration with photoshop/raster images. Before that were so many more.

      Why MS will not add vectored, scaled or some other render engine to allow for ANY resolution what so ever is beyond me. They could do twenty bazillion pixel resolutions if they just scaled up some vectored text/fonts and gave some (blurred) upscaled icons or some crisp vectored ones (they got clipart, it can’t be worse than that :P ).

  3. Moraven says:

    “Thin-and-light from Gigabyte
    Instead, what is interesting involves the trend towards thinner and lighter laptops with proper gaming chops. Gigabyte pulled wraps off the new Aorus laptop that combines dual mid-range GPUs (Nvidia GTX 765M) with a 17.3-inch 1080p panel and squeezes that into an alloy chassis merely 23mm thick. Could be interesting.”

    We got the Gigabyte P35G in December and it is a lovely laptop.
    Single GTX 765m, 15.6″ IPS 1080, 21mm thick, 3 bays for storage or 2/one disc drive

    I guess if you wanted more power with the dual 765m and stay thing this would be for you.

    • Tams80 says:

      I’ll be interested in the battery life using the iGPU.

      Obviously it will be powerful with the Nvidia gpus and when using them the battery life will be low. However, as a 17″ it hopefully will have a large battery. Unfortunately iGPU battery runtimes on these types of machines are often poor.

      • Moraven says:

        What would you being doing with just the iGPU on?

        I guess I have not used it laptop yet away from a power source for long, the missus has. I had disabled Optimus and mentioned to her to switch to Intel when off plug.

        I think a full charge the power meter says 3-4 hours. Of course that changes once you do something graphically. Thos little fans rev up loud when you load a game up.

        • Tams80 says:

          Reading documents, papers, emails, websites. Typing documents and some basic photo editting. You know, the things people do on budget laptops.

          I don’t like doing any of those on tablets and like to use the biggest screen I can. I also want a laptop capable of gaming at high settings. If I can get that in one device, all the better.

          As it will have an iGPU, there is no real excuse for poor battery runtime, though gaming laptops often do.

          Anyway, gaming laptops have batteries in. Those batteries are large and take up a lot of space. They are obviously intended to be used away from a socket. Perhaps it is you who should be asking why there aren’t gaming laptops with only a small battery for temporary loss of power?

  4. Premium User Badge

    strangeloup says:

    I’m fairly sure I didn’t understand a word of this but I like the glowy rainbow keyboard.

    • drakkenson says:

      There are better illuminated keyboards out there. I have a Steelseries, for instance. Granted, most of them are not cheap, but then serious gaming keyboards are not cheap, either.

      • islisis says:

        What makes them better? This is the first keyboard to feature the new Cherry MX RGBs, standard at the gaming level

    • kael13 says:

      Call yourself a PC gamer!?

      No really, I hear this is actually the case for a lot of gamers, which is interesting, as it means there’s a market out there for making things easy to understand for non-tech savvy gamers.

  5. Tams80 says:

    Those 4k displays make sense on 15″+ laptops. They are 2x 1080p, so the double ‘fineness’ can be obtained whole maintaining good screen real estate. 200% scaling also works well with Windows.

    That said, mobile gpus will struggle doing anything remotely intensive on such screens. For PC gaming, it will likely be better to go down to 1080p without scaling. I doubt AMDs R series gpus and nVidia’s Maxwell gpus will be much help either.

    I’m not sure about power usage either. I get the feeling that while it may be lower than a proportional increase, it will be an increase non the less on machines that will require the power hungry components.

    Now, time for 4k 16:10 displays and a few 4:3 for good measure.

  6. treeroy says:

    That Asus monitor is only $800?! The price of a standard 1440p60 monitor, but for a 1440p120 monitor with G-sync?

    I want one.

    • Asurmen says:

      I’ve just got a 1440p IPS monitor overclockable to 120 for less than that, including shipping and customs charges. Where are you looking at monitors? The only unique thing that might justify the price is the G-Sync.

      • Premium User Badge

        FriendlyFire says:

        You’re comparing an all-in-one package from a known company to a Korea import panel with usually terrible variance that requires overclocking (which is rather unreliable panel to panel) and attempting to paint the two as the same thing?

        Look, I’m glad you like your panel, but most people won’t go through that sort of ordeal.

        • Asurmen says:

          Wasn’t a Korean import and they guarantee at least 100hz, and even if you don’t overclock it’s still a 1440p60 IPS monitor for way less than $800 but nice try.

  7. Max.I.Candy says:

    This is great news. Ive been in a bit of a conundrum lately, whether or not to get a new 27″1440P IPS or the new Rev.2 BenQ 2420te 144Hz 1ms TN (which is pretty fuckin nice). This new Asus sounds sweeeet!

  8. taristo says:

    4K in laptops makes a lot of sense, especially for people that work with them (graphics design, working with lots of virtual machines, coding requiring more room) instead of play.
    A late trend have been 3200×1800 QHD+ montiros (Lenovo YOGA 2/Thinkpad Slim 9, Fujitsu UH90/U904, Samsung ATIV Book 9, Dell Precision M3800, HP Ency TouchSmart 14 and ZBook etc.

    Also, did you purposefully skip over all the low-cost 28″ 4K monitors announced? http://appleinsider.com/articles/14/01/08/-new-crop-of-4k-monitors-debut-at-ces
    Dell 2815Q for $699, Lenovo ThinkVision Pro2840m for $799, Asus PB287Q for $799 as well as Philips 288P6 for $1199 and the yet to be priced Samsung UD590
    They’re presumably all TN though with panels originating in China.

  9. sandineyes says:

    Concerning the monitor, it is a TN panel according to the Asus ROG website:

    http://rog.asus.com/296652014/news/rog-announces-the-pg278q-swift-27-inch-wqhd-g-sync-gaming-monitor/

    That makes me a bit sad; my SyncMaster T240HD is a bit annoying in terms of viewing angles, but it is pretty old, so maybe they aren’t so bad nowadays. Of course, IPS and similar tech panels have their own trade-offs in terms of image quality as well.

    It is upsetting that ASUS thinks that G-sync and high refresh rate mean that they can charge as much for a 1440p TN panel as other companies are going to charge for 4k resolution TN panels of a similar size. Sure, 4k gaming isn’t really practical for single GPU users such as myself at the moment, but considering the price, trading high resolution for “gaming” features is a bit of a pill to swallow.

    G-sync itself is looking like it may not be such a killer feature these days. The soon to be finalized DisplayPort 1.3 specification will support variable VBLANK intervals, and hopefully monitor manufacturers will see the appeal of such tech and design monitors to take advantage of it. In such an eventuality, both AMD and nvidia would be fools not to support such a feature, and G-sync would look quite silly with its proprietary nature.

    • sandineyes says:

      Also, concerning FreeSync:

      I don’t want to sound like I’m the sort to dismiss G-sync (although I absolutely am the sort who would complain about how nVidia is kind of double dipping by selling the hardware to monitor manufacturers and then selling the only graphics cards capable of using the tech to the end-users for all the reasons of “because even if we damn a great idea to obscurity by making it proprietary, at least we will make more money”). G-sync certainly highlighted the great gaming potential of variable frame-rate displays, even if the idea of variable frame-rate displays did not originate with them.

      But that is the joke of “Freesync”; it isn’t actually a feature that AMD is going to bring to market in the same way nvidia did with G-sync, but rather them pointing out that the idea has already existed and could become commonplace if only monitor manufacturers would choose to implement the idea once things like DP1.3 become available.

      • Premium User Badge

        El_MUERkO says:

        I was coming on to point that out, DP1.3 {DP tehehehe} will contain Freesync and yet another nVidia proprietary product becomes unnecessary.

        • psuedonymous says:

          Not quite unnecessary. Asynchronous panel refreshing isn’t exactly easy (you couldn’t upgrade an existing monitor to do so, it’d need a new ASIC), especially if you want to do so with low latencies. It may turn out that monitor manufacturers will be happier paying Nvidia to put G-sync controllers in their first round of monitors (and taking the hit of the 35% of the discrete GPU market AMD occupies) while they use up their old stock of ASICS and develop new ones that support DP1.3, once the standard is ratified in late 2014. Because Nvidia have already done the work to get asynchronous refresh working, and no sane manufacturer is going to implement DP1.4 before the standard is ratified.

          What’s more interesting is who blinks first: AMD giving in and licensing G-Sync to make it the standard, or manufacturers waiting out DP1.3 and it obviating G-sync. Personally, I suspect Nvidia will push and subsidies G-sync heavily after the initial release in order to gain market share and mindshare before DP1.3 is ratified.

  10. RProxyOnly says:

    Asus’s ‘JESUS’ monitor???

    That’s probably one of the most disgusting things I’ve read here… I’m not religious or even a believer by ANY means..

    ..But THAT kind of hyperbole, for a FUCKING SCREEN.

    Get a grip. You write like a OCD ned.

    • Asurmen says:

      Could be Spanish/Portuguese name :P

    • Jeremy Laird says:

      Speaking of hyperbole, one of the most disgusting things you’ve read here? Calm down, dear. It’s commonly used satirical vernacular for products perceived to be so highly desirable due to their features / specifications that there’s an inevitable air of hype. See Jesus Phone, the iPhone.

      In other words, the whole point is to highlight that the spec is likely to cause a somewhat disproportionate frenzy on some quarters. It’s just a bit dull to have to spell that out.