Hardware Hotness: AMD’s Zen CPU, Gaming Monitors, More VR And The Silliest Laptop Ever

What with the sober-suited Euro foil to CES that is the IFA consumer electronics show, Intel’s IDF shindig, a new console or two from Sony and new version of the smartphone that dare not speak its name, it’s been a busy week or two in tech. But has there been any joy for the good old PC? You know, that dessicated old thing that just so happens to be by far the best gaming platform, period? There’s certainly been some startling new PC-gaming kit, including surely the most preposterous gaming laptop ever. But also some newness of genuine relevance, including an update on AMD’s new Zen CPU, some very interesting screens, plus a few further potentially PC-related oddities that are hard to gauge for now.

Of course, with the steady flow of new graphics cards from AMD and Nvidia, the PC hasn’t been doing badly of late. It’s just with the mainstream media slavishly hyping the latest lump of fractionally iterative shininess, I do rather pine for the days when a new GPU was the biggest noise in tech news.

Anywho, let’s start with something silly, the new Acer Predator 21 X. Ostensibly, it’s a laptop. But with a 21-inch curved display and a pair of Nvidia GTX 1080 graphics chips (real GTX 1080s, not the usual re-badge for laptops based on a weedier chip), I’m fairly sure I wouldn’t want it on my lap.

Pair of GTX 1080s, anyone?

It also appears to be hewn from the sort of clangy, brittle plastic that’s standard fare for big gaming laptops. As it happens, I was perusing a £2,700 gaming laptop earlier today. It was well equipped with a GTX 1080 (just the one) and a lovely 17-inch IPS screen. But the chassis was unforgivable if utterly predictable. Awful plastics, adolescent styling, catflap-in-a-tornado build quality. Given that the PC’s audience is older than other gaming platforms, why are so many gaming laptops styled to look like tacky toys? It’s one of life’s great mysteries.

Of more relevance and also tolerably sober of suit are Alienware’s new laptops. Models 13, 15 an d 17 denote the screen size and respectively they’ll be getting Nvidia’s Geforce GTX 1060, 1070 and 1080 graphics. My understanding is that, again, these graphics chips are the real deal, in contrast to recent notebook chips which have usually involved misleading branding compared with their desktop siblings. They’re all a bit slimmer than their progenitors and the 17 incher gets both G-Sync with 120Hz refresh and Tobii eye tracking tech. More on the latter interfrastically. They will, of course, be very expensive.

Sober-suited, as these things go

Speaking of expensive, how about LG’s new 38-inch monitor, the 38UC99? For just $1,499 and no doubt similar figure in post-Brexit sterling, you get 38 inches of curved IPS splendour and 3,840 by 1,600 pixels. It’s kind of a 4K respin on the increasingly popular 21:9 curved monitor craze, to which even our own Alec has succumb.

38 inches of gaming splendour

Intriguingly, it sports 75Hz FreeSync support, so it does actually have some genuine gaming credentials. It also has a Windows app for controlling the image quality settings. I like the sound of that. I’d be surprised if it wasn’t a pretty glorious gaming companion. Also, with six million pixels to a full 4K monitor’s eight million pixels, it’ll be that little bit easier to drive. I want one fairly badly.

Somewhat more accessible are a new line of monitors from Acer that all sport the aforementioned Tobii eyetracking technology. I can’t say I’ve seen this in action, but apparently the gist involves an infrared light based eye tracking features that allows games to literally aim with their eyes. Is this amazing or irrelevant? I have no idea, but it does at least sound intriguing.

Anyway, the cheapest of the new Acers with Tobii tracking will be the Predator XB251HQT, but it’s pricing is not yet known. From the looks of things the premium for the addition of the Tobii tech over an otherwise similar monitor looks likely to be roughly in the $3-400 / £3-400 region.

Acer’s Predator XB251HQT is one of three new models with Tobii eye-tracking tech

And so AMD’s Zen CPU. As I’ve mentioned before, this really is the great hope for the PC’s medium term health, a competitive CPU from AMD. At its tradition side show held in parallel with Intel’s IDF shindig recently, AMD showed a 3GHz Zen chip with eight cores very slightly beating an eight-core Intel desktop CPU.

It was only one benchmark. But it’s very, very promising because Zen only needs to be close to Intel to dramatically shake up the currently stagnant state of affairs in PC processors. If anything, I’d probably prefer AMD was still a little off the pace and offered, say, eight-core CPUs that were generally about 15 per cent slower than Intel’s for 60 per cent of the price rather than a chip that’s about as good for a similarly OTT price.

Zen is due out early next year and will probably come in four and eight-core versions at launch. For now the good news is that it seems they have working silicon and it’s very likely at least some progress over the Bulldozer experiment that gave us today’s failing AMD FX processors. Fingers crossed.

It’s another new VR headset…

Finally, a couple of potential alternatives to the Vive and Rift VR duo appeared from Alcatel and Qualcomm. Probably the most significant is the Qualcomm VR820 and for two reasons. First, in part due to its business making chips for smartphones, Qualcomm is one of the big boys. But the VR820 also has the edge on the Vive and Rift in terms of resolution with 1,440 by 1,440 pixels per eye, though its 70Hz refresh is a little off the 90Hz pace. It also manages its head tracking without any external cameras or sensors.

The VR820 isn’t an actual shipping product yet and Lord knows if it even works. It’s also a complicated prospect in terms of software support. There are only so many VR headsets a given game developer can support. But another major player in the VR game would more likely be a positive for competition and pricing. The sooner the technology becomes really affordable, the sooner we can find out whether it really is going to take over PC gaming.

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41 Comments

  1. Sp4rkR4t says:

    Lot’s of those pictures appear to be missing.

  2. Sakkura says:

    £2700 laptop, $1500 monitor, and people say VR is too expensive… :P

    • gwathdring says:

      The monitor’s fair, but the laptop is the base to which one would add something like a VR headset. You can get a perfectly reasonable “portable” gaming machine for less than 2700, sure, but its not as directly comparable as the monitor. :)

  3. Banks says:

    I hope AMD’s Zen delivers so we can finally see some healthy competition in the CPU market

    • Crocobutt says:

      Hope so too, waiting for ZEN to come out and for some reviews to pop up. It’ll be upgrading time soon enough!… Hopefully!
      Glad they decided to ditch CMT and went for SMT, exactly what Intel CPUs been having for the last decade. I mean.. everything is made to run ideally on Intel CPUs with that extra processing power per core.
      Fingers crossed… Or it’s Intel time.

  4. aircool says:

    Today I replaced my 24″ 144Hz TN monitor for a 24″ 144Hz TN monitor with G-Sync (the old monitor is going to a good home). I thought about bigger monitors with higher resolutions, but I only upgraded to a GTX970 about eight months ago.

    G-Sync is very nice, although after booting up DOOM Vulkan I’m getting such stupidly high framerates that I probably don’t need G-Sync.

    It’s turning into an Nvidia shrine in my house, I’ve just sorted Kodi for the Shield TV box (in time for the football season, obviously) and been enjoying games streamed from the PC to my large 4K TV.

    Who needs a PS4 eh?

    • Subject 706 says:

      The Shield TV is a great piece of kit. It retired my htpc and one of my chromecasts.

      Bonus points for the remote being super easy to use, so I don’t have to get up early saturday morning when the kids want to watch TV…

  5. Karyogon says:

    I noticed the Tobii option in DXMD, has anyone tried it? Aiming with it seems a very odd idea and it seems more at home in VR headsets, but provided the latency is low enough it could actually make Depth of Field useful, if developers implement it properly and not make it into a eye condition simulation. (Also, for some reason eye tracking sounds creepy as hell.)

    • geldonyetich says:

      I’m also curious how handy the Tobi tracking feature is. I saw something like it in use for an Elite: Dangerous livestream on Twitch and that made sense enough.

    • LTK says:

      I’ve long hoped that eye-tracking tech in monitors would be used to vastly save on processing power by rendering the places of the screen you’re not looking at in coarser detail, but it seems like this hasn’t occurred to anyone else.

      • Asurmen says:

        I’m sure I read that as mooted as a solution for VR resolution recently, allowing high res screens/more legible text/removal of screen door affect without the rendering price.

    • vahnn says:

      Check out Karak’s reviews and discussions about the Tobii X eye thingery doodle on his YouTube channel ACG.

      Talks about it in depth and showcases gameplay utilizing it on a few titles. Deus Ex: MD and one of the Assassin’s Creed games come to mind. I think he plays a couple others, as well showing is use for ordinary computer use.

      It’s an interesting concept that I’d give another look after a couple more iterations.

  6. Tiax says:

    Wow, if that 38UC99 had G-Sync instead of Freesync, I might very well have switched monitors.

    Crisis averted.

  7. kwyjibo says:

    In random hardware news, HP have launched a new B&O branded desktop – the HP Pavilion Wave.

    link to youtube.com

    It looks great, and prices start at $550. No one with any self respect would buy B&O for less than two grand, it has to be some chinese knock off.

  8. Capt. Bumchum McMerryweather says:

    I’m anaspeptic, frasmotic, even compunctuous to have caused you such pericombobulation.

  9. racccoon says:

    Bendy this! Bendy that! VR this! VR that!
    All rubbish in waiting! off to the tip with yay’s! See ya all down there! sooner! rather than later! lol

    • Premium User Badge

      Harlander says:

      All consumer electronics is rubbish in waiting, though it might also spend a lengthy period forgotten about in a drawer.

  10. Chemix says:

    I’ve been working with an ASUS RoG laptop for the past five years, and up till recently its held up pretty well with the exception of CPU throttling. I’m looking into buying a replacement, can anyone recommend a good laptop

    • gwathdring says:

      I rather like my Asus G75. It was quite competitively priced (where I bought it at least) and has held up as nobly as any laptop I or my friends have used for gaming or otherwise! Personally, if they’re not known to be remarkably worse or remarkably less well priced I’d say go with another Asus ROG.

  11. Ericusson says:

    Why do all these laptop manufacturers focus on 1080 SLI machines when SLI is barely supported nowadays and nobody quite knows how things will go for VR and SLI ?

  12. Caiman says:

    I’m also perplexed why gaming laptops can’t look… you know… normal. Stealth, perhaps. The kind of people who can actually afford that kind of money presumably aren’t the kind of folks who’d find that ridiculous styling anything other than deeply embarrassing to whip out on a plane or at a meeting. I want a nondescript powerhouse, dammit!

    • Dinger says:

      There’s a social-media winner right there: take the designs from 5 gaming laptops and 5 1970s van conversions. Make a test: “Gaming Laptop or ‘Funk’ Truck”?

    • cablechip says:

      Razer blade laptops are actually surprisingly inconspicuous looking. But yeah, they seem to be the exception.

    • colw00t says:

      I have an older Lenovo Y700 that came with SLI graphics cards and was generally a pretty decent bit of kit, and it looked pretty normal. Red-lit keyboard, but you could turn that off.

  13. iRaphi says:

    You forgot to metion that it’s a 21:9 screen and has a cherry mx keyboard…
    I don’t know why, but apart from the price I’m actually a bit interested in it

  14. mercyRPG says:

    Just a heads up for “infrared light based eye tracking features “: infrared light can literally blind you by burning your retina and you don’t even feel it because no infrared receptors in the eyes, you just go blind. Happy eye tracking!

    link to answers.yahoo.com

  15. aircool says:

    It does seem that anything ‘gamer’ related looks like it was designed along the lines of a stealth fighter.

  16. CMaster says:

    I’ve got a Gigabyte P34G.
    It’s a gaming “ultraportable” laptop.
    It’s not the nicest looking machine ever (not going to knock the likes of Surfacebooks and Macbooks off their perch), but it looks pretty sober and attractive (enough that people comment on it) and is reasonably solid. It was also cheaper than the worse-performing macbook equivilants.

  17. Maxheadroom says:

    “Given that the PC’s audience is older than other gaming platforms, why are so many gaming laptops styled to look like tacky toys? It’s one of life’s great mysteries.”

    It forever frustrates me that gaming gear that costs hundreds or thousands of pounds is marketed like the sole demographic is 12 year old boys. From 1995.

    Branding like XTREME GAMING!, GAMER STORM! and PUSH THE LIMIT!” severely hampered my choice of new graphics card recently

    • mattevansc3 says:

      “Gaming” gear, more immature and embarrassing than walking down the street with a copy of Hustler in your hands.

      • Maxheadroom says:

        Yeah that makes me shudder too, whats the alternative though? ‘PC based interactive entertainment gear’?

        If I wasn’t in my Friday afternoon post lunch slump I could probably rearrange that and come up with a really funny acronym :)

    • pepperfez says:

      Twelve-year-old boys from 1995 are now 33-year-old boys. More money, same boys.

  18. alsoran says:

    Really looking forward to Zen. Hope its as good as the current marketing message. AMD competitive with Intel. I think so. FX8350 (no O/C)and R9 380 play W3 and Doom at 1080P happily. Recent Mb (970 chipset, not 990FX)upgrade allowed SSD to run at 6 GBs rather than three and I upgraded memory to 1666 types from 1033MHz, nice boost for little outlay. I’d love to try an Intel chip but do I need to? I think my system has got enough oomph for my needs atm and I’m not chasing the power curve as I used to. The question is I think “Has the hardware performance exceeded the requirements of the software?” Its been just right for me for a long time. Btw, I can’t run VR but then neither can I afford it and its still terribly new.

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