A few years ago, some proclaimed PC gaming was dying out to consoles. The same was said about laptops following the advent of tablets. And yet, 2015 is shaping up to be the one of the most exciting years for all computers from Macs and desktop PCs to Windows laptops and Chromebooks alike.
The year has started already kicked off with a massive bang, thanks to a bevy of thinner and lighter laptops announced at CES 2015. Even some gaming laptops are following this new slimming trend as evidenced by the new 1.4-inch thin Alienware 15 and 17, all without sparing an ounce of performance. If anything, Nvidia's latest Maxwell mobile GPUs have elevated mobile gaming rigs even closer to their desktop counterparts. (Within 70% of their desktop counterparts, Nvidia claims.)
Beyond Windows machines, Chromebooks have moved on up to the affordable 15-inch multimedia machines. All the while, rumors suggest an even thinner Retina MacBook Air is on the horizon. And that's just what's been revealed in the first half of January. There's even more good news for laptop and PC users to come.
The ever-shrinking diode
Intel's long awaited 14-nanometer Broadwell-U processor is finally here and it has brought with it a whole new class of thin and light laptops. The recently announced Dell XPS 13 is an amazing feat of engineering that puts a 13-inch QHD (2560 x 1440) screen into the body of an 11-inch laptop. All while Dell's new machine is even smaller than the incredibly miniscule MacBook Air. Likewise, the Lenovo (with a huge helping hand from NEC) has created the Lenovo LaVie Z, a laptop that weighs little more than an iPad.
Beyond Ultrabooks, Intel has bold plans for Broadwell-U. The Verge reports we'll see new 14nm processors across Intel's entire line, including Celeron, Pentium, the Core i series, as well as updated Core M chips.
The size of the new 14nm transistors has been nearly halved, compared to 22nm silicon found in Haswell chips, making them more efficient in both power draw and heat emission. When it comes to real life applications, Intel claims Broadwell-U can power a laptop through an additional 90 minutes of video playback, according to AnandTech.
Fishing in the Skylake
Looking even further into the future, Intel's next CPU architecture, Skylake, is expected to come within the second half of 2015. Like Broadwell-U, Intel's 6th generation Core architecture will follow the same 14nm production process.
Aside from the performance increases in battery life and power efficiency, Skylake also promises to bring some new cord cutting features, like wireless charging. What's more, PC World reports Skylake will also be able to push data and display signals wirelessly over WiGig (think wireless gigabit). This standard is supposedly 10 times faster than the wireless direct, or WiDi, standard primarily found in connected printers. Potentially, WiGig could remove the need for dangling HDMI and USB cables.
Skylake could also be an even bigger to desktops, as Intel's Kirk Skaugen relayed to TechRadar, Skylake will present a "significant increase in performance, in battery life, in power efficiency."
The smaller transistor design is also expected to run even cooler than Haswell parts, making it an easy shoe-in for smaller systems, namely Steam Machines. In the last few years, Haswell has helped smaller PCs become the norm from micro-ATX cube computers to tinsey mini-ITX towers.
Broadwell, as well as Skylake, will help proliferate the idea of small computers even further. But make no mistake: full tower cases still have their place in the world for liquid-cooling enthusiasts and users who require dozens of hard drives.
Microsoft's next hurrah
Now, for the big elephant in the room. Windows 10 looks to be a long awaited return to form for PC users and Microsoft needs it dearly after losing users to both Apple's free annually OS X updates and the lightweight nature of Chrome OS.
From our time with the technical preview, Windows 10 is a return to the traditional desktop with individual windows, rather than the full screen app experience of Windows 8.1. However, the new OS is just about backpedaling. Microsoft has also made some smart decisions, inserting smart tiles into the new start menu, essentially allowing you to access live data as if you had a Windows Phone 8.1 device taped to your screen.
There are also plenty of new features, including voice assistant called Cortana and revamped web browser known as Spartan – noticing a trend (ahem, Halo)?
Speaking of games, Microsoft's Xbox head Phil Spencer is expected to play a part in the Windows 10 event on January 21. At E3 2014, Spencer explained that, "gaming on Windows is critical to Microsoft's success."
On the business side, Windows will make a bigger splash with improved security and the fact it's been built as one platform for smartphones, tablets, laptops, and desktops. Microsoft is aiming to make Windows 10 a tidal shift for all computer users, whether they're just college students looking for a new computer or a business still holding desperately onto Windows XP.
Chromebooks grow bigger and fancier
Not to be left out, Chromebooks are, quite literally, expanding into new shapes with the Acer Chromebook 15, the very first 15-inch Chromebook. It might not sound like a big deal, but this larger Chromebook steps on the toes of the affordable 14 and 15-inch Windows laptops that students and parents pine for.
While that's the only Chromebook we saw at CES, Google France's François Beaufort has revealed that at least three more Chrome OS devices, powered by Broadwell, are on their way.
In the last year, we've also seen plenty of great machines. The Samsung Chromebook 2 wowed us with what a premium and thin Chromebook could be. Other manufacturers are throwing more powerful Core i3 processors into units, such as the Acer Chromebook C720, without sacrificing battery life. With a new Broadwell-branded Core i3 and a Core M chips on their way, Chromebooks are only going to get better.
The big question is whether Google will go any further with Chrome OS, which has recently taken somewhat of a backseat to Android development. However, Google also plans to infuse its laptop interface with deeper Android integration, a mobile integration trend we're seeing across the big three of the OS world.
Windows 10 is homogenizing its operating system across platforms, while Apple folds Continuity (with a capital "C") into OS X Yosemite. Google, Microsoft and Apple are all taking lessons they've learned developing mobile platforms to evolve computers and laptops on the software side.
We've seen some amazing hardware in the first week of 2015, and there's no doubt we'll see more in the future. The software, as much as we've seen, seems promising. It's just a matter whether the world has a hunger for both.
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