The 2012 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is getting ready to open its doors in Las Vegas and reveal the latest technology. Keep reading to see the top picks from the editors of Notebook Review and find out what tech toys will be popular in the new year.
More and More Ultrabooks
It was no surprise that consumers went crazy for the Apple MacBook Air with its razer-thin aluminum design, light weight and impressive performance, but few people expected Intel to push other PC manufacturers to develop similar laptops. Last year, Intel spearheaded the creation of the "ultrabook" category of laptops: These thin and light notebooks use the latest Intel processors and chipsets combined with great battery life, solid-state storage and "instant on" functionality.
You'll see more companies releasing ultrabooks in 2012, but it remains to be seen whether ultrabooks will survive as a new category of laptops or if this is merely a technological fad created by Intel to help sell higher-priced components. There is also some concern among PC makers about whether the appeal of these "luxury laptops" is enough to overcome the higher price. One thing is for certain: Some of the sexiest notebooks released in 2012 will be ultrabooks.
Laptops with New Form Factors
Ultrabooks might corner the laptop market on "sexy", but there is a whole new breed of laptops coming that will deliver some serious "wow" factor. You can expect 2012 to be a year of significant design change in notebooks. Laptops have maintained the same old "clamshell" shape since their invention, but the rising popularity of tablets and new operating systems is helping PC manufacturers completely rethink the basic shape of a notebook computer.
We got our first glipse of the changing face of the laptop in 2011 with the ASUS Eee Pad Transformer: a basic Android tablet that docked with a keyboard base station to provide additional battery life and ports. In 2012, you'll see several tablet/laptop combinations similar to the Eee Pad Transformer but you can also expect to see a wide range of Windows-based laptops with screens that flip in a variety of strange manners, dual-screen laptops and other modular laptop designs.
Of course, most of these new laptop form factors wouldn't be possible without Windows 8 ...
Windows 8 Changes Everything
Last year might have been the year of the Android tablet, but if Microsoft stays on target then 2012 will be the year that Windows 8 dominates ... well ... EVERYTHING. Windows 8 is a streamlined version of Windows 7 that can operate just like the old Windows operating system that you love but also offers the look, feel, and simplicity of the Windows Phone OS. Translation: Windows 8 essentially allows one operating system to run on ALL Windows devices; phones, tablets, laptops, desktops, and even the next generation Xbox console will all work and feel the same.
We'll suppress the urge to write a story about how there will be, "One operating system to rule them all ... and in the darkness bind them." Well, maybe we'll suppress that urge.
Some of the laptops announced at CES in January won't even be available until the expected release date of Windows 8 so that these new notebooks can start out life running what is expected to be the dominant operating system for all devices. At the very least you're likely to see several CES announcements of upcoming Windows 8 tablets.
Nvidia Make Its Move
While most people just think Nvidia is a company that develops graphics processors (GPUs) and related technology, Nvidia is poised to become one of the dominant players in hardware. Almost every device you use to consume visual media -- tablets, laptops, smartphones, monitors, HDTVs -- may soon have "Nvidia Inside."
A big part of Nvidia's potential success or failure rides on its new Tegra 3 processor; the world's first quad-core low-voltage ARM processor designed to deliver "PC-class performance levels" for tablets and phones (and maybe even thin-and-light laptops after Windows 8 arrives) without sacrificing battery life. Combine that new quad-core CPU with Nvidia's new 12-core GeForce GPU and you've got serious performance in mobile devices that people previously didn't take seriously.
Of course, Nvidia will also continue to leverage its laptop GPUs inside notebooks designed for multimedia activities and games. Nvidia's Optimus technology -- which enables a laptop to automatically switch between low-power Intel integrated graphics and high-performance Nvidia graphics -- will likely become the dominant graphics technology in multimedia laptops in 2012 since AMD's automatic switchable graphics still requires some input from the user (meaning the AMD solution isn't so "automatic").
You will also see Nvidia's "3D Vision" technology in a number of new 3D-capable laptops, which means ...
3D Is Here To Stay
Yes, 3D technology has been showing up in televisions, monitors and notebooks at CES for the past few years ... and it's back again. Like it or not, 3D technology is continuing to gain momentum as more 3D content (movies, TV shows, games, and photos) becomes available, more 3D-capable video and still cameras hit the market, and more 3D-capable devices become affordable.
Nvidia continues to be a major player in the 3D market, particularly with PCs and monitors. This year at CES, you can expect to see 3D pop up in all the usual places -- HDTVs, monitors, laptops, gaming devices, and cameras -- but you will also see new developments in glasses-free 3D in HDTVs, laptops, tablets and more handheld devices.
The Changing Face of Storage
Speaking of handheld devices, it's the smaller mobile technology that is helping drive significant changes to the way we store and access files. Solid state drive (SSD) technology has been growing in popularity for several years but just as "standard" 2.5-inch SSDs are starting to replace traditional hard drives on many premium notebooks, smaller SSDs, hybrid drives and cloud storage might change the way we store and access our files from laptop PCs.
Thin ultrabooks and many of the upcoming thin laptops don't have room for traditional notebook hard drives or SSDs so you'll see more and more laptops with smaller mSATA SSDs inside. Not only that, but cloud storage is finally becoming more appealing to consumers since most people stream their HD movies from cloud-based services like Netflix and Amazon and streaming game services like OnLive are becoming increasingly popular.
Don't be surprised to see a shift from laptops with 1TB of storage to thin-and-light laptops with only 128GB of mSATA SSD storage and access to a high-capacity cloud storage service.
Be sure to return to NotebookReview.com in the coming days as we publish the latest information and behind-the-scenes photos live from CES 2012.
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