Christmas isn’t even here yet, but the team at NotebookReview.com can barely contain our excitement as we prepare for the 2011 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Keep reading to find out the inside scoop on what you can expect to see in the new year.
CES 2011 doesn’t officially open its doors until Thursday, January 6th, but news about the newest laptops, accessories and related technology has already leaked onto the Internet. Although the editors here at NotebookReview.com have to keep a few secrets until after the start of the show, we can talk about the press releases and rumors that are already public knowledge.
The Las Vegas Convention Center will play host to much of the consumer technology industry as manufacturers showcase their latest and greatest — and possibly even a few not-so-great products. Here’s a quick look at a few of the big stories you’ll want to follow during CES 2011. We will also be updating this article with links to the rest of our coverage so be sure to check back for more news from the show floor.
Weak economies result in tougher technologies
“Full featured” might be a better description than “tougher” technologies, but the reality is that electronics manufacturers are finally starting to realize that consumers and businesses demand more bang for their bucks when money is in short supply. Sure, laptop manufacturers have been mass producing netbooks (low cost, low performance mini laptops) for several years now, but in 2011, you can expect to see budget notebooks and netbooks offering significantly better performance than anything we’ve seen in this price range before.
The preliminary analyst reports suggest that holiday shoppers in the U.S. bought more consumer electronics during Black Friday and Cyber Monday in 2010 than they did in 2009, so despite terrible economic times it looks like people still need their PCs, smartphones and tablets. On the other hand, the huge spike in purchases on major sale days like Black Friday shows that people are holding onto their money until they think they can get the best possible deal.
Thanks to this financial environment, you can expect to see a wide range of notebook manufacturers, accessory companies, and even component suppliers talking about real value in 2011. You’ll see $500 ultra-portable notebooks that rival or surpass the performance of today’s $900 notebooks. You’ll see super-fast USB 3.0-powered SSDs replacing standard external hard drives. You’ll see new ways to connect all your digital media in faster, more affordable, and more convenient ways. In short, it’s no longer enough to sell something at a low price; it has to meet or exceed the expectations of the buyer.
The Future is Fusion … or Building a Sandy Bridge to the Future
We will see some major changes from the two biggest CPU manufacturers in 2011. The team here at NotebookReview.com showed you a hands-on preview of AMD’s new “Brazos” platform: the first “Accelerated Processing Unit” (APU) that combines a CPU and a GPU on a single processor die. AMD has been promoting that “the future is fusion” when it comes to processor microarchitecture for several years now, but the new Brazos APUs actually may deliver on that promise.
Based on our initial tests with pre-production samples of AMD’s new line of APUs, notebooks with the Brazos platform might indeed deliver longer battery life, less heat, discrete-level GPU performance at entry-level prices; and the accelerated internet, video, productivity and gaming performance that consumers don’t currently get from systems priced under $500.
It’s the “under $500” part that you should pay attention to here. AMD’s Brazos APUs aren’t extremely powerful processors, but they deliver fantastic multimedia performance and low power consumption at a low cost. This will make it possible for manufacturers to release numerous low-cost laptops in 2011 with much better video streaming and 1080p playback performance than what we currently see in this price range. We may even see the death of Intel Atom-based netbooks in 2011 if AMD’s Brazos platform really takes off.
Over in the Intel camp, every notebook manufacturer around the globe is preparing for the release of high-end notebooks based on Intel’s new Sandy Bridge platform. Without getting bogged down in technical details, Sandy Bridge is the code name for Intel’s next generation of Core i3/i5/i7 processors. While Sandy Bridge doesn’t have the same low-cost appeal as AMD’s Brazos chips, Intel is leveraging high CPU performance with an all-new embedded graphics processor. Intel’s solution isn’t the same as AMD’s APU, but much like the AMD solution, the new Intel chips will offer vastly superior video and gaming performance compared to current generation integrated graphics. It’s safe to say we’ll be seeing a lot of notebooks with Sandy Bridge inside during 2011.
Graphics: They’re not just for gamers anymore
While we’re on the topic of improved graphics performance from notebooks with both AMD and Intel chips, it’s important to understand what this change means for consumers and businesses. Throughout most of the history of the personal computer, graphics performance only mattered to people who wanted to use their PCs for playing video games. While this is still largely true today, average consumers and business professionals alike are now able to leverage the technology inside graphics processing units (GPUs) in order to have a more satisfying experience both at work and at play.
Anyone who has actively browsed the Internet during the last two years knows that online video is an essential part of the modern web browsing experience. Whether you’re checking out funny videos on YouTube, catching up on the latest episode of your favorite TV show on Hulu, watching your favorite Star Trek film on the NetFlix website, or having a video conference with your co-workers, video playback is as important to PCs today as a power cable or a battery.
Unfortunately, if you’ve used an older laptop or even a newer netbook with an Intel Atom processor and integrated graphics then you know that watching video online isn’t always easy. High-end notebooks with dedicated GPUs have always managed to handle video without any problems, but no one wanted to pay for a high-performance graphics card in a low-cost laptop … until now.
While the entry-level graphics chips inside the latest AMD and Intel processors still don’t have the gaming performance of high-priced gaming PCs, the entry-level graphics we’ll be seeing in 2011 promise to deliver video streaming and playback performance that is virtually identical to higher-priced multimedia notebooks today.
You might just remember 2011 as the year you could buy a cheap laptop and not regret the horrible performance immediately after your purchase.
More news and video from the road
NotebookReview.com and the entire TechnologyGuide.com team will be out in force covering CES 2011. We’ll bring you more information about products as they’re announced, commentary, photos and video from the show floor, and all the information that we’re allowed to share with you.