This year’s Apple developer conference was uncharacteristically devoid of new hardware. But 6,500 miles away at the Computex show in Taipei, it was a very different story. The week-long PC event is still in full swing, and it has already revealed a bunch of intriguing devices — even if most of the world’s media was too distracted to notice.
For those who missed out, I’ve compiled a short list of highlights from Computex so far. As you’ll see, some of the PCs described here actually go some way to addressing the gaps that Apple’s conservative product cycle has left in the market.
Apple pioneered “retina” displays, but its top-end MacBook Pros max out at a 3K resolution: 2,880 x 1,800. By contrast, ASUS used its Computex keynote to unveil a laptop with the full 4K quota of pixels (i.e., 3,840 x 2,160). The NX500 has a 15-inch display that meets the color standards required by creative professionals (such as 108 percent of Adobe RGB), and it’s surprisingly small: just 19mm thick with a weight of less than five pounds (2.2.kg).
Based on the quality of the hardware, my colleague Dana Wollman went so far as to say that the “MacBook Pro has met its match,” but it’s too early for a full comparison because ASUS has yet to reveal how much the NX500 will cost. ASUS also unveiled a slightly different 4K laptop with a higher-powered NVIDIA graphics card for gaming, called the GX500, although it wasn’t possible to test how well current games actually played at full resolution.
Thinner than the iPad Air
Although Microsoft did an excellent job of shrinking the Surface Pro 3, the need for a fan-based cooling system has so far prevented any full-fledged PC from being as thin and light as a mobile-class, ARM-based tablet like an iPad. That all changed at Computex, however, when Intel revealed a prototype laptop / tablet hybrid containing its latest Broadwell processor, known as the “Core M.”
This tiny chip, built on 14-nanometer transistors (as opposed to 22nm transistors in current-gen PCs), doesn’t need a fan to stay cool, so it can deliver a full Windows 8.1 Pro experience in a tablet that is only 7.3mm thick and 1.47 pounds in weight — thinner than an iPad Air and lighter than a Surface Pro 3. As I’ve argued before, the imminent arrival of Broadwell-based PCs should give pause to anyone currently shopping for a hybrid or laptop PC, at least if they prioritize battery life and portability over other features.
Quirky operating systems
The freedom to easily switch and mix different operating systems has always been a key differentiator between PCs and Macs, and Computex 2014 has only emphasized this flexibility. There have been some outlandish cocktails this year, including an ASUS hybrid called the Transformer Book V that merges a Windows-based laptop with an Android smartphone. The laptop has a full-power Intel Core processor, but when you dock your smartphone into a slot on the back of the lid you’re given a choice: if you like, you can switch to Android running on the smartphone’s processor instead.
Valid question: why would anyone want to do this? Well, again, it all comes down to battery life. By using the smartphone’s brains, the laptop should offer much better longevity for lightweight tasks that don’t necessarily have to be completed using Windows and a high-powered chip. What’s more, this approach removes any need for syncing between your phone and your laptop — when the two are docked together in Android mode, they’re effectively one device.
Finally, sticking with the theme of alternative OS’s, ASUS also managed to come up with something more realistic: a pair of very attractive little Steam Machines, called the GR8 and the G20, which drop Windows in favor of the linux-based Steam OS. These are effectively “console PCs” that are made not only for gaming, but also for high-definition entertainment — especially since ASUS has managed to implement 4K output and Miracast display streaming, while keeping fan noise down to an almost silent 25dB.
Again, there are no prices to go with any of these announcements, so it’s impossible to weigh them up in a practical sense. But I’d argue that if anyone stole the show this week, it was probably ASUS rather than Apple — at least for the sheer entertainment value of seeing gutsy ideas being turned into actual hardware.
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