CES 2024’s most interesting PCs
This year’s CES exhibition showcased new machines from major personal computer manufacturers (excluding Apple), all touting the latest “AI PC” technology. Despite extensive promotion, the applications utilizing the new “Neural Processing Unit” within the latest generation chips remain limited. Improved video conferencing with blurred backgrounds and noise-canceling audio stands out as the primary application adopted by business clients today.
Nevertheless, laptop manufacturers and chip producers such as AMD and Intel firmly believe that the existence of such features will make our machines more personalized and user-friendly in the future. This is evident in applications like Microsoft, which hint at a trajectory towards a more intuitive computing experience. The upcoming years in the personal computer industry seem poised to be more intriguing than the past few.
Meanwhile, here are some noteworthy thoughts on PCs I encountered at the exhibition. Generally, these are high-end mainstream laptops, meaningful for business users but typically not tailored for enterprise buyers. (I anticipate enterprise systems to receive updates this spring, especially with Intel launching vPro-supported versions of the Core Ultra series.) I will dedicate a separate article for gaming laptops, as they all boast enhanced graphics capabilities.
Overall, the trend revolves around the latest processors, often featuring Intel Core Ultra (Meteor Lake) processors and, a bit later, AMD’s latest Ryzen (Hawk Point) processors. All vendors discussed applications of artificial intelligence, although most only showcased video conferencing tools or occasionally demonstrated stable diffusion image generation.
Among the brands, one of the most remarkable new machines is Acer’s Aspire 3D 15 Spatial Labs Edition. It pairs a raster 3D display with Acer Spatial Labs software, allowing users to experience 3D effects without the need for special glasses. While the concept of 3D screens on laptops is not entirely new, the Aspire 3D 15 starts at around $1,400, making it relatively affordable. This is partially due to its use of a low-end discrete graphics card (RTX 2050) and Intel’s 13th-gen (Raptor Lake) CPU.
Another promising Acer machine is the new Swift Go 14, designed specifically for students and professionals seeking a lightweight mainstream model. It features the latest Intel Core Ultra processor, an aluminum chassis, various ports, a 1440p QHD webcam (with a physical shutter), and a 2.8K OLED display with a resolution of 2880 x 1800 and a refresh rate of 90Hz, starting at approximately $800. The larger 16-inch version, Swift Go 16, comes with a 3.2K OLED display, a resolution of 3200 x 2000, and a refresh rate of 120Hz. Both models offer great value for their respective features.
A significant development from Dell is the redesign of its flagship XPS series, introducing new 13-inch, 14-inch, and 16-inch models. In general, these follow the design cues of Dell’s XPS 13+ released a few years ago. This includes smaller bezels, a borderless haptic touchpad, and an unconventional capacitive touch function row instead of traditional function keys. The design stands out and is now available across the board with OLED displays, which are becoming the industry standard.
The 13-inch model starts at 2.6 pounds, equipped with a processor that can go up to the Intel Core Ultra 7 165, and offers a 13.4-inch screen with a maximum resolution of 3K+ (2880 x 1800) OLED display. The base model, featuring Intel Core Ultra 5 125H and Intel Arc integrated graphics, starts at $1,299. The 14-inch model upgrades to a 14.5-inch 3.2K (3200 x 2000) OLED, while the 16-inch model adds higher processor options with the Core Ultra 9 185H and a 16.3-inch 4K+ (3840 x 2400) OLED.
The 14-inch and 16-inch models support discrete graphics, with the 14-inch model featuring the Nvidia GeForce RTX 4050 GPU, and the 16-inch model equipped with RTX 4070, both with a thermal design power (TDP) of 80 watts. The XPS 14 starts at $1,699, and the XPS 16 starts at $1,899, with all systems set to be available soon.
These machines indeed have dedicated Copilot keys, but the ports are limited to three USB-C/Thunderbolt ports (HDMI and USB-A adapters can be used). The 14-inch and 16-inch models feature an audio jack (absent in the 13-inch model). The LED function keys from the XPS 13+ series, which were well-received, have been incorporated into the entire series, with the addition of an ambient light sensor to adjust lighting levels. These designs are poised to stand out.
Another noteworthy release from Dell is the new UltraSharp 40 Curved Thunderbolt Hub monitor. With a screen size of 39.7 inches and a resolution of WUHD (5120 x 2160), it aims to replace two standard monitors and a 140-watt USB/Thunderbolt hub. It features wired Ethernet with Wake-on-LAN functionality, pop-up USB-A and USB-C connectors, and is designed for high-end professionals. The monitor boasts a 99% DCI-P3/Display P3 color space, low blue light, and a built-in KVM switcher allowing connection to two machines, each occupying half of the display area. Compared to its predecessor, it now offers better refresh rates (120Hz), an ambient light sensor for automatic brightness and color temperature adjustments, and a new backlight to reduce blue light exposure. Priced at $2,499, it is a premium monitor, but its aesthetics and features make it a compelling choice.
Hewlett-Packard (HP) has officially unveiled the all-new Spectre x360 2-in-1 laptop, featuring 14-inch and 16-inch models, equipped with the latest Intel processors, upgraded displays, and enhanced webcams.
In this year’s models, HP has returned to a more traditional 14-inch 16:10 display, contrasting with the 13.5-inch 3:2 display from the previous year. The Spectre x360 14 now boasts a brand-new 2.8K OLED screen with a 120Hz variable refresh rate and IMAX certification. The 14-inch version is powered by the Core Ultra 7 155 processor with an ARC graphics card, while the 16-inch version offers an optional upgrade to the Nvidia GeForce RTX 4050 GPU.
The webcam has been significantly improved, now featuring a 9-megapixel camera with low-light adjustment capabilities. HP states that these laptops are now equipped with a dedicated AI chip, enabling features such as unattended lock, proximity wake, and privacy alerts.
The starting price for the 14-inch version is $1,499.99, while the 16-inch version starts at $1,599.99 and is already available for purchase. As a devoted user of the previous generation Spectre with a 13.5-inch display, I am genuinely excited to experience this new model.
Last month, concurrent with Intel’s launch of the Core Ultra series, Lenovo introduced a range of commercial machines including the ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 12, the X1 2-in-1 Gen 9, and the consumer-focused IdeaPad Pro 5.
The 2024 iteration of the X1 Carbon represents a redesign of the company’s flagship 14-inch laptop. It features reduced bezels, an optional 8-megapixel camera, and enhanced thermal management capabilities aimed at prolonging battery life. Subtle changes include new tactile markings on the volume, insert, and input keys, along with a larger 120mm haptic touchpad that facilitates quick menu access. The starting weight remains at 2.4 pounds. Lenovo unveiled a limited edition last month with a starting price of $2,989. A broader release, including enterprise versions with vPro support, is anticipated in March. While the X1 Carbon series has been a favorite, its webcam quality has lagged behind competitors, making the improvements in this area noteworthy.
Similarly, the X1 2-in-1 (formerly known as Yoga, but rebranded by Lenovo for its premium consumer line) boasts an aluminum shell and offers a 2.8K OLED display. It is more compact and replaces the machine’s stylus with a larger magnetic pen due to the increased size of the touchpad. This product is set to hit the market in March with a starting price of $2,639.
The latest iteration of the 16-inch Yoga Pro 9i supports up to Intel Core Ultra 9 processors and Nvidia GeForce RT 4070 laptop GPUs, featuring a display with a maximum resolution of 3.2K (3200 x 2000) IPS. With its traditional Yoga 2-in-1 design, 5MP camera, rotating soundbar, and six speakers, it is positioned as a high-end laptop. The 14-inch Yoga 9i is slightly more portable, offering configurations with the Intel Arc GPU-equipped Core Ultra 7 155H processor, four speakers, and 2.8K and 4K OLED screen options.