The wild, weird, and powerful PC hardware of CES 2017

No, CES isn't a "gadget" show. It's become one of the coolest PC enthusiast hardware shows on the calendar, and the 2017 event did not disappoint.

ces hardware

Don't be scared. It's just kickass gear

Forget the smart hairbrush. Disregard the vaporous electric car. You can even walk past the latest TVs (though I have to concede, some are super-cool). Like the last few Consumer Electronic Shows, CES 2017 has emerged as a fantastic pantheon of PC hardware—from the latest cutting-edge silicon, to wild laptops, to outrageous desktop machines and cases. Click on through to see the gear that PCWorld’s CES foot soldiers found most intriguing.

razer valerie 2

Razer's Project Valerie is a triple-display, 12K laptop

This blurb can’t do Project Valerie justice. You must watch our spectacular video of Razer’s fan-bloody-amazing laptop, which features three 17-inch 4K G-Sync displays, two of which automatically slide out from the main display with the help of robot arms. 

Project Valerie is still just a project—an R&D prototype that may never ship. And maybe you wouldn’t actually want it. With about 370 square inches of display pixels to power, imagine the machine’s brief battery life. Also consider the price, which would likely hit at least $5,000. And what happens when you automatically extend those displays in a small, cramped space? Do they just snap off?

But, hey, whatever. It’s prototypes like Project Valerie that make CES exciting. This is why we come.

Project Ariana

Project Ariana: a 4K Razer projector that extends from monitor to walls

Razer wasn’t done after wowing us with Project Valerie. This is project Ariana, a 4K projector that extends the image on your display to your entire wall, creating a spectacular immersive effect. You can read all about Project Ariana here, and pay close attention, because the projector could go retail by the end of 2017 if Razer is convinced consumers are ready to buy in.

digital storm 8
Brad Chacos

Project Modena is the sum total of Digital Storm's hardcore knowledge

Digital Storm has a rich history in building luscious, water-cooled boutique PCs, and in its not-yet-for-retail Project Modena prototype, it pulls out all the stops. You can think of it as the living embodiment of all the company’s PC knowledge (assuming, of course, you believe a PC can be “alive”). The machine sports aggressive vents running on the front, top and back of the case, allowing for a range of cooling approaches. And in this photo you can see the mobo-facing case panel, revealing interior lighting and water-cooling apparatus, all tastefully executed. There’s also a smaller case window on the other side for showing off your high-dollar SSD investment.

Project Modena wasn’t the only Digital Storm PC we looked at, so please check them all out in our Best of Digital Storm video.

project snowblind
IDG

Snowblind is a case that plays translucent videos on its side window

This is another CES oddity that can’t be adequately be illustrated by flat images, so check out the video, please. iBuypower’s Snowblind case option is a 19-inch transparent LCD display that can show moving images—video—right on the side of your PC. Resolution is 1280x1024, and the display itself is protected by tempered glass. The image here doesn’t do the mesmerizing video effect justice, but note the CPU utilization widget on the right of the display—that’s live, real-time-updating content.

Snowblind is one of the coolest spectacles we saw at CES 2017, and iBuypower says this case option will cost $250.

acer predator 21 x lid closed
Melissa Riofrio

Acer's Predator 21 X has a wild curved display

If you want to join Acer’s extreme gaming laptop party, you’ll need $9,000. But, whoa, look what you get inside the Predator 21 X: Intel’s Kaby Lake Core i7 7820HK; 64GB of 2.4GHz DDR4 RAM; not one but two GeForce GTX 1080s running in SLI; and up to four SSDs running in RAID 0 (plus a hard drive if you want one). There’s also a mechanical Cherry MX keyboard, Tobii eye-tracking, and tons of fans and heat pipes, because, Captain, she’s running hot.

But, obviously, the big allure of the Predator 21 X—the feature that makes it a CES freak show—is the curved, 21-inch IPS display, the first of its kind in a laptop. It runs at 120Hz and supports Nvidia’s G-Sync tech, and could make your gaming more immersive (or at least that’s the Acer storyline). Please check out our video to see the entire 8.8 pounds of madness.

In Win D-Frame 2.0 EKWB
IDG

In Win D-Frame 2.0 EKWB: a touch indelicate?

In Win makes crazy-hardcore cases for PC enthusiasts who just have to have something, well... showy. Interested? Then you need to see our video of the D-Frame 2.0 EKWB, which adds special mounting points for liquid-cooling like EK’s Water Blocks. Please watch the video, and pay special attention to the burbling reservoir at the front of the case.

evga 2
Brad Chacos

EVGA's SC-15 is a gaming laptop that makes sense

You don’t really need the 4K display in EVGA’s SC-17 gaming laptop, so at this year’s CES, the company released the SC-15, a 15-inch predecessor that boasts a 1080p, 120Hz G-Sync panel. It looks gorgeous, and is ably powered by Nvidia’s mobile GTX 1060 chip. Other silicon includes a Kaby Lake Core i7-7700HQ processor, up to 16GB of DDR4, and a 256GB SSD paired with a 1TB hard drive. 

And of course there’s an RGB backlit keyboard too. It’s a gaming machine.

evga 8
Brad Chacos

EVGA does water-cooling too

Remember when EVGA was just a videocard company? Well, besides getting into cases, power supplies, mice, motherboards, and full-fledged PCs, the company is now selling a trick water-cooling system that marries the simplicity of closed-loop water-cooling with the customization of hard-line water-cooling.

The EVGA Quick Release cooler ecosystem starts with the main CPU cooler shown here, and then you customize to your heart’s content with apparatus that suits your specific parts. From radiators to a GPU cooler to various extension cables, they all use special quick-release fittings so you can construct your set-up like building with an erector set.

 

amd vega chip raja
Brad Chacos

AMD Vega: The future of gaming graphics?

AMD’s more enthusiast-focused 14nm Radeon graphics architecture has been teased on the company’s roadmap for a while, but AMD used this year’s CES to release more technical details on these upcoming Vega GPUs.  

If you want to learn more about Vega’s high-bandwidth cache, programmable geometry pipeline, and “draw stream binning rasterizer” (yes, it’s a thing), then hit the link above. For now, all you really need to care about is the new GPU’s performance potential, and how that may affect your gaming experience.

To wit: In December, we saw an early Radeon Vega 10 card play the 2016 version of Doom at 4K resolution and settings cranked to Ultra. AMD’s frame rates floated between 60 and 70fps, thus beating recorded frame rates for Nvidia’s GTX 1080 at the same settings.

Intrigued? Well, we may not see shipping Vega hardware until this summer. Still, CES definitely whetted our Vega appetite. If you're interested in even more nitty-gritty details, be sure to watch the 40 minute deep dive interview that our Full Nerd podcast crew conducted with Radeon SVP and chief architect Raja Koduri at CES. 

dsc02687
Gordon Mah Ung

Intel Kaby Lake: New quad-core CPUs hit 5GHz

We first saw dual-core Kaby Lake notebook CPUs in August, but now it’s time for quad-core processors—seven chips for laptops and 16 for desktops. They’re all part of Intel’s CES Kaby Lake party, and while performance increases in many scenarios aren’t incredible relative to previous-generation silicon, the new architecture is still intriguing.

For starters, while cache size, the memory controller, and motherboard socket haven’t changed since previous-generation Skylake chips, the Kaby Lake desktop CPUs seem ripe for overclocking (despite early reports). Both PCWorld and various OEMs have seen the quad-core chip reach the vaunted 5GHz barrier without any problems. The Kaby Lake Z270 chipset is also “Optane ready,” suggesting motherboards will support Intel’s superfast memory of the same name.

Though we do have Optane caveats. See the next slide, please.

stoneybeach onmotherboard floatingchip logo rgb lr

Speaking of Optane...

Intel’s Optane memory promises one thousand times the switching speed of an SSD, and to get PC nerds even more excited about the new format, Intel showed two images of its non-volatile memory drives on the eve of CES. We have no idea how much the drives will cost, or when they’ll be available, but expect almost unusably small drive capacities of 16GB and 32GB. At these sizes, they have little application save as hard drive cache.

But, hey, we now have pictures! Thanks, CES.

amd ryzen pc cybertron
Brad Chacos

Ryzen rising

Perhaps you haven’t heard, but AMD’s new Ryzen CPU (originally code-named Zen) looks to be quite competitive with Intel silicon. The processor is set for a Q1 2017 launch, and AMD and its partners used CES as a grand coming-out party for Ryzen hardware—from AM4 motherboards to CPU coolers to full-fledged PCs (like the Cybertron PC shown here). The system manufacturers definitely err toward smaller, enthusiast-focused vendors like Origin, CyberPower, Maingear, and iBuyPower. But that’s encouraging, as it suggests Ryzen will bring the metal on judgment day.

Intel Cannon Lake
IDG / Mark Hachman

Intel shows off the 10nm Cannon Lake CPU

OK, well maybe “shows off” is an optimistic way to describe Intel’s demonstration of its sometime-in-the-future 10nm process CPU. As you can see here, Intel’s chief executive Brian Krzanich simply used the big stage of CES to show the processor playing back a video. We didn’t actually see the chip—let alone touch the laptop that presumably contained the chip.

But still... it’s got a 10nm process! Intel has been stuck on a 14nm process for a few CPU generations, and AMD will finally be joining the 14nm club when it goes retail with Ryzen this year. So, yeah, call us nerds, but even a 10nm tease is something to be excited about.

freesync 2

AMD FreeSync 2 for HDR display awesomeness

AMD used CES to reveal details on the latest iteration of its FreeSync graphics technology. Where today’s FreeSync simply smooths out gameplay and eliminates stutter and tearing, FreeSync 2 is focused squarely on HDR displays—those High Dynamic Range monitors that make supported content look lush with saturated colors, deep blacks, and stunning contrast.

We have all the technical details on FreeSync 2 here, but just know that you’ll need a display that meets FreeSync 2 certification (these monitors should hit retail in Q1 of this year). We also learned that any GPU that currently supports FreeSync can be upgraded to FreeSync 2 via a driver update. Both FreeSync and FreeSync 2 will be supported going forward, with FreeSync 2 monitors expected to be just a small percentage of the total number of FreeSync displays shipped.

Have you seen HDR content? You’ll want this support, whether you rock an AMD or Nvidia graphics card. CES was ground zero for a bunch of HDR PC display launches, so please get up to speed. This is important.

gsync
Nvidia

Nvidia G-Sync HDR displays descend on CES

While we’ve yet to see any displays that guarantee support for FreeSync 2 (AMD’s HDR tech), we did see Nvidia’s debut G-Sync HDR monitors—and they look like the pinnacle of desktop displayage. 

Keep your eyes peeled for the Acer Predator XB272-HDR and Asus ROG Swift PG27UQ. They’re both G-Sync HDR 10 panels that shine at 1,000 nits of brightness, hit 144Hz, and deliver 384 backlight zones that can be individually controlled to help lush colors and deep blacks coexist side-by-side (that’s basically the HDR promise). As if those HDR features weren't enough, they also rock 4K resolutions and blazing-fast 144Hz refresh speeds. No word on pricing, but expect to pay top dollar for what will certainly be the finest desktop displays you can buy.

Need an HDR display primer? Go here. Want to see that awesome Asus display in action? We made a video

Linksys WRT32X Wi-Fi gaming router

The Linksys WRT32X is a hardcore gaming router

Every modern Wi-Fi router has some type of quality-of-service (QoS) feature that assigns different priorities to different types of Internet traffic. But Linksys says the WRT32X—a 802.11n/802.11ac MU-MIMO router—is highly optimized to recognize lag-sensitive traffic like games. The secret sauce is Rivet Networks’ “Killer Prioritization Engine.”

Rivet Networks told us the technology uses heuristic logic to determine which network traffic is gaming traffic, and then assigns that data the highest priority. As the company’s marketing officer, Bob Grim, said, “A Microsoft Windows update packet shouldn’t be treated as just as important as a gaming packet. We’ll never queue a gaming packet, for example, because it’s latency dependent.”

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the WRT32X looks all gamered-out. Even router companies want in on CES’ PC enthusiast action.

Lenovo Legion Y720

Lenovo's launches Legion, its gaming laptop brand

Yes, Lenovo—the enterprise laptop company—makes good gaming machines, and now it’s putting these laptops under their own unique brand name, Legion. Here we see the RGB backlighting underneath the Legion Y720’s keyboard.

The Y720 includes a Kaby Lake Core i7 and 16GB of DDR4 memory, and can be outfitted with a 512GB SSD and 6GB Nvidia GTX 1060, making the machine capable of powering a VR headset. There’s also a 4K screen option, and even the baseline display is IPS, addressing a complaint we had with Lenovo’s Y50 gaming machine from 2015.

hp sprout pro 3d imaging 2
Melissa Riofrio

HP upgrades its Sprout creativity PC for a VR and AR world

Hardcore PC hardware isn’t just about gaming, so HP used CES 2017 to reveal its upgraded Sprout Pro workstation. And thanks to the Windows 10 Creators Update, HP’s Sprout platform should be more friendly to 3D content creation than ever before.

The machine uses a Full-HD DLP projector and what HP calls a Touch Mat to quickly turn any small object—like the skull model shown here—into a 3D wireframe. The benefits for VR and AR content creation should be obvious.

The upgraded Sprout Pro sports a 2.9GHz Kaby Lake Core i7-7700T and Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 960M with 2GB of GDDR5 memory. The main display is 23.8 inches with a 1920x1080 resolution and 10-point touch. Interested in making a HoloLens app? Well, the Sprout Pro should ship in March. Pricing is unknown, but the original Sprout costs $1,600.

kingston data traveler 2 tb
Kingston

Kingston's 2TB DataTraveler needs no explanation

Two terabytes. In a flash drive. That you can put in your pocket.

OK, you'll need a very large pocket, because as Kingston's image illustrates, the drive itself dwarves its USB 3.1 connector. But, c'mon. Bragging rights!

We have no idea how much the DataTraveler Ultimate Generation Terabyte will cost, but we do know that it will come in 1TB and 2TB configurations, and that Kingston's current 1TB DataTraveler HyperX Predator costs $2,730.

So, what? The new 2TB version will cost twice that?

phanteks enthoo elite 4
Brad Chacos

Phanteks' Enthoo Elite case is so big, we couldn't fit it in the frame

With enough interior room for not one but two PC builds, the $900 Enthoo Elite is a case of absurd proportions. At 30 inches tall, and two feet wide, the enclosure can accommodate one E-ATX system plus a mini-ITX system. The case is rife with interesting details design to make system building easier, so please check out our video. Like the image shown here, you’ll see we struggled to fit the Enthoo Elite into a single video frame.

ThermalTake Core P1 TG
ThermalTake

ThermalTake's Core P1 TG wants on your wall

Why would you want to mount a PC on your wall? We can’t tell you. But ThermalTake thinks there’s a wall PC market, and thus we have the Core P1 TG, an open-air case that supports Mini ITX motherboards, and can be mounted on your wall. A flexible PCIe riser cable lets you mount your video card perpendicular to the motherboard, and a piece of tempered glass prevents flying objects from disturbing your water-cooling apparatus.

Is it art? It’s better than a Thomas Kinkade painting, that’s for sure.

extreme overclocking challenge

HWbot's extreme overclocking challenge

Think those new Kaby Lake desktop CPUs resist overclocking? No. Think again. Industry sources tell us the chip is happy to reach 5GHz with water-cooling, and at the warmup for HWbot’s extreme overclocking event, we saw 7GHz. WTF? Yes.

Granted, the overclocking superstars at this CES event were using liquid nitrogen to cool down the silicon and ratchet up the clocks. But one still has to marvel at just how far these PCs can be pushed. Check out our amazing video here, and be sure to read up on all our CES 2017 coverage here.