What to expect from Intel, Microsoft, Valve and other PC players at CES 2014

expect computing ces 2014 preview steambox

The shifting focus of CES, which once gave much attention to the PC and now pays more attention to smartphones, tablets and televisions, is no secret. 2013 was a particularly ho-hum year with only a few notable announcements, and Microsoft pulled out, abandoning the prominent floor space and keynote presentation it held for years.

This year however, Intel has a new processor architecture to boast, Valve is making waves with its new gaming hardware, and the computing industry as a whole has to prove that it’s still relevant despite the popularity of tablets. Here are the big announcements we’re expecting over the coming week.

Intel’s Bay Trail goes retail, new devices arrive

At last year’s show, Intel talked about Bay Trail, a system-on-a-chip that uses a new core architecture called Silvermont. This serves as the long-needed replacement to Atom, an extremely old processor line that has only been modestly updated over the years. Bay Trail processors will pack up to four cores and use Intel HD graphics, making them almost as capable as an entry-level Core i3, yet power consumption should be no more than a few watts.

thinkpad8

The new Bay Trail powered Atoms, if they prove as capable as they look on paper, will provide PC makers with a very effective weapon to use against ARM tablets. Intel projects that pricing for tablets based on Atom could be sold for as little as $199 (with Android) and Windows convertibles will sell for $350-$500. In other words, you could pick up a capable tablet/PC hybrid with long battery life for less than an iPad.

While it’s too early to tell whether the new Atom will live up to expectations, manufacturers will be announcing devices based on it at CES. Small, inexpensive PCs may end up the most important story at the show, resulting in mulitple flashbacks of 2010’s netbook craze.

New year, increased resolution

Inexpensive PCs won’t be the only models announced at the show, however. All of the notebook manufacturers have been ramping up efforts to improve display quality and increase pixel count, and this trend will continue at CES 2014. We expect almost every PC maker to introduce either a new or revised model with a 13” to 15” display and a screen resolution beyond 1080p.

LeNovo Yoga2 front start screen

The bigger question, however, is what (if anything) will be done to deal with the scaling issues these notebooks suffer from. Windows 8.1 has a hard time dealing with screens that provide more than 200 pixels per inch, and Microsoft so far hasn’t come up with a fix. We doubt that anyone will tackle or even mention this problem at the show, but hope a fix is being brewed in the background.

Steam Box news? You bet!

Last year, Valve surprised everyone by arriving at CES incognito to meet with various hardware manufacturers and prospects for its upcoming Steam Box. This year there is no surprise; the company has already announced that it will be officially revealing hardware partners at the show.

2014 good gaming Valve Steam Machine console

There are still a lot of unanswered questions, however. Who will be partnering with Valve? What will the finished Steam Boxes look like? How much will they cost? And how similar will the hardware be to the beta boxes that were sent out to a few hundred lucky testers? All of this remains unanswered.

What we do know is that the company is taking an open-ended approach, which means that the hardware partners on board with the Steam Box will be building devices that vary in size, capability and features. There could be entries from companies as large as Alienware (which is owned by Dell) and as small as Xi3, which last year made waves by prematurely announcing a so-called Steambox design. We can’t wait to see what Valve has planned.

And in other gaming news…

While the Steam Box will undoubtedly make headlines, there could be other gaming news to note. CES is not known as a gaming conference, but all the major PC hardware manufacturers are there, including peripheral manufacturers like Razer and Mad Catz.

Possible announcements to watch for include a release date for Oculus Rift retail availability, expansion of Nvidia’s in-home game streaming features, and the announcement of a new or updated laptop from Razer. All of these could be cause some excitement but, with that said, it’s likely that any big reveals made at CES 2014 will only hint at a release later in the year. Anyone who wants instant gratification is likely to be disappointed.

Wither Windows?

There’s a possibility this year’s show will be a bad show for Windows. Though the company says it will be present in force, it’s not taking back its original booth space and instead is focusing on individual meetings with companies and journalists.

Microsoft CES BoothThat means Microsoft will once again cede the limelight. Doing so didn’t matter much last year, but this year there’s a host of products that provide alternatives to Windows. Chromebooks are starting to gain traction, Intel says Android will run on its new Atom processors, and the Steam Box will debut with a Linux-based operating system.

As always, any doom and gloom surrounding Microsoft should be served up with a dose of skepticism. The company isn’t going to go away overnight, and Windows remains by far the most popular PC operating system. But Microsoft’s decision to leave the CES show floor in 2013 created a void, and competitors have appeared that could capitalize on its departure.  

Conclusion

While we doubt that the PC will steal the spotlight at this year’s show, we do think the show will have a bit more relevance than last year. Intel’s new Atom and the Steam Box announcement will provide plenty of news for computing geeks to salivate over, and there are always a few surprises that no one will see coming.

Stay tuned to our coverage of the show to stay up to date on all things computing at CES 2014.

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