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The difficult thing about reporting the news two years into a pandemic is that the thing that is charge of every aspect of our lives isn’t new anymore. So even while CES 2022 has a ton of shiny new tech to talk about, the real story is that most people will have a difficult time finding these products at their retail price. The other side of that reality, however, is that AMD, Intel, Nvidia, and the rest of the companies in this space cannot pause just because the global supply chain is broken. The pie they are fighting over remains too large to ignore, and they need to maintain their momentum when the millions of hands on the supply chain begin to pull it taut once again.
If we attempt to ignore the pandemic, however, the story of CES is that the biggest companies in the world are laser-focused on delivering desirable new technologies — and they’re succeeding. AMD, Intel, and Nvidia are all competing with one another, and the added pressure of Apple’s own silicon is bringing out the best in all of them.
Here are the two trends that really stuck out to me:
AMD is getting on an even more efficient manufacturing process
Apple, deservedly, gets a lot of attention for its M1 chips. They are both powerful and efficient, and Apple ensures that everything from software to hardware integrates into those processors. But something that often gets ignored is that much of that power and efficiency magic comes from Apple having the exclusive hold on TSMC’s (Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company) 5nm manufacturing process.
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Why does that matter? Well, the short version is that the smaller the process, the more power you can get out of the same amount of energy. AMD saw huge leaps in performance and efficiency over Intel thanks to TSMC’s 7nm design while Intel was stuck on 14nm. Now, Intel is catching up with its 10nm (at this scale, that is basically the same thing as TSMC’s 7nm — if not better).
How is AMD planning to compete? It is dropping down to TSMC’s 6nm process for the upcoming Ryzen 6000 mobile chips. And the next-gen desktop Ryzen 7000 chips that are due out in the second half of 2022? Those will get the same 5nm process as Apple.
For those mobile Ryzen 6000 parts, this means extreme battery life, and AMD is promising exactly that. It expects to ship chips in laptops that are as fast as anything else on the market but that can last for 24 hours. And then the desktop 7000 chips should unleash a serious performance upgrade while potentially also running quieter and cooler — although, we’ll have to test all that ourselves.
And before you brush this news off as something you won’t get to take advantage of because you’re not going to buy the top-end, most-expensive parts, keep in mind that nearly all chips up and down AMD’s offerings will see the benefits of this tech. On top of that, the entry-level, affordable parts are better than they’ve ever been, and you can pair those with a top GPU and have an incredible gaming experience.
Laptops are getting good — but no one knows what to do next
Mobile computing was already in a strong place, but with AMD and Apple pushing Intel into a corner, productivity and gaming laptops are better than ever. A lot of that comes down once again to power and efficiency. And that is getting us better battery life because most laptops are as powerful as most people need for most daily tasks. What I mean by that is that even a $500 laptop has the processing horsepower it needs to drive a 1080p display at 60 frames per second for web, email, and even productivity workloads like photo and video editing.
This slight power plateau is creating opportunities and headaches for engineers. With spare power, companies can begin to hold back on wattage to sip energy from a battery instead of gulping it. But many laptops are both quick and can last you through an entire day of work and then an evening of streaming Netflix without requiring a charging break.
But if you don’t need more power and you don’t need more battery life, then what do you? Well, I would personally ask for even more battery life, but I’m not in charge. What actually ends up happening is engineers and designers manufacture a need for more power. When it comes to notebooks, that means making laptops thinner and lighter or increasing the display specifications.
This is the path that many laptop OEMs have taken over the last several years. You can now get some very slim notebooks, and many of those have 1440p displays or even 4K. You can still get a 1080p laptop display, which is usually sharp enough for gaming on a 15-inch screen or smaller, but now those come with higher refresh rates of 144Hz or even 360Hz.
The problem that is obvious during this CES is that hardware companies are once again running out of ways to use all the power at their disposal. Dell introduced its Alienware x lineup of super slim gaming notebooks. These devices are under 15mm thick, and yet they come with full RTX 30-series graphics cards and displays up to 1440p and 360Hz.
This has led some companies to try to figure out what is next for laptop design. For example, Lenovo has the ThinkBook Plus Gen 3 with a 17-inch ultrawide 21-by-10 display and then a second 8-inch display built into the base alongside the keyboard.
The 17-inch screen has a 3,072-by-1,440 resolution, which is already a lot of pixels but nothing that will cause its 12th-gen Intel Core H-series processor to break a sweat. And since 4K would be overkill on a device this size, Lenovo is adding extra pixels but in a new and potentially innovative way.
Asus is trying something similar with its massive 17-inch Zenbook 17 Fold Windows tablet.
I don’t think either of these are going to turn into the new standard for mobile computing, but it’s definitely a stab toward what the future is going to look like.
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