AMD and Intel have been in a race to stuff their highest-end processors with as many cores as possible, and it appears that this one-upmanship isn’t about to end any time soon — much to your advantage. As Macworld UK notes, Intel is close to releasing a new range of Xeon E5 processors where more cores (and thus more parallel computing power) is par for the course. According to ChipLoco‘s leaked roadmap, even the lowest-spec chips start with six cores versus today’s four; the best model touts a whopping 18, which should help heavy-duty systems juggle a huge number of simultaneous workloads.
You may get to see this new Xeon in action, too. The new E5 is expected to launch on September 9th in Dell Precision workstations, and it’s also a direct upgrade to the chips used in the Mac Pro. Sadly, you likely won’t find an 18-core desktop in an Apple Store any time soon — that processor will be too hot and power-hungry — but it’s entirely possible that a 14-core Mac will show up. Whichever platform you prefer, you shouldn’t have to wait for much longer for a dream 4K video editing rig.
No gadget — besides a smartphone, maybe — is as crucial to a college student as the laptop. Regardless of your major, you’ll want a solid machine with a well-crafted keyboard to see you through term papers, class presentations and more. From a sub-$400 Chromebook to sleek models from Lenovo and Samsung, our roundup has something for everyone. Click through the gallery below to see all 11 picks, and don’t forget to check out the rest of our guide for other gadget recommendations.
When PC gaming juggernaut Valve announced its Steam Machines initiative in Fall 2013, it was unveiled as such:
“Entertainment is not a one-size-fits-all world. We want you to be able to choose the hardware that makes sense for you, so we are working with multiple partners to bring a variety of Steam gaming machines to market during 2014, all of them running SteamOS.”
Not long after, at CES 2014, Valve revealed a full line of Steam Machines from 14 different companies. Chief among them was Alienware, Dell’s gaming PC arm, which showed a teensy $550 box called the “Alpha.” Alienware was a standout not just due to name recognition, but because the company proposed a launch window for its “game console”. The Alpha won’t ship with any of the promises of the Steam Machines initiative: no Steam OS and no Steam Controller. Valve’s delayed both, but Alienware’s pushing on nonetheless with a fall launch.
That’s all to say one thing: While the Alpha is still a “Steam Machine” in size and horsepower, it isn’t a Steam Machine. The Alienware Alpha is a weird gaming PC.
Alienware held an event last week in New York City to show off the Alpha. We were given time to play games on the system, sure, but the focus of the event was on the custom operating system that Alienware’s built to get around the fact that Valve’s initiative isn’t ready.
According to Alienware, Valve president Gabe Newell sees the Alpha as the “ideal Steam Machine.” It’s hard to see how, at least at the moment: It runs Windows 8.1, it ships with an Xbox 360 wireless gamepad, and it requires a USB-based wireless dongle to make that gamepad function. Alpha is $550 — $50 more than the most expensive new game console — and it’s lacking in the horsepower department. Which GPU is inside? A “custom” NVIDIA Maxwell GTX. How about processing? Handled by an Intel i3.
In so many words, the Alpha is roughly as powerful as the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, only it costs more and is nowhere near as accessible.
THE ALPHA UI
In place of Steam OS, Alienware’s got a custom user interface that allows you to skip the Windows 8 desktop. It’s non-ironically called the “Alpha UI,” which is fitting given how vacuous it feels. We weren’t actually able to use it; instead, Alienware guided media through a slideshow of its features. Those features are sparse: play games, adjust a small handful of settings, and a button combination that helps players escape the pitfalls of playing PC games.
Ever go to play a Ubisoft game, only to have the UPlay dialog box pop up? Not such a big deal if you’re sitting right in front of your computer, keyboard and mouse in-hand, but quite a frustration if you’re playing a PC game using a gamepad from your couch. The Alpha gets around this issue by offering a kill command for offending software.
Ever play a Steam game that advertises “partial controller support?” Alienware reps say they’re working with Valve to test every single game and update all those listings. For now, however, workarounds like the kill prompt will have to do.
Let’s be clear: the Alpha is a system of workarounds. No Steam OS? Alienware built a bare bones OS to shepherd consumers from a Windows 8 experience to Steam’s living room-friendly Big Picture Mode. No Steam Controller? Alienware’s straight up buying Xbox 360 wireless gamepads and dongles to ship a controller with each Alpha.
Unfortunately for Alienware and folks excited for the Alpha, another word for “workaround” is compromise. Alienware says you’ll be able to upgrade to Steam OS and the Steam Controller whenever Valve’s got those ready. For now, though, the Alpha feels undercooked — a rushed product which serves Alienware’s bottom line and little else. We’re reserving full judgement until we’ve got a final unit this November when it ships to customers, but color us worried as of late Summer.
Edgar Alvarez contributed to this report.
Y’all remember the Alienware M11x, right? That compact, netbook-sized gaming laptop with the glowing keyboard that made it look like a spaceship? Anyway, Dell discontinued it back in 2012, only to release several big-screen machines the following year. Well, it looks like someone at the company saw the error of their ways: Dell just announced the Alienware 13, and while it’s not the brand’s smallest notebook ever, it’s definitely the smallest the company has put out in quite some time.
The machine won’t arrive until November, unfortunately, but for now, here’s what we know: This little guy will weigh in at 4.5 pounds — about two pounds lighter than the Alienware 14. It will also measure less than an inch thick, making it an obvious competitor to the super-thin Razer Blade. Similar to the Blade, which rocks a 3,200 x 1,800 touchscreen, the Alienware 13 will be offered with a 2,560 x 1,440 touch panel. Keep it mind, though, that it will actually come standard with 1,366 x 768 resolution. There will also be an in-between 1080p option, according to Dell. Neither of those will support touch, however — just something to consider as you’re going through all the configuration options online.
On the inside, it makes use of NVIDIA’s GeForce GTX 860M GPU, and can be configured with either an SSD or a traditional hard drive. It will eventually rock Intel’s next-gen Broadwell CPUs too, just not at launch. Keep it mind that these are still full-voltage processors, so while the Alienware 13 might have a smaller footprint, you probably shouldn’t expect it to run any cooler. The battery, meanwhile, is rated for up to eight hours of video playback, though surely the runtime will drop once you’re playing games unplugged. No word on price yet, or even full spec options. Dell says it’ll reveal all that sometime… later, closer to when the machine goes on sale. Until then, enjoy the hands-on photos.
If you fancy nabbing new tech by leveraging your Bitcoin wallet, another online retailer has just joined the fray. CEO Michael Dell alerted the masses via Twitter that his company would begin accepting the digital currency, claiming that the outfit is “world’s largest ecommerce business” to do so. The device maker is partnering with Coinbase to power its transactions, and those looking to snag a new Alienware rig will earn a discount when forking over Bitcoin for payment.
[Photo credit: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images]
- Michael Dell (@MichaelDell) July 18, 2014
Both Gartner and IDC appear to have some good news for the PC industry — the seemingly never-ending death spiral may have come to an end. While the two research groups don’t agree completely on the numbers, it does appear that after two years of stead and sizable declines, the PC industry is seeing shipments flatten out. In total, according to Gartner, 75.8 million computers were shipped in the second quarter of 2014, a negligible 0.1 percent drop from the same quarter a year ago. While IDC saw a much more sizable 1.7 percent fall in PC shipments, that’s still a far cry from the 7.1 percent decline it anticipated and the smallest it’s measured in two years.
Two years ago the netbook market imploded and tablets started eating into laptop sales. Since then shipments of traditional computers have been falling at an alarming rate. IDC doesn’t necessarily expect this to indicate a longer term trend towards flat PC sales. Basically, the worst may not be over yet. Despite impressive growth from major players like Dell, HP and Lenovo smaller companies are still seeing tremendous drop off. And the declines are particularly steep in markets like India where the most potential for growth is. Instead the improvements during the quarter were carried primarily by the US and Western Europe, which might not be able to keep the industry from declining further in the long run.
Computers have gone through nothing short of a renaissance in the decade since Engadget was born. When we started in 2004, desktops still ruled the roost; laptops were frequently clunky; and tablets were niche devices for doctors.
That state of affairs didn’t last for long, though. Netbooks briefly took over the world, bringing tiny laptops to the masses. Ultrabooks proved that slim machines could still be powerful. And just about the entire PC market has had to confront the rise and domination of touchscreen-enabled mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. In short, it’s pretty remarkable how much of a difference 10 years can make in tech.
2004: Sony VAIO X505
Notable specs: 1.1GHz Pentium M processor, 20GB hard drive, 1.73-pound weight, 10.4-inch (1,024 x 768) display.
Sony didn’t realize it at the time, but it was laying the groundwork for the next decade of laptops with the VAIO X505. The 10-inch system was so featherlight and slender that it was easy to take anywhere, much like a netbook or Ultrabook. If it weren’t for the astronomical $2,999 price tag, it’s possible it could have started a mobile-computing revolution.
2005: IBM ThinkPad T43
Notable specs: 1.6GHz to 2.13GHz Pentium M processors, 30GB or larger hard drive, 6-pound weight, DVD drive, 14.1-inch (1,024 x 768 or 1,400 x 1,050) display.
The ThinkPad T43 was the swan song for an era of computing when laptops were mostly for globe-trotting professionals. One of the last PCs to bear the IBM name before Lenovo closed its acquisition of IBM’s PC business, it represented everything good about the ThinkPad badge: It was fast, well-built and relatively easy to carry in a briefcase.
2006: Dell XPS 700
Notable specs: Core 2 Duo or Core 2 Extreme processors, dual 320GB hard drives, dual DVD drives, dual GeForce 7900 GTX graphics.
Dell had built up a reputation for high-performance PCs well before 2006, but the XPS 700 was the system to own that year if you wanted a gaming desktop from a major brand. Its aggressive design still holds up today, and it was often as powerful as custom-built rigs. It was a dream machine at a time when you still needed a giant tower for serious online gaming.
2007: ASUS Eee PC 701
Notable specs: 800MHz or 900MHz Celeron M processors, 2GB to 8GB solid-state drives, 2-pound weight, 7-inch (800 x 480) display.
The Eee PC 701 marked the official start of the netbook craze, which lasted until the iPad’s arrival in 2010. Its screen, speed and storage were very modest even when new, but it showed that you didn’t need a big, expensive portable just to check your email at the coffee shop.
2008: Apple MacBook Air
Notable specs: 1.6GHz or 1.8GHz Core 2 Duo processors, 80GB hard drive or 64GB solid-state drive, 3-pound weight, 13.3-inch (1,280 x 800) display.
The archetypal Ultrabook. While it wasn’t without its quirks, the MacBook Air successfully bridged the gap between ultraportables and full laptops. It was fast enough for most tasks, yet light enough that you’d hardly notice it in your bag.
2009: HP Firebird
Notable specs: 2.66GHz or 2.83GHz Core 2 Quad processors, dual 250GB or 320GB hard drives, DVD or Blu-ray drives, dual GeForce 9800S graphics.
While HP’s Firebird line wasn’t perfect by any stretch, it showed how efficient desktops had become. You could get a reasonably quick, ready-made gaming PC that both looked good and didn’t swallow up too much surface area. It’s arguably the prototype for the small-yet-strong Steam Machines that would follow five years later.
2010: Lenovo IdeaCentre A300
Notable specs: 2.2GHz Core 2 Duo processor, 500GB hard drive, 21.5-inch (1,920 x 1,080) display.
Although the iMac is virtually synonymous with all-in-one computers, Lenovo’s sleekly designed IdeaCentre A300 was proof that Apple didn’t have a complete lock on the category. Rather than glom the computer on to the A300′s back, Lenovo tucked it away in the base. The result was a relatively subtle, stylish desktop that looked right at home in just about any environment.
2011: Samsung Chromebook Series 5
Notable specs: 1.66GHz Atom processor, 16GB solid-state drive, 3.3-pound weight, 12.1-inch (1,280 x 800) display.
Unlike the other PCs here, the Chromebook Series 5′s real revolution was its software — with Chrome OS, both Google and Samsung were betting that you only needed a web browser for most of your day-to-day computing. That was optimistic on a slow, Atom-based machine circa 2011, but the Series 5 helped launch a wave of stripped-down, affordable laptops that could do a lot without relying on conventional apps.
2012: Apple MacBook Pro with Retina display
Notable specs: 2.3GHz or 2.6GHz Core i7 processors, 256GB to 768GB solid-state drives, 4.5-pound weight, 15.4-inch (2,880 x 1,800) display.
Apple’s 2012 MacBook Pro redesign was just an iterative upgrade in some ways, but it was also a bellwether for where laptop design would go. It wasn’t just that extra-sharp Retina display that turned heads; this was also one of the first high-end, full-size laptops to ditch optical discs and hard drives in the name of both an easier-to-carry body and faster, flash-based storage.
2013: Acer Aspire R7
Notable specs: 1.8GHz Core i5 processor, 500GB hybrid hard drive, 15.6-inch (1,920 x 1,080) adjustable display.
Windows 8′s touch-friendly interface prompted a flood of PCs that tried to be everything to everyone, and that’s epitomized in Acer’s one-of-a-kind Aspire R7. Depending on how you adjusted its multi-hinged display, the R7 could serve as a desktop, laptop or tablet. It wasn’t especially good at any of these, but it revealed how eager PC makers were to keep you from buying mobile tablets.
2014: Microsoft Surface Pro 3
Notable specs: Core i3, i5 or i7 processor, 64GB to 512GB solid-state drive, 12-inch (2,160 x 1,440) display.
If you want a system emblematic of the changes to PCs in the past 10 years, you only need to look at Microsoft’s latest flagship device, the Surface Pro 3. So long as you get its (practically mandatory) keyboard cover, it blurs the lines between tablet and laptop — it’s as useful for watching movies on the couch as it is for serious media editing at your desk.
Jon Turi contributed to this post.
Alienware is no slouch when it comes to cranking out high-end gaming PCs, but its approach to Valve’s Steam Machine project is a bit different. The company is looking to deliver a high-quality PC gaming experience to the living room, but the execution doesn’t sound much different from the experience that’s already available for other machines running Valve’s made-for-TV Big Picture Mode (BPM). The rub of the Alienware Alpha series is that the diminutive PC boots directly into BPM automatically after hitting the rig’s power button. The problem with that is two-fold: Big Picture Mode doesn’t do the best job of identifying which games are fully controller supported, and because Valve recently delayed its in-house designed controller (which essentially is a stand-in for a mouse), OEMs not delaying hardware of their own need to come up with work arounds.
In Alienware’s case, the company is shipping every one of its Alpha rigs with an Xbox 360 controller and customizing an interface to make BPM fully controller compatible. A version of that experience is already available with PCs running the Steam OS beta and connected to a TV; you still need a mouse and keyboard to do certain tasks like logging into Ubisfot’s Uplay service, though. We asked Alienware if it would be offering an upgrade (free or otherwise) to get one of Valve’s controllers when they actually ship, and were told that that was still too far out. We were told that it’s extremely difficult to answer that because “the company [Dell] doesn’t know when the Steam controller is going to be ready,” Alienware’s marketing manager Bryan de Zayas told us.
According to de Zayas, Valve’s Gabe Newell has said that Alienware’s product is the ideal Steam Machine. How so? Well, the Alpha has HDMI pass-through, it’s smaller than the other consoles, and has gigabit ethernet and fiber optic audio baked in. What’s more, the base configuration with an Intel i3 is $549 and Alienware promises games running on high settings at 1080p and 60 frames-per-second. We’ll believe that claim when we see it. Hopefully that’s this week at E3 2014.
Filed under: Gaming