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Opinion: The golden era of notebooks

By Julio Franco ยท 18 replies
Aug 31, 2017
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  1. As we head towards the end of summer, when kids go back to school and many happy vacationers reluctantly return to their workplaces, it’s common to think about the potential for new devices to help with renewed educational and vocational efforts.

    Back-to-school is a particularly important time for notebook PCs, as many vendors introduce new models to meet the seasonal boost in demand that hits this time each year. The great news this year is that it’s hard to go wrong with the options being made available. Thanks to some critical new technology announcements, advancements in some key standards, and most importantly, improvements in the physical designs of modern notebooks, there is a wealth of great options from which to choose.

    In fact, after years of hype and, frankly, some unfortunate cases of overpromising and underdelivering, we’re finally starting to get the super sleek and ultrathin, yet very powerful and flexible laptops we were promised a long time ago. To put it bluntly, the Windows PC industry has finally caught up to and arguably surpassed what Apple first started with the Macbook Air about 9 years ago.

    Pick up the latest offerings from Dell, HP, Lenovo, Acer or any other major Windows PC vendor, compare it to the notebook you currently own or use for work, and the difference will likely be dramatic. Today’s laptops are lighter, offer longer battery life, and nearly 1/3 feature flexible designs. Some have bendable hinges that enable switching from a traditional clamshell format with the keyboard down below the screen to a tablet-style mode, with a touchscreen interface. Others feature detachable keyboards, most notably Microsoft’s growing range of Surface devices.

    To put it bluntly, the Windows PC industry has finally caught up to and arguably surpassed what Apple first started with the Macbook Air about 9 years ago.

    Beyond the more obvious physical design enhancements, these new laptops also startup, boot applications, and run much faster than their predecessors. This performance boost is primarily due to some important “under-the-hood” improvements in the chips powering today’s notebooks. Last week, for example, Intel just announced the eighth generation of their Core line of CPUs, the Core i3, i5 and i7, which offer up to a 40% boost in performance versus even last year’s models on some applications (though not on everything).

    A good portion of this boost is due to Intel increasing the number of independent computing cores inside the CPU. Because people do more multitasking and keep multiple applications open and running on their computers these days, as well as the nature of how modern software is being written, these extra cores can make an important difference in real-world performance.

    In fact, Intel’s main competitor in the CPU market, AMD, used this design concept in both their Ryzen and Threadripper desktop CPUs—introduced earlier this year—with great effect. Thanks to these changes, AMD is finally starting to compete and, in some instances, beat Intel in desktop CPUs. AMD will be bringing these advancements to the mobile market in 2018. Best of all, though, it’s brought a greatly renewed sense of competition back to the market, and that will make both companies’ chips faster and the notebooks using these new designs even better, which is good news for all of us.

    The semiconductor improvements in PCs aren’t just limited to CPUs. Nvidia and AMD continue to drive the mobile PC gaming market forward with the dedicated GPUs. Nvidia just unveiled a new thin design they call MaxQ that allows even their high-end GeForce GTX1080 chip to fit inside a comparatively thin 18mm notebook, a huge improvement over many of the current gaming notebooks.

    As with CPUs, AMD also just made a strong new entry on the desktop side with their new Vega architecture chips, formally introduced earlier this month, and they will bring Vega to notebooks in 2018.

    But you may not even have to wait until then, because the final key new advancement in today’s notebooks is a relatively new connection standard called Thunderbolt 3.0. Found primarily on more expensive notebooks right now, Thunderbolt 3.0 uses the USB Type C physical connector, but supercharges it with the ability not only to connect up to two 4K displays, but also power connections for the notebook, storage devices that can work as fast as internal hard drives and, most interesting of all, the potential to connect desktop graphics cards to a thin notebook. Now, you will need a relatively large, separately powered adapter housing for the card, but the ability to connect and even potentially upgrade desktop-quality graphics to a notebook PC is a capability that’s never been widely available before.

    Put all these elements together and it’s clear that we really are in a golden era for laptop PCs. Small, lightweight designs, fast performance, tremendous expandability, and improved flexibility are enabling some of the most compelling new notebook designs we’ve ever seen. Throw in the fact that many new notebooks will be more than capable of driving the new mixed reality VR headsets that Microsoft and its PC partners just announced this week and the outlook appears even brighter. Plus, this vigorous new competitive environment is providing a desperately needed revived spirit for the PC industry overall, and promises even more improvements for the future.

    Bob O’Donnell is the founder and chief analyst of TECHnalysis Research, LLC a technology consulting and market research firm. You can follow him on Twitter . This article was originally published on Tech.pinions.

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  2. Reehahs

    Reehahs TS Guru Posts: 729   +472

    Shame about the price though for a decent machine.
    kapital98 and AntiShill like this.
  3. TillST

    TillST TS Rookie

    I'm personally really impressed with the mx 150 - compared to the 940mx- hope amd bring out some notebook graphics- perhaps matching the rx 550
  4. Blakey

    Blakey TS Booster Posts: 33   +53

    "Nvidia and AMD continue to drive the mobile PC gaming market forward with the dedicated GPUs."

    AMD have done nothing to help push the mobile gaming market. when was the last time you saw a good gaming laptop running anything AMD. I don't see them making many waves with there new architecture (Vega) mobally either with how much power/heat they produce.

    Mobile Ryzen hopefully will be good and I really hope their APU's with Ryzen/Vega Architecture are going to be good as that would be great for mobile market.
    AntiShill likes this.
  5. ikesmasher

    ikesmasher TS Evangelist Posts: 3,050   +1,384

    The thing with vega is that it undervolts/underclocks rather well from what I understand (so does ryzen). I think their mobile ryzen/vega APUS have a chance to be great if the price is right.
  6. erickmendes

    erickmendes TS Evangelist Posts: 572   +247

    I think that AMD GPU problem is not only that Vega didn't live to what AMD needed to counter NVidia, the main problem is that the cryptomining craze make AMD GPUs sell even if they are underpowered in gaming, making AMD prices go high. If AMD wasn't selling any GPU, AMD would drop Vega price to GTX1060/1070 level, making it really competitive.
  7. AntiShill

    AntiShill TS Booster Posts: 190   +48

    If AMD wants to make a crypto mining card, more power to them (pun intended). But don't do the bait-and-switch marketing with gamers. "Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice shame on me", most of us are not "poorly educated" and easily fooled by AMD's marketing hype. We don't want a power hungry and noisy vega that is priced higher than nVidia's offering while delivering same or less performance.

    And it is a lot of wishful thinking, to believe that Vega can get enough power savings without losing way too much performance for notebook application to compete with the likes of the GTX1060/70/80 that are already out there. Similarily, Ryzen is going to have hard time against the 15W and 28W intel U and Y series Kabylakes. But having competition is always good for the consumers, assuming AMD is NOT overpricing stuff like they are doing right now with Vega and Ryzen.
  8. Danny101

    Danny101 TS Guru Posts: 768   +292

    Until laptops can play contemporary games without busting the budget, the golden age has yet to be observed
    AntiShill likes this.
  9. GeforcerFX

    GeforcerFX TS Evangelist Posts: 875   +372

    Believe it or not the vast majority of laptop purchasers don't care about the gaming ability of the system, as long as solitaire and facebook games work they are happy. Looking at how far integrated gpus have come in 7 years your pretty much there. A FX-9800p or A12 or i5-i7u based laptop can play 8 out of the 10 most popular games on steam and play them well.
  10. seeprime

    seeprime TS Guru Posts: 382   +409

    Today's laptop's are much faster not because the processors are a bit faster, but primarily because the newest SSD's have ten times the data transfer rates of hard drives, and are cooler running and lighter, with the M.2 form factor being much smaller than hard drives
    AntiShill and MonkeyBoyX8000 like this.
  11. jobeard

    jobeard TS Ambassador Posts: 12,877   +1,526

    Because the MOST precious resource on a laptop is the battery. Longevity between charging is a major consideration in the choice and configuration of laptops.

    Gaming vs Laptops is an oxymoron and self contradiction.
    MonkeyBoyX8000 likes this.
  12. Ascaris

    Ascaris TS Addict Posts: 129   +92

    I like laptops; I am using one now. It was manufactured in 2008, back when any given laptop off the shelf probably had all kinds of neat attributes that are hard to come by now. My laptop is easy to tear down fully with nothing other than a small phillips screwdriver; I can have the motherboard out in 15 minutes. I can have the LCD panel out in 5-10 minutes. No glue, very straightforward to take apart and reassemble.

    The CPU is socketed. The RAM is removable. The discrete GPU is removable. The hard drive, the wifi card, the optical drive (they were common back then), all easily removed and replaced without having to open the case. Nothing is soldered; no planned obsolescence here.

    And, of course, the battery is removable in the truest sense; it just pops right out.

    If those things were not true, I would not be using that laptop now. Its original battery died years ago, as you would expect in a laptop this age. The 3GB of RAM it came with is getting kind of slim by today's standards. The Intel wifi card doesn't have drivers for anything later than Windows 7, and never worked that well to begin with, so it was good that I was able to replace it. The hard drive it came with is too slow and too small by today's standards. Of course, it was replaceable; there never were any that were built in the way some SSDs are now (Surface Laptop for one).

    It's also good that I was able to replace the keyboard without destroying anything, because I wore the old one out. Easily replaced, cheaply, and I am back in business.

    Back when my laptop was made, these features weren't anything special. They were all like that. Not so much anymore.

    Golden age? Maybe... it would depend on what you're looking for in a laptop. I'm not into the whole disposable electronics thing; I keep my stuff for a long time. That is much more important to me than light weight or compact size, though (of course) all else being equal, those are positive attributes. If I have to choose one or the other, I'll go for repairability and upgradeability over light and thin.

    I have all kinds of "seasoned" items. If they still do the job, they're not obsolete, and I'd rather repair than replace if I can, which I have in several cases. These days, when I go "window shopping" to find a laptop I'd buy if my current old one didn't do what I need, it's hard to find one that I'd go for without reservations.
  13. jobeard

    jobeard TS Ambassador Posts: 12,877   +1,526

  14. jobeard

    jobeard TS Ambassador Posts: 12,877   +1,526

    LOL; Dear Danny, portability, connectivity, access to projectors and . . . battery life F A R outweigh gaming considerations for the portable laptop.

    Gaming = 0, portable presentations = 100. Game, Set, Match!
  15. Danny101

    Danny101 TS Guru Posts: 768   +292

    Yes, I suppose I expect a lot.
  16. Stiqy

    Stiqy TS Enthusiast Posts: 51   +45

    "these new laptops also startup, boot applications, and run much faster than their predecessors."

    As far as user experience of boot times, loading apps and speed... this is mostly due to SSDs (which you don't even mention) not CPU's.

    Simply replace a 5200 RPM HD with an 850 Evo M.2 in a 4 year old core-i5 laptop and any typical user will be convinced they just got a new core-i7 with 32 Gb of RAM.

    Today's CPUs are barely operating in most use case scenarios.
    MonkeyBoyX8000 and jobeard like this.
  17. jobeard

    jobeard TS Ambassador Posts: 12,877   +1,526

    The laptop is stuck at 5200 rpm due to the higher current draw necessary to run the 7200 rpm drive. True enough, the SSD is a major contributor to laptop performance, but being old school myself, I'll never go the SSD route.
  18. Darth Shiv

    Darth Shiv TS Evangelist Posts: 1,962   +577

    There are GTX1060 based ultra thin laptops for around $1200. That's a very decent amount of GPU power.

    Have to say though that MacBook Airs, just like all Mac laptops *never* had adequate GPU. It's always been a very low bar set in that regard.
    AntiShill likes this.
  19. amghwk

    amghwk TS Guru Posts: 523   +318

    Battery life is still a hit or miss affair..

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