Though PCs don't get the attention that they once did, they're still a $150 billion-plus business. And parts of the PC industry continue faring pretty well.
The large Computex trade show, which kicked off in Taipei on Tuesday, drives home how there's still plenty of innovation going on in the PC world, not to mention some interesting battles among PC OEMs and chipmakers. Here are a few key takeaways:
Gaming PCs and Thin-and-Light Laptops Remain Big
While total PC shipment growth has been flat to slightly down in recent quarters, PC gaming hardware spend has been much stronger, as gamers (including eSports players) splurge on systems that allow them to play demanding titles at high resolutions and quality settings. HP (HPQ) , Intel (INTC) and others have also reported seeing strong demand for high-end thin-and-light notebooks and notebook/tablet hybrids (2-in-1s).
Both of these markets have gotten plenty of love at Computex. Plenty of custom gaming PCs have been unveiled, and so have a slew of high-end gaming monitors supporting either Nvidia's (NVDA) G-Sync or AMD's (AMD) FreeSync display technologies. Intel (INTC) and AMD each showed off new CPUs aimed at gaming and enthusiast desktop buyers, with Intel also disclosing plans to refresh its power-efficient U-series and Y-series notebook processor lines later this year.
Taiwanese OEM Asus (the world's #4 PC maker) unveiled a few head-turning notebooks. These include Asus's ZenBook S, which can pack a high-end Intel CPU and 4K display into a system weighing just 2.2 pounds, and ZenBook Pro, which replaces a standard touchpad with a 5.5-inch secondary display that can run its own apps. Rival MSI, meanwhile, showed off powerful gaming notebooks that look more like traditional ultrabooks.
Intel and PC OEMs both benefit from a mix shift towards high-end notebooks and gaming systems, via higher average selling prices (ASPs) and perhaps also higher margins. Nvidia naturally gets a boost from gaming PC demand. On the flip side, the fact that ultrabooks and 2-in-1s typically feature solid-state drives (SSDs) rather than hard drives isn't great news for Seagate (STX) and (though it also has a large flash memory business) Western Digital (WDC) .
Intel Continues to Push the Envelope
Intel's PC CPU business is staring at a tougher competitive environment than it has seen in years, partly due to its own manufacturing issues. However, it's hard not to respect the investments Intel makes -- both directly, and through its VC arm -- in technologies and applications that could serve to grow PC demand.
Several such efforts have been showcased at Computex. Among them: Intel's Low Power Display Technology, which (with the help of Intel's integrated GPUs and low-power LCD panels from Sharp and Innolux) is promised to cut notebook LCD power draw by up to 50% and deliver an additional 4 to 8 hours of video playback. Also shown off: A smaller SSD based on Intel's next-gen 3D XPoint memory (co-developed with Micron (MU) ), which for a price offers much faster read and write times than NAND flash memory but (unlike DRAM) retains its data when power is lost.
Then there's Tiger Rapids, a notebook prototype in which a physical keyboard and touchpad are replaced by a large second display. This display could show a software-based keyboard and touchpad...or it could be used to get extra screen real estate or jot down notes with a stylus. Asus and Lenovo both showed off notebook prototypes that appear to be influenced by Tiger Rapids.
AMD Is Making Some Notebook Progress
From all signs, AMD's Ryzen CPUs have made a lot more headway in the desktop market than in the notebook market thus far. The company's Ryzen desktop processor lineup is broader than its Ryzen Mobile notebook processor lineup, particularly when one includes the high-end Ryzen Threadripper family. And while reviews of Ryzen Mobile-powered systems have praised the performance of AMD's integrated GPUs, comparable Intel-powered systems were often found to have a moderate CPU performance edge and a somewhat larger battery life edge.
There were also only a limited number of Ryzen Mobile systems available when the platform launched last fall. However, as AMD was eager to note at its Computex event, that's no longer the case today. The company now claims Ryzen Mobile design wins for a slew of high-profile notebook lines, including HP's Envy, Lenovo's Yogo and IdeaPad and Dell's Inspiron. For their parts, Acer and Huawei used Computex to unveil Ryzen Mobile-powered notebooks for their Predator Helios and MateBook lines, respectively.
Consumers and businesses still have to choose to buy these notebooks rather than Intel-powered alternatives, of course. But getting this kind of backing from major PC OEMs -- many of whom doubtlessly view supporting AMD as a good way to keep Intel honest -- definitely doesn't hurt AMD's cause.
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