CES 2021 preview: Brace yourself for a deluge of new PC hardware

CES may be virtual in 2021, but we expect to see plenty of new hardware from the likes of Intel, AMD, Nvidia, HP, Dell, Asus, MSI, and more.

Credit: Gordon Mah Ung/IDG

This year’s incarnation of the CES trade show will be like no other. Last year, nearly 175,000 attendees crammed into the Las Vegas Convention Center and hotels across the Strip to get a glimpse of the latest and greatest gadgets. That obviously can’t happen now. But the show must go on, and we’re still expecting a deluge of awesome hardware to be unveiled at the all-virtual CES 2021, running January 11 to January 14.

A lot of CES is devoted to smart home technology, and the announcements have already started rolling out at our sister site TechHive. We’re also certain to see a new flagship Galaxy Phone from Samsung. But expect to see plenty of eye-opening PC hardware news as well. Let’s dig in.

Intel

New computer processors and graphics chips serve as the foundation for new generations of laptops and desktops. We’re expecting to see plenty of chip action at CES 2021.

First up (literally): Intel. Gregory Bryant, the head of Intel’s client computing group, is holding a keynote dubbed “Do more with the power of computing” at 1 p.m. Pacific Time on January 11, which you can watch on Intel’s Newsroom page. Given the title, we might hear more about the company’s “Evo” push for premium laptop experiences, and maybe see the 8-core 11th-gen “Tiger Lake” chip teased last fall. (The current Tiger Lake lineup tops out at four cores.) Intel’s gaming-class H-series laptop chips are about due for a refresh (the 10th-gen “Comet Lake H” processors launched last April), so we could hear more about that during CES 2021 as well. 

intel rocket lake architecture details Intel

Key features of Intel’s upcoming Rocket Lake platform.

We definitely expect to hear about Rocket Lake, the 11th generation of Intel’s Core desktop chips. Intel already said that Rocket Lake processors will launch in the first quarter of the year, bearing double-digit IPC improvements and PCIe 4.0 capabilities to help in the battle against AMD’s Ryzen resurgence. Rocket Lake will use a new “Cypress Cove” CPU architecture—though it’s rumored to be manufactured with the ancient 14nm process, rather than the 10nm found in Tiger Lake—and include Intel’s new Xe graphics.

Leaks from actual motherboard vendors teasing new Z590 models all but confirm Rocket Lake will be announced at CES 2021.

AMD

Don’t expect Intel’s chief rival to sit on its thumbs, though. AMD reclaimed the desktop crown with its fantastic Ryzen 5000 series. Those launched in the fall, and we expect to see laptop chips based on the same 7nm “Zen 3” architecture announced at CES 2021, serving as a follow-up to the stunningly successful Ryzen 4000 mobile series.

You should always take rumors with a massive grain of salt, but Ryzen 5000 mobile leaks have been popping off left and right over the past month. Hopefully the gargantuan IPC increases of the desktop chips make it over to these mobile variants. Some early rumors suggest the Ryzen 5000 lineup will use two different architectures: Cezanne, a Zen 3 design, as well as the Zen 2-based Lucienne. We’ll know soon whether that’s true, as AMD CEO Lisa Su is holding a CES 2021 keynote at 8 a.m. Pacific on January 12.  

ryzen 4000 mobile cpu AMD

We anticipate a successor to AMD’s fantastic mobile Ryzen 4000 chips at CES 2021.

Hopefully AMD will reveal new graphics products of some sort as well. The company’s Radeon graphics division just kicked off a new generation of video cards with the Radeon RX 6000-series, but we’ve only seen the high-end Radeon RX 6800-series and flagship Radeon RX 6900 XT thus far. All three of those GPUs cost over $500. Fingers crossed we hear about more affordable graphics cards with AMD’s new RDNA 2 architecture inside, though given the intense supply crunch for next-gen GPUs, new models could be a no-show for now. Laptop versions of the RX 6000-series are also possible but feel unlikely to happen just yet.

It’s a long shot, but we’d also love to hear more about FidelityFX Super Resolution. At the Radeon RX 6000-series launch, AMD teased the technology as a more open, cross-platform alternative to Nvidia’s DLSS 2.0 AI upscaling technology but said more details would come later. DLSS 2.0 gives Nvidia’s GeForce GPUs a big performance boost in compatible titles and makes a massive difference when cutting-edge ray tracing effects are enabled. AMD needs to roll out Super Resolution details sooner than later. Could CES 2021 be the place?

Nvidia

geforce rtx game on Nvidia

Speaking of Nvidia, the company is holding a CES-adjacent event of its own. “GeForce RTX: Game On” will be streamed on January 12 at 9 a.m. Pacific, right after AMD’s event wraps up. Phew! Given the name and the fact that it’s being hosted by GeForce SVP Jeff Fisher, this event should offer new goodies for gamers.

The big news should be RTX 30-series graphics chips for gaming laptops, if leaks before the show are any indication. Videocardz claims Nvidia is preparing mobile versions of the GeForce RTX 3060, 3070, and 3080, though the laptop chips may offer fewer CUDA cores than their full-fat desktop siblings. If Intel or AMD indeed plan on rolling out new notebook processors, having a fresh GeForce mobile lineup to accompany them would be important to Nvidia.

It might not be all laptops, though. Nvidia has a two-month head start over AMD with its desktop GeForce RTX 30-series GPUs, so we could hear about more affordable Ampere-powered offerings like the GeForce RTX 3060 or 3050. (The RTX 3060 Ti is already here and it’s amazing.) We could also see amped-up RTX 3070 Ti and 3080 Ti variants revealed to combat AMD’s Radeon RX 6000-series cards, even though the non-Ti versions are mere months old and still difficult to find. AMD came out strong this generation, and Nvidia hates not being the clear victor in benchmark charts. It’s easy to envision Nvidia releasing a GeForce RTX 3080 Ti with 3090-like performance and anywhere from 12GB to 20GB of memory, just to kick the Radeon RX 6900 XT in the teeth.

Laptops, desktops, and components

Of course, there needs to be vessels for all those exciting new chips to ship in. Expect to see abundant laptop and desktop announcements at CES 2021, and customized versions of any new components revealed at the show. Think third-party versions of GeForce RTX 3080 Ti graphics cards or Intel Z590 motherboards, potentially.  

acer xb3 xb273u nx monitor Acer

Acer’s newly announced Predator XB273U NX monitor blends 1440p resolution with blistering 265Hz refresh rates and Nvidia’s Reflex Latency Analyzer technology.

We’ve already seen a handful of announcements this week ahead of the show. Acer revealed a trio of luxurious, ultra-fast gaming monitors; both Acer and Samsung announced fresh Chromebooks; Lenovo teased new IdeaPad and Yoga laptops that double as an Amazon Echo Show; and Dell showed off business-focused PCs and monitors.

Consider them the tip of the iceberg. We expect to see many more announcements after the formal reveal of new chips from Intel, AMD, and Nvidia. Many of the largest PC vendors have events of their own planned for CES week:

The Consumer Technology Association reveals Innovation Award winners before CES even kicks off, and the honorees include hardware from HP, Dell, and Lenovo, so we’d expect to see announcements from those companies during the show as well. If a range of new CPUs, GPUs, and motherboard chipsets indeed get announced, we’d expect to see related announcements from the likes of Alienware, LG, Gigabyte, EVGA, Samsung, and possibly system integrators like Falcon Northwest and Origin PC, though their releases might not be formally tied to the show itself.

asus rog citadel v app Asus

A screenshot from Asus’s ROG Citadel XV app that showcases new products revealed at CES 2021.

That said, we’ve heard from several smaller PC vendors that typically show off new products in Vegas that they aren’t planning any announcements for the virtual CES 2021 event. Don’t expect to see the range of exotic, enthusiast-focused specialty products that often gets revealed at typical Consumer Electronic Shows.  

In addition to updated computers and fresh computer components, expect to see fresh peripherals as well. CES tends to be popular for monitor and router announcements, for example, and the Wi-Fi Alliance began certifying Wi-Fi 6E devices just yesterday. CES 2021 would be the perfect place to roll out the red carpet for Wi-Fi 6E routers.

That about wraps things up. Stay tuned to PCWorld next week to see how many of these predictions come true. It’s shaping up to be a spectacular CES for computer geeks.

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Brad Chacos

Brad Chacos

PC World (US online)
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