If 2010 and 2011 were years when portable computing was all about smartphones and tablets, 2012 may be the year that laptops make a comeback. Laptop makers are moving away from "cheap junk" laptops with bargain basement prices and striving for higher-quality systems, emphasizing thin-and-light designs, better materials, and enhanced usability.
The stars of the show, where laptops are concerned, will be Ultrabooks. Only a few Ultrabooks had reached market by the end of 2011, but we'll see dozens of models debuting throughout 2012. Many will be configured with CPUs from Intel's upcoming line code-named "Ivy Bridge," which resembles today's Sandy Bridge Core i5 and i7 processors, but with improved graphics capabilities and lower power use. The improvements should make Ivy Bridge perfect for thinner, lighter laptops. In addition to dozens of new laptops from current manufacturers, we may see one or two companies entering the field for the first time. Like Razer with its Blade gaming laptop, companies better known for other categories of tech products may sense an opportunity in the laptop PC market.
I hope to see at least one Ultrabook with discrete graphics. It doesn't have to be high-end--even a modest GPU from Nvidia or AMD would easily outclass the integrated graphics in Intel's chips, even with the improvements in Ivy Bridge. I'd much rather see discrete graphics than an optical drive, and I know companies will be building Ultrabooks with those. Laptops equipped with responsive touchscreens, in preparation for Windows 8, would be nice another treat at CES 2012. Whatever the laptop manufacturers have to announce, I hope it doesn't involve stuffing thick, heavy plastic machines with an array of parts to produce the cheapest laptop possible. Let's hope that the days of the crappy $500 laptop are behind us.
Windows 8 looms large over the whole PC industry, including laptops. Though it's unlikely to be released until the latter half of the year, the OS is probably going to very big--or at least heavily marketed. New Windows releases tend to possess a halo effect that lifts PC sales; and since Windows 8 is the most dramatic change to Windows in the last few years, the lift this time around could be larger than usual. With any luck, we'll see an updated version of Windows 8 at CES that will give us a hint about what's in store for us in February when the public beta appears. We may even get an early peek at laptops or convertible tablets designed with Windows 8 in mind. --Jason Cross
For more blogs, stories, photos, and video from the nation's largest consumer electronics show, check out PCWorld's complete coverage of CES 2012.Smartphones
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