Behold the PCs of CES 2013. They are simpler, smarter, easier to use, and more portable than their now ever-so-clunky predecessors. No mice or keyboards are required. Indeed, these are not your daddy's computers. And let's not even call them PCs. How about: Tablets, hybrids, all-in-ones, and even Table PCs.
Bottom line: Most PCs in Las Vegas this week make the hulking desktop PCs of yesteryear look like machines only Bill Gates could love.
A funny thing has happened to PCs over the last 10 years, and the trends are most obvious if you look at personal computing through the spectrum of CES. It's been a slow, winding road, but PCs are finally beginning to achieve an almost appliance-like simplicity.
Microsoft deserves part of the credit, with its versatile Windows 8 OS, which runs on everything from traditional desktops to tablets to hybrid laptops. Sure, using the system itself presents a learning curve, but by unifying so many different types of devices under a single OS experience, Microsoft finds "learning efficiencies" in a multi-device ecosystem.
Credit also goes to chipmakers AMD, Intel, and Nvidia for improving graphics, battery life, and CPU speeds--all without sacrificing performance on the altar of ease of use. And PC makers themselves have also stepped up, introducing easier-to-use industrial design.
As I spoke with PC chip and hardware makers here at CES 2013, it's clear that simple is where it's at. Here are just a few examples.
Simplicity through obscurity: Nvidia
A lot about the PC's form factor has changed over the past decade. The road from beige boxes to slim tablets is easy to chart. Less obvious is how the guts of the PC have evolved -- namely with things such as the graphics processing unit (GPU). It wasn't so long ago that playing a PC game out of the box delivered a low resolution, muddy mess. Gamers were left to try to optimize resolution via jargon-filled menu settings. The problem was game developers couldn't account for the vast range of performance differences between PCs.
Nvidia's solution: the GeForce Experience. GFE uses a huge, cloud-based database of system configurations to auto-set graphics settings for PC games. Users don't know there's a giant database, nor are they aware of the algorithms built into GFE to check and set game configurations. It all runs in the background. Nvidia is using big iron servers in the cloud to make life easier for PC gamers, who will have no idea how much horsepower and data is committed to making their games run better.
Simplicity by standardization: Intel
At CES, Intel took the wraps off plans for tablets and Ultrabooks for the upcoming year based on the fourth-generation Haswell chip architecture. The big news was Intel's North Cape reference design, which is a model for what Ultrabooks could be in 2013. North Cape prototypes I looked at are slim, run all day on one charge, and come with a detachable display that morphs into a 10mm Windows 8 tablet. Now you don't have to feel the sting of buying a laptop and regret not buying a tablet.
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