Computex Taipei 2017 catch-up

This year’s Computex had so many surprises dropped that it was difficult to keep up with what was happening. Now that it’s finally over, I’ve summarised all the important announcements and product reveals that came out of it. There are some real gems in here, so let’s dive in!

Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 for Windows 10

We’ve had some news before about ARM chips becoming the powerhouse behind machines running Windows 10 – in fact, that was basically the premise behind the first flood of Windows 8 devices with ARM processors back in the day. Microsoft thinks they can give it another shot now that the Windows 10 ecosystem is a little more fleshed out, and now that they can perform x86 emulation on ARM chips (not an easy thing to do fluidly, but it works just fine for now). In a short teaser from Qualcomm announcing the platform, they show some examples of Windows 10 on ARM running applications and zipping about the Windows 10 interface. However, things aren’t quite there yet. The Office applications shown in the video are the mobile versions of Word, PowerPoint, and Excel, and use of these applications requires a subscription to Office 365.

The option for ARM devices is quite something, notably because there’ll be big benefits to battery life over the current generation of Intel processors, and there’s an argument that can be made for better security because the only applications you can download and run are ones from the Windows Store. Additionally, Snapdragon 835 devices will come with Gigabit LTE capability, so we’re going to see a resurgence of devices that can accept SIM cards for internet on the go again.

AMD Ryzen for OEM desktops

AMD’s Ryzen platform launched earlier this year, just a few months ago, and already big-box OEMs like Dell, HP, Acer, and Lenovo are finding uses for it. AMD had a selection of desktops to show off at their Computex conference, as well as a few laptops, and things look really good for the platform. There are finally models from these brands that only use Ryzen for those specific product families. The implication is, of course, that the OEMs did it this way to avoid diluting their Intel-based solutions, which I’m perfectly happy with.

Desktops like the Dell Inspiron Gaming Desktop are a good example of that. Dell offers a baseline configuration with a Bristol Ridge APU, and goes all the way to a Ryzen 7 1800X with dual Radeon RX 580 graphics cards in Crossfire, 32GB of DDR4 RAM, up to five storage drives and exotic cooling solutions that include a closed-loop water cooler. HP, Acer, and Lenovo all have very similar offerings, and which one you prefer largely depends on how you like their designs and component selection. Dell’s option looks like a very mature version of an Alienware desktop, and the black plastic vents actually do serve a purpose. I can’t wait to see it in person.

If that wasn’t cool enough, Ryzen also found its way into Zotac’s tiny Magnus family for the first time. The top model shown is the Magnus MA551, which does not ship with discrete graphics, but has a selection of Ryzen processors that fit into a 65W TDP. I can only assume that these are the forthcoming Ryzen APU processors recently shown. The bottom model is the Magnus ER51060/ER50170. This also ships with 65W processors, but also includes options for discrete graphics cards like the GeForce GTX 1060 and GTX 1070.

Dell also has the Ryzen 7 1700-powered Inspiron 27 700 all-in-one desktop. It has options for SSDs, RAM upgrades and the like, but it also ships with a Radeon RX 580 graphics card, Windows Hello compatibility, a bottom-mounted dual-sensor Windows Hello camera with infrared sensors, integrated soundbar, and an optional 27-inch IPS 4K display. It’s also fully upgradeable, with a regular AM4 socket inside, as well as user-serviceable RAM and hard drives, and a MXM slot for the graphics card. This is the holy grail of all-in-one desktops, literally.

AMD Ryzen is also inside laptops

Somehow, OEMs are even crazy enough to try shoving Ryzen into a mobile form factor without first waiting for Ryzen mobile. ASUS was first out of the gate with the ROG Strix, boasting a desktop Ryzen 7 1700 inside a chassis with a 17.3-inch display, up to 32GB of RAM, a Radeon RX 580 with 8GB of GDDR5 memory, dual SSD options, and a premium metal finish that makes it look much more like a stylish workstation than a gaming powerhouse. The display also supports FreeSync 2.0 which includes HDR capability, and comes with a 4K UltraHD display that is also HDR and FreeSync compatible. The 4K option tops out at 60Hz, while the 1080p displays either have a 75Hz or 120Hz refresh rate (the difference between the HDR and non-HDR version).

Eight cores, sixteen threads, a desktop-class GPU inside, FreeSync, and no graphics switching technology? That’s right up my alley.

Intel X299 motherboards galore!

There are SO MANY good-looking Intel X299 motherboards out there. Everyone has one – MSI, EVGA, ASUS, ASRock, Colourful, Gigabyte, the works. These house the new LGA 2066 socket that fits the Intel Kaby Lake-X and Skylake-X processors, offering up to 18 cores and 36 threads for enthusiasts to play with. Quad-channel DDR4 is on offer here, as well as up to 44 PCIe 3.0 lanes, support for three SSDs in RAID using M.2 or U.2 connectors, and the option of supporting up to four GPUs in Crossfire (SLI is limited to two these days).

ASUS is the one with special sauce to take note of, because in their BIOS they’ve included a feature normally reserved for enterprise motherboards going into servers. Called VROC, short for Virtual RAID on CPU, ASUS will bundle an add-in board that supports four M.2 solid state drives on one PCB, which plugs into a PCIe slot on your motherboard. If you pick up a Skylake-X processor with your motherboard that has five PCIe slots properly laid out, you can have up to five of these boards running twenty SSDs in RAID 0, 1, or RAID 5 configurations. Not only do you need to set this up using a GPU running on a PCIe 1x slot, you also need to use a special USB key that ASUS provides to allow you to use RAID 1 or 5 for the array.

Obviously, no-one’s going to do this just to hold Windows, but perhaps enthusiasts who need a lot of speed will use one or two of these drives in RAID 0 for virtual machine storage, or serving as a temporary storage location for project files.

For kicks, here’s also ASRock’s X299 mini-ITX motherboard. There’s six SATA ports, two NVMe slots on the back of the board, quad-channel SO-DIMM memory slots supporting speeds up to DDR4-4000, dual Intel Gigabit ports, 802.11AC Wi-Fi, and a single PCIe 16x slot. It’s positively adorable.

AMD X399 motherboards galore!

If the X299 craze wasn’t enough, there were AMD X399 motherboards on display too, although a lot of them were just teasers with no specs to speak of. Pictured above is the ASUS ROG X399 Zenith Extreme, which you might be able to tell is going to be very expensive. There’s so much going on here, from the weird-looking riser slot next to the RAM for SSDs mounted on a special board, to the dual 8-pin 12v EPS connectors in the top right corner, to the absolutely enormous socket.

Installing a Threadripper processor into the 4094-pin SP3r2 socket requires that you use a hex key screwdriver to open it, which is something you don’t see every day. The socket is also identical to the sockets that will appear on single-socket motherboards that will support AMD’s Naples platform, which hints that support for Naples processors on a board like the Zenith Extreme could be a reality.

The only board which seems to have a complete specs list is Gigabyte’s X399 AORUS Gaming 7. There’s quad-channel ECC support, processor support for Ryzen Threadripper models up to the 16 core version, three M.2 NVMe slots for SSDs, a Killer E2500 network port, the usual DAC-Up capabilities which allow you to upgrade the audio amplifier for better sound, and some surge protection up to 15KV for the LAN port and 25KV for ESD exposure. It even has an old-school PS/2 port, which is cute.

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