Every June, we discover a major trend or two at Computex, the world’s largest trade show for the PC and component manufacturing industry. One year it was netbooks, another digital photo frames and more recently power banks. When a product seems to have a chance of becoming profitable, almost every brand jumps on board and tries to offer their own versions of that product, even if it means a big departure from their core business. It’s almost like a sport, and the winners share a small market while the rest disappear. Of course, sometimes the product category itself can turn out to be a dud, or just short-lived – like digital photo frames.
Last year we noted that Computex had a lack of imagination and a general feeling of depression. There was very little to get excited about. Intel and AMD had failed to meet the deadline for a new generation of products, and the ecosystem couldn’t even fall back on the usual motherboard and PC component updates. We noted the large number of brands offering VR demos using older hardware – essentially showing Vive and Oculus products; not even theirs.
Things were supposed to be different this time. Even before tech journalists around the world boarded our planes for Taipei, we all knew that Intel and AMD would be announcing new high-end desktop platforms – the Core X series and Ryzen Threadripper respectively – and that would have really must have been a lively show. While not exactly mainstream, these parts are much more powerful than last year’s, and the high-end hardware still gets the five-star treatment. There’s no shortage of people willing to pay huge sums for flashy components, and they definitely look great on the show floor.
Unfortunately, both companies treated the show as a PR opportunity, making announcements at private events but not actually showcasing products ready to ship. Asus, Gigabyte, MSI, and ASRock had a few motherboards, but we couldn’t see them in action. People were left with more questions than answers, and all we were told was that we have to hang in there until the processors launch. And with this party over before it could even begin, we found ourselves looking for something else to get us excited. There were the same number of handshakes and the same big shows of appreciation from American and European companies for their Chinese and Taiwanese partners, but the actual consumer products were not the focus. We attended over ten press events, met with dozens of major companies, and rummaged through hundreds of booths, and found only one thing that could be considered a trend: gaming chairs.
Yes, it’s true. Chairs. Very nice, but chairs nonetheless. Corsair, HyperX, Bitfenix and Thermaltake are some of the most well-known names, but there were many more: Gamdias, Vertagear, Cougar, Aerocool, AKRacing and DXRacer, to name a few. Entire stalls were dedicated to these chairs, all designed to fit roughly the same sports car theme, and all priced at around 300 to 500 US dollars (about 19,200 to 32,150 rupees). Some had special wheels and others had matching footrests; some could recline almost 180 degrees and some were certified to legal standards for ergonomics. For journalists who rack up more than 12,000 steps a day at the show with laptops and camera gear on their backs, the chance to try out these chairs was more than welcome – but that says a lot about the PC industry. if it is the most interesting novelty. something anyone can find. Maybe next year we’ll see a few with RGB LEDs.
And the problems with the show are even bigger than that. There’s also a definite change from the Computex of previous years, when hundreds of small Chinese manufacturers set up booths to show off everything from USB drives to laptops, sold by the hundreds and ready to be affixed by anyone in any country. There weren’t as many accessory makers, component suppliers, or sellers of fun little gadgets. For the second time, an entire room in the Taipei World Trade Center has been left unused and another has been converted into a conference room for startups.
Big companies are also moving away from trade shows to hosting their own smaller events scattered throughout the year. This helps them break from imposed deadlines and ensures that everyone is solely focused on them, but leaves a clear void.
Asus traditionally holds the most extravagant press conference, with dozens of new products announced over two hours or more. There’s also always been a showstopper – something extremely impractical that might not even hit the market, but gets great press, like the Padfone, Taichi, Transformer Book Trio and Zenbo robot of the year last. This time, CEO and Chairman Jonney Shih finished his presentation in less than 40 minutes after unveiling just a handful of new laptops, a smartphone we’ve seen at CES this year, and most importantly, a router. On the PC component side and on the gaming side, the only thing worth seeing was a laptop, the ultra-slim Zephyrus.
Intel used its keynote to go over some well-worn talking points about how much data we’re all going to generate over the next few years. The Core X series of high-performance desktop processors with up to 18 cores have been confirmed, but we have to wait for their launch before we know more, and Core i9 chips with 12 cores and above are not. coming soon. AMD’s press conference also lacked substance – we were given slightly more specific launch windows for Threadripper, Radeon Vega, and Ryzen Mobile, and all the major PC brands were on hand to endorse Ryzen, but it didn’t. there were no demos or specs. Qualcomm and Microsoft jointly announced Snapdragon-based Windows 10 PCs, but only had a motherboard to show off under glass; no work units – that alone might just be next year’s most explosive category. ARM has only released iterative updates to its Cortex and Mali lines. Graphically, AMD and Nvidia had big consumer launches earlier this year, and it will be some time before the next-gen Vega and Volta parts are ready to show off.
This does not mean that everything was catastrophic for the industry. Intel’s compute card launch stood out as a bright spot – there’s a lot of potential for cheap modular units like this. It’s a great way to show off Intel’s current low-power capabilities, and it’s the kind of thing that needs massive ecosystem support. The announcement of Nvidia’s Max-Q laptop was also a pleasant surprise, especially since the actual products, including the aforementioned Zephyrus, were clear evidence of its operation. Microsoft showed off demos of a prototype Hololens headset, and modders sure had a blast at the annual case mod contest. We were also pleased to see that USB Type-C and Thunderbolt 3 accessories were commonplace. We’ve seen three or four companies show off Thunderbolt-based external graphics card devices; not enough to even be considered a minor trend, but still a potential sign of a new category of hardware that could take off in the future.
So yes, the series was low-key and still struggles to find its footing in the post-PC world, but hopefully that’s a sign that the industry is moving on. We don’t need over-the-top displays and extravagant events; we need companies to focus their energies and deliver great things that people want to buy. There were still some great products and lots of passionate people at Computex, and lack of enthusiasm doesn’t mean the industry is completely out of ideas. VR and IoT are exciting platforms without killer apps yet, and both spaces are ripe for exploitation. Computing power and Internet connectivity are reaching more and more people, at lower prices than ever before. We need a new lens or a new product, or at least very good new versions of the existing ones. And when we have them, we can enjoy them in our incredibly comfortable gaming chairs.