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Intel, Advanced Micro Devices, Nvidia, and Qualcomm debuted their latest chips at the 2021 CES tech trade event this week. As is the case in most years, the new chips are faster and more power-efficient versions of existing technology, helping laptop makers create smaller and thinner devices with longer battery life. Some of the new chips, which have been in development for years, will be used in computers that on sale in the next few months, while others face a longer lead time.
Here’s what chipmakers announced at CES.
Advanced Micro Devices
AMD CEO Lisa Su was a CES keynote speaker for the second year in a row, befitting the company’s leading performance in computer processors. Su was joined for parts of her talk by the CEOs of top PC makers HP and Lenovo as well as top executives from Microsoft and Lucasfilm.
After the PC industry posted its highest sales in six years last year, thanks to legions of stay-at-home workers and students, Su predicted continued strong sales in 2021. “We expect [PC] demand to be even higher in 2021,” she said.
For new products, Su first introduced a line of processor chips for laptops that will be based on the third generation of AMD’s Zen design, dubbed Zen 3. The new Ryzen 5000 series runs at speeds of up to 4.8GHz, faster than last year’s 4.2GHz top speed. The chips are up to 16% faster than AMD’s prior laptop offerings, the company noted. AMD said 150 new laptops with the new chips would hit the market in 2021, including models arriving in February from Asus, HP, and Lenovo.
For desktop computers, AMD introduced some new high-end versions of chips with the Zen 3 design aimed at consumers, including the AMD Ryzen Threadripper PRO 3995WX, which runs at speeds of up to 4.2GHz. AMD did not disclose how much the chip would cost.
Su also showed the first live demonstration of the company’s upcoming chip for servers and cloud data centers, code-named Milan. A system powered by the new chip outperformed an Intel-equipped system by 68% in creating a complex weather forecast. But AMD hasn’t yet said when the Milan chips will go on sale.
Intel struggled in 2020, as it suffered setbacks in manufacturing chips with the latest technology for a second straight year. But unlike 2020, the problems did not stop Intel from unveiling new processors at CES 2021.
CEO Bob Swan didn’t lead Intel’s presentation, as he did in 2020. Instead, executive vice president Greg Bryant acted as master of ceremonies on Monday.
Among the highlights, Intel expanded the 11th generation of its “Core” processor chip architecture from last year’s chips for thin laptops by adding new chips for more powerful (and bulkier) gaming laptops and desktops.
New Core S-series chips for desktops are 14% faster than Intel’s prior best gaming chips, the company said.
New versions of the company’s H-series for powerful laptops, code named “Tiger Lake,” can pair with mobile graphics chips from Nvidia. The chips are also compatible with the very latest Wi-Fi standard known as Wi-Fi 6E that uses new airwave bands just made available by federal regulators. Intel showed a laptop with one of its new chips slightly outperforming AMD’s latest laptop gaming chip while running Deep Silver’s Metro Exodus game.
In a presentation that included an appearance by Chance the Rapper, Intel also unveiled chips aimed at low-cost Chromebooks and other devices for schools. The segment has boomed under COVID, as kids forced to study from home needed laptops. Intel said sales of PC to schools jumped 37% last year. The company said the latest version of its low-cost Pentium Silver and Celeron processors offer clearer video for Zoom conferences and include the recent upgrades to Wi-Fi known as Wi-Fi6 for faster connectivity.
Finally, Intel showed a “sneak peek” of its next generation processor, called Alder Lake. Designed more like processors from Apple and Qualcomm based on technology from ARM, the Alder Lake chip will combine high-performance processing cores with lower-power cores that save energy. It will be available in the second half of 2021, Intel said.
The leading maker of mobile chips for smartphones already revealed its latest processor designs in recent weeks.
But at CES, the company still had a new product to announce: an updated underglass fingerprint sensor that can unlock a phone when the user simply presses a finger on the glass display. The second-generation 3D Sonic Sensor is 50% faster at unlocking than Qualcomm’s original technology from 2019, the company said. It should be available in phones soon, though Qualcomm didn’t give specific details of upcoming devices.
Last year, Nvidia unveiled high and mid-priced desktop graphics cards for gamers using its newest Ampere design. At CES 2021, the chipmaker focused on lower-priced cards and chips for laptops.
But first, senior vice president Jeff Fisher had an apology of sorts for widespread shortages of the new cards. “Ampere has been our fastest selling architecture ever, selling almost twice as much as our prior generation,” he said. “We know these products have been hard to find. I want to thank you for your patience as we continue to work hard to catch up.”
On the desktop, Nvidia’s latest lineup is priced at $400 to $1,500. So the company unveiled a new desktop card, called the RTX 3060, costing $330. For performance in games depicting shining lights and reflections, a computer operation known as ray tracing, the new cards will be 10 times-faster than the lowest priced cards from Nvidia’s prior generation. Nvidia’s earlier Ampere-powered cards sold out quickly. The RTX 3060 will go on sale in late February, the company says.
The company is also bringing its Ampere design to laptop graphics chips with its new RTX 30 series. Nvidia said the new chips are twice as battery efficient as its prior generation of mobile chips and still offer improved performance. The chips will be in more than 70 laptop models that start hitting the market at the end of this month.
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