On Location - CES 2013

As seems to be turning into a common jaunt for me now, I'm yet again beginning the new year in Las Vegas marching through the halls at CES. 2013 introduces yet more flashy devices and new technology for consumers to drool over, never mind the endless armada of accessory bling and sometimes questionable vaporware.

This year continues the slate attack, fueled primarily by Windows 8. But while MS was absent from the show this year, advances from companies such as Intel made certain that new devices would be on display for both notebook and slate aficionados alike. With the show winding down for another year and the 150,000-or-so attendees leaving sin city in the dust, I can again look back on the week's events.


This year's CES was a more muted affair. I couldn't really put my finger on a major new product announcement, standout company exhibiting, or new technology/hardware. Perhaps that's because a lot of what was at the show was already revealed in 2012. Yet at the same time, many key products due for release in 2013 were nowhere to be seen. I'm starting to wonder if attending CES is as cool as it used to be in years past.


Intel's mobile Ivy Bridge and nVidia's mobile Kepler could be found in notebooks everywhere at the show - not surprising since these were on sale already in 2012. While it'll be a few more months before Intel takes the wraps off Haswell, the show still provided plenty to see for notebook fans.

Hybrid notebooks were the major new additions to many manufacturer's product portfolios - as to be expected given the touch UI aspects now offered in Windows 8. Sony had their Vaio Duo 11 Ultrabook being shown off in a big way. The 11.6" device offers a 1080P IPS touch display on a sliding hinge, giving users the option of either a notebook with a backlit keyboard or a full Windows 8 tablet. Loaded with a Core i5/i7 in the Ivy Bridge ULV variety, 128GB SSD, 6GB RAM and coming in at 2.87 lbs, it promises 4-5 hours of unplugged run time or up to 10 hours with the optional 4960mAh sheet battery. Sony also forgoes the trackpad in lieu of an optical trackstick. MSRP starts at $1199 and can be purchased now thru sonystyle.com.

On a similar theme Toshiba was also showing off it's hybrid ultrabook courtesy of the Satellite U925T. The 12.5" device also uses a sliding mechanism to transform from a notebook into a tablet. Unlike the Sony model, however, Toshiba only offers a 1366x768 IPS display and limits RAM at 4GB. This one tips the scales at 3.35 lbs with an MSRP of $1149.

Exactly how well these hybrid products will resonate with consumers is yet to be seen. Windows 8 doesn't excite me one bit, because even if the OS is touch-optimized, the software I use never will be. Existing slates have all shown that a touch UI doesn't bring any improvement to productivity, something that still centers heavily around the use of a keyboard and mouse. Mechanical parts are also prone to breakage, and I feel these delicate sliding/rotating hinges may not stand a chance after a few hundred open/close cycles, never mind putting it in the hands of a 10-year-old. With the battery, RAM and SSD non-user-replaceable, performing any upgrades down the road is impossible too.

Another new model from Sony was the Vaio T15 Touch. Based very similar to the Vaio S series, it offers a 15.6" IPS 1080P display, but with touch capability standard. Sony reps were tight-lipped on the specs, but thanks to a convenient distraction and a trip into device/task manager I was able to reveal a ULV Ivy Bridge Core i7-3537U, 8GB RAM, BD drive and 250GB SSD in the unit on display. It's nice to see a backlit keyboard with isolated, inverted-T cursor keys and a number pad on something smaller than a 17" notebook. Starting MSRP should be under $1000.

For the notebook performance die-hards, Ace Computers had their monster 17.3" Xeon-based Raptor 7 on display. The workstation-class 8C/16T processor can be paired with dual Kepler or Quadro graphics cards, 120Hz matte 1080P IPS display, quad-drive SSD RAID storage and a whopping 64GB of RAM. Clevo has been painfully slow to offer the unit to resellers throughout 2012 due to a fundamental redesign, but my discussions with company reps at the show confirm that the product is now available and shipping. Expect pricing for a fully-loaded configuration to exceed four digits.


It's no surprise that with the official release of Windows 8 CES 2013 would be flooded with slates shipping with the touch-optimized OS. One of the first such slates I had come across was being displayed at the Moneual booth. The Onkyo TW3A-B36 series slate transforms into a full Windows 8 notebook with the optional keyboard dock. Equipped with a Core i7-3517U, the 11.6" unit dazzles with a 1080P display, 128GB SSD, miniHDMI/USB3.0/SD connectivity and a combined 4200/2200mAh main+keyboard battery. Currently shipping in Japan, the unit is expected to hit US shores later this year with an expected MSRP of $1400.

By far the most impressive slate I had seen, however, came from a company better known for making gaming peripherals. Razer had previewed at last year's show their Project Fiona gaming slate. Fortunately, with the extensive input of the gaming community the company has over the course of 12 months created the Edge gaming slate. The compact 10.1" profile is able to cram not only a Core i7 inside, but does so with nVidia GT640LE dedicated Kepler graphics riding shotgun. The solution is capable enough to run DX10/11 titles such as Rift, Dirt 3 and Civilization V without breaking a sweat. Most notable, however, are the accessories Razer has designed for the Edge, including a keyboard dock allowing full notebook use, desktop dock for connecting to a TV, and attachable gaming controllers similar to the original Project Fiona design. Battery life is estimated at 2 hours for gaming and 4-6 hours for web surfing. Pricing for the base model is expected to fall at $999 and should be shipping in the coming weeks. If there was ever a slate+keyboard solution with decent CPU/GPU horsepower good enough to replace a notebook, this is it.


Zalman again had an expansive booth showing off their entire line of notebook coolers, among various other products. The 4-port USB hub-equipped ZM-NC3000U is practically identical to the ZM-NC3000S I personally own and use, bringing load temperatures on my X305 down by over 20C. Also on display was the upgraded all-mesh ZM-NC3500 along with the ZM-NC3500 PLUS, the latter which includes a set of stereo speakers, 3.5mm line-in jack and volume controls - handy for notebooks with mediocre built-in audio.

Over at the Buffalo booth I was happy to see the company showcase their new SOHO NAS lineup. The LinkStation 400 series is set to replace the existing LinkStation lineup in Q12013. Available in single drive, dual-drive and dual-drive diskless versions, the upgraded CPU/RAM promises transfer speeds of 80MB/sec, and includes a new BuffaloLink software for simplified remote access and content management. The company rep also confirmed compatibility with WD Red NAS-optimized drives. Those wondering where the four-drive model is, Buffalo is discontinuing the LinkStation Pro Quad, moving those customers over to their slightly more expensive and business-oriented 4-drive TeraStation NAS. If you need a four-drive solution for home use on the inexpensive end, my best advice is to pick up a LinkStation Pro Quad while inventory is still available.


Despite being a happy daily user of a 10" netbook with an Atom inside, there's still that part of me that thrills at the sight of extreme performance. Supermicro had this beast of silicon running at their booth, complete with dual 8C/16T Xeon processors, triple K20 Tesla boards along with a Quadro K5000 GPU. The SuperServer 7047GR-TRF support up to 5 double-width graphics cards, houses a 1620W redundant 80-plus platinum power supply and can hold half a terabyte (512GB) of RAM. Hot-swap fans standard. I can only imagine how a system like this would work for F@H with four GTX690's installed or chew through a queue of 300+ files for video transcoding. I was so blown away I completely forgot to ask the price!


While I certainly would like to attend next year's CES (and enjoy another one of those martinis), the absence of key manufacturers and products makes me question the show's purpose, more so because these players are giants in the consumer electronics market. Microsoft should have been pushing Windows Phone 8 along with it's Surface tablet. RIM could have effectively used CES as a springboard to demonstrate it's upcoming BackBerry 10 platform ahead of the Jan 30 release date. HP sends it's notebooks to the show every year, with no company rep to be found. Even Google now has it's own device brand (nexus). But the biggest consumer electronics player of all (Apple) fails to even consider appearing, despite iPhone bling and iPad accessories flooding the exhibit halls year after year. How refreshing it would be indeed to attend a consumer electronics show that deals with "consumer electronics".

This is not to say that I'm disappointed - the truth is I still believe CES makes for a great networking event, as that is where I see real value, and why I think those who don't attend lose. I was happy this year to meet up with folks from last year's show and get to know many new faces as well. As my list of contacts continues to expand and develop, I am looking forward to seeing my efforts mature. At the same time, I'm hoping that vendors and manufacturers come to recognize lgpOnTheMove among the competing online media as an outlet to showcase their products/hardware.


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