A Broad Brand of Choices: Computex 2018 Introduces the Best of the Tech World

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Boasting over 1,600 exhibitors from more than two dozen countries, Computex 2018, one of the world’s most celebrated technology-centric expos, gave us a glimpse of the future as it has for decades. Running from June 4 to June 9 in Taipei, Taiwan, this year’s Computex was nothing short of outstanding, complete with displays of extravagant new hardware prototypes and the revival of old rivalries between age-old competitors, with no shortage of stunning updates whatsoever. We’re taking a look at some of the best and most interesting things that came out of it. 

Asus
Taiwan-native tech giant Asus has definitely been one of the biggest names at this year’s Computex, revealing a variety of different technologies across the board. Starting with the reveal of the sleek yet powerful ROG Strix Hero II gaming laptop that features top-notch specs while managing to remain reasonably affordable, Asus moved on to show off its spectacular new Zenbook Pro 15 laptop, which features a large 5.5” touchscreen in place of its touchpad. The utilitarian potential of the new machine is massive because unlike Apple MacBook Pro’s anaemic and gimmicky Touch Bar (which came at the expense of the device’s function keys), the large touchscreen has the real estate to be actually useful.

Asus also revealed an experimental prototype dual-screen laptop (with the second screen replacing the traditional keyboard and touchpad in its entirety) under the codename of Project Precog, which would also feature an implementation of artificial intelligence to enhance the user experience – which would frankly be very much welcomed, because while attempts at producing such devices have been made before, none of them was particularly pleasant to use.

The computer giant’s run didn’t stop at laptops, as they went on to introduce a gaming-centric Android smartphone under their renowned ROG (Republic Of Gamers) label, which not only sports dazzling state-of-the-art hardware specs, but also an astounding vapour chamber-based cooling system to ensure consistent performance and low thermal output. While it certainly doesn’t come cheap, it makes Razer’s attempt at making such a device look pathetic, and is most certainly capable of eclipsing the opposition with aplomb. 

Intel and AMD
It may seem strange that the names of these bitter rivals are being mentioned under one subheading, and not because of any strange collaborations like the strange Core i7-8809G CPU (which featured both Intel and AMD components) either, but it’s probably the most interesting story from this year’s Computex. Intel got their twenty minutes of fame by revealing what appeared to be a new prototype 28-core processor running at a staggering 5 GHz. With no announcement of an actual release date anywhere in sight, however, experienced observers were quick to notice that the custom system being used to demonstrate the new CPU was put together rather awkwardly, with a separate 1000W external air-conditioning unit next to it being used to cool the absurdly hot CPU, instead of relying on a conventional internal cooling solution. Several experts derided it as a ‘con job’, and pointed out that the new ‘prototype’ was probably an existing server-grade CPU that has been overclocked to run at a very high speed, and stabilized only by the presence of an exotic and overpowered cooling solution that would never be used in any real-life conditions. However, it still managed to receive a good deal of public and media attention, until AMD revealed their hand, and Intel’s luck summarily ran out.

AMD’s Computex 2018 centrepiece was the Threadripper 2 processor – a monstrous sequel to last year’s already-massive 16-core Threadripper CPU, which instantly became revered as a holy grail for high-end desktop computers, particularly those suited for video editing and intensive 3D rendering. Threadripper 2 upped the ante on its predecessor by doubling the core count to 32, effectively doubling its output in the process. Not only did AMD demolish Intel’s jury-rigged 28-core prototype in terms of sheer processing power, but it also revealed several vital details about the Threadripper 2 that seemed almost too good to be true. The new CPU would support air cooling (with reputed manufacturers such as Cooler Master working as AMD’s hardware partners to create rock-solid air-cooling solutions) instead of requiring exorbitant and impractical cooling solutions, it would be fully compatible with existing Threadripper motherboards (meaning current Threadripper users can simply swap out their old CPU for a new Threadripper 2 without needing to shell out big bucks for a new motherboard, something that Intel is notorious for), and, most importantly, it would be released in the third quarter of 2018 – whereas Intel had not even managed to reveal a release date for their CPU.

The situation reached a rather comedic end, when after a short time of the reveal of Threadripper 2, a team of technicians from Intel arrived at the venue, took their demo systems apart, and left the venue with the 28-core prototype CPUs. It took AMD a decade to reach a position to make this kind of defiant comeback, but the excellence of their Zen platform is continuing to pay off in spades since the release of Ryzen. While Intel still holds dominance in the market, it is evident that AMD has not come to the fight unprepared.

Qualcomm
Things are also quite exciting on the mobile frontier, with Qualcomm unveiling a new Snapdragon 850 CPU, that would doubtlessly show up on many upcoming phones, tablets, and laptops to come. What makes the Snapdragon 850 particularly exciting is that it has been specifically optimized for Windows, which translates into significant improvements in processing power and battery life across the board for laptops. The new chip also offers superior wireless connectivity (thanks to its built-in x20 LTE modem) and highly impressive sleep-wake timings and is capable of smooth 4K video capture and playback. It is expected to make an appearance in commercial devices later this year, with one of the first ones coming from Samsung.

Nvidia
Nvidia isn’t just the world’s leading designer of GPU technologies now, with its cutting-edge processors being used in countless data centres and computer clusters for research purposes, not to mention in applications such as deep learning for artificial intelligence systems. While Nvidia did not reveal any new GPUs in this year’s Computex, it did unveil a highly interesting new project fresh from the depths of its labs – a new AI computer by the whimsical name of Jetson Xavier, with a shockingly compact form factor, but no shortage of processing power. Due to its unorthodox architecture, the Jetson Xavier comes with a custom set of software tools collective called the Isaac platform, which focuses on the development and training of AI systems. Isaac features software interfaces galore, excellent performance optimization, and even provides a virtual sandbox environment for testing artificial intelligence quite extensively. While the JX does not come cheap, it is still expected to cost significantly less than equivalent workstations, and it will doubtless make AI development much more accessible to the masses.

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