CES 2006 Coverage

CES 2006 is over. But although we have been sharing with you all the news hot from the show floors on a daily basis, there were still quite a few interesting things left that are worth mentioning. Check out our report now for more latest and greatest news from the first Computer show of the year 2006!

by Anna Filatova
01/12/2006 | 12:31 PM

On January 4th, 2006 the Consumer Electronics Show kicked off. Every year starts with this show now, and it kind of sets the pace for the industry if not for the entire year, but at least for the next few months. This time, the show was expected to finally become big enough to count for a worthy replacement for COMDEX that rested in peace a while ago. And I have to say that even the bravest forecasts came true: there were over 2,500 exhibitors at the show, and the number of visitors has exceeded 150,000 people.

 

This year they added up one more hall, the Sands pavilion, but even then the number of companies that have actually been present exceeded those listed in the show registry: as always there were plenty of people hiding from the noise and crowds of the show floors in the hotel suites and meeting rooms. And my task, as always, was to go and find out what exciting things these guys are saving up their sleeve. If you have been reading our news from last week, then you probably know quite a bit about the latest and greatest. But definitely there was much more than that in the show. So, let’s take a quick look at a few interesting things I spotted at CES this year.

Cell Phones Go Smarter

It is the Consumer Electronics Show, and therefore, I would like to start with the No.1 consumer electronics product – cell phones. As you can imagine there were plenty of those in the show. All shapes and colors, all types and standards. And of course, the new phone models acquire higher quality LCD displays with better resolution and color reproduction, longer battery life, faster and more advanced graphics. This is where the two graphics market leaders step in, I am talking about ATI and NVIDIA, of course.

The situation in the mobile and handheld market segment is developing very well for both competitors. ATI claims that during the last quarter only they shipped over 40 million graphics chips for the cell phone market, and this number keeps growing. The primary market for ATI powered phones is North America (you can find a lot of cell phones from Motorola, LG, Samsung, Fujitsu), then comes Korea, then Europe. This is a very high margin market, so no wonder that ATI is putting a lot of effort into growing it even bigger. However, there is no need to worry that they will shift their focus more towards this high-margin market. ATI reps assured me that no matter what 50% of their business will still remain the PC business (desktop and mobile solutions).

One very interesting cell phone that I managed to play with at the show was displayed on the LG booth. The cell-phone with breathalyzer that has been first announced in October last year was now demonstrated at the CES show. It tests your breath for 3 seconds for alcohol and then displays the message “Not drunk” (in my case). Apparently, if you have had a few drinks it will even display the percentage of alcohol, so you will always know whether you can drive or not. I wonder if it can automatically call a taxi in case the verdict is “drunk”. I am sure you can program it to.

Multiple-GPU: Way to Go?

You may have noticed that the general tendency has steadily been going towards the multiplication of the execution units lately. First we had dual-processor (and multi-processor) systems. Then we had dual-graphics card systems. Now we have dual-core processors in dual-processor (and larger) systems. But what about graphics? Yes, the development of the graphics subsystem architecture is also going very fast.

As we have reported in our news , Dell demonstrated the world’s first quad-graphics card configuration with four high-end GeForce 7800 GTX graphics adapters. These are the single-GPU cards. But what if one day they install four of these babies:

Dual-GPU graphics solution from ASUS built with two 7800 GT chips hosted on the same PCB and hidden under a solid heatsink doesn’t support SLI. At least not yet. But one day they surely find a way to tie up a couple of cards like that within a single system.

The principle “the more, the better” seems to be working just fine ever since. By employing two GPUs instead of one the developers should be able to double the fps rate provided by the graphics subsystem, i.e. to double the graphics performance. However, much more work needs to be done to achieve true multi-GPU performance, namely, better integration of the frames, better synchronization of the speed between the two GPUs.

According to the GPU developers, the current examples of the dual-GPU graphics cards still have issues. And when the solution is intended to hit the consumer market, efficient scaling is the most essential thing that needs to be done right, otherwise the graphics product will be excessively expensive. At this point the solution based on two cards, each with one GPU onboard, should offer better scalability in the long-term prospective than a single graphics card with two GPUs onboard.

Well, the first signs of the multiplication trend in the VGA market are already here. Let’s be patient, and I am sure that very soon there will be much more to talk about.

News from the Memory Front

Yes, DDR2 is finally here. All the mainboard makers unanimously reported that the sales of DDR2 memory have finally grown bigger than the sales of the previous generation DDR I.

Among the new interesting solutions I should certainly mention the OCZ XTC DDR2 Titanium Edition that features specific enhanced honeycomb design of the heat-spreaders to optimize the thermal management of the memory modules thus providing better heat dissipation and hence allowing the memory to function at higher frequencies ad withy more aggressive timings.

Patriot Memory displayed 900MHz 2GB DDR2 kit built on Elpida chips that can be easily overclocked to 930Hz, according to the company representatives.

Another company, Team is coming into the US market with the new eXtreme series for overclockers and gamers. This company has been in the memory business for quite some time, however they are starting to build their brand name in the US only now. The reason – no real margin in manufacturing. As the company representatives explained, they have been manufacturing memory modules for some well-known US vendors for quite a while. So, looks like Team has at least one component required for the success: quality products.

One more type of products in the memory market that has been gaining popularity really rapidly is the DDR2 SO-DIMM. Now that Intel is rolling out new mobile platform supporting DDR2 and the overall share of mobile and low-profile solutions is growing rapidly, the demand for SO-DIMMs is really high. Almost every memory maker at the show demoed some solutions for notebooks. However, I would like to specifically mention one of them: the SO-DIMM memory modules from AData with the built-in thermal sensor.

The idea behind this technology is that there is a thermal sensor that reads temperature and sends this data to the system management tools that monitor the thermal status of the entire system. This way the actual DRAM temperature is taken with much higher precision.

These modules will be available for DDR2 standard in 256MB, 512MB and 1GB storage capacities.

Another rapidly developing direction in the memory market is definitely the flash memory. And I have to say that there were quite a few interesting items at CES. There was plenty of USB flash drives that have become tiny in size, huge in storage capacity, shock and water resistant. But even such universal work horses as SD cards, which cannot really change much acquire something cool to boast. Have you seen an SD card with an LCD display that would tell the amount of free memory space and require no additional power? AData had one at their booth:

To be honest I don’t know if there is any real practical application for this type of LCD display. The default capacity of the memory card is always indicated on the sticker, and the devices you use it in, such s cell phones, cameras, etc. usually have an LCD display indicating how much free space is left. Unless you will be using it as a portable storage…

Stall-Free On-Line Gaming

An interesting router was demonstrated in action at the D-Link booth. Their so-called GameFuel gaming router features embedded technologies to automatically identify gaming data packets and to prioritize gaming bandwidth. As a result, we could see that the reaction time got much shorter, alongside with the response time from squeezing the trigger or throwing a grenade, and these things mean life or death in a combat situation.

As a live demo there were two systems were running side by side, and the player on the system with D-Link’s wireless gaming router was definitely winning. I wonder if the “winning” part is also included with the router, maybe something like a magic experience potion? :)

Protect Your Wireless Network

Now that the small home and office networks have become very widely spread, network security turned into a big and important issue that needs to be addressed. D-Link alongside with a few other networking solutions manufacturers came up with a solution that is affordable, easy to use and at the same time efficient home and small office use. The SecureSpot designed by D-Link and BeSecure Company is an all-in-one plug-n-play Internet Security Device that combines network security firewall, intrusion detection, pop-up killer and spyware killer software, content filtering options and anti-virus protection.

According to D-link, this is the first and so far only solution of the kind that provides three-level protection for the small office and home network:

  1. Web Level. It provides integrated setup and administration as well as maintenance of anti-virus, spam, spyware and content filtering databases.
  2. Device Level. On this level it provides network perimeter protection through firewall, content filtering, virus filtering, application control, identity theft and reporting.
  3. PC Level. It provides protection for each individual PC in the network through antivirus and spyware detection and removal, pop-up control and application control.

This Season – Only Super Light Ones

Yes, I am talking about PC cases. These products get new styles and new looks every season. And at CES this year, the leading gaming cases developers demonstrated super-light and extremely user-friendly solutions.

The CoolerMaster’s successful Stacker 830 case was the first one that caught my eye. It is designed from aluminum alloy, however retains extreme robustness with only 2mm thickness of the side panels.

The plastic brackets that cover the empty bays have honeycomb mesh, which ensures more efficient airflow if the brackets are in place. However, if you decide to install a hard drive or an optical drive, the bracket can be removed in no time by just pressing the plastic clips: no more screws!

Also it features a unique slide panel for the fans, which can accommodate from 1 to 4 fans with the diameter from 60mm to 140mm. Besides, it is also equipped with a vertical cross-flow fan that should provide intensive cooling of the most essential system knots.

All the five- and three-inch devices can be easily fastened in the bays with simple sliding plastic locks:

The Stacker 830 case is selling for about $250, however, the PSU is not included with the case. Quite an investment I should say, but it really looks impressive.

And these babies are from the light-weight category. New CoolerMaster prototypes weighing a little bit over 6kg feature all the convenient trifles you may want: plastic brackets, honeycomb front panel, neon lights that will see through the grids.

Let’s take a closer look at some pleasing peculiarities of these case solutions, such as the sliding front panel opening in a pretty unusual way:

Or solid plastic brackets that can be easily removed without much effort and transparent side panel with a retention socket for a large fan:

Another case manufacturer I visited at the show was Thermaltake. Their new full-tower Eurika case designed for servers and high-end desktop systems looks very solid:

It is expected to start shipping in the end of Q1-beginning of Q2 2006.

Another new series of system cases is the matrix series. These cases are ideal for gamers and LAN parties, because they are extremely light: only 3.8kg!

The Matrix case (left) is equipped with one additional 120mm rear fan, and the Matrix VX (right) – with two 120mm fans in the rear.

Be Cool!

In the direct and indirect meaning of this word with the new OCZ solid copper cooler:

Yes, it is all copper, even the fins of the heatsink are plated copper. Universal, small and efficient, according to OCZ guys. I hope we will get our hands on one of those soon, to see what it is really worth.

Another new air-cooler with heatpipe technology came from Zalman: the new CNPS8000. It features 4 heatpipes, and due its slim and low-profile design fits into small form-factor and slim cases. According to Zalman, it produces no noise and vibrations in silent mode that is when the fan is rotating at its minimum speed of 1,350rpm.

Besides heatpipes, there was a lot to see in the liquid-cooling section as well. Zalman, for instance, introduced an attachment for its well-known Reserator 1 Plus liquid cooling system, which we have already reviewed on our site (for details see the review here ).

This attachment contains a 180mm fan at the top that rotates with constant speed and provides about 10-15o C temperature drop on the reservoir.

Zalman was not the only one who enhanced the already existing successful solution. The Big Water cooling system from Thermaltake has also undergone some modifications. The new revision, BigWater 735, acquired bigger sturdier tubes and a more powerful pump than the predecessor. In addition, the BigWater 745 model now has the total of three radiators: one inside the system and two external ones:

However, Thermaltake assured me that they have been long working on a specially designed system case that will be able to accommodate all three radiators one day. So, I believe the next big show, CeBIT, should reveal more details about it.

But truly one of the most impressive cooling solutions this time was the OCZ Cryo-Z Phase Change cooling system:

This is an external unit accommodated inside a small form-factor aluminum case with an elastic hose pressed with the copper base against the processor. It requires some insulation, which is hand-made at this point (you may notice that there are hand-cut gaps in the insulator around the electronic components on the mainboard). Inside this case there is also an industrial compressor that allows achieving much higher cooling efficiency than any liquid cooling system out there would guarantee.

As you may see, the CPU temperature is reported to be as low as -25o C. And the Athlon 64 FX-57 featuring the nominal core frequency of 2.8GHz is running at 3.3GHz.

This system is going to be very affordable, it is speculated to be prices at around $300. More details will surely follow, so stay tuned. :)

Western Digital: Hard Drives May Be Entertaining, Too

Have you ever thought that looking at a hard drive at work might be an entertaining thing to do? Well, the new see-through clear-top Raptor X from Western Digital will certainly catch your eye, because now you can really see what’s going on inside this “black box”.

Until now all HDDs have been sealed with a solid metal top. WD Raptor X features a large clear lens embedded in the top through which the read and write action of the drive's head and disk assembly can be viewed. The new WD Raptor X hard drives feature 10,000rpm spindle rotation speed, 150GB storage capacity, NCQ, employ RAFF (Rotary Accelerometer Feed Forward) technology, which protects drive performance from rotational vibration created by fans and other hard drives that rob performance.

They will start shipping in approximately two weeks from now and will be priced at around $349.

Lamborghini from ASUS: Affordable Luxury or Unattainable Dream?

You surely remember the famous Acer Ferrari series (for details read our review here ). Now looks like we’ve got another race-laptop on the list. ASUS rolled out a new Lamborghini branded notebook:

This laptop is designed on Intel Centrino Mobile Technology Duo with the CPU working at 1.66GHz. It features 1GB of RAM, a 100GB hard drive and a new NVIDIA GeForce Go 7400 graphics processor.

Of course, it also has a DVD-RW drive, and a complete set of ports and connectors. Quite a decent package for a big name, eh?

These were just a few interesting picks from the CES 2006 showfloors. I hope that you enjoyed this little tour and stay tuned for more news coming in our daily News Wire!