A little while ago, we hit the streets of Taipei to visit the suites at the Grand Hyatt, the floor of the Taiwan World Trade Center, and the aisles of the Nangang Exhibition Center to take in all that Computex had to offer. If you’re not already familiar, Computex is a week-long trade show devoted to the PC and little else. Many of the companies we cover make their homes in Taipei, so big names like Asus, Gigabyte, and MSI take the opportunity to show off some of their bigger product releases for the year at this event. That doesn’t even begin to cover the galaxy of smaller companies who also set up booths and show off their wares.
Now that we’ve had some time to shake off the jet lag and rub the afterimages of miles and miles of RGB LED glare from our eyes, we’ve sifted through our notes and the thousands of pictures we took while we were on the show floor to offer up a small slice of what it’s like to walk among the acres of hardware on display from all over the world.
As you read this retrospective, you may wonder why your favorite company isn’t mentioned. It’s possible that I already filed a report from the show on that company’s booth during our whirlwind tour. See our posts on EVGA, Zotac, Cooler Master, and Corsair for more info about those companies’ offerings this year.
Asus’ Computex booth was full of new motherboards, monitors, and other gaming gear this year. We sadly didn’t have time to have a look at it all, but we did spend a lot of time in the ROG section of the company’s booth.
The weirdest thing Asus previewed at Computex this year was its ROG Avalon modular desktop prototype. This extremely sturdy aluminum box is supposed to be a gateway for gamers to explore building their own PCs without having to work up a system completely from scratch.
The Avalon also has modular rear I/O panels that can be swapped in and out to accommodate different users’ needs, like a VR-specific set of ports. We’re not sure that the Avalon is the future of gaming PCs—various companies have been down this “modular proprietary form factor” road before with little success—but it is a sharp-looking system in its own right.
Take a look at the elaborate riser cards that go inside the chassis to make all this work.
The “Dogfish” name you might be able to make out on some of those cards is an internal code word for the Avalon project.
The Avalon supports both air- and liquid-cooled systems, and Asus had an Avalon built up with each type of cooling inside to show how it works.
The company also previewed a reworked version of the XG Station 2 external graphics enclosure it first showed off at CES. The first version of the XG Station 2 relied on a proprietary connection instead of a Thunderbolt 3 cable, but this revised version will be able to hook up to both Thunderbolt 3-equipped PCs and Asus systems with the required connector. (Sorry for the stock photo—ours didn’t turn out.)
Asus keeps pushing the limits of what a gaming notebook is with every trade show we visit, too. The company showed off its insane GX700 liquid-cooled gaming laptop at CES, and now it’s made an even crazier beast in the form of the GX800. This “portable” machine will pack a pair of unspecified Nvidia GPUs (though, c’mon, they’ll be Pascal chips) in SLI, “Intel K-series CPUs,” and a full mechanical keyboard that Asus calls “MechTAG.”
All of the GX800’s Schwarzeneggerian internals will be overclockable, but check out those twin power cables: you’ll need to dock this thing any time you want to unleash its full power on some poor, unsuspecting game. The machine relies on twin 330W power supplies to feed its desktop-class internals.
Asus’ booth minders shot us death glares any time we even thought about touching this machine, so we can’t say what the mechanical keyboard feels like. Given how much this machine is likely to cost, only a precious few people will ever know, too.
Here’s a look at the ROG Strix GeForce GTX 1080. Asus has revised its Strix cooler for Pascal with a darker look and RGB LED accents. This card offers a substantial factory clock boost to 1759MHz base and 1898MHz boost speeds. An OC Mode takes that even further, to 1784MHz base and 1936MHz boost clocks.
We also caught a glimpse of Asus’ top-end X99 motherboard for the Broadwell-E refresh cycle, the Rampage V Edition 10. This extremely tricked-out board features RGB LED lighting across most of its surface, including the translucent ends of the PCIe slots. Those PCIe slots are metal-reinforced, but Asus’ approach to this now-common feature is characteristically innovative. Instead of putting a metal shroud around the slot, Asus molds the slot and reinforcement together as one piece for extra strength. Expect to see that feature on many of the company’s high-end boards from here on out.
On our way out of the Asus booth, our guide showed us the company’s upcoming ProArt 5K monitor. Forget 4K—even with this display’s generous size, the demo images on the screen looked practically printed-on. This is another lustworthy piece of hardware that doubtless won’t be cheap when it comes to market.
be quiet!’s biggest news this year is its Dark Base 900 high-end case. This enclosure is one of the more creative designs we saw at Computex. Every internal component of this case, including the motherboard tray, can be removed or repositioned in some way.
Builders can use the motherboard tray in its traditional orientation or flip it to the other side of the case to create a Corsair Carbide 600C-esque inverted layout, as you can see in the two systems above. The tray can also be removed and stand on its own as a test bench. If nothing else, this design makes the initial assembly and heatsink-mounting build phases for a high-end PC easier.
The front and top panels of the Dark Base 900 are clad in a stealthy black brushed aluminum that feels quite nice. The Pro version adds a tempered-glass side panel and a top-mounted Qi pad to let compatible devices charge wirelessly. The Dark Base hides its front fans and 5.25″ bays behind the brushed-aluminum front door for cleaner lines and reduced noise.
The Dark Base will be the first case to get be quiet’s next Silent Wings fans. Check out the funky-looking frames—like everything else the company makes, these distinctive-looking fans are designed to reduce noise during operation.
be quiet! is also introducing a line of all-in-one liquid coolers. The Silent Loop series uses a “reverse-flow” pump that pulls coolant over the water block for reduced vibration and noise.
be quiet! will offer Silent Loop coolers in 120-mm, 140-mm, and 180-mm versions. We got the impression that it’s unlikely we’ll see these coolers in the USA, though, thanks to potential patent trouble.
Gigabyte took out the better part of a floor of Taipei 101 to show off its motherboards, graphics cards, server hardware, notebooks, and more this year. Since Broadwell-E just broke onto the CPU scene, it’s no surprise that the company had a ton of refreshed X99 boards to show off.
The X99-Designare EX is Gigabyte’s new flagship X99 board in the Ultra Durable series. This beastly board’s most notable feature is a PLX chip that drives its three main PCIe slots. This chip runs a full 16 lanes of PCIe Gen3 connectivity to each of those slots, letting builders who want to team up three graphics cards in SLI be sure that they won’t be constrained by bandwidth. I seem to recall that Thunderbolt 3 support is in the works for this board, but it wasn’t certified by the time of the show. This board also has twin U.2 connectors for Intel’s 750 Series SSDs (or other compatible drives, if you can find them), plus Gigabyte’s refreshed Easy Mode firmware UI. Go check out the Designare EX’s product page for all the details.
The X99-Phoenix SLI hails from Gigabyte’s gaming motherboard lineup, and it offers built-in Wi-Fi, RGB LED lighting over much of its surface (check those fancy DIMM-slot LED diffusers), and LED headers for the increasingly-popular LED strips that all the kids seem to be putting in their cases these days. Like the Designare EX above, this board gets a refreshed firmware UI, and it has one U.2 port for compatible SSDs. Really, though, go check out its product page for all the details.
The X99-Ultra Gaming looks a lot like the Phoenix SLI, but it ditches that board’s orange finish and onboard wireless card for a primarily red color scheme, along with a Killer Ethernet controller (and an Intel one, too, for the people who are still wary about Killer hardware for some reason). I won’t bore you with its full specs—the product page has far more detail than I can possibly reproduce here.
Gigabyte also had a ton of Thunderbolt 3 accessories on display that it hopes will show off the potential of the port.
These devices range from port replicators all the way up to an external graphics dock from Silverstone.
Gigabyte’s Brix division had a new version of the Brix Gaming to show off. This significantly taller mini-PC houses a GTX 950-class graphics chip inside a much larger chassis than the original that we reviewed, so it should be able to deliver desktop-class performance in a package that’s still quite compact.
Over in the graphics card section of its booth, the company showed us its Xtreme Gaming GeForce GTX 1080. This monster card takes up more than two slots of space in trade for a shorter PCB. Gigabyte cleverly overlaps the fans on this card’s cooler to let it maintain the same cooling capacity without adding undue length. Clock speeds and other specs were still under wraps at the time of the show. We later learned that Gigabyte will offer a VR-ready version of this card with a front-panel display breakout box.
For the less insane, Gigabyte has a G1 Gaming version of the GTX 1080, as well. This card has a refined version of Gigabyte’s Windforce cooler and—you guessed it—RGB LED lighting. Folks, if I had a nickel for every RGB LED I saw at this show, I would be plotting my new media empire, or something. In all seriousness, though, gamers should be pleased with this more wallet-friendly GTX 1080.
Gigabyte’s notebook division had a third of the floor to itself. We went hands-on with the slim-and-stylish Aero 14, the company’s biggest announcement at the show.
These solid-feeling notebooks come in three color schemes: black, orange, and neon green.
Each notebook’s lid has a dual-texture finish that Gigabyte seemed especially proud of. The paint jobs look good, and the dual-texture approach feels nice in the hand, too.
If you needed high-performance DDR4 RAM kits at Computex—whether low-latency, high-capacity, high-speed, or all of the above—G.Skill’s booth at Computex had it all.
This 4500 MT/s Trident Z kit was the fastest in G.Skill’s booth. I seem to recall you’ll need this particular ASRock motherboard to go with it if you want out-of-the-box support.
This 64GB, 3600 MT/s kit is ready to push way past Broadwell-E CPUs’ DDR4-2400 stock speeds.
This 128GB DDR4-3200 kit offers high speed, high capacity, and low latency all at once.
This 128GB DDR4-3466 kit offers even more speed at the expense of higher latency.
Chop the DDR4-3466 kit above in half, knock down the latency some, and you get 64GB of memory that’s perfect for filling the four RAM slots on most Z170 boards with.
If you need to go north of 4000 MT/s, the 4500 MT/s kit we led off with isn’t your only option from G.Skill. The company also offers a 4133 MT/s kit, as seen above…
…plus a 4266 MT/s kit. The 1.4V rating on the kit above puts it in the domain of extreme overclockers only.
So yeah. If you need RAM, G.Skill probably has a kit with the specs you need in the style and color you want, no matter how esoteric or demanding your requirements are.
The company fronted its booth with a giant stage for pro overclockers to test their mettle. You can read about some of the records that were set at the event here.
Some of the wildest cases at Computex made an appearance in In Win’s booth. There’s something to be said for utilitarian black monoliths, but In Win isn’t afraid to walk on the wild side. These cases aren’t just flashy coats of paint on cheap underpinnings, either. I was consistently impressed with how solid-feeling these cases were every time I got my hands on one.
The company’s D-Frame 2.0 case is a limited-edition chassis that’ll be produced in a very small run (500 units, if I recall correctly). This gold-finished beauty is constructed much like a high-quality bicycle frame.
Each D-Frame 2.0 will come with a custom-made 1065W power supply that’s been designed specifically for this case. That power supply grille alone probably has more metal in it than some sub-$100 cases out there.
The X-Frame 2.0, on the other hand, is sort of like a test bench taken to the extreme. The motherboard tray on this “case” can sit horizontally or stand on end, depending on the builder’s mood.
Like the D-Frame 2.0 above, this case will come with its own exclusive In Win power supply.
The 805 Infinity is one of the more ingenious cases we saw on the show floor this year. It uses a mirrored front panel to simulate the effect familiar to anybody who’s ever stood between a parallel set of the things, but In Win doen’t use this effect to stretch the system inside to infinity. Instead, it makes the case appear like an RGB-LED-lined void.
In Win apparently had a hand in the making of the case for the ROG Avalon, too. Given how hefty and high-quality the Avalon’s outer panels are, it was unsurprising to find out the company was behind the shell of this concept system.
If I had to hand out an award for “most crowded booth at Computex” this year, MSI’s would probably win. The generals of the “Dragon Army” had plenty to show off this year, including more motherboards and gaming notebooks than I can count. We’re most interested in the company’s graphics cards, however. MSI’s versions of Nvidia’s Maxwell graphics cards were favorites of ours here at TR, and the company looks to be continuing its winning streak with its custom-cooled Pascal cards. MSI’s GTX 1070s and 1080s will come in three main versions: “Armor,” “Gaming X,” and “Gaming Z.”
The Armor series cards will occupy the entry-level spot in the company’s Pascal lineup. These cards use the same underlying cooler tech as its Maxwell cards did, but that’s not a bad thing: the GTX 970 Gaming 4G was probably the most popular custom GTX 970 out there, and we were big fans of the GTX 980 Ti Gaming 6G, as well.
The first of MSI’s new custom cards is the Gaming X series. These cards get an updated Twin Frozr cooler (now in its sixth generation), along with a fancy-looking backplate. They’ll also have an extra power plug and a spiffed-up 10+1 power delivery subsystem, compared to the GTX 1080 Founders Edition’s 5+1 setup.
The top-of-the-line custom cards from MSI will carry the Gaming Z moniker. Building on the Gaming X design, these cards get a fancier backplate with an inlaid MSI shield, plus RGB LED lighting throughout. The fronts of the cards look practically identical, so imagine the Twin Frozr VI cooler on the card with the shield on its back side, and you have the Gaming Z.
We already showed it in our Corsair booth tour, but MSI will be offering a Sea Hawk GeForce GTX 1080 as well. That liquid-cooled card could run quieter than the average air-cooled GTX 1080. You can also see the MSI Aero GTX 1080 peeking out from behind its friends above. That card uses a blower-style cooler.
The cooler itself uses square-shaped heat pipes over the GPU in tandem with a solid baseplate that’s responsible for transferring heat from the graphics card itself. That design could result in more heatpipe surface area in contact with the baseplate and with neighboring heatpipes. All that fancy tech could result in better heat transfer.
Like Gigabyte and Asus, MSI had several updated X99 motherboards on display that are ready for Broadwell-E CPUs. The X99 Gaming Pro Carbon is almost certainly the flashiest: it has RGB LED lighting in several locations across the board, plus a fancy-looking carbon-fiber finish on its fascias.
The X99A XPower Gaming Titanium offers a silver PCB finish, a U.2 connector for 2.5″ NVMe SSDs, and a front-panel USB 3.1 Type-C port header.
The X99A Workstation trades RGB LEDs and flashy finishes for rock-solid networking capabilities and ECC memory support. Buyers get twin Gigabit Ethernet jacks powered by a duo of Intel controllers: an I218-LM and a I210-AT.
MSI also had a prototype version of its VR backpack PC on display. This system is quite sharp-looking. I didn’t get to try it out personally, but the pack itself appears to be formed at least in part from brushed aluminum. The pack also doubles as a desktop when VR junkies aren’t jacked into their Rifts or Vives.
New-kid-on-the-block Riotoro had a solid product lineup to show at Computex this year. We got a good look at the company’s case lineup, as well as a run-down of its peripherals, CPU coolers, and power supplies.
It’s been a while since I’ve seen an interesting budget case design, but Riotoro’s red-and-black pair of entry-level enclosures piqued my interest. The company’s CR280 Mini-ITX case and CR480 ATX mid-tower both clear two major hurdles for affordable enclosures: looking good and feeling durable. Both of these chassis include plenty of steel in their construction, and the clean lines of their exteriors look quite sharp for their price tags.
Riotoro has something for folks that want a fancier case, too. The Prism CR1280 full tower comes with a spiffy full-length windowed side panel and RGB LED-backlit accents on its front and top panel.
If you’re taken by dual-chamber cases like Corsair’s Carbide Series Air 240, but you still want to use an ATX motherboard, Riotoro’s CR1080 might be just the thing. This compact ATX enclosure makes extra room for wide graphics cards (and probably tall CPU coolers) in its main chamber with a sort of bay window in its already-windowed side panel.
It doesn’t seem to be enough for a hardware manufacturer to be “just a case company” or “just a power supply company” anymore, and Riotoro has some coolers, power supplies, and peripherals in its catalog, too.
This keyboard is a prototype called the Ghostwriter. It’s got Kailh switches similar to those we saw in the Rosewill RGB80 many moons ago, and its angular styling is of a piece with the company’s cases.
If you need a Riotoro logo on everything in your system build, the company’s Bifrost liquid coolers will help you get there. The Bifrosts come in an extra-thick 120-mm flavor or a slim 240-mm version.
Riotoro is also slapping its name on a pair of PSUs from well-known ODM Great Wall. The Onyx series offers 80 Plus Bronze efficiency in 450W, 650W, and 750W flavors, while the Enigma is an 850W 80 Plus Gold unit with Japanese primary capacitors. Expect the company’s non-case offerings to begin arriving later this year.
Along with a new logo for its gaming products, Rosewill showed off a handsome ATX case at Computex called the Cullinan.
The Cullinan’s left, right, and front panels are all cut from sheets of tempered glass, all the better for seeing the system inside. The rest of the case looks a lot like Fractal Design’s Define R5, but we figure if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em, or something. This case should hit the market at a $110 suggested price.
The tempered-glass onslaught continues with the Gungnir Z. This case doesn’t have a tempered-glass front panel, but both of its side panels are made of the stuff.
Rosewill’s Himars is a nifty server chassis with a swing-out drive cage in its front panel. That cage has a 3.5″ backplane in it to let users swap storage devices quickly.
Rosewill’s mechanical keyboards have been value favorites of ours for a long time. The company is rejoining the RGB craze with the RK-9000V2 RGB, a fully RGB LED-backlit board that can be programmed entirely in hardware.
The Tokamak power supply is a 1200W, 80 Plus Titanium unit with a nifty feature: in the unlikely event you load up one of its rails past 90% of its rated capacity, an LED on the front panel will start to blink to let you know you’re pushing the limit of that circuit. That feature could be useful on a test bench.
Silverstone’s engineers appear to be on a mission to put as much power in as small a box as possible—a goal I can get behind.
The most prominent example of that is the company’s 800W SFX-L PSU. That’s right: this tiny box probably has a higher output than the ATX PSUs in many of our readers’ tower PCs. Not only does this thing put out enough power to run multiple graphics cards or other demanding components, it’s rated for 80 Plus Titanium efficiency. That means it’s 90% efficient or better at more or less all load levels. Its 120-mm fan can operate in a semi-silent mode, too.
Silverstone is also sensitive to the needs of VR demonstrators and developers that need a portable rig to take into the field. The company has grafted a bus-powered display onto one of its small-form-factor cases, obviating the need for a separate monitor and its attendant cables. As someone who’s hauled a full PC setup out of the house to show what VR can do, I can appreciate the practicality of this setup.
If Razer’s Core external graphics enclosure isn’t to your taste, Silverstone has one of its own in the works. This aluminum tower houses a power supply and a spot for a dual-slot graphics card. This dock also supports daisy-chaining, should you want to connect multiple Thunderbolt 3 devices to a PC using just one port.
Silverstone also had several cases for Intel’s Mini-STX (or 5×5) motherboards on display. Since this platform is more or less standard, the cases for it are all pretty similar, but at least Silverstone’s feel like high-quality takes on the formula.
Most HTPC cases—Silverstone’s included—are trending towards the slim Mini-ITX formula these, days, but if you need to put a full-size ATX PC under your TV, the Grandia GD09 has got you covered.
The Redline RL05 is a sub-$100 case that’s ready for the future with a front-panel USB Type-C port.
Silverstone also had a sleek-looking ATX enclosure on display called the Primera. The company called this case “supercar-inspired.” We’ll leave that up to the eye of the beholder, but what’s not in dispute is that this will be a roughly $110 chassis that’s available with single-color LED lighting scattered throughout. Silverstone said it might be possible to offer a version of this case with RGB LEDs built in, but that such a move would probably add too much to the cost of the enclosure to be worth it.
The Kublai KL-07 is a noise-reducing case that’s notable for the extremely thick eggcrate foam Silverstone applies to the side panels.
Seriously, look at this stuff. It’s a cut above what you’ll find on most cases with noise-reducing features.
One of the trends at Computex this year seemed to be finding answers to the question of “how can we get around Asetek’s liquid-cooling patents?” Silverstone’s approach is among the cleverer ones I saw: put the pump in the dead spot behind the fan hub on the radiator itself.
This approach also has the side effect of making the waterblock itself quite thin.
The final point of interest in Silverstone’s booth was a pair of “remote starters” for PCs. The company says it’s offered the PCIe version of this gadget for some time, but it’s now made a USB version that won’t take up a precious PCIe slot on a Mini-ITX motherboard. Whatever model you choose, the included remote lets you start up your PC or shut it down from across the room. Ladies.
The most distinctive cases we saw at Computex were almost certainly the aluminum beauties that Streacom had on display. I get the impression that the engineers here really hate system noise, and the company’s chassis can be built up to run in a completely silent manner if a builder desires.
We covered the DB4 cube chassis during the show, but press releases are one thing—getting one’s hands on premium hardware like this is important to really get a feel for what sets it apart.
Each of the DB4’s side panels are incredibly solid-feeling extrusions of aluminum that go through further work steps to create invisible vents on the back side. The result is a fanless chassis with plenty of airflow potential and clean looks.
Streacom put Asus’ Maximus VIII Impact mobo inside the DB4 to demonstrate its wide compatibility with Mini-ITX parts. The Impact puts its power-delivery components on a vertical card that can present clearance challenges with some coolers.
Streacom’s companion CPU cooler for this case uses 90-degree heatpipes that make it possible to cool the processor without creating clearance issues with motherboards like this one.
Each side panel on the DB4 can dissipate up to 65W of heat from the CPU. If you don’t mind giving up some of the clearance benefits of the 90-degree heatsink seen above, it’s possible to use another version that includes a second set of heatpipes. This unit (not seen at the show) employs two side panels to dissipate heat, so it can cool processors with TDPs as high as 120W.
If you can find a fanless graphics card, the DB4 has the PCIe expansion slots for them, as this bottom view demonstrates.
It’s a little hard to describe in text, but the DB4 has a flexible interior, too. Builders can position storage devices on the case’s side rails using thumbscrew-secured brackets that can be repositioned as needed (space permitting, of course).
Streacom also had a more traditional-looking Mini-ITX tower case prototype on display, too. We agreed not to share pictures of the interior of this chassis, but the design relies on a passive heatsink similar to the DB4’s.
Like the DB4’s exterior, this little tower is constructed out of thick, beautifully-finished aluminum panels that really feel a cut above almost any other case I had my hands on during the show. The thick cooling fins on the side should be well up to the task of cooling whatever hardware ends up inside.
Last, but not least, we got our hands on Streacom’s Open Benchtable portable test bench. We covered this useful-looking piece of kit back in March, and after getting our hands on one at Computex, we left thinking of ways to get a few of these for the TR labs.
Like the rest of the company’s hardware, the Open Benchtable is a well-finished, well-engineered piece of hardware. The company says a final version with some refinments to the design will be available soon.
Judging by the Computex show floors this year, Thermaltake’s Core P5 wall-mounted case has become wildly popular. That case has plenty of room for builders to show off fully-custom liquid cooling hardware, but less extreme builders told the company that the P5 is too large to allow for easy installation of all-in-one liquid coolers.
In response, Thermaltake took its winning formula and shrank it a bit. The Core P3 is a more compact version of the P5 that’s better-suited to liquid cooling with off-the-shelf components.
As the demonstration systems we saw in the company’s booth show, builders can still put custom loops inside the Core P3, too. Those loops just might end up being a tad more cramped than they would be with the Core P5.
Thermaltake’s Core G3 is another intriguing chassis. It’s a slim-ATX design that lets builders show off their graphics cards with an included PCIe flex cable.
This chassis is about the same size as Corsair’s recently-released Bulldog case, but its ace in the hole might be its equal comfort in horizontal and vertical orientations. You will need an SFX power supply to install in this system, but more and more companies are ready to service that demand—including Thermaltake itself.
If you want to put a lot of controllable RGB LED fans in your case at once, Thermaltake’s Riing 12 series might be just the ticket. These fans require a proprietary USB hub thing in order to work, but if you’re OK with that tradeoff, it’s possible to gang up 48 of these things and control them all through Thermaltake’s dedicated software. To control that many fans, you’ll need multiple hubs, but the tiny size of those controllers shouldn’t be an obstacle in cases capable of swallowing that many spinners.
I try and avoid describing hardware as “built like a tank,” so I won’t—but Zalman’s X7 chassis might stand up to being run over by an Abrams. This enormous case’s outer frame looks like it’s made of 1/8″ steel all around, and it’s got enough room for all the radiators and liquid-cooling hardware one could possibly need.
As you might have already guessed from the picture above, the X7 has more than enough room for even the largest ATX motherboards with space to spare. This chassis also has a built-in controller for its RGB LEDs and a couple of fans, too.
Zalman also had a waterproof gaming keyboard on display, and it wasn’t afraid to show that the thing can, in fact, be dunked in a tub of water and come out unscathed. If you regularly knock over drinks during the course of gameplay (or work in nasty industrial environments), this could be the keyboard for you.
If there’s one thing to take away from Computex 2016, it’s that the RGB LED has well and truly spread like a rainbow epidemic through the industry. It’s quaint to think that we once considered these things exotic. Soon, it’s probably going to be far easier to find hardware that’s bedecked with these things than stuff that’s not. The wonders of economies of scale, I suppose. Even so, I gotta say “enough” to this trend.
While I’m as strong an advocate for individual expression and letting one’s freak flag fly as you’ll find, I have to wonder if all of this Technicolor exuberance isn’t taking up valuable attention from many still-unsolved problems in the life of the system builder. We covered Cooler Master’s booth in a separate post, and that company’s strategy of simplifying its product lineup and making life easier for DIYers stood out to me far more than the next rebadged RGB LED keyboard did. I’d like to say I didn’t even see the pesky blinkenlights in Cooler Master’s booth, but that’s not the case. At least CM has so far restrained itself to putting that kind of illumination where it might actually be useful, like keyboards and (maybe) mice. So the product designers there get a pass.
See, my beef with RGB LEDs is that their 16.7 million shades of possibility require infrastructure to manage, both in hardware and software, and that means complexity and cruft. That cruft could be in the form of auxiliary control boxes hidden away in cases, or it could manifest as a bunch of arcane Windows management utilities stashed in a folder on one’s desktop. Asus is trying heroically to bring some order to the chaos with its “Aura Certified” program, which lets compatible hardware and LED strips sync up with its motherboards and software, but that means you need to be OK with buying Asus hardware to begin with—not that that’s a bad thing, mind.
All this stuff doesn’t just appear out of thin air, right? I can’t imagine how many engineers are on the problem of adding RGB LED illumination to optical drives or USB ports or printers as we speak, because those are honestly about the only places I didn’t see an RGB LED during our travels. I just hope companies are leaving a few lucky folks free to figure out what the next major innovation for the PC will be.
On a less grumpy note, we got to see a ton of powerful hardware hit the wires at once during this year’s show. Intel’s Broadwell-E CPUs are an exciting advance for high-end desktops. Nvidia’s board partners had a cornucopia of neat custom GeForce GTX 1080s to show off. AMD teased Zen CPU silicon and its upcoming Polaris graphics cards. Many companies are putting the PC to work in new form factors like the VR backpack system. All that stuff is exciting news. Just, please, don’t show me another thing with RGB LEDs in it for a little while.