CES 2015 for PC Gamers
As always, this year's International CES is a place to hear about what to expect from the consumer electronics world for the near future. Unfortunately, for PC gamers, CES 2015 was very light on high performance gaming, mostly focusing on new mobile technologies. Still, there has been some interesting stuff, especially concerning displays.
This year there will be much more choice and competition among variable refresh rate monitors. Nvidia introduced their G-Sync technology first and it has already been available for almost a year. AMD was quick to respond with FreeSync, based on existing standards, but they only showed technical demos last year, with no monitors supporting it available for purchase.
AMD's FreeSync showcase currently consists of five new monitors announced at CES and several Samsung 4K displays announced last year. All of them should be available by this March. As these monitors are based on DisplayPort's 'Adaptive-Sync' specification, they should work with any GPU supporting the standard. However, so far Nvidia does not seem eager to implement it, preferring to only support their proprietary G-Sync implementation.
Another nice development is the appearance of more IPS monitors with refresh rates of 120 Hz with some models having 2560x1440 resolution. Having to pick either better colour reproduction, higher contrast and higher resolution or high refresh rate was a problematic choice. This year there will be several models trying to combine the best of both worlds. ASUS have introduced 27" MG279Q with 2560x1440 resolution and 120+ Hz refresh rate using IPS panel. They are planning to push it to 144 Hz by release date. While it is not being advertised as FreeSync monitor, it has DP 1.2a support, so it will work with AMD's FreeSync. Acer has also announced their 27" XB270HU with 144 Hz IPS panel and G-Sync support (although there is suspicion that it might be AHVA panel). These announcements are encouraging, but it will be important to see how well these monitors perform after their release.
Another display technology of the rapidly approaching future is the Virtual Reality. Once again, Oculus was demonstrating their newest prototype – Crescent Bay, which now has integrated headphones for proper VR audio support. The display parameters were not announced yet, but many estimates put it at 2560x1440 (1280x1440 per eye) at either 75 Hz or 90 Hz refresh rate. However, the most surprising VR news did not come from Oculus, but from Razer in partnership with multiple other companies. They announced the Open Source Virtual Reality (OSVR), offering their own VR gaming standard. A device to showcase OSVR is Hacker Dev Kit made by Razer. Currently it is far from Oculus Rift in quality, using 1920x1080 60 Hz screen, but it is much cheaper at $200, compared to $350 for Oculus DK2. It remains to be seen how well OSVR can manage to compete with Oculus.
Intel is introducing their latest Broadwell CPUs, this time releasing the low power version ahead of high performance desktop models. The first 14 nm Core-M Broadwell CPUs were released last September and were 4.5 W TDP parts intended for tablets, convertibles and very light laptops. At CES Intel is releasing 15 W and 28 W dual core CPUs for "ultrabooks". The highest performance laptop and desktop parts with 45 W and higher TDP are expected to be available no sooner than this summer. As Broadwell uses the same CPU architecture as Haswell, just on a smaller die, the CPU performance improvements are minimal. Intel has decided to focus more on power consumption and GPU performance in low power parts. Company advertised up to 4% higher CPU performance over Haswell and 22% higher iGPU performance. This may be good news for people who want to game on very light laptops.
On GPU side, mobile stole the spotlight once again. Nvidia have announced their latest Tegra X1 mobile SoC build on 20 nm process. While the chip itself is more interesting to tablets and Nvidia pushes it into cars, the fact that they can already manufacture Maxwell on 20 nm is good news for PC as well. While Tegra X1 definitely has much less transistors than 5.2 billion in GM 204 (GTX 980), but it should be close to 1.9 billion in GM 107 (GTX 750 Ti). Thus, Nvidia should already be capable of producing a more efficient successor to GTX 750 Ti, although they might wait before AMD starts competing on the power efficiency. There was also a silent launch of a new laptop card – GTX 965M, based on cut down GM 204 GPU with 128-bit memory bus. Based on its parameters, it should offer around 50% performance of desktop GTX 980 (as long as it is not bandwidth limited).
Overall, CES 2015 offered little news to PC gamers, outside of new monitors. Rather, we have a small glimpse of what we might expect of hardware later this year.