The old saw about the venerable Computex? In any given year, you’ll see sprouts of technology at this major international trade show that show up, full-grown, in shops over the next five or 10 years. So…hello, 2020s!
Next week, PCMag will be on site in Taipei to see the future. But we’ve already got a pretty good idea of what’s likely to go down in Taiwan—and what it means for the products and technologies that will drive our world over the next decade. Let’s take a look at what we think they are.
First…What Is Computex?
Computex is a giant computing-centric trade show—these days centered on core PC technology, AI, and IoT—second in size only to the mammoth, US-based CES. It’s both a global platform for product and core-technology launches and a massive procurement venue for connecting manufacturers with distributors, and component makers with integrators.
This year’s Computex runs from Tuesday, May 28, to Saturday, June 1, with the last day of the show traditionally open to the public. The Monday before (May 27) is, as ever, laden with press-only events and press conferences.
It takes place in Taipei, Taiwan, at a variety of venues, but the heart is at the enormous Nangang Exhibition Center in the east of the city (that’s it above), and in a variety of locations around the famous Taipei 101 skyscraper: in the building itself, at the Taiwan International Conference Center (TICC), at the Taiwan World Trade Center (TWTC), and in Taiwan’s Grand Hyatt and various other hotels.
The Monday “press day” before Computex opens typically sees the big news break, and the first Tuesday of the show sees additional high-profile launches and announcements.
Chips, Chips, and More Chips, Part I: AMD Takes Center Stage
On Monday, May 27, AMD’s Dr. Lisa Su will kick off the show with her opening keynote at the TICC around 10 a.m. Taipei time. Computex’s traditional “chip kick-off” is Intel’s usual Tuesday afternoon press conference, so this AMD inversion is indeed a big deal for the core-silicon underdog, and a statement on the state of the two chip firms in 2019.
What will Dr. Su talk about? For starters, rumors have been circulating for some time around how AMD’s announced “Zen 2” architecture and third-generation Ryzen CPUs (codenamed “Matisse”) will take form. Dr. Su demonstrated an early sample of third-gen Ryzen at CES 2019, and these 7nm-based chips promise to be a whole new ballgame versus the 12nm Zen+ that came before. At CES, Dr. Su also touted the chips’ relative energy efficiency—not a traditional AMD strong suit.
The 7nm process-technology leap, which AMD actually rolled out in shipping product in its AMD Radeon VII video card earlier this year, would be quite the achievement against chip giant Intel, which has seen numerous delays in rolling out CPUs based on its “just” 10nm (“Ice Lake”) process tech. Various rumor-minded sites have posited early looks and leaks at 12-core/24-thread and 16-core/32-thread Ryzen 3000 chips. If true, that will put the top Ryzen 3000s in the same core/thread zone as not only Intel’s enthusiast- and creator-minded X299 chips but in the wheelhouse of AMD’s mighty Ryzen Threadripper line of CPUs.
What does that mean for Threadripper and its X399 platform, given the silence around that chip line in the run-up to Computex? Maybe we’ll know more next week.
Of course, new chips mean the likelihood of lots of new motherboards. AMD has professed backward compatibility for its new chips across older AM4-based motherboards through 2020, but the rumor and leak mill has made clear that the debut of ostensible “X570” chipset motherboards will accompany the new Ryzens. And the new platform will bring on compatibility with PCI Express 4.0, which AMD has publicly discussed. (More on that in a moment.)
Chips, Chips, and More Chips, Part II: Intel as Underdog?
Now, the relative sales volumes and the sizes of AMD versus Intel as companies haven’t drastically changed. But this Computex sees Intel coming in on something of a defensive posture, at least on the consumer-tech side of things, more so than we’ve seen for a while.
Intel will hold its traditional keynote on Tuesday, May 28, headlined by Gregory Bryant, the company’s senior VP of client computing. What he’ll talk about is up in the air. We do expect news on the much-delayed 10nm “Ice Lake” chips, presumably debuting as laptop parts first. What will happen on the desktop side is another story, though.
We wouldn’t expect news on 10nm/10th Generation Core for desktops yet, and the state of Intel’s enthusiast “HEDT” (high-end desktop) line—the Core X-Series that works with the X299 chipset—is up in the air. We haven’t seen copious leaks or teases regarding new enthusiast motherboards on the Intel side, or credible rumors of a new chipset to succeed the X299. The talk is that “Cascade Lake-X”—the successor to “Skylake-X” chips like the Core i9-7960X and more recent monsters like the “Basin Falls” Core i9-9980XE Extreme Edition—would be the 2019 next step in that space, and are seeing their first iterations as recent Xeon releases for server and workstation users.
But the timing on consumer Cascade Lake-X is another question entirely. Computex would make a great venue for such a counterpunch, especially if 16-core Ryzens will be in the offing. But it’s anyone’s guess whether Intel’s Bryant will pull a rabbit out of his silicon hat for enthusiasts and creators around the desktop. And whether it will involve an all-new platform or just a rev of the Intel LGA 2066/X299 gear that has powered the last two sets of Intel HEDT remains to be seen.
GPUs: Navi and Xe, When Will We See You?
At Computex, Intel is hosting an “Intel Odyssey” event. Odyssey is an initiative around which Intel aims to build a fanbase and enthusiast community centered on its upcoming “Xe” dedicated graphics processors, expected to debut in 2020. We’d expect some teases on progress toward Xe, but we suspect that firm Xe news (or even a Xe rollout) will be more of a Computex 2020 thing. This show will just be the first major acceleration of the Xe hype train, we suspect.
AMD, though, should have more of a tale to tell. Next-gen “Navi” based GPUs are coming this year in Q3 (which could mean as soon as July, or late as September). Dr. Su’s keynote, we suspect, will reveal more than a few details on the upcoming GPUs, and it’s possible that the first partner cards may get teased at the show. However, with the major E3 trade show coming up in June, and with AMD’s graphics-component ties to the gaming-console world, it’s possible that the real Navi skinny won’t be made public until then. However, with the tech world’s eyes centered on Taipei next week, we’d expect some concrete details to build momentum around Navi.
Will Nvidia take a product-release breather at show given its relentless release of Turing GPUs for the desktop, and now its rollout of GeForce GTX 1650 and GTX 1660 Ti models for laptops? It’s anyone’s guess. Nvidia’s Monday 3 p.m. (Taiwan time) press conference (headlined by CEO Jensen Huang) is the biggest wildcard of the show, though we suspect it will center more on AI than PC stuff.
But…just as we wrote this, Nvidia teased something obscure and video-card related; it could be the rumored tweaked versions of its GeForce Turing cards, which may uptick GPU or video memory…
This could be a tactical response to AMD’s announcements around Navi. Monday just got a lot more interesting. And it was already going to be interesting.
PCI Express 4.0: The Bus Speeding Into the 2020s
So here’s the thing: We know it’s coming, and AMD did speak of it publicly. But what forms will next-gen PCI Express take in release hardware near term? It’s unclear. The Computex rumor mills haven’t hit on this very hard.
First, the context in a nutshell: More bandwidth on both the PCI Express slots that drive video cards and the PCI Express-based M.2 slots that feed today’s highest-speed SSDs will have implications for both markets. But for the moment, the news we’ve heard about PCI Express 4.0 has been on the AMD side of the aisle. We would expect that the coming next-gen AMD motherboards (ostensibly the rumored X570s) to have full PCI Express 4.0 support, presumably on the M.2 and some or all PCI Express slots. Early reports have indicated that PCI Express 4.0 requires more robust traces on PCBs over longer travel distances, so board designs will be interesting to see. For example, will all slots feature 4.0 support?
Will Computex show off the first hardware that actually makes use of 4.0 speeds? We wouldn’t expect anything on the video card front for now (the spec will surely be backward-compatible), but we wouldn’t be surprised to see the first consumer PCI Express 4.0-compatible M.2 SSDs demoed.
Laptop Land: Athena, 9th Gen, Ryzen…More?
Asus, MSI, and Gigabyte are the three big laptop players at Computex most years, and we fully expect the usual massive cadre of new machines. Acer is also a Taiwan firm, but it dropped a megaton of new machines in its global press event a few weeks back, so we’d expect a quiet Computex from that company. In recent years, Dell has rolled out a few machines at the show, as well, and we’d expect some action given that the company will have an offsite press presence. Given Asus’ Project Precog prototype from 2018’s Computex, we’re hoping that this out-there design proves to be more than just a cool concept demo.
CES 2019’s chatter around Intel’s Project Athena is sure to be part of the Computex conversation. This Intel initiative, which aims to enhance the market for thin-and-light machines that also offer exceptional battery life, is meant to be a multi-year roadmap for laptop makers and could define the machines of the 2020s. We’d expect more detail there. The codename verbiage around some of the enabling silicon could be “Lakefield,” a combination of “Sunny Cove” CPU cores and Atom CPU cores using a new packaging technology, allowing for small mainboards that allow for reduced-size chassis designs. Possible allusions to foldable-screen machines around Lakefield seem to be coming to the surface in machines like the foldable prototype that Lenovo showed off at an event of its own last week. (Mind you, Lenovo didn’t share what exactly was in that machine, only that it was Intel silicon.)
That said, on a nearer-term note, we’d expect to see plenty of laptop refreshes around Intel’s H-series “Coffee Lake” mobile CPUs and, if 10nm Ice Lake indeed comes to pass, some announcements around the first of these machines. Also, given the content of Asus’ New York City press event from a few weeks back, we’d expect to see more OEMs experimenting with Ryzen-based laptop models, as Asus is doing in several machines in its ROG Zephyrus G and TUF gaming laptop lines.
The Qualcomm 8cx-Factor
Qualcomm, too, will be holding a Computex event (ironically right on top of Nvidia’s) at which, among other things, we’d expect more details on its Snapdragon 8cx mobile chip platform—maybe even an official rollout of the first machines. The company’s silicon, integrating 5G mobile technologies, power efficiency, and—perhaps in Snapdragon 8cx—competitive productivity performance, might well exert a squeeze to Intel from one side in mobile silicon. AMD’s Ryzen Mobile chips, which are getting laptop design wins in a way we haven’t seen from AMD in a while, are already applying pressure from the other. That said, uptake on early Snapdragon-for-Windows designs has been slow.
Needless to say, the PCMag team will be sleepless in Taipei rounding up and reporting the key stuff and the cool asides from 2019’s Computex next week. Keep an eye on our site and our feeds for the latest as our prognostications get confirmed, quashed, and expanded upon. Next week defines the future.