The 5 biggest announcements from Computex 2021

Posted: 3 June 2021 2:25 pm
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It's a virtual-only conference this year, but the tech on display at Computex is very real, and really exciting. Here's our pick of the 5 most significant announcements at Computex 2021.

Computex is held annually in Tapei, Taiwan, and it's fair to say that it's not like any other tech show. Sure, you do get announcements around new PCs, gaming gear and more wacky gadgets than you can poke a stick at, but the big news is nearly always around what the big players in the technology component space have to show off.

Just because it's virtual-only thanks to the pandemic, it hasn't stopped the industry's big players from making some big announcements that will hit real-world tech products pretty damn soon.

Intel: Oh, you want some speed?

Picture not describedImage: Intel

Intel is of course locked in a pitched, decades-long battle with AMD in the PC space, but the more recent shift by Apple towards its own "Apple Silicon" in devices such as the Apple iMac M1 has put even more pressure on top.

Intel didn't disappoint with a wide array of announcements, including the company's first U-series 5GHz chips available later in the year – the Core i5-1155G7 and the Core i7-1195G7. The former will be the most powerful Core i5 chip you can drop into a laptop, while the latter has the distinction of being fast at 5Ghz while still sipping relatively gently at the power supply, working at between 12W and 28W of power draw.

Those are 11th Gen ("Tiger Lake") chips, but Intel also used Computex to show off the 12th generation of its chips under the "Alder Lake" banner. Built on a 10nm platform (it appears that 7nm CPUs will have to wait until at least 2022), Alder Lake desktop CPUs are due to make their appearance later this year, although more detailed specifications haven't yet been released.

Intel sold off its 5G chip development work to Apple some years ago, but at Computex, it announced a 5G pluggable modem in the M.2 form factor. The Intel 5G Solution 5000 only works on sub-6Ghz frequencies, not mmWave, and it's been co-developed by Intel and budget mobile chip maker Mediatek.

Why it matters: Intel is still the effective king of the hill in the processor space, and it's only stayed there by being competitive across both business and consumer sectors. While some of its announcements are and were effectively speed bumps, they do show that it's heading in the right direction for a wide array of needs.

AMD: Speed? Sure, not a problem

Picture not describedImage: AMD

AMD used its presence at Computex 2021 to announce its own slew of initiatives in chipmaking, with some fascinating partners and products to bring to market. AMD has long been a favoured solution for DIY desktop builders, and at Computex, it announced the new AMD Ryzen 5000 G-Series for the retail DIY market. They use integrated graphics to keep costs low, so they aren't gaming-specific parts. Although, AMD is having a play there too, announcing new AMD Radeon RX 6000M series mobile GPUs intended to compete very directly with the best mobile graphics solutions coming from Nvidia.

Speaking of competing, the other big news out of AMD is its competitor product to Nvidia's DLSS (deep learning super sampling) – software that uses AI to upscale game resolution. AMD's version is called FidelityFX Super Resolution, promising doubling or more of performance on AMD's own GPUs. Where it gets interesting and very competitive is that AMD says that FidelityFX Super Resolution will work on any recent GPU, including those from Nvidia. To the surprise of nobody, FidelityFX Super Resolution will work best with AMD GPUs. But we won't have to wait all that long to find out, as it'll be available from 22 June 2021.

AMD also announced that it'll be providing the underlying graphics solution for the next generation of Samsung's Exynos processors. These are the effective "brains" behind the company's Galaxy S and Galaxy Note phones and the systems we get here in Australia. AMD's RDNA2 graphics will enable ray-tracing and variable shading on Exynos processors, which could flip the accepted script around Samsung phones, where we've often received the second-best approach behind the models that shipped with Qualcomm processors instead.

Why it matters: AMD remains – and to an extent, trades on its appearance as – the plucky, value-driven alternative to Intel, but it's also got a battle on its hands in the graphics space with NVIDIA. Finally having a DLSS competitor coming to market is big news, especially if you'll be able to run it and gain advantages on competing graphics cards. AMD's strong focus on value could also give AMD-based laptops and desktops a big advantage in the coming months, with tech prices expected to go up if you're looking for a best-value computer.

Nvidia: Did somebody say GPUs?

Picture not describedImage: Nvidia

Nvidia isn't going to take AMD's challenge lying down, of course. Its big news, leaked almost everywhere prior to Computex, is the latest in the GeForce RTX line, the phenomenally cool – and expensive – GeForce RTX 3080 Ti. A hefty 50% faster than the GeForce 2080 Ti, the 3080 Ti is expected to be available in astonishingly limited quantities and for serious-enthusiast price points only, which has been rather par for the course for Nvidia GPUs for some time now.

Early benchmarks and performance tests suggest that the GeForce RTX 3080 Ti pitches pretty close to the performance of the ultra-premium RTX 3090, and while it'll probably sting you for close to (or more than) $2,000 for one, that's still cheaper than what the 3090 goes for right now. One of the more interesting aspects here is an inbuilt hash rate limiter on the card, rather explicitly placed there to make them less enticing to cryptocurrency miners.

For those with slightly less expansive wallets but a desire for speed, there's also the GeForce RTX 3070 Ti. It's less powerful than the 3080 Ti, of course, but a decent uptick from the base 3070 model in cores and base clock speed. It's expected to retail at around $1,000 or thereabouts. Both cards go to retail within the next week, although you may well be waiting a while to actually get your hands on one in Australia unless you're rather lucky.

Why it matters: It's not so much great news if you're keen on Nvidia purely for crypto mining matters, but better if you've been put off by the lack of Nvidia cards going into Bitcoin alone in recent years. Nvidia showed off a range of enterprise AI initiatives as well, proving that it's not just a graphics card company – although clearly this remains its sexiest product line.

Tesla: Is it a car or a PS5?

Picture not describedImage: Tesla

Motoring and tech have seen an increased convergence in recent years, and nowhere more so than with luxury EV brand Tesla. Tesla's Elon Musk absolutely loves a publicity-grabbing stunt, but at Computex, the company's focus was rather more solidly in the tech space.

Specifically, the company announced that the infotainment system that's going to appear in new models of the company's Model S and Model X will run from a custom AMD Ryzen processor with a discrete AMD RDNA2 GPU, potentially capable of up to 10 teraflops of computing power.

Yes, that's a totally ludicrous quantity of computing power just to run a car, but it does point to where Tesla is also pitching its vehicles as luxury items in their own right, with passengers (in theory) able to run AAA titles while the driver keeps their eyes on the road.

Reminder: Keep your eyes on the road, not on the game level you've just reached.

Why it matters: While Tesla's stated mission to deliver affordable EVs appears to be fading into obscurity as it chases premium buyers, there's no denying that it has set the stage for EV adoption worldwide. You might not care about gaming in a car, but bringing serious computing power into the vehicle space has serious implications for matters such as autonomous driving, overall ride safety and more.

You want hot chips? They're going to cost you

Picture not describedImage: Sony

There's no getting around the fact that Computex was virtual this year, and that's down to the global pandemic. In the tech space, there's been significant rumbling around issues in chip fabrication, as well as supply chain management issues affecting the availability of the silicon used to run, well, everything, for months now.

While the above sentence sounds about as exciting as watching and waiting for already dry paint to peel, it's the core reason why (for example) you haven't been easily able to score a PlayStation 5 for months now. In Intel's keynote address, Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger didn't shy away from the issue, noting that the rapid work changes brought about by the pandemic have placed "tremendous strain on supply chains around the world" and that it could "take several years for the industry to address the problem".

Why it matters: When Intel says that kind of thing, you know it's a serious issue, and while it's good to see it being addressed, the practical effect of all of this is likely to be twofold. It's likely to be harder for makers of any kind of tech gadget – and just about everything from your slow cooker to your car is stuffed full of silicon these days – to source parts, leading to stock shortages. The silicon market being what it is, we're also likely to see higher prices for gadgets over the next few years until matters subside and catch up with demand.

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