CES 2021 preview: Brace yourself for a deluge of new PC hardware

This year’s incarnation of the CES trade show will be like no other. Last year, nearly 175,000 attendees crammed into the Las Vegas Convention Center and hotels across the Strip to get a glimpse of the latest and greatest gadgets. That obviously can’t happen now. But the show must go on, and we’re still expecting a deluge of awesome hardware to be unveiled at the all-virtual CES 2021, running January 11 to January 14.

A lot of CES is devoted to smart home technology, and the announcements have already started rolling out at our sister site TechHive. We’re also certain to see a new flagship Galaxy Phone from Samsung. But expect to see plenty of eye-opening PC hardware news as well. Let’s dig in.

Intel

New computer processors and graphics chips serve as the foundation for new generations of laptops and desktops. We’re expecting to see plenty of chip action at CES 2021.

First up (literally): Intel. Gregory Bryant, the head of Intel’s client computing group, is holding a keynote dubbed “Do more with the power of computing” at 1 p.m. Pacific Time on January 11, which you can watch on Intel’s Newsroom page. Given the title, we might hear more about the company’s “Evo” push for premium laptop experiences, and maybe see the 8-core 11th-gen “Tiger Lake” chip teased last fall. (The current Tiger Lake lineup tops out at four cores.) Intel’s gaming-class H-series laptop chips are about due for a refresh (the 10th-gen “Comet Lake H” processors launched last April), so we could hear more about that during CES 2021 as well. 

intel rocket lake architecture details Intel

Key features of Intel’s upcoming Rocket Lake platform.

We definitely expect to hear about Rocket Lake, the 11th generation of Intel’s Core desktop chips. Intel already said that Rocket Lake processors will launch in the first quarter of the year, bearing double-digit IPC improvements and PCIe 4.0 capabilities to help in the battle against AMD’s Ryzen resurgence. Rocket Lake will use a new “Cypress Cove” CPU architecture—though it’s rumored to be manufactured with the ancient 14nm process, rather than the 10nm found in Tiger Lake—and include Intel’s new Xe graphics.

Leaks from actual motherboard vendors teasing new Z590 models all but confirm Rocket Lake will be announced at CES 2021.

AMD

Don’t expect Intel’s chief rival to sit on its thumbs, though. AMD reclaimed the desktop crown with its fantastic Ryzen 5000 series. Those launched in the fall, and we expect to see laptop chips based on the same 7nm “Zen 3” architecture announced at CES 2021, serving as a follow-up to the stunningly successful Ryzen 4000 mobile series.

You should always take rumors with a massive grain of salt, but Ryzen 5000 mobile leaks have been popping off left and right over the past month. Hopefully the gargantuan IPC increases of the desktop chips make it over to these mobile variants. Some early rumors suggest the Ryzen 5000 lineup will use two different architectures: Cezanne, a Zen 3 design, as well as the Zen 2-based Lucienne. We’ll know soon whether that’s true, as AMD CEO Lisa Su is holding a CES 2021 keynote at 8 a.m. Pacific on January 12.