SPEARHEADING THE PC COMEBACK
2015 was an exciting year for notebooks, we saw not just one, but two new CPU architectures. Well, to be entirely accurate, the first Broadwell CPUs were launched late in 2014 in the form of Intel’s new Core M processors. But it was only in 2015 that Intel finally unveiled the bulk of its Broadwell processors, which found its way into many notebooks.
Broadwell was notable because it was a die shrink of the preceding Haswell architecture. It mainly brought about improved graphics performance and much better power and thermal characteristics, which meant notebooks had longer battery lives and notebook manufacturers could build slimmer notebooks. And there was certainly no shortage of super-slim and compact notebooks in 2015.
Powered by the Core M processors, 2015 saw two ultraportables in the form of ASUS’ excellent Transformer Book T300 Chi and Apple’s MacBook. The Transformer Book T300 Chi is a detachable notebook with a tablet display that’s a mere 7.6mm - just about as thick as a first generation iPad Air. The MacBook, on the other hand, is a 12-inch super-slim notebook that measures 13.2mm at its thickest point before tapering down to just 3.5mm at the opposite end. It also weighs a scant 920g.
Broadwell also gave us extremely competent all-rounder notebooks like Dell’s stunning XPS 13. The incredibly slim display bezel and ultra-sharp display aside, the XPS 13’s is also immensely compact, taking up as much as 20% less footprint than comparable 13-inch machines. And yet in doing so, it sacrificed no performance and was one of the strongest allround notebooks that we tested in 2015.
Apart from Intel, NVIDIA also contributed immensely to the growth of notebooks in 2015. Earlier this year, it launched its second wave of Maxwell mobile GPUs, such as the GeForce GTX 950M, GTX 960M and GTX 965M. These midrange mobile GPUs soon found their way into many entertainment notebooks, and even slim gaming notebooks.
The ZenBook Pro UX501, is an excellent example. It was a 15-inch notebook that measured just 21.3mm thick and weighed 2.27kg. However, it packed an ultra-high resolution 4K display, thanks to it having an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960M. For gamers, the AORUS X5 is one of the most compact and powerful gaming notebooks in the market today. Thanks to its twin GeForce GTX 965M GPUs in SLI, it was only 23mm thick and weighed just 2.5kg. Its performance, however, could easily rival that of larger, heavier 17-inch gaming notebooks.
If you thought all of these were impressive, the second half of the 2015 saw Intel follow up with its new Skylake architecture. In keeping with the zeitgeist of the times, Intel recognized the importance of mobile and focused on improving their chips’ power efficiency and thermal characteristics.
The new Skylake processors can throttle between its various P-states more effectively, allowing for greater power savings over time. And some of them also have low rated TDPs as compared to the models that they replaced. Together with the support for more power-efficient DDR4 memory, these notebooks will provide longer battery lives than their Broadwell counterparts.
And it’s thanks to these Skylake processors that Microsoft could release the double whammy that is the new Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book. The Surface Book, in particular, is a breath of fresh air in the notebook space and is so noteworthy and special that we just can’t wait for it to arrive. Of course, the Surface Pro 4 is no slouch either. It improves on its predecessor in every way. Despite being more powerful, the Surface Pro 4 is both thinner and lighter than the Surface Pro 3.
All things considered, it has been a fantastic year for notebooks. Hybrid and detachable notebooks, which were once considered gimmicky, have really come into their own and are a viable alternative to traditional notebooks. Traditional notebooks, on the other hand, have never been better designed and wellrounded. If anything, 2015 was the year that notebooks really reinvented themselves, and proof that you can indeed teach an old dog new tricks.