The weird, wild, and occasionally practical PC hardware of IFA 2016

Innovative PC hardware showed up in spades at IFA 2016, Europe's largest tech industry trade show.

ifa

A great last gasp

This is it, folks. IFA isn’t only Europe’s largest technology trade show, it’s also the last chance for PC vendors to present their swanky new hardware before the critical fall season kicks off. It’s kind of a big deal.

And that’s immediately evident when you look at the lineup of high-profile PC announcements pouring out of Berlin. All sorts of wild new PC gear was revealed this week, spurred on by the launch of Intel’s newest generation of processors and several other recent innovations.

Let’s dig in!

kaby lake
Gordon Mah Ung

Kaby Lake

Intel kicked things off with the official launch of Kaby Lake, a chip that was never meant to exist. It’s the third processor built on the company’s 14nm manufacturing process, upsetting Intel’s iconic “tick-tock” release cadence.

Because of that, improvements on the CPU side of things will be fairly modest, but Intel’s beefed up the integrated graphics. Some of the chips will be able to run Overwatch at console-esque frame rates at 720p resolution, gorgeous 4K video playback will be standard, and Intel’s baked in a slew of new video encoding and decoding technologies. The first batch of Kaby Lake chips will focus on laptops, with desktop processors arriving in 2016—and all of them will only be compatible with Windows 10, not older Windows versions.

For a tl;dr rundown, be sure to read PCWorld’s 10 key things you need to know about Kaby Lake.

acer predator 21 x
Martyn Williams

Acer Predator 21 X

Several new laptops running Kaby Lake were unveiled at IFA, including the Acer Predator 21 X, an utter monster of a notebook with a massive 21-inch curved screen.

Not only is this the first-ever laptop with a curved display, this beast packs two of Nvidia’s beastly GTX 1080 graphics cards in SLI. Those should pair nicely with the laptop’s 2560x1080 IPS, G-Sync-enabled screen. The Predator 21 X also stuffs in an unnamed Kaby Lake chip, up to 4TB of SSD storage, a mechanical keyboard with Cherry MX switches, a USB-C port, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, and Tobii eye-tracking technology (which also showed up in a trio of new Acer Predator standalone monitors). All that hardware requires the help of not one, but two power supplies and a whopping five fans.

Basically, this behemoth is a desktop in all but name—a theory exacerbated by its 17-plus lb. weight. But damn if it isn’t impressive.

acer swift 7
Martyn Williams

Acer Swift 7

While the Predator 21 X may well be one of the largest laptops ever released, Acer also introduced the slimmest notebook in history. The Acer Swift 7 measures in at under a centimeter thick, but still manages to pack in a 256GB SSD, 8GB of RAM, a Kaby Lake Core i5 chip, dual USB-C ports, and a 1080p display. Look for it to land in October for $1,000 and up.

lenovo yoga book
Melissa Riofrio

Lenovo Yoga Book

Acer wasn’t the only vendor doing interesting things with laptops. Lenovo’s 10.1-inch, $550 Yoga Book stands out by replacing the physical keyboard with a “Halo Keyboard.” The Halo Keyboard is essentially a large, textured glass slate that can function as either a backlit digital keyboard with haptic feedback or—with the toggle of a switch—a stylus-friendly touch surface with 2,048 levels of pressure.

The convertible ships with a “Real Pen” you can use as a stylus or, yes, an actual pen on real paper on the Halo Keyboard. Either way, the Yoga Book’s Note Saver app will save your sketch as a digital file. Nifty!

 

yoga 910

Lenovo Yoga 910

Lenovo also announced the Yoga 910, a more traditional 2-in-1 laptop. This sleek laptop packs a Core i7 Kaby Lake chip, a 13.9-inch 4K display, an ultra-thin profile, and a claimed 15.5-hour battery life. The cherry on top of this delicious-sounding notebook? Windows Hello biometric login features.

A premium laptop like the Yoga 910 commands a premium price, though. It’ll cost $1,500 and up when it launches in October.

acer spin

Acer's fliptastic PCs

Acer revealed a slew of convertible laptops of its own, highlighted by a new “Spin” lineup of PCs with 360-degree flip hinges—just like Lenovo’s Yogas. There’s a full range of four different models with various features and price points, but the most interesting may be the entry-level model, which costs a mere $250. That’s a fine price for a Windows 10-based device that can be used as either a tablet or a laptop.

Windows not your thing? Acer announced the Chromebook R 13, a $400 Google-powered laptop that also packs a touchscreen and 360-degree flip hinge. The design makes it uniquely suited to the influx of Android apps coming to ChromeOS—you can use it as either a standard Chromebook or a large Android tablet.

hp pavilion wave

HP Pavilion Wave

But as practical as convertible laptops are, they’re pretty common by this point. Boring, you could say. HP’s Pavilion Wave is anything but.

The fabric-clad PC measures a mere 6.81 x 6.62 x 9.25 inches and resembles a speaker or Google’s OnHub router more than a traditional computer tower. (That’s it on the desk in the image above.) It’s no coincidence; this radical device weaves its PC components around a speaker and dual noise-cancelling microphones in its center. PC enthusiasts may be disappointed to hear that you won’t be able to upgrade the HP Pavilion Wave, but there are an array of configuration options available, and DIY PC enthusiasts probably aren’t the target market for this anyway.

hp elite slice

HP Elite Slice

HP also unveiled another oddball PC dubbed the “Elite Slice.” The $700 mini-PC is modular, letting you add hardware by snapping modules onto the main box that cost $35 to $110. Proprietary connectors based on USB 3.1 link the modules and the central PC together. Initial modules include an optical drive, VESA mounting plates, and Bang & Olufsen-powered audio.

Sound familiar? That’s because Acer’s Revo Build already uses a similar module system, as did Razer’s Project Christine. If it doesn’t sound familiar, well, it’s probably because previous modular PCs have landed with a resounding thud, and rightfully so. We’re big fans of innovative designs here at PCWorld, but HP will have to work hard to avoid a similar fate for the Elite Slice.

samsung curved monitor

Samsung quantum dot monitors

Full-blown PCs and laptops weren’t the only hardware making waves at IFA. Samsung revealed a pair of premium curved displays at the trade show. These gamer-centric monitors are brimming with goodies like 144Hz refresh rates and support for AMD’s buttery smooth FreeSync technology, but the truly head-turning feature is the screens themselves. They’re the first PC displays powered by cutting-edge quantum dot technology.

lg ultrawide monitors

LG's ultrawide behemoths

Not to be outdone, LG revealed a trio of its own ultrawide monitors at IFA. They might not rock quantum dots, but they’re rife with pretty much every other feature you can think of. (And crappy names.)

The $1,500 38UC99 packs a mammoth 38-inch, curved IPS screen with a 3840x1600 resolution and a wide color gamut covering 99 percent of the sRGB color space. This beast is built for image and video editors, in other words, and it includes niceties like integrated speakers with enhanced bass and a USB-C port for charging your phone.

The 34-inch 34UC79G is the first 144Hz curved, ultrawide IPS monitor, according to LG. Though the screen resolution wasn’t announced, the monitor supports FreeSync and includes several other gamer-friendly features, including the ability to show a crosshair in the center of the display. You know, if you want to be a filthy cheater. It’ll set you back $700.

Finally, the $600 34UM79M is still an ultrawide, but with a flat screen and baked-in Google Cast support.

keezel
Peter Sayer

Keezel

Here’s an interesting one. The successfully crowdfunded Keezel is a small, circular device designed to protect your Internet browsing over public Wi-Fi. Relying on untrusted Wi-Fi networks opens the door to man-in-the-middle attacks, and malicious folks can grab a shocking amount of personal data even when you’re using otherwise-legit open networks.

Keezel protects against eavesdropping by using a second built-in Wi-Fi interface to emulate a client connecting to the hotel’s network infrastructure. The device then sets up a VPN connection over that, encrypting your data and sending it back to the server of your choice. Handy!

The basic device costs $119. You can buy access to Keezel’s own VPN to route your traffic while you’re out and about, or simply configure the device to point to a VPN you set up on your home PC or already have access to.

bang olufsen daleks
Peter Sayer

But wait! There's more

PCs are just part of the glitz and glamor at Europe’s largest trade show. Head over to PCWorld’s IFA hub for information about Sony’s golden, $3,200 Walkman, high-end speakers that look like Dr. Who Daleks, and more.