A crazy, crazy month

Written by Wil Harris

March 15, 2006 // 6:55 p.m.

Tags: #whatever

What a crazy few weeks. March is always a busy time, but this has been, seemingly, far worse than usual.

March kicks off in a fairly pedestrian manner, with a week of getting content up on the site and preparing for what is to come. The second week of March? That's taken up with IDF. I took a mammoth 11 hour flight out to San Francisco and stayed for a week to cover the Intel conference. There was some good stuff there, and it was definitely a worthwhile trip, but it is a bit of a haul.

Of course, during IDF this time around, CeBIT kicked off. CeBIT is the massive German trade show, and we had guys shipped out to that too. The shows couldn't be more dissimilar: San Fran had gorgeous sun, a relatively small convention centre and just a few major announcements. In contrast, Hannover had insane snow, over 30 miles of exhibition space and more new products than you can shake a very large stick at.

This week is relatively quiet, but next week, we're off to the Game Developer's Conference in San Jose. That promises to be a hotbed of new information, with Sony giving a keynote about developing for the PS3 and Aegia finally revealing its plans for its PhysX physics processing unit.

But why don't we have a think about some of these products?

The biggest news of last week was probably the full unveiling of Intel's Conroe chip, and the benchmarks that came out of that. Initial impressions seem to be that Intel has really got its next generation of processors nailed. With faster DDR2 speeds and the enhancements that the Core Micro-Architecture brings to the table, it seems like the days of Intel being a second-class citizen to AMD are really going to be behind us.

That's not to say that Intel is going to absolutely kick AMD in the ghoulies and run off with it's pocket money. We are yet to see proper samples of Conroe, on proper systems, and we are yet to see anything of AMD's next generation platform. For all we know, AMD is also working on a super-spangly new architecture. What we do know is that it will really have to go some to get into the same range as Conroe - it will probably be in the same performance class, but who will eventually snatch the crown of top performer we just can't tell yet.

Certainly, we're impressed, but we're not believing all the hype just yet.

Nvidia made our lives very difficult last week by releasing about 30 gazillion products at the same time. It officially announced the 7900 series of cards, the 7600 series, Quad SLI, SLI in laptops and the latest update to PureVideo. Not ones ever to be outdone, ATI also announced the X1800 GTO mid-range part and the X1800 mobile graphics chip.

We're currently going over all of those in our labs at the moment. The 7900 article is a beast and (as I write, Tim is still finishing it off) the outlook is not great for Nvidia. It's a bit of a bummer to launch a new product and not take the performance crown - at least, these days it is. I guess now Nvidia knows how ATI felt shunting out the X1800 desktop part.
The SLI notebook was an odd one. It was really more of a concept launch than a product launch: I'd be interested to know how many of these actually get sold. They're really only practicable as movable desktop machines - they're certainly not mobile. I do think that the 7800 is a great notebook part, and we've seen a couple of good laptops sporting it. However, two of these beasts? A 19" screen? Probably overstepping the boundaries just a little bit, in my view. I will, however, look forward to seeing 7600 mobile parts very soon - these could be a sweet spot for small or mid-sized notebooks.

Thinking about that ATI mid-range release has prompted me to do a bit of contemplation, however. What exactly are you supposed to buy now for under £200? There are so many cards and, worse, all the older and newer generations get mixed up in this price range. Do you go for an older, formerly high end card or a new, shiny, mid-range card? How do you weigh up X800 (XT, PE, GTO, XL) v X1800 (XT, PE, GTO, XL) v X700 (XT) v X600 v 6800 (Ultra, GT) v 6600 (GT) v 7600 v 7800 (GT, GTX)? And, more's the point, where on earth does the 9700 Pro fit into all of this now? Prices change almost daily, so it's really hard to keep a track. Perhaps this is some kind of new functionality we ought to work into the site - an auto-price-value-tracker widget. Hmm, now there's an idea!

Speaking of notebooks, our sister publication TrustedReviews just got in an absolutely stonking small notebook. It's the Sony TX2, and it's very small, very thin and very light. More to the point - it sports a 7 hour battery life. 7 hours! That's an entire working day. Out at IDF, I was incredibly jealous: I'm hauling my PowerBook and the mains adaptor around all day, while Riyad was just packing this tiny little thing without an AC adaptor in sight. Oh for a nice 12", widescreen, Intel PowerBook...

We also saw the wraps come off Microsoft's Origami device. Or rather, as we now know it: platform class. Whilst we heard reports a while back that Microsoft was readying an iPod-killer, it seems those wires were crossed because this is cetainly not it. Origami devices are basically stripped down laptops, or souped up PDAs, depending on your point of view. Crucially though: 2-3 hours battery life, so worse than average models from both. This is not a good thing. Overall, the hype was certainly not warranted, with everyone in the office (and everyone we spoke to on our travels) being entirely underwhelmed. I mean, how exactly would you use it? As a film device, portable media player, sure. But at $800? Why not just buy a notebook?

The coming weeks are sure to bring even more news and even more new kit, but frankly we hope it slows down a little. By the beginning of April we'll be about ready to take some time in the Carribean. We need time to digest what on earth has just happened!
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