Dodging Robots And Ducking Drones
We've seen just about all we can see at CES 2016, even if we could see it all. We had to dodge robots and duck under drones, we had to ignore the "smart everything" (although we did see some really smart refrigerators... or as one person put it: a fridge too far). Among all of that were some gems.
As always, many of you will disagree with our choices for top picks from CES 2016, or wonder why oh why we're fascinated by some of them. Often we have no grand explanation, other than we were simply struck by something that stood out in the sea of sameness that CES can be.
The typical caveats apply: we didn't test these products. We did ask serious questions about them, or get demonstrations of them. Now, onto our picks.
MORE: News From CES 2016
Most Unexpected Innovation
ASRock's Mini-STX Motherboard And Mini-PC
ASRock's upcoming mini-STX motherboard and PC gives users the ability to build their own SFF system. Smaller than mini-ITX, the new mini-STX form factor is designed to be approximately 5x5 inches in size. The motherboard uses a desktop H110 chipset and an LGA1151 socket, allowing you to install any desktop CPU with a TDP of 65 W. The case is only about 3.1-inches tall, but there is still sufficient space to fit the standard CPU cooler that Intel supplies with every desktop CPU.
Although at this time we have seen only one motherboard and two cases that use this form factor, as more mini-STX products are produced, users will soon have a wide variety of new components that can be used to build customized SFF sized mini-PCs.
Best New SSD
OCZ Storage Solutions RevoDrive 400 1 TB
OCZ's new RevoDrive 400 is the first performance-focused M.2 SSD to reach the 1 TB capacity size that power users and gamers demand. When demonstrated at CES 2016, the drive achieved nearly 2,700 MB/s sequential read and 1,600 MB/s sequential write speeds.
OCZ told us that the new NVMe 1.1b product, the first from the company, will be cost competitive with other NVMe products on the market today, while achieving a capacity size lead in the M.2 form factor class. Users will experience higher frame rates and lower game load times by choosing the RevoDrive 400 as a drop-in performance increasing replacement to existing hard disk drives. OCZ expects the drive to ship early in 2016.
Best Networking Device
MU-MIMO (Multi-User Multiple-Input Multiple-Output) technology has taken the consumer networking market by storm, and rightly so. With the direction home network usage is headed, MU-MIMO is a much needed technology. Thus our networking award was focused on what we found to be the most compelling MU-MIMO product.
We saw a flurry of new MU-MIMO products released here at CES, but our award this year doesn't go to a fancy new router with a hundred bands and exorbitant speeds. Instead, it goes to the Linksys WUSB6100M, a simple AC600 USB MU-MIMO adapter.
Sure enough, potential customers looking to upgrade their home network with a MU-MIMO setup will want to get their hands on an enabled router as soon as possible. Little do they know, the devices connecting to their network (desktops, laptops, tablets, etc.) must be compatible with MU-MIMO to receive its benefits.
The WUSB6100M solves this issue, provided these devices have a USB port it can plug into. At $59.99, this dongle will allow users to upgrade to a MU-MIMO router without having to upgrade all of their wireless devices along with it.
Best VR HMD Update
HTC Vive Pre
Although the updates to the new HTC Vive Pre developer kit could be seen as more evolutionary than revolutionary, the Vive was already arguably the best VR solution available. That makes the improvements just icing on the cake. But still, the brighter displays, with their new Mura correction technology, are far and away the best-looking we've seen on any platform. And content that we had already experienced on the original Vive developer kit simply looks significantly better.
What we've been told is that the big breakthrough, the enhanced "Tron Mode" chaperone system, doesn't seem like a big deal on the surface, but it really is. It improves the Vive's room-scale VR safety net, instilling in you the confidence to feel free to completely explore the virtual space with no fear.
This subconsciously and significantly improves presence. Other improvements like the better controllers and easier-to-set-up lighthouse base stations further improve the package. In fact, if this wasn't labeled a developer kit, we would think HTC and Valve would have no problem selling it today.
Huawei Mate 8
If you asked us a year ago who were the top smartphone OEMs, it's unlikely that we would have included Huawei on that list. But after being pleasantly surprised by the Nexus 6P, one of our favorite smartphones from 2015, we were eagerly waiting to see what would come next from the Chinese OEM.
The new 6-inch Mate 8 was announced this week at CES, and we were lucky enough to get one prior to the launch. Although we're a little iffy on Huawei's EMUI UI that runs on top of Marshmallow, every other aspect of the phone is superlative. It is an incredibly well-crafted device with a beautiful high-contrast 6-inch display, all in a body no bigger than other 5.7-inch devices thanks to its super-thin bezels.
It's also the most powerful Android phone we've tested, and it has outstanding battery life. The camera is excellent, utilizing a brand-new Sony image sensor. The only problem is that it isn't officially available in North America -- however, if you want one, you can order it online and import it over.
In Win's H-Frame 2.0
In Win's H-Frame 2.0 chassis will retail for a heavy price of $799, but it easily translates to one of the best-looking cases on the CES show floor.
The front of the case has three USB 3.0 slots and one USB 3.1 Type-C. For cooling, it can have three 120 mm fans at the top and one 120 mm fan in the rear. For water cooling, you can place up to a 360 mm radiator at the top, and the CPU heat sink can be up to 185 mm in height.
Aside from the tempered-glass windows, the massive case also features orange LED lighting along with a lighting controller. In fact, the case is so unique that In Win created a special 1065 W PSU that fits the case. However, the spec sheet said you can use an ATX12V and EPS12V PSU as long as it's at or below 210 mm. The PSU also has orange LED lighting for its interior, along with a small window so you can look at its innards. It also has a slider to control fan activity in various scenarios. For example, you can set the fan to continue spinning while the PC is off, or give it a short delay before it begins spinning.
Just like some of its other high-end showpiece cases, In Win's H-Frame 2.0 will have a limited run, with only 500 cases available.
MORE: All Cases News From CES
Best Enterprise Storage
Kingston E1000 NVMe Enterprise SSD
The Kingston E1000 AIC (Add In Card) melds four NVMe M.2 SSDs into a single AIC form factor card, which in turn provides dedicated power loss protection for each of the underlying SSDs. This allows users to reap the rewards of client SSD pricing while enjoying one of the key features of enterprise-class SSDs. Kingston developed the solution with IP from Liqid, a company that is still operating in stealth mode.
The Kingston E1000 AIC supports up to 8 TB of storage per card while providing up to 1.25 million IOPS of 4K random read performance and sequential throughput of 6 GBps. The E1000 also features heat sinks that provide additional cooling for the M.2 SSDs, which is an important consideration in demanding server environments. Kingston displayed a high performance flash array powered by six E1000's at CES with up to 3.25 million IOPS and 12.5 GBps of sequential throughput.
Dell UltraSharp 30 Ultra HD 4K OLED Monitor
When we first looked at Dell's new top-of-the-range monitor, we couldn't believe its price tag of $5,000. But after spending a little more time with it at CES, we say to heck with the price. Yes, it's ridiculously expensive, especially when you compare it to even the highest-end 4K LCD monitor, but pricing is all relative.
The professional-grade Sony BVM-X300 30-inch 4K monitor is around $20,000, so the Dell UltraSharp 30 is a steal at $5,000 comparatively. Its OLED display is gorgeous and it has the best picture of any computer display we've ever laid our eyes on, with stunning inky blacks and colors that pop off OLED. It also has super thin bezels, a slim design, and uses USB Type-C for both power and video signals. Right now, it is the ultimate monitor, and if you can afford one, it should be on your desk.
Best Virtual Reality Peripheral
Virtuix Omni VR Treadmill
The Virtuix Omni is a new kind of peripheral called an omni-directional treadmill. It works in conjunction with a virtual reality HMD and allows you to run around in the virtual world, making it the perfect option for first person shooters in VR.
To use the hardware, you have to strap yourself into a harness similar to the type you would use for climbing. That harness is attached to the Omni on a swivel that will let you rotate in 360 degrees. The base of the unit is concave and made of hard plastic, so when you wear the special shoes for it, you can walk in place with very little friction.
Your steps are tracked by sensors that are placed on top of the shoes, and your body movement is tracked by the headset gyros and tracking sensors. Virtuix has also partnered with Vive and will support Lighthouse tracking for peripherals such as rifles or handguns.
"Active VR" is the term that Virtuix has coined to describe the experience, and we agree that it's an apt description.
Most Innovative Gaming System
CyberpowerPC's ProStreamer Series Gaming Desktops
Streaming and eSports are some of the fastest-growing market segments in the industry today, and CyberpowerPC has created a solution for amateur and pro streamers that can help save enthusiasts money by putting your gaming PC and streaming rig into one chassis.
The ProStreamer Series systems can house a micro ATX and a mini-ITX motherboard, with the mini-ITX acting as a streaming system. The mini-ITX boards can be equipped with 6th generation (Skylake) Intel Core i3, i5 or i7 processors and 8 GB of memory, and they use an Avermedia Live Gamer HD capture card. The dedicated system takes the encoding load off of the main rig (micro ATX system) and provides streamers with a dedicated streaming PC with as little or as much host processing power as you desire.
CyberpowerPC said that streaming rigs don't require huge graphics horsepower -- we were told that all that's really needed is a decent host processor, and therefore the mini-ITX board does not come equipped with a graphics card. Instead, it houses the Avermedia capture card. By combining two systems with dedicated purposes into one case, you can save some money on an additional PSU, liquid cooler and a chassis.
For anyone that streams on any level, CyberpowerPC is currently offering a one-of-a-kind solution that, despite its outlandish concept, should be practical for its intended use.