CES 2021, the first virtual show in the convention's history, gave more attention to gaming, which surged in popularity through 2020. Companies revealed impressive new laptops and monitors that promise big gains over last year's models, and cloud gaming finally came to televisions.
New Laptops Bring Big Performance GainsLenovo
Gaming laptops received a big boost at CES 2021 as Nvidia, AMD, and Intel announced new mobile hardware.
Jeff Fisher, senior vice president of Nvidia GeForce, said during the company's presentation that new RTX 3000-series mobile hardware will arrive in "over 70 laptops from every OEM." AMD's CEO, Dr. Lisa Su, said at the company's CES keynote that it expects "more than 150 ultra-thin, gaming, and professional notebooks" with new AMD hardware in 2021. Intel didn't have specific figures to share, but the company did announce a quad-core "Special Edition" mobile processor for ultra-thin gaming laptops. Chris Walker, corporate vice president and general manager of Intel's Mobile Client Platforms Group, said the CPU will "deliver a new level of amazing, low latency, immersive gameplay on the go."
Laptop makers followed up by revealing new models. Razer showed off a new Blade 15 laptop powered by Nvidia RTX 3000-series GPUs; MSI brought the Stealth 15M, a super-thin gaming laptop using Intel's new quad-core gaming CPU; and Asus revealed the Asus ROG Zephyrus Duo 15 SE, a dual-screen laptop with AMD Ryzen 9 processors and Nvidia RTX 3000-series graphics.
You can expect these laptops to deliver a significant boost in performance over models sold in 2020. Nvidia's RTX 3000-series, in particular, is a big upgrade over the prior RTX 2000-series. Jarred Walton, writing a review of the GeForce RTX 3080 desktop graphics for Tom's Hardware, said to expect "30% better performance than the outgoing RTX 2080 Ti," which was significantly more expensive than the RTX 3080 at launch. The laptop variants of the RTX 3000-series won't be quite as fast because of power constraints, but should still be a significant upgrade.
The key takeaway? Gamers buying a new laptop should hold off until new models arrive in February, as they'll immediately make last year's laptops feel obsolete.
Desktop Gamers Still Face Availability WoesNvidia
PC gamers playing on home-built desktop rigs have faced a big problem over the past year. Demand for desktop graphics cards, and to a lesser extent, high-end desktop CPUs, has drastically outpaced supply, forcing prices to rise. PCPartPicker's price trend charts show every current-gen desktop graphics card is selling above MSRP. Even older cards, like the Nvidia GTX 1660 Ti and AMD RX 580, sell for more today than they did at the beginning of 2020.
CES 2021 brought no good news for desktop PC gamers. Nvidia's Jeff Fisher, speaking at the company's CES-adjacent presentation, said, "Ampere has been our fastest selling architecture ever. We know these products have been hard to find. I want to thank you for your patience as we work hard to catch up." Nvidia representatives have used similar messaging in past presentations, and the company hasn't committed to precise timetables for better availability.
AMD is arguably in an even worse position. Its CEO, Dr. Lisa Su, said nothing about the availability of its current graphics hardware at the company's CES 2021 keynote, and only could say the company's next desktop graphics card will arrive sometime in the first half of 2021.
And, if you live in the U.S., there's one more thing to worry about: Tariffs imposed by the Trump administration on goods assembled in China are coming into effect. These were slated to take effect in 2019, but the Trump administration granted an exception through 2020. That's now expired, placing a huge 25% tariff on many goods, including graphics cards. Several companies that make graphics cards, including Asus, EVGA, and Zotac, have raised pricing in response.
This is bad news for anyone building a desktop PC. High priced desktop PC gaming hardware, combined with the launch of new laptops at CES 2021, could push gamers towards laptops even if they'd prefer to game on a desktop.
Cloud Gaming Finally Comes to TelevisionsLG
Laptops aren't the only alternative for PC gamers, however. These players could also turn towards cloud gaming services like Google Stadia and Nvidia's GeForce Now. Nvidia's Fisher touted GeForce Now's success during his presentation, saying people "streamed over 200 million hours of gameplay in 2020." He also reminded gamers of Nvidia's exclusive partnership with The Game Awards last December, and the availability of Cyberpunk 2077.
LG, meanwhile, announced Google Stadia and Nvidia GeForce Now are coming to LG televisions in 2021. This is a first for both Stadia and GeForce Now, which only was available through external hardware like Google's Chromecast or Nvidia's Shield TV. Bundling the app into a television means cloud gaming will work straight out of the box. It's a big step up for ease-of-use that arguably makes cloud gaming even more accessible than a game console.
The significance of this announcement is only increased by the availability issues facing PC gamers. As the price of PC gaming increases, some players will look for more affordable ways to play games. Nvidia's GeForce Now is particularly well positioned, as the service plays PC games people own and has access to RTX ray tracing. For example, gamers hoping to play Cyberpunk 2077 with ray tracing enabled will find GeForce Now is the only alternative to a gaming PC.
The War on Latency ContinuesNvidia
Nicole LaPointe Jameson, CEO of esports organization Evil Geniuses, said at a Gaming In 2021 roundtable discussion that the "struggle of getting to near-zero latency is every esports player's eternal journey." CES gave players new ways to tackle this problem.
Nvidia announced five new monitors with Nvidia Reflex support from Acer, AOC, and Asus. Nvidia Reflex is a collection of hardware and software that lets gamers measure the gap between a mouse click and the result of that action on-screen. Reflex also makes it possible for games to display latency metrics if they're updated to support Nvidia's technology.
All five monitors are high-refresh displays with refresh rates of 180Hz and 360Hz. The 360Hz display, AOC's AGON PRO 25, joins a slim but growing list of options from Alienware, Acer, and Asus. This is the highest refresh rate available on a monitor, updating the display 360 times every second. That's six times faster than a standard 60Hz monitor.
The high-refresh, low latency trend can be found in laptops as well. Every gaming laptop shown at CES 2021 had at least a 144Hz display, and 240Hz displays are now common. Several laptops, including the Razer Blade 15 and Asus ROG Strix G-Series, have a 360Hz display.
New OLED and Mini-LED Monitors Look Stunning
It's not just the refresh rate that's improving. CES 2021 also brought good news for PC and console gamers who crave stunning visuals.
LG Display, the business unit that builds display panels for LG, revealed plans to build 42-inch OLED panels. A television using the panel wasn't announced at CES 2021, but the addition of this panel to LG Display's line-up means a 42-inch OLED television is likely to appear this year. That would be huge news for gamers who lack the space for larger TVs, as most 42-inch HDTVs sold today are budget models with mediocre image quality, at best. LG also announced the LG UltraFine 32EP950 4K OLED monitor, which is due to hit stores in 2021.
ViewSonic announced its own eye-catching display, the XG321UG. This 31.5-inch 4K, 144Hz display that will have VESA DisplayHDR 1000 certification enabled by a Mini-LED backlight with 1,152 local dimming zones. That could, if well-implemented, provide OLED-like levels of contrast. ViewSonic says the XG321UG will arrive this summer, though pricing remains under wraps.
Widescreen monitors received some love, too. LG and Dell announced new 40-inch 21:9 displays with 5,120 x 2,160 resolution. That works out to the same pixel density as a 32-inch 4K screen, and it's the highest pixel density on any ultra-wide monitor. Unfortunately, these monitors have the standard 60Hz refresh rate, but they'll appeal to simulation gamers who prefer the wider perspective a 21:9 monitor provides.
Want more? See all our coverage of CES 2021 right here.