OPINION: It’s been an extraordinary year for laptops, as we’ve not only seen the typical annual performance boost, but also a slew of exciting innovations.
I’d go as far as to say that laptops probably had more exciting leaps in innovation than the majority of gadget categories in 2021 – can you really argue that smartphones had a better year?
In order to celebrate all of the most exciting laptop innovations of the year, I’ve decided to round them all up right here. So without further ado, here they are:
Apple M1 Pro and Apple M1 Max
Integrated graphics are nothing new. Both AMD and Intel have been championing their own integrated graphics solutions in recent years, as their laptop chips are capable of dabbling with content creation and gaming without the need of a discrete GPU. But iGPUs have traditionally only been capable of an entry-level graphics performance.
Apple flipped that notion on its head in 2021, as it launched the M1 Pro and M1 Max chips. These new chips are capable of a graphics performance on par with a dedicated GPU, allowing you to take on heavy duty tasks such as 4K and 8K video editing on the go.
Since the M1 Pro and M1 Max remove the need of a second chip, Apple has been able to squash down the size for the 14-inch MacBook Pro to make it more portable. And since these chips are built on Arm architecture, Apple has been able to improve the battery life too.
The existence of the M1 Pro and M1 Max chips aren’t just good news for Apple fans either, as they prove Arm-based processors are capable of hitting a similar performance level to x86 chips. Exciting times are ahead!
Acer ConceptD 7 SpatialLabs Edition
We all thought 3D technology went the way of the dodo when manufacturers pulled the plug on 3D TVs, but the technology may see a comeback with laptops if Acer has anything to say about it,
Earlier this year, Acer unveiled its SpatialLabs software suite, which enables its new ConceptD 7 SpatialLabs Edition laptop to produce 3D images that seemingly pop out of the screen. I’ve tried the technology for myself, and it’s very impressive.
But don’t worry, Acer isn’t intending this technology for the sole purpose of future Avatar films. The main benefit of SpatialLabs looks to be for creating 3D models on your PC, as you’ll be able to flip, twist and spin the model in real time to see how it looks in a 3D environment. This is especially important for game designers, who create models that are viewed in 3D worlds.
With an eye-watering starting price of €3599, this laptop is hardly going to be a realistic option for the average person. But it’s still nevertheless an exciting innovation that could potentially transform the way that 3D animators work.
Asus ROG XG Mobile
Gaming laptop manufacturers have been trying to find the perfect balance between performance power and portability for years, but it’s difficult to do so without making major sacrifices. But in 2021, Asus decided to think outside the box rather than cramming all the components inside a compact frame.
The ROG XG Mobile is an external GPU, which can give compatible low-powered laptops a massive performance boost so they can handle the most demanding games. External GPUs are nothing new (Razer launched one years ago) but the Asus ROG XG Mobile is unique since it’s so small that it can easily fit inside a bag. This means you could take it to an office or hotel, and turn your portable into a high-end gaming system.
So far, only the Asus ROG Flow X13 supports this external GPU, but the lightweight laptop has been specially designed with it in mind. And I’m confident Asus will introduce even more compatible laptops as long as there is demand.
My only major reservation is that the ROG XG Mobile costs a pretty penny, but I’m hoping the price comes tumbling down in the future.
Nvidia GeForce Now RTX 3080
Okay, so this isn’t strictly a laptop innovation, as it’s available on multiple other devices such as smartphones, tablets and even smart TVs, but this cloud-streaming technology needs a mention since it has serious ramifications for portable PCs in the future.
Nvidia’s GeForce Now technology allows you to stream your library of PC games via the cloud. This means you’ll be able to play the likes of CyberPunk on your Chromebook, as long as your internet connection is fast enough.
GeForce Now officially launched back in 2020, but Nvidia upgraded the server this year to allow for an even better gaming experience. If you subscribe to the ultimate plan, you can now stream games with a 1440p resolution up to 120fps – you’d otherwise need an incredibly expensive gaming laptop to achieve that kind of performance.
If you’re happy to pay the expensive subscription costs and don’t need eSports-grade latency levels, then there’s arguably no need to buy a gaming laptop again. A Chromebook, Dell XPS or even a MacBook would be able to handle any game you fancy when paired with GeForce Now.