This year, at CES 2018, Dell launched its first laptop featuring a new Intel 8th Gen Core CPU with an integrated AMD GPU. Before now, all Intel processors had their own entry-level integrated GPUs, and if you wanted better graphics you'd need a separate high-performance GPU from either Nvidia or AMD. Now, with Intel and AMD teaming up to deliver a single chip with both Intel's Core CPU and a powerful Radeon RX Vega GPU on the same physical package, laptop manufacturers can deliver much better graphics in thinner and lighter machines. The new processors could also allow for much more portable laptops that can handle heavy-duty tasks such as video editing.
On the sidelines of CES, Gadgets 360 got a chance to speak with Ray Wah, SVP and General Manager of Dell's Consumer and Small Business Product Group, about this development. “When Intel approached us with this chip, we saw the potential of that because basically, they promised very good graphics performance and you literally separate a lot on the footprint of the motherboard,” Wah told Gadgets 360.
This allowed Dell to reduce the size of the motherboard in the XPS 15 2-in-1, but introduced new engineering challenges.
According to Wah, the new Intel chip with AMD graphics has a much higher thermal density than most ordinary processors. “It’s one thing to be hot but it’s another thing to be hot only at one location,” he said, adding that before this new chip came along, Dell could put the CPU in one place and the GPU in another, which would spread the heat out across the body of a laptop. Dell worked around this challenge by designing the XPS 15 2-in-1's body specifically for this chip, he added. “Some of the other people [competition] put a new board in an existing chassis; we are not like that. We design the form factor around the use case, all around the architecture.”
Wah told us that the XPS 15 2-in-1 is geared towards productivity, and that is why the company used the new chip in this particular model first. The XPS 13 doesn’t yet ship with the new processor. The XPS 15 2-in-1 uses Dell’s “Infinity Edge” design, which reduces the borders around the screen on the tablet-laptop hybrid. “Smaller screen, lighter, right form factor at this price is the 15-inch. I think 15-inch with Infinity Edge is closer to many 14-inch laptops in the industry,” he said, referring to the physical size of the device.
For productivity on the go, having a thinner and lighter machine is obviously helpful. Wah told us that Dell thought a lot about how to make the machine thinner, and found that focusing on the keyboard was one of the best ways to do that. The company introduced a new keyboard based on magnetic levitation technology for the XPS 15 2-in-1. “We felt this would be a good place to introduce that concept. People would be very very sensitive if they didn’t get the kind of experience [they want with their keyboard]. We tested it millions of times before [shipping] it into a notebook,” he said.
While Dell is proud of this keyboard technology, we don't yet know whether it can be as good as the company claims, and will have to test it for ourselves. Keyboard issues often surface after long-term use, but Wah seemed confident that Dell’s MagLev keyboards will be a hit.
Dell also spent a considerable amount of time optimising the machine for a better movie watching experience. The XPS 15 2-in-1 supports 4K UHD video playback with HDR. “We also put an anti-glare coat on the screen so you get a bright view, but not the glare. These are features that need to be translated to customer benefit. Your software needs to be able to support HDR," he said, before adding "Windows now supports HDR”.
As a final note, Wah told us that Dell's software addresses two big issues that movie watchers face with laptops. “Many times… background noise is blocking (dialogue audio). We are tuning the sound so that you can hear the conversation as well as the background sound.” The second issue has to do with buffering when watching video streams. “The most annoying thing when you watch a movie is the buffer, right? There’s a chance that when you watch a movie, something’s going on in the background. We don’t want that to interrupt your movie (streams). We deprioritise everything else when you’re watching movies [on Netflix and YouTube],” he said.
Disclosure: Dell sponsored the correspondent's flights and hotel for CES 2018.