From powerful, new quad-core CPUs to a new generation of always-connected 4G notebooks, 2017 brought us a number of memorable laptop innovations.
Intel 8th Gen Core Comes to Business
Intel made a huge splash this past fall when it released its 8th Generation "Kaby Lake Refresh" chips, which allow mainstream, thin-and-light laptops to get the power of four CPU cores. Now, even $500 laptops get a huge boost in performance, with gains of up to 91 percent over 2016's Kaby Lake chips.
Unfortunately, as it did with 7th Gen Core, Intel only released the consumer versions of its chips in September, with business versions due later. Because many companies want Intel vPro manageability and TPM encryption — features the current lineup of 8th Gen Core chips doesn't offer — vendors haven't refreshed their business laptops with 8th Gen CPUs.
However, based on Intel’s past release schedule, we expect the company to launch 8th Gen Core commercial CPUs early in 2018. At the same time, Dell, Lenovo and HP will undoubtedly start releasing new Latitudes, ThinkPads and EliteBooks that have 8th Gen Core processors. So, if you're been hankering for a sleek ThinkPad X1 Yoga, but wanted more processing power, your day is probably coming soon.
Qualcomm-Powered Laptops Hit the Market (Finally)
In one of the biggest developments of 2017, Qualcomm and Microsoft announced a new generation of always-connected laptops that can run full Windows, using the mobile chipmaker's Snapdragon processors. These new laptops will come standard with 4G LTE modems and, since they use low-power chips, they're supposed to last over 20 hours on a charge. Like a smartphone, these devices should wake instantly and download your email even when they are asleep.
While we got to go hands-on with Qualcomm-powered laptops from Asus and HP in 2017, we won't see shipping systems with Qualcomm inside until this coming spring. If these laptops really last all-day on a charge, they could shake up the industry.
AMD Releases Mobile Ryzen CPUs for Gaming
After many years of ceding the CPU performance crown to Intel, AMD came roaring back in 2017. Last in the year, the company released its Ryzen Mobile processor, a laptop-friendly version of its powerful Ryzen platform.
Though Ryzen Mobile chips were only available on two laptops in 2017, the HP Envy x360 and the Acer Swift 3, they made quite an impression. On our tests, the Envy x360 with Ryzen 7 often outperformed a nearly-identical Envy x370 with a Core i7-8550U chip and the results were particularly dramatic when it came to graphics.
The initial Ryzen Mobile CPUs are 15-watt, quad-core chips that compete directly with Intel's mainstream U Series Core i5 and Core i7 processors. In 2018, the company will almost certainly release high-wattage chips that go into gaming laptops and compete with Intel's HQ and HK series. Such chips could bring some more competition to the gaming laptop space, driving down prices and driving up performance.
Powerful, New Intel Chips with AMD Graphics
Intel recently announced that it is teaming up with archrival AMD to build processors with its own CPU, but with an AMD GPU on-board. These new chips should provide significantly better integrated graphics performance than previous intel processors, but they probably won't have enough oomph to be gaming systems. (You'll still need a discrete GPU for that.)
Six-Core Intel CPUs for Gaming Laptops and Workstations
When it first announced its 8th Gen processor platform in August 2017, Intel said that its higher wattage chips would come sometime later. In 2018, we'll see new versions of the chipmaker's performance-oriented H series processors, the kind that appear in every gaming laptop and mobile workstation.
Though the H series has long been quad-core, in 2018, it should offer six cores. Our sister site, Anandtech, recently got a hold of a leaked Intel processor list. If accurate, the list indicates that Intel will soon be coming out with new Core i3, Core i5, Core i7 and, for the first time, Core i9 H-series processors. All of the CPUs above Core i3 will have six cores, but the Core i7 and Core i9 will have 12 threads.
Nvidia Volta Graphics Cards Launch
We love Nvidia's current-gen "Pascal" series of GPUs, which includes the GTX 1050, 1060, 1070 and 1080. However, this line of graphics chips is more than a year old and ready to go to pasture.
In 2018, Nvidia will likely introduce the first laptop graphics cards based on its new Volta architecture. Gamers and VR enthusiasts will have even more power to run the latest apps.
MORE: Best Laptops Under $500
iOS Apps Come to Your Mac
A few weeks ago, Bloomberg reported that Apple is going to make it easy for developers to build universal apps that run on both its desktop and mobile operating system. This move seems to mirror Microsoft's long-standing effort to have the same core set of software on all kinds of devices. We expect to hear more about this rumored initiative at Apple's WWDC (Worldwide Developer Conference), which typically takes place in June.
Windows 10 Gets Two Major Updates
If 2018 is anything like 2017 was at Microsoft, we'll see major Windows updates in both the spring and fall. We already know many of the new features that are coming in the next update, codenamed "Redstone 4." Improvements include a Timeline feature that keeps a history of what you were working on, a Sets feature which lets you create groups of apps for different workloads and a new, "fluent" design language which appears in first-party apps such as Edge.