Teensy plastic shields are the big new thing in 2018's laptop crop
Webcam shields, security integration, USB-C and micro-desktops are the moderately hot spots for the PC industry
The PC market may be in decline but someone is going to buy about 300 million of them this year. And because The Register knows that plenty of our readers are responsible for PC purchasing, deployment and maintenance … here we are with our annual guide to what's new and notable among the new models from HP, Lenovo and Dell, the top three PC vendors.
This year the most remarkable new feature might just be a one-cent plastic rectangle that covers laptop webcams on the off-chance that someone hacks your PC and starts to watch you from afar.
Such devices have become a common branded conference giveaway, a trend that's been spotted by Lenovo and HP Ink as they've developed built-in versions for some of their business laptops. Lenovo's even named its effort: behold the "ThinkShutter"!
HP's new toy is "Sure View", a software-driven privacy shield that dithers a laptop's display to narrow the angles from which it can be seen. The idea here is to stop shoulder surfers seeing sensitive stuff.
ThinkShutter and Sure View reflect the PC-makers' belief that security is currently your priority. Hence HP enhancing its Sure Run utility - which ensure only expected executables run on a machine, and also detects if things like anti-virus are unexpectedly turned off - so you can use it to enforce policies set in Microsoft's System Center Configuration Manager.
Integrations like that are valuable because the big changes in PC hardware are now rather predictable. Everyone gets Intel's new silicon within weeks of each other, but all three manufacturers told us that this year's crop is a game-changer because Intel's Core i5 is now a beast. Robert Vinokurov, general manager of Dell's Client Solutions Group opined that giant-spreadsheet-wielding users who last year would have been within their rights to insist on a Core i7 will get by comfortably with last year's 8th-gen i5.
All three companies have also made 8GB of RAM their floor this year, other than in budget models. On the storage front, magnetic-media hard disk drives are now the exception to the rule and even when they are an option aren't exciting anyone.
The few machines that can accept hard disks will deploy them as either a budget option or a way to give workstation users a few terabytes to play with inside machines that can handle a pair of M.2 drives that together pack three or four terabytes.
Serviceability is still on manufacturers' minds: broken Lenovo machines can emit an audio tone that, when deciphered by an app, reveals the nature of hardware faults and even a machine's serial number.
Meanwhile, on the desktop
Laptop docks continue to be on manufacturers' minds, for two reasons.
Firstly, last year's hoped-for WiGig-fuelled explosion in wireless docking didn't happen. HP, Dell and Lenovo don't care about it anymore.
Secondly, USB-C is going large and killed WiGig stone dead in a year. Users increasingly want it because it offers the chance to replace proprietary docks with something more likely to be around for years. The three companies we spoke to all sang USB-C's praises. They're also working on nicely slim docks that can mate with the USB-C ports on laptops' sides. Contrast that with WiGig which needed an extra box and wires galore!
USB-C is also making its way onto the desktop, because it helps to make todays preferred PC micro PCs even neater and tidier by making it possible to have a single cable handle power and video. Throw in a wireless mouse and keyboard and micro-PCs Towers, and desktops should be rather less cluttered.
For those of you that fancy micro-towers, towers, or under-monitor-PCs, all the traditional PC form factors are still with us. As are all-in-ones. However all the innovation is now in the smallest PCs possible. ®