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What to expect from laptops at CES 2014

It's time, once again, for the International CES tech extravaganza to descend upon Las Vegas and unleash a glittery burst of news. This giant event, which kicks off next week, gives us our first real look at where PC manufacturers are heading in the coming months, as vendors announce new and upcoming products.

This year offers equal measures of excitement and anxiety as the PC industry faced declining sales for much of 2013. Aside from a few bright points, like a thriving PC gaming market and the emergence of budget-friendly Chromebooks, the companies making laptops and the bits inside them are facing an uphill battle.

What can be done to revitalise laptop sales in the face of tablets and smartphones? How will laptop designs change to incorporate new technologies and raised expectations for our mobile tech lifestyles? While every year has a few surprises, there are several trends I expect to see this year at CES.

Category lines get blurrier

Intel has been pushing hard for more 2-in-1 and 3-in-1 devices throughout 2013, and this CES is where we'll begin to see the results of that push. I'm expecting more hybrid laptop/tablet designs, more portable all-in-one designs, and even a few devices that attempt to be all things for all people – tablet, laptop, and desktop. The biggest question of the show isn't whether or not we'll see several of these new designs, but whether we will see anything that is compelling beyond the gimmick of "it's a tablet, it's a laptop, it's a desktop!"

High-res is old hat

It's a post-Retina world, and the displays on laptops and convertible tablets are just catching up. You'll still be able to find a 1,366 x 768 display on budget systems, but by and large, full HD (1,920 x 1,080) is the new baseline, with even higher resolutions showing up on premium systems. Similarly, in an effort to grab and keep eyeballs, manufacturers are also touting new displays with wider viewing angles, better colour, and deeper blacks. I may not know what shape the future will take, but it’ll look good, that’s for sure.

The thin get thinner

It sounds like a small detail, but laptop storage is shifting from SATA connectivity to PCIe, which shaves off a tiny bit of thickness from drive enclosures. With local storage providing one of the limitations to how thin a laptop can be made, this one change will allow PC makers to shave a millimetre or two off Ultrabooks and their ilk. Pair this with improved storage media density, alongside dropping prices, and you'll be seeing larger storage capacity in even slimmer laptop designs.

Everyone's joining the Chromebook party

We've already seen a few laptops with Chrome OS made by Acer, Samsung, and HP, but there will be several more on display at CES. Several manufacturers, including Asus, Dell, LG, and Toshiba, are expected to release Chrome OS products of their own, and CES is the logical place to make the announcement and begin showing off new models. Expect most of these systems to leverage inexpensive processors, mostly from Intel's Atom and Celeron line-up. Low-power, light on local storage, and focused entirely on the web, the new crop of Chromebooks will likely pick up a few new tricks, like touchscreens and premium design elements.

Alternative operating systems, not Windows RT

CES will also see the introduction of several alternative operating systems. Microsoft's own Windows RT didn't get the sort of broad adoption that was hoped for, and plenty of companies are looking at possible ways to throw off the shackles of Microsoft. Google's Chrome OS isn't likely to be the only new kid on the block this year. Expect a few unusual operating systems, from SteamOS and other Linux derivatives to Chrome-like alternatives that focus on a web-based experience.

For more on what we'll see at this year's show, check out the most important trends to watch at CES 2014.