Dell Eyes a Future That's More Than Just New PC Hardware

LAS VEGAS—Dell and its Alienware gaming branch took to the stage at CES today to show off its coming lineup for the year, outlining a strategy that looks to include more than just iterative hardware releases.

The event, hosted by TV and gaming personality Jessica Chobot, ran the gamut from ultraportable laptops to environmental responsibility and esports. The new white XPS 13 was the only product revealed ahead of the show, while the rest of the announcements were kept as a surprise until showtime.

Several speakers joined the stage for different portions of the event, including Jeff Clark, Vice Chairman of Products and Operations at Dell; Chris Walker, Intel VP and GM of Mobile Client Platforms; actress and sustainability activist Nikki Reed; and Frank Azor, VP and GM of Alienware, Dell Gaming, and XPS.

One of the big hardware announcements was the 15-inch XPS 2-in-1 laptop. It's the thinnest 2-in-1 on the market, but packs solid power for the system type by way of discrete graphics and Intel's newest eighth-generation processors. Portability and tablet mode are a challenge for 15-inch systems, but the XPS 15 does about as good of a job as possible making a big screen usable in that form factor.

Dell then went on to discuss non-system news, including new software named Mobile Connect, which I had a chance to check out at a preview event in New York last month. It offers iOS-to-Mac functionality for phone messages, allowing your notifications to be viewed and answered on your Dell computer. You can choose to mirror a whole app onto your PC screen, as well. It's not quite as seamless as Apple's system, but it does provide a solution that the Windows environment has been lacking for some time, and it works pretty well. It's compatible with iOS and Android devices, and comes pre-installed on any Dell system.

Dell also took time to talk about the importance of sustainability and the company's efforts to reclaim gold from motherboards and other components to put these otherwise wasted materials back into rotation. Nikki Reed stated that $60 million worth of gold and silver inside technology is thrown away every year, and announced the Circular Collection by Bayou with Love, a jewelry line made from these reclaimed minerals. Dell offers programs, including an effort with Goodwill, that encourage people not to throw away their technology, but recycle them for use in new products.

Further software discussion included Dell Cinema, an audio-visual solution for getting the best sound and look from the hardware. This includes CinemaColor, which decodes and displays high dynamic range (HDR) streamed content with enhanced detail; CinemaSound, which focuses on higher volumes and audio quality; and CinemaStream, a technology powered by Killer and SmartByte that optimizes online streaming by reducing buffering and keeping the resolution high.

Moving on to gaming, Frank Azor briefly touched on a new Inspiron desktop, which gets you into VR capability for just $799. Alienware also spent time showing off its new Command Center software, which provides a unified gaming client. It can pull your game libraries from Steam and other clients into its interface so everything shows up in one place, and it's designed very cleanly. It's here that you control system and peripheral lighting as well, which is preferable to needing multiple applications.

Continuing with gaming, Alienware discussed its partnership with esports organization Team Liquid, one of the largest in the world. Alienware and Liquid announced the launch of the Alienware eSports Training Facility, an 8,000-square-foot facility in Los Angeles for Liquid players to train and scrim. The space will include an in-office chef, sports psychologists, nutritionists, and dedicated coach, and analyst spaces.

The wide-ranging conference, which focused less on systems than you might expect, demonstrated the scope of Dell's strategy. The PC-focused company wants to have a hand in every area (obviously, the past purchase of Alienware made gaming a clear pillar of the business), but additions like Mobile Connect and Dell Cinema are looking beyond thinner laptops and sharper screens. Even most of Alienware's time was spent not on new flashy laptops, but its software and esports initiatives. While will no doubt continue to roll out new hardware each year, the company is widening its scope to supplemental areas, enhancing or adding software features, and building something that may eventually qualify as its own ecosystem within the Windows platform.

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