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In-Depth

Microsoft's Windows 8 Lineup Gets Retouched (GALLERY)

Microsoft OEMs from Acer to Vizio are flooding the market with new PC designs to round out the Windows 8 lineup at the six-month anniversary of the OS.

As Windows 8 passed its sixth month on the market, PC OEMs marked the milestone with a fresh wave of new systems. With the flurry of new releases, OEMs continue to match Microsoft's reimagining of the OS with reimagined PCs. The retouched PC portfolio includes convertibles with innovative hinges, tabletop systems, new entry-level prices and stunning high-end designs.


Acer Aspire R7

The new flagship convertible design from Acer Inc. is the Acer Aspire R7, announced early last month and available for the last few weeks. The Aspire R7 takes a number of notable design leaps. A new Ezel Hinge (think "easel") allows for four different positions. The swivel hinge pops out of the middle of the back of the keyboard and the back of the screen. In "notebook mode" from the front, the system looks similar to the Sony VAIO Duo convertibles. But the hinge of the Aspire R7, which is constructed out of brushed metal, has a more solid and attractive look than the Duo's hinge mechanisms. That's only one of the Ezel tricks, though. The hinge allows three other usage modes. In "Ezel mode," a user can pull the 15.6-inch touchscreen closer or move it higher or lower -- which Acer calls "floating" -- while still keeping the keyboard available. The screen can be flipped over for a stand-up "display mode" for movies, photographs or presentations. A fourth option is a "pad mode." There are a few caveats to the system. Flipped around to the pad mode, the Aspire R7 screen doesn't lay completely flat. Acer bills the 4-degree angle as ergonomic and positions it as a tabletop pad. The jury is out on another innovation, as well: Acer placed the touchpad above the keyboard rather than below it. In some ways it makes sense for the use case of a touchscreen, but it's something to get used to. Suggested retail is $999.


Acer Aspire P3

Acer is also out with a new Ultrabook convertible called the Aspire P3 that's effectively an 11.6-inch tablet with a keyboard case. The whole package weighs a hair more than 3 pounds and is less than 1-inch thick. The chiclet keys are built right into the case, which the tablet can be used with or without. Reviewers describe the combination as similar to some of the keyboard/case add-ons for the Apple iPad, but with full PC power. One thing not included in the combination is a touchpad. As with the Aspire R7, Acer seems to be betting that touchpads are less important in the presence of touchscreens. The price is compelling, especially for an Ultrabook, at $800.


Acer Aspire V Series

Also available late last month from Acer is a new rev of the Aspire V Series of notebooks, slimmed down and updated with new internals. The series of straightforward notebooks consists of two lines -- the Aspire V5 models and Aspire V7 Ultrabooks. Screen sizes range from 11.6 inches to 15.6 inches with touch optional. The lowest-cost system in the series starts at $500.


Dell XPS 18

Dell Inc. ushered in a new class of Windows 8 systems early last month with the availability of the Dell XPS 18. All-in-one (AIO) systems are familiar for the Windows 8 world, but Dell's 18.4-inch screen detaches from the monitor stand to form a huge tablet. The size of the screen makes it awkward to walk around with or hold in your lap for long, but it can work as a tabletop device for collaboration or multimedia. Flip-out feet on the back of the portable AIO device allow the detachable screen to stand horizontally or vertically without the stand. Low-end configurations start at $900.


Lenovo IdeaCentre Horizon

Think the Dell XPS 18 is big? Lenovo has a portable AIO device that's so big the company flat-out calls it a "table PC." That's not a misprint of "tablet" -- Lenovo means "table." A 27-inch screen dominates the Lenovo IdeaCentre Horizon, which will ship later this month for a starting price of $1,700. Lenovo positions the IdeaCentre Horizon for families and will preload it with tabletop game apps, such as air hockey, Texas Hold `Em poker and Monopoly -- although an epic tabletop round of Monopoly won't happen, because battery life for this beast is two hours. Despite Lenovo's family-focused marketing, it's easy to envision a number of interesting business roles for the IdeaCentre Horizon's form factor.


Lenovo ThinkPad S431

Early this month, Lenovo begins shipping a new traditional business laptop with an optional touchscreen, the ThinkPad S431. Lenovo describes it as a premium laptop PC and calls it a "floating design," a reference to the beveled edge on the front and sides. Lenovo is marketing the device for small businesses. Other features include a 180-degree open angle, nine-hour battery life, a backlit keyboard with shortcut keys for Windows 8, and the ability to connect to the new Lenovo OneLink Dock system. Pricing starts at $699.


Sony VAIO Fit

In the first week of May, Sony unveiled a newly branded family of VAIO notebooks called Fit. The family encompasses some of Sony's older letter brands and ranges from low end to high end. Broadly, the laptops fit into 14-inch and 15-inch screens called the Sony VAIO Fit 14 and Sony VAIO Fit 15. Lower-end models are called the Sony VAIO Fit 14E and Sony VAIO Fit 15E. The E models have plastic shells, while the higher-end versions sport aluminum bodies. All of them come in silver, black and, hey, pink. Prices start at $549. Options include touchscreens.


HP 200 Series

If money is an object for your small to midsize business (SMB) customers, the new line of value PCs from Hewlett-Packard Co. may be an answer. The HP 200 Series starts at $249. Although the lineup is expected to be available now, details were scarce at press time. Specs for one model in the series -- the HP 255 G1 Notebook PC -- were posted on the HP Web site. Features include a 15.6-inch display (apparently non-touch), an AMD processor, "durable casing," HP 3D DriveGuard, and built-in multimedia software for small business and home office presentations. HP also plans to release models with 14-inch screens.


HP ProBook 400 Series

The new mainstream HP Windows 8 offering for SMBs costs a little more than its 200 Series siblings, but brings more to the table. Starting at $499 and newly available, the HP ProBook 400 Series initially comes with screen sizes of 13.3, 14, 15.6 and 17.3 inches. Windows 8-friendly options include touchscreens, hybrid hard drives and 4G wireless wide area network (WWAN).


ASUS VivoBook S500

The bulk of the new PCs this year were announced in late April and early May. One that predated those offerings by a few months was the ASUS VivoBook S500. ASUSTeK Computer Inc. announced the Ultrabook with little fanfare in March. It's a 15.6-inch touchscreen laptop with instant-on capability and a $699 starting price.


VIZIO Thin + Light Touch

Relative newcomer to the PC market VIZIO Inc. is out with a pair of laptop models with the aspirational aptronym "Thin + Light Touch." The smaller 14-inch display costs $1,090 and the larger 15.6-inch model is $1,190 to start. Buyers have the option of AMD A10 APU or Intel Core i7 processors for both models.


VIZIO All-in-One Touch PC

VIZIO is expanding the AIO (non-portable) ecosystem with a pair of large-screen PCs. The VIZIO All-in-One Touch PC comes with either a 24-inch screen or a 27-inch screen. The smaller version is configurable with either an AMD A10 APU or Intel Core i7 processor. The larger version is only available with the Intel processor. Prices start at $1,280 for the 24-inch model and $1,550 for the 27-inch model.


Toshiba KIRAbook

For most PC manufacturers, the trend is toward bringing the price of touchscreens down to the mass market. Toshiba is attacking the opposite end of the market with a new luxury brand that's shooting to be in the Windows world what the MacBook Pro is to the Apple world or the Chromebook Pixel is for Google Inc. Toshiba's new offering is the KIRAbook, and starting prices are $1,600 for an Intel Core i5 processor without a touchscreen, $1,800 for an i5 with a touchscreen and $2,000 for an i7 with a touchscreen. All three models have a 13.3-inch screen with a 221-pixels-per-inch display, 8GB of RAM and a solid-state drive with 256GB of storage.

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