TAIPEI—After seeing a slew of futuristic laptop technology from Asus at Computex this week, from the dual 4K displays of the giant ZenBook Pro Duo and new VivoBooks equipped with touchpads that double as a screen to the portable 240Hz ROG Strix gaming monitor, you might be wondering what inspires a company to come up with these bleeding-edge designs.
Some of the inspiration is Asus' 30th anniversary, making this a pivotal time in the Taiwanese tech giant's history. Another part of it is revolutions in the wider personal tech industry, from the advent of 5G networks to new chip technology from Intel and AMD. But you can attribute most of Asus' visionary products to what every tech company strives for: a combination of good old brainstorming, creativity, and technical know-how.
For Asus, all of those things can be found at the company's headquarters on the outskirts of Taipei. The campus isn't as sprawling as those of Apple, Google, and other Silicon Valley titans, but there's still a ton going on. We spent a few hours getting a glimpse at everything from how the company dreams up smartphone color schemes and sandblasts aluminum to how it makes sure displays don't snap when they're flexed.
Designers can combine color and light by placing samples of material in the box shown above. The box has four light sources designed to simulate daylight, the light that shines on the product while it's on display in a store, light at home, and ultraviolet light.
The idea here is to study what's known in the design world as metamerism, a fancy design term for the visual color changes that occur when samples are viewed under different light sources.
The color is more than just light bouncing off materials and being read by your eye. Asus designers use a product's color scheme to personify it, especially in the case of devices it wants to sell to children and millennials. The midrange VivoBook laptops even have what are essentially entire origin stories based on their colors.
Pink "conveys hedonistic attitude with no compromises," while green is a "soothing color that conveys emotional balance," appealing to the "outdoor adventurer who seeks for ultimate peace of mind." In other words, if you primarily use your laptop in a mosh pit, get a pink one. If you primarily use it in a tent on the side of a mountain, go for the green color.
Once the designers settle on the colors, materials, and finishes for the product, the industrial design process is over and the device heads for the manufacturing phases. Each part goes through many phases. In the case of major laptop components like the display lid or the keyboard enclosure, there are dozens of them.
Shown above is the typical process for both the lid and the keyboard enclosure, known as the "A Part" and "C Part," respectively. Steps include aluminum extrusion, CNC milling, laser engraving for logos and other similar accoutrements, sandblasting, brushing, and anodizing.
Finally, the first few finished units of a new product go through a battery of durability tests. Asus didn't allow us to take photos of the testing lab, but our tour offered a glimpse of rooms full of sophisticated equipment, from altitude chambers to key-pressing robots to machines that twist phones and laptops to ensure they won't snap under pressure.
A full list of Asus' durability tests for laptops are shown above. Every laptop gets basic keyboard and twisting treatments, but not all of the products go through the extreme environment tests, such as the humidity and altitude simulations. Those that do complete these harsh tests can be advertised as meeting MIL-SPEC rugged standards.
Tom tests and reviews laptops, peripherals, and much more at PC Labs in New York City. He previously covered the consumer tech beat as a news reporter for PCMag in San Francisco, where he rode in several self-driving cars and witnessed the rise and fall of a few startups. Before that, he occasionally dunked waterproof hard drives in glasses of wate... See Full Bio
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