Nobody can see all of CES. But I tried

To the surprise and delight of the more experienced Ars staff, I volunteered to attend CES—the Consumer Electronics Show, held annually in Las Vegas—this year. The delight, as it turns out, is because if I hadn’t volunteered, one of them might have been voluntold. I didn’t let the  get me down, though; attending CES has been a bucket-list item for me for more than 20 years.

I’m not a huge fan of crowds, but the promise of “weird electronic stuff” and sights not offered to the general public had me mesmerized.

One of the things any CES veteran will tell you is that it’s impossible to actually see all of CES. They’re not kidding—it would be an overstatement to claim that CES takes over the entirety of Las Vegas, but it wouldn’t be an egregious one. Parts of CES take place at the Venetian hotel/casino/indoor mall, the attached and similarly gargantuan Palazzo, and the Las Vegas Convention Center. Any one of those locations dwarfs any other convention center I’ve seen, but even all of them together aren’t enough to entirely contain CES—which also has offshoots in other area hotels, convention centers, and just about anywhere else you can cram a few hundred people.

I hardly left the Venetian on my first day at CES. The show wasn’t technically open at all yet—it was an extremely limited “media preview” with a few high-impact press conferences from the likes of AMD and Intel, and not much else. To the great fury of our most dedicated AMD fans, I ended up covering Intel’s press release a day before AMD’s—because AMD mistakenly invited me to the location of their future party room, not their actual press conference, which was several miles across town.

The next day, the AMD party room I’d first seen as a collection of cardboard boxes and a few people unpacking them was a wild, red-lit gamer’s-paradise extravaganza, packed with greatly-appreciated appetizers and one gonzo Threadripper rig after another. A display on one side of the room ran through several promotional videos, including some kind of crazy processor-focused take on Chuck Woolery’s 1990s cringe-reboot of .

My absolute favorite moment of AMD’s lavish party, though, was a moment between two of the waitstaff during a lull in service. One eyed the table full of Threadripper gaming machines next to her and asked the other “is it just me, or are those things making it hot in here?” Judging by my own time with the Threadripper 3970x, that table was pushing several kilowatts worth of heat—so no, even in a room comfortably packed with milling human bodies, I don’t think it was just her imagination.

One of the most disappointing things about CES for me is how little of it felt like “amazing, gonzo thing you’d never see anywhere else” and how much of it felt like either a perfectly banal department-store electronics section—or a “weird goods” table at a flea market—where you can’t actually buy anything.

I did eventually stumble across wild robotic exoskeletons for heavy industrial work, see-through augmented reality glasses something like a poor person’s Microsoft HoloLens, and more—but in order to find them, I first had to wade through 1950s-styled refrigerators, 1990s-styled boom boxes, and—for some reason—a pair of Hello Kitty endcaps, which didn’t look any different from the ones you might find at your local Target department store.

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