What we think we know now about Windows 8 on Intel SoC tablets

What we think we know now about Windows 8 on Intel SoC tablets

Summary: Microsoft still isn't talking about Windows 8 on Intel/AMD system-on-a-chip devices. But Intel has started to open up.


"We just don't know."

That's come to be a common refrain offered by many of us Microsoft watchers when asked about many (most?) things having to do with Windows 8. Despite the fact the operating system is available in Consumer Preview form, and soon to be available as a near-final Release Candidate (or possibly "Release Preview"), there are still lots of unanswered questions.

And up until this week, "we just don't know" was even more true when it came to Windows 8 on Intel system-on-a-chip (SoC) tablets.

Microsoft officials said in January 2011 that Windows 8 would run on x86/x64, ARM and SoC designs from Intel and AMD. The test builds that have gone out have been for x86/x64. Supposedly some partners and select customers also should be getting ARM builds running on prototype hardware right about now. But on the Intel/AMD Soc front, we haven't heard or seen much of anything at all.

At an Intel Developer Forum event in China this week, however, there was a bit of news from Intel about vendor commitments to use the company's "Medfield" and "Clover Trail" chips. A Computerworld story quoted an Intel exec saying the company was working with 10 undisclosed vendors designing Windows 8 tablets using Intel chips. Intel's China Chairman reportedly said "you'll probably see many Intel-based tablets this year." But neither of these statements made clear whether he was talking both x86/x64 and SoC or just the lower-power SoC.

News.com narrowed things down with a report about specs for "Clover Trail" (Atom Z2760) SoC tablets. According to information from Intel, Windows 8 tablets running Clover Trail were offer battery life of more than nine hours (on paper, as News.com's Brooke Crothers points out); be under 1.5 pounds in weight and under 9mm in thickness.

These tablets also will offer backward-app compatibility, according to Intel -- which means, unlike the case with Windows 8 on ARM tablets -- existing third-party apps (and plug-ins) will be able to run on the Windows 8 Desktop, I'd assume. They also will be able to support domains, again, something that Windows 8 on ARM tablets are not expected to be able to do. And they'll offer business users encryption and manageability guarantees.

PCs and tablets running Windows 8 on x86/x64 offer all of these business-oriented features. But Microsoft officials have declined to say whether or not Intel/AMD SoC tablets would.

One industry watcher said he expected Intel SoC-based tablets running Windows 8 to have more in common with Windows 8 on x86/x64.

"The Intel SoCs are based on Atom, so, they are not that high performance, and, compared to ARM, will use more power," said Roger Kay, an analyst with Endpoint Technologies Associates. "AMD has a better story re on-chip graphics. But in general, I would expect the full x86 Win8 experience on tablets. I'm guessing the x86 tablets will be more like Win8 PCs, but with better power characteristics. Still, they may run hot compared to ARM-based offerings."

So it's looking more and more like Microsoft and its partners may position WOA tablets as "media"/consumption devices and Intel and AMD tablets, whether running x86/x64 or SoC processors, as the "no compromise" consumption/creation devices. This is just my interpretation here, since Microsoft officials are not commenting at this time on what's going on with Windows 8 on SoC, beyond what company execs have said on this topic in the Building Windows 8 blog and via a couple of interviews.

Topics: Software, Hardware, Tablets, Processors, Operating Systems, Mobility, Microsoft, Laptops, Intel, Windows


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • "No compromise"?

    Bigger, heavier, more expensive and more power hungry for a portable device is definitely a compromise. If you need it, fine, otherwise stay with ARM.

    EVERYTHING is a compromise. As much as a 13" Toshiba tablet may be "nice", I think it would be a real pain to use if not flat on a table or supported by a stand. It is then no longer very portable, and I would prefer a thin and light notebook, whatever it may be called.
    • No compromise!

      I think this isn't registering with you because you are not used to choice. We live in an i-world of constraint and choice-less-ness. You and I are the victims here.

      Windows 8 protects your battery, it protects your performance, and it even protects your experience with designer principles. Plus, Windows 8 delivers Microsoft Office, the new Windows Store, blockbuster XBox Live titles, and the very Windows desktop we have used for decades.

      There's nothing else like it.

      Windows 8 supports an unprecedentedly sophisticated list of modern and forthcoming hardware. It???s up to you to choose the hardware that best fits your needs. Windows 8 doesn???t say buy this tablet ??? the one and only we support. That???s stupid.

      Windows 8 really is no-compromise. That???s because it lets you choose what is right for you without punishing you somehow. Don???t think ???jail break???. Don???t think anything like that. If it???s Windows 8, then it???s Windows 8 and you are good to go.

      Eventually, you do have to make a choice. Just like buying a car ??? not all accelerate the same. Not all have the same miles per gallon. But Windows 8 is the super highway. You get handed the keys and a pass to drive. The only compromise is the car you pick for yourself. The road treats you the same.

      Leaving metaphors aside, physics is physics. With more power comes more battery requirement ??? it???s electrons after all. But perhaps you haven???t seen what our engineers have accomplished in 4 cylinder acceleration. (Sorry, that analogy just fit). Windows 8???s performance will surprise you.

      Hardware is a choice, not a compromise.
      • Or "we support all hardware with bad software"

        and malware. What's so great with this? Beats me. :/
      • Android has given users the choice, yet most chose ipad.

        By giving users a choice of hardware is all good in theory. PC laptops vary in sizes and cpu speed and gpu chip. However they are pretty much the same x86 hardware. PC mentality does not work for mobile devices. Atom unfortunately is vastly under powered comapared to ARM. The processing of media content WILL be compromized, games will be compromized, apps will be compromised to sub par performance. Windows has really not gotten faster, they are now being run on quad core processors with 4 to 8 GB of ram. Some highend pcs have 6 to 8 cores and 16GB of ram. Windows XP ran on 1ghz pentium 3s and athlons with 256MB ram. Windows 7 nor 8 can't run on that. Yet they want to run it on a atom chip that is a pentum 4 1.8ghz at best. That's like 10 times slower than what 7 runs on now. Who wants a tablet that slower than their smart phone?

        Windows on ARM is the only solution. But android has the apps, they suposedly superior hardware (untill ipad 3 came out), the widescreen format, they made them smaller, bigger, and with countless variations. But all failed to topple ipad. because it's really the ipad that gives user no compromize in terms of apps and usability which ultimately the point of a tablet. The other attemps are nothing but compromizes. Windows 8 will have even more software compromizes than android did.
      • And you rate the "Top Rated"?

        LOL... :D

        You sound like a spoiled brat to me. Are you related to Dick? You show about as much petulance as he did.

        Anyway JERRY you need to get out of la-la shill land because life is full of compromises and Windows 8 is not God. Just say that to yourself over & over.

        Windows 8 is not God...
        Windows 8 is not God...
        Windows 8 is not God...

        THEN it might sink in.
      • Except you don't know any of that

        We don't know what Windows 8 tablets will be like when they eventually ship. We don't know what the battery life will be. We don't know how apps will perform or what impact the power management will have on performance. We don't know what the hardware will look like. We don't know because neither Microsoft nor the hardware manufacturers are providing any details or even estimates of ship dates. Even the October release date is only a rumor at this point. Despite all that, you KNOW that "There's nothing else like it". Like what? You're taking very minimal information and filling in the blank spots with your wishes and desires and declaring it awesome.
      • Choice is not a choice, it's inevitable

        Remember how PCs rocketed past Apple computers after the market had matured? Don't be surprised of a repeat in mobile. Pioneers are cool, but in the end they become only one option of many, and markets always drift over time towards more diversity.
      • Bonkers

        I just read one of the craziest things I've heard in a long time in Bakabaka's post below. He states that 'Atom unfortunately is vastly under powered comapared to ARM.' Sheesh!

        Truth is Atom is seriously over-powered compared to ARM. The problem for Intel is that Atom uses far too much power so isn't suitable for portable devices the way ARM is. It's the other way around though. It's the ARM apps that are compromised, not the Intel ones. If Intel can get their power-consumption down around ARM's (difficult because the X86 architecture is SO much more powerful) then we'll have tablets and mobile phones that are significantly more functional than the toys we have today.
        Major Plonquer
      • Android isn't a fair comparison

        First it is not a fair comparison to say that Android provides choice. Devices running Android can be named in once sentence. Devices running Windows take CATALOGS to list them and you will likely still miss a bunch.

        Second it is not a fair comparison to say Android had compelling hardware. The biggest differentiator of Android hardware (some of which is pretty cool, I admit) is mostly by price. Windows 8 will introduce new chipsets that revolutionize battery life with Connected Standby.

        Third it is not a fair comparison to put Android even close to Windows. It's command of the tablet market is trivial. It was done without a single strategy. It was done without hardware partners (just vendors). And, it is just an umbrella name for forked open code that are not similar.

        Here's what you can expect. Windows 8 devices that have the same power and function as the highest-end Windows 8 decices. Windows 8 devices with a growing store full of compelling apps. All in a device that can deliver battery life to match any product on the market.

        Sorry, Android. You're the Windows Phone of the tablet market and Windows 8 hasn't even been released yet. Speaking of Windows Phone - it's exciting to see the synergies between Windows and Windows Phone. There's a bright future for that groovy platform - even if the past has been rough.
  • Will sell as hot cakes

    "Windows 8 tablets running Clover Trail were offer battery life of more than nine hours, be under 1.5 pounds in weight and under 9mm in thickness."

    If this can be achieved by Intel, they have a winner for sure. It will sell as hot cakes in that form factor
    • I agree

      But I can't help the feeling that the first SoC tablets are going to totally suck. They will get it right eventually but I think it is going to take at least a generation.

      I just think that Windows, even after being streamlined as Windows 8, is too much of a hog and people are going to expect too much out of processors that aren't powerful enough. OEMs are going to be walking a tightrope between making their devices powerful enough to behave like current desktops and laptops and providing decent battery life, staying cool, and not being too heavy. Nobody has really done it yet. iPads are great but they don't really provide an experience that is like a laptop in terms or performance and Android tablets are closer to a laptop experience but are clunky and unpolished (I love mine but only because I have the ability to tinker with it which is not what most users will want).

      I am pulling for MS and the OEMs though and I will probably be the first one in line.
    • Not holding my breath

      Intel is chasing ARM and especially Apple. By the time these long promised CPUs get released, Apple may be getting a week of battery life out of A7. And perhaps the laptop-like performance from another ARM-based chip, to compete with the Ivy bridge. Now that would be cool on both counts.
    • That's a pretty big IF pie-in-the-sky

      Considering most of today's' technology doesn't cut it. And if Clover Leaf is supposed to be that miracle, look for it above $1000.
  • So why will be buy ARM based system again?

    ???The Intel SoCs are based on Atom, so, they are not that high performance, and, compared to ARM, will use more power,???

    Even if the above statement is true on day one, this will be short term problem. Overall in 2 to 3 years it is very possible to have Atom based chip which does not run hot,has 9+ hrs of battery life and similar characteristics to ARM. At that point if ARM and Atom are on parity, I just don't see why anyone should buy ARM.
    People questioning 'No Compromise' (even though it is marketing) are looking at devices and technology as it stands today. Pace of innovation is fast here and couple of years down the line things would have changed drastically.
    • Common fallacy

      Intel will make progress and ARM will stand still., hence they will reach parity.

      Hardly rational.
      • No I am expecting Intel to catch up and win

        If you look at how far ahead ARM was and where intel is now, I think its reasonable to expect Intel to catch up.
        Its just my guess and not a fact of course.
      • @rotitharsh.

        Win what, in 2-3 years the whole eco system will be centred around ARM. Actually, it is already. But for the sake of your argument we will say it isn't.

        Intel don't just have to "match" ARM, they have to sell it faster, cooler AND cheaper.

        If they can do all three in three years, AND be more than just a slim margin, THEN maybe the ecosystem may flip over to INTEL.

        But then, you have a LOT of companies investing in ARM at the moment. Some of them with bigger pockets than Intel... I really can't see them sitting around with their thumbs in their backside for the next 2-3 years.

        Even better, is they can get licenses to MODIFY the CPU to however they like, rather than being given merely a range to buy from.

        Intel will also need to be able to beat that offering as well, or at the very least match it.

        You're credibility is looking shaky now. Little wonder you did not deal with the arguments I just presented. Little Intel fanboi that you are.

        I assure you that intel with have to be cheaper, cooler and faster than ARM, because Apple, who set the definitive benchmark for a tablet experience are getting a lot of flack because their iPad3 is ten degrees hotter. People aren't going to go with a tablet hotter than that. And they don't want one with poor battery life. And they can't be heavy, because you can't use one then.

    • Battery, baby!

      ARM devices still win the batter life battle. But this war is will being fought. Consumers like you and me - we are the winners. What's nice about it, too? No matter who gets ahead - Windows 8 runs on it. Booya!
      • Beyond a point battery life is mute point

        As we hit 15 hrs and up I think other features will become more important. For ARM their biggest advantage will be WinRT. If WinRT catches on then legacy software/apps will loose importance.
      • @rohitharsh

        "For ARM their biggest advantage will be WinRT."

        Advantage compared to what? Intel-based tablets? Intel-based tablets also will support the full WinRT stack so any app that will run on WOA tablets will run on Intel / x86 - based tablets. The biggest advantage ARM-based devices have currently is battery life.