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August 15, 2012

ARM-ing Windows is a Big Deal

MIcrosoft is showing off more than ARM (News - Alert)-based tablets these days. In an August 13 blog posting, the company announced it is "collaborating" with hardware manufacturers in a "new era" of ARM-based PCs running Windows 8 RT. 

If Apple, Google and Intel (News - Alert) aren't worried, they should be.

"Collaborating to deliver Windows RT PCs," a post written by Microsoft Vice President Mike Angiulo, reveals ARM-based PC designs from Asus, Dell (News - Alert), Lenovo and Samsung will run Windows RT. All these new RT PCs will have consistent fast and fluid touch interactions, long battery life, connected standby, as well as thin and light designs.

At first glance, it's tempting to call a snapshot of one new Windows RT PCs a "Fat Surface" tablet, with a hinged "base" keyboard holding extended battery and storage with a removable touchscreen. Compare that to Microsoft's initial pictures of Surface Table, a device that included lightweight keyboards built in as the tablet cover.

Swap out the tablet cover for a "real" keyboard/touchpad, and you have a…well, a Fat Surface! The two devices run the same operating system and apps, so it becomes a choice between light weight/light type/light storage vs. a bit more weight/fast typing/bigger storage.

Connected standby is the much desired "instant on" feature now prevalent in Android and Apple iOS devices. It isn't clear exactly how "connected" connected standby is, but estimates range from 320 hours to 409 hours of runtime for a device with a screen size from 10.1 inches to 11.6 inches. Think Netbook-esque. 

Full-screen local HD voice playback is estimated to be around eight to 13 hours of runtime, depending on battery size and screen, on devices weighing from 520 grams (a bit over a pound) to 1200 grams (tad more than 2.2 pounds).

Other goodies hinted at include NFC-integration, so two Windows RT PCs (and presumable other NFC devices) can "tap" together to share information and support for a broad range of hardware, including USB, wide area WAN, Wi-FI and Bluetooth.

So why should Apple, Google (News - Alert) and Intel worry? Microsoft is effectively re-launching the PC and Windows, so there will be a flood of new, presumably cheaper, hardware and a vast ecosystem of devices and developers to do everything consumers and the enterprise want to do – rather than doing what Apple tells them they want within the limitations of its design criteria for iOS and the Apple iPad.

Google has been trying to gain traction for Chrome for netbook-like devices, but has failed to gain significant momentum, relative to the flash of the Apple iPad or mundane-but-practical cheaper laptops. Windows RT could put a significant kink into Chrome with its ability to provide a seamless, standalone experience for netbook and smaller notebook users/applications.

Intel has the most to fear. Ultrabooks have gone ultra-splat, while ARM is being applied to netbook-esque and notebook designs with Windows RT on the consumer/user side and into servers on the data center side. Intel may tinker with pricing on the short term, but it's going to have a longer-term issue when it comes to compute power per watt in both consumer and enterprise applications.


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Edited by Braden Becker
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