Windows 8, Partner Designs and Early Power Results

When Windows 8 releases this fall, we will have three distinct product categories.  There will be Windows 8 tablets based on Core-architecture designs, tablets based on the Atom processor and tablets based on the ARM architecture and each will have some interesting trade offs.  Ivy Bridge based designs will be the most powerful by far, though you would expect them to be heavier and to offer lower battery life.  The real battle will wage between the Atom Z2760-based designs and the ARM-based designs including those with chips from NVIDIA and Qualcomm. 

Intel claims that their designs offer similar battery life and user experiences (yet to be judged though honestly) while having better compatibility and security for consumers and businesses.  With the x86 architecture powering the Atom Z2760 you will indeed be able to run basically any application that you can run on your desktop PC and that means easy transistions even though the experiences on both platforms could differ greatly based on performance characteristics.  From a security perspective enterprise will like the integrated vPro technology and the ability join domains – utilizing the processes and software they are using today. 

There have been several partner announcements of Windows 8 based tablets using the Intel Atom Z2760 including the Lenovo Think Pad 2, the ASUS Vivo Tab and the Samsung ATIV Smart PC, with many more to come starting today and through the end of the year.  ARM-baaed designs using Windows RT are also pretty prevalent and we are eager to start testing some from both categories to really see how they apply to the consumer.

During our briefing, Intel did provide some basic competitive analysis to us with an attempt to hide the competitors identities.  Though they didn't share the images or graphics with me, I was able to take notes and create the following graphics based on them.

Please keep in mind that these results were created by Intel and not PC Perspective.  You should always take vendor-provided results with a grain of salt and await further testing by others before making any kind of solid decisions, but the information is interesting in that shows us where Intel THINKS or HOPES they stand today.

Also note, that the graphs are normalized to a 30 watt hour battery and those are attempting to provide insight to the platform as a whole, rather than a device specific result.  For example, the "10-in iOS High-Res" device has a much larger batter than 30 Wh included in its design so while the battery life of the device is higher (because of the larger, heavier battery) the platform isn't nearly as efficient. 

The first performance graph shows how standard web browsing works on each platform with the Atom Z2760 coming in at 11 hours of usage, just behind the 12 hours of the iPad 2.  The Android-based 10-in tablet resulted in 9 hours while the iPad 3 had only 7 hours (again because of the normalized battery spec). 

For video playback the Intel Clover Trail design is again competitive with the ARM-based Android tablet and falls behind the iPad 2 by a couple of hours. 

I should note that Intel told us that both the Clover Trail and Android tablets were using 1366×768 displays and ALL displays were normalized to 200 nits.

The results above aren't earth shattering but I didn't expect them to be.  If Intel had suddenly told us that their Atom Z2760 was going to outlast the many ARM-based designs on the market most would have balked.  All Intel is saying with this is that they are no longer at a disadvantage – and that could be enough to really push the x86 architecture to the masses in tablet form; finally.

Final Thoughts

The Windows 8 launch is going to be interesting and we are just getting started with our build of information and releases before the operating system and devices actually become available.  Intel keeps telling us over and over that they have figured out and solved the issues with performance on touch-enabled devices with their Atom processors but I still need to see it and use it in my hands for a normal review period before I can put my faith in it; there were just too many poor experiences with Atom-based tablets over the past couple of years to jump in feet first. 

I know that NVIDIA and Qualcomm are also working hard to provide high-performing ARM-based designs for Windows RT and while my hands-on time with those has also been limited, I worry about the operating and compatibility being the crux for the wide scale adoption of the OS.  I would love to be proven wrong though; the Windows environment needs a reboot and the Windows RT release is the closest thing we have had to that in a generation. 

Intel's push into the world of mobile devices started several years ago and is only just now making the retail push we'd hoped to see.  The Atom Z2760 based on Clover Trail is a great product that has a lot to live up to.  Next year we will see the Haswell derivative that REALLY gives Intel its best chance to tackle the low-power markets with higher performance as well. 

The Windows 8 launch is proving to be both exciting and controversial from a hardware perspective.  Buckle in!

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