Windows 8 tablets with Intel’s Bay Trail processor are scheduled to debut before the end of this year. These are going to offer performance and battery life that will drastically reduce demand for Windows RT.
Ever since the successful release of the Apple iPad, Microsoft and other companies have been trying to get Windows onto competing tablets. But there was a sticking point — Windows runs on x86 processors and these require much more power than the ARM chips that are used in iOS and Android tablets. As a result, Windows tablets had a small fraction of the battery lives of these competitors.
Microsoft’s answer was Windows RT, a version of its operating system that had been recompiled to run on ARM chips. This solved the basic problem, because tablets running this OS can go as long on a single charge as anything from Apple.
But there was a huge drawback to this solution: Windows RT can not run software written for previous versions of Windows because those applications were compiled for x86 processors. The result is an operating system that looks and acts like Windows, but can’t run 99% of all Windows software.
And there’s other limitations too, most notably the lack of Outlook. This prevents most companies from having any interest.
A great many consumers are either confused because they don’t understand the difference between Windows RT and the full Windows 8, or they rejected the platform entirely because they think a tablet with Windows ought to act like one.
Bay Bridge to the Rescue!
This week, Intel unveiled its new Silvermont microarchitecture. This is going to be at the heart of the Bay Trail processor that the chip maker promises is going to be running tablets released in time for the holiday shopping season.
Silvermont will require 20% of the power needed by the current-generation Intel Atom processor core. That’s a huge improvement — a game changer.
Tablets running Windows 8 on these processors are going to have vastly better battery lives than the current ones. And when there are models that run the full version of Windows and can go without a re-charge for the same length of time as devices with the half-crippled Windows RT, the Windows 8 models are going to look mighty appealing.
There’s a joker in this deck, however. Intel processors cost considerably more than ARM-based ones. And Windows 8 requires more storage capacity just to hold the OS. This means Windows RT tablets are always going to be less expensive.
For full-size tablets, the difference won’t be enough to matter. A 10- to 12-inch Windows 8 model is going to be as usable as any other PC, will cost about the same as a laptop, and people will pay that happily.
Windows RT, on the other hand, will become the choice of companies who make 7- to 8-inch tablets that cost under $400 and are bought by people who just want a highly-mobile device for casual web surfing and email that has a user interface they are familiar with.