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August 16, 2012

Microsoft starting to reveal some tablet specs

After an underwhelming initial announcement, Microsoft has finally started spelling out exactly what hardware capabilities its Surface tablet and other Windows RT devices will feature.

By Cbr Rolling Blog

Microsoft has started to reveal not only the hardware partners that will be building Windows 8/RT tablets, but also some of the specs that should be expected.

While HP and Toshiba have already opted out of producing the ARM-based Windows RT tablets (and Acer has reservations), it has been left to Dell, Lenovo and Samsung (so far) to produce tablets for launch day. Microsoft says there are more partners to follow.

HP and Toshiba will be developing x86 Windows 8 models only; Lenovo has also announced the Windows 8 ThinkPad Tablet 2, which will running some variant of the Intel Atom processor (raising concerns that Intel’s Core i3, i5 and i7 chips are too power hungry to run in tablets).

"Our engineering collaboration has been better than ever as we work to bring better performance, reliability, and battery life to new PCs designed for Windows 8. We also know many are interested in how we extended this process to a new generation of PCs built on the ARM platform. This post details how we have collaborated on the development of Windows RT and new PCs designed for the operating system," said Mike Angiulo, Microsoft’s VP of the Ecosystem and Planning team.

But what about Microsoft’s own Surface tablet? It was released to much fanfare (and consternation) in June, yet next to nothing is known about it ahead of its October 26 launch date. A strange marketing decision by Microsoft that appeared to anger its OEM (soon to be ODM) partners.

Asus Windows RT Prototype

As you can see from the image above, Asus is building a Windows RT tablet. It has formerly announced the Tegra 3 chipped – Asus Tablet 600. It also builds Android tablets such as the high profile Google Nexus 7.

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Microsoft has said one of the key focuses for its RT line will be that they are ‘always on, always connected’ – unsurprising as this is a normal feature of most tablets – and is one of their form factors key reasons for success – no 30 second boot up times.

"It will turn on in less than a second at the touch of a button, which is a mobile phone experience but in a full PC," said Angiulo.

The Windows RT tablets, or RT PCs as Microsoft insists on calling them, will weigh between 520g and 1200g. The iPad 3 weights 652g (Wi-Fi), vs. the iPad 2’s 600g. Microsoft has made no announcements concerning whether there will be any 7-inch tablets, but the Google Nexus 7 weighs 340g.

Perhaps the most important factor in the tablet’s design has been finally released – battery life. Microsoft claims that it will get 8 to 13 hours of HD video playback out of various Windows RT models, and 320 to 409 hours of standby time.

This was based on 720P HD video at a screen brightness of 200nits, running unfinished firmware and tested on screen sizes of 10.1"-11.6", and battery sizes spanning from 25-42 watt hours (the iPad 3 has a 42.5wh battery).

Needless to say, these figures are impressive – even at the low end bettering iPad 3 levels. The hypothetical high end (13 hours) would be longer than an iPads battery life under normal conditions (the iPad 3 is around 10 hours total under moderate usage – HD video tends to last around 5-6 hours).

Microsoft has admitted, however, that this includes several form factors – including laptops. Windows RT had previously been announced as an ARM-chip tablet only OS – which not only makes those figures less impressive (laptops have much larger batteries), but adds another level of confusion to the market place – if it does indeed plan to release any Windows RT laptops (CBR presumes this was for testing).

While it is useful to have some consideration of weight and battery life, much will come back to the processors used. Microsoft’s own Surface is powered by Nvidia’s Tegra 3, which also powers the Google Nexus and a host of smartphones. Samsung has its high end Exynos processors, and Qualcomm has its already popular Snapdragon processors (which were to be used in HPs RT tablet, before those plans were shelved).

All are based on ARM architecture, but much comes back to power management and optimisation – the HTC One X smartphone, for example, had astonishingly powerful performance on launch with a NVidia Tegra, but this lack of optimisation meant the battery life was ravaged severely – sometimes only squeezing out 5 hours of use.

So while these Windows RT teaser specs are interesting, it’s still a long road ahead before we actually know anything solid about Microsoft’s Surface and its RT partners’ performance – let alone how much they cost.

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