I have personally wrote about the slow decline of the Wintel alliance. The Wintel alliance consists of basically Microsoft’s operating system – Windows and Intel’s processor chips. Picked by IBM back in the day, the cooperation between the software giants and the chip designers led the way for computers to be standardized in the ways we see and use them now. Yet, the world seems to be going mobile.
That’s a ton of hype you might say and I do agree. We still use our desktops and laptops for primary work. Hands up anyone of you there in the office that works purely on your tablet. If so, do you dare throw your desktop or laptop away? No. But the trend and outlook seems mobile. And so, Microsoft jumped and made Windows 8 something very different. A touch based operating system.
More importantly, Microsoft went out of the way to create an ARM alternative. Windows RT is basically what Windows is to Android and iOS. A stripped down operating system capable only of running in store apps. This was the move that made everyone think – Wintel is dead. Or is it?
Windows RT / 8
Windows RT and 8 sales have matched that of Windows 7. Considering that Windows 7 is the most successful launch of Windows ever, one might believe that Windows 8 / RT are just as good. The truth is, Windows 8 is still being bought and used on mostly desktops and laptops. Windows RT is not ready for consumers. Why? The number of apps are insufficient.
Google and Apple can yak about having 600,000+ apps in their app store. Windows 8 has a few billion over. It doesn’t even need a store. But…
How about Windows 8? Windows 8 is the one you are looking for. The operating system that has the largest possible software ecosystem out there. Google and Apple can yak about having 600,000+ apps in their app store. Windows 8 has a few billion over. It doesn’t even need a store. But here’s the problem. Windows 8 doesn’t run on ARM.
I have been thinking of getting a Windows 8 hybrid or a Windows 8 tablet. On completing my degree at NUS, I decided to give my dad my notebook so that he could participate in the digital revolution. The laptop that I passed him was a top end Core i7 notebook running a solid state drive with discrete graphics. It’s a powerful system. So, I looked around for a good Windows 8 tablet or hybrid. There were no good ones.
You are stuck between two extremes that do not have viable trade offs.
Currently, there are basically two options. One that runs a Core i3 / i5 / i7 processor or one that runs Atom. You are stuck between two extremes that do not have viable trade offs. The Core series processors are fast and snappy and allow you to do everything a Windows 8 system should. But power runs out in 6 hours, the weight can be an issue over time plus these devices are likely to get a little hot. On top of that, the prices are really high. Higher than laptops sporting similar specs.
How about Atom? That’s like going to the extreme end of the spectrum. Great battery life, lightweight, cool and silent. But it is unable to run moderately intensive applications well. You are stuck between a rock and a hard place. There’s simply no Windows 8 tablet or hybrid that is good enough.
I don’t expect AMD to make a major push any time soon considering the state and focus of the company. So, what Microsoft has left are two things. Windows RT on ARM which has an app store that still requires a couple of years’ work. And Windows 8 on Intel processors. This is where the old Wintel alliance is needed again.
Ever since the successful launch of the Core 2 Duo / Quad series and the eventual Core i3 / i5 / i7 series, Intel have been complacent. They have not met much competition from traditional rivals AMD and basically sat at the top of the pile with nothing much to worry about.
Windows 8 has left the door open for Intel to be relevant on the mobile space.
Now that more tablets and phones are being sold than desktops and laptops, Intel is watching a new market segment rise without having a part to play in it. Android and iOS tablets and phones are almost all powered by ARM processors. Windows 8 has left the door open for Intel to be relevant on the mobile space.
Everyone, including myself, identified Haswell as the chip that will make Intel relevant in the tablet space and also the chip that will make Windows 8 tablets find that needed balance. Haswell will launch in June but will, as usual, start with desktop only processors before slimmed down low voltage chips are sold somewhere late this year or early next year. Can Intel and Microsoft wait that long?
Well, things are more upbeat now. Intel has announced its Silvermont microarchitecture earlier this week. While Haswell is an update to the Core i3 / i5 / i7 series, Silvermount is the next generation Atom processor. Current Atom processors running Windows 8 are from the Clovertrail series and as mentioned above, they don’t really get the job done. What Silvermont promises is better absolute and scalar performance on top of improved battery life.
This may be the chip that brings both Intel and Microsoft back into contention in a new product category.
The promises are huge and Intel rarely under delivers. If Silvermont does get its balance right. This may very well be the chip that is akin to the Core 2 Duo / Quad series. This may be the chip that brings both Intel and Microsoft back into contention, resummoning the old, withered and often tired Wintel alliance.
In time, there may actually be a Windows 8 tablet / hybrid that can do everything. If so, Android and iOS devices will have to watch out.
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