Can Intel-based Windows 8 Pro tablets ever come close to the low power and long batteries of ARM-based devices? - Brian Madden - BrianMadden.com
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Can Intel-based Windows 8 Pro tablets ever come close to the low power and long batteries of ARM-based devices?

Written on Jan 24 2013 12,274 views, 8 comments


by Brian Madden

Earlier this week I wrote an article (well, a rant) about Microsoft Surface tablets running Windows RT. (Actually it was a rant against Windows RT in general.) I closed the rant by saying, "By the way, I'm looking forward to the Surface Pro and the other Intel-compatible tablets, ultrabooks, detachables, and convertibles. Windows 8 on Intel is fine." If I could have an Intel-powered tablet where I have the option of detaching the keyboard and using just the screen as a standalone device, that would be great! And assuming it wouldn't affect the price too much, who wouldn't want that? The idea that these Intel-based things would be as thin and light and long-lasting as a normal laptop with the added flexibility of a tablet while still being able to run all of our legacy Windows desktop applications is a win-win-win!

But there's a catch. Traditional Intel processors take a lot more power than the ARM-based processors that drive the newer tablets like iPads and Androids. The only way around that is to (1) make them heavier and thicker by adding more battery capacity, (2) be happy with short battery life, or (3) put a super low power (and low performance) Intel processor in them. (See my related article from last summer, "Mobile devices: fast, light, long battery life… pick any two.")

I've been thinking a lot more about this over the past few days and trying to do some research on Google, but so far I haven't been able to find any real conversations about it. So I'm reaching out to you, geeky readers of BrianMadden.com!

I'll start by explaining my bias. My belief is that the traditional Windows OS (and Windows 8 Pro) was built for an Intel world where there was a lot of horsepower available to the CPU. Now that these super thin, light, and long-lasting ARM devices are popular, Intel and Microsoft are scrambling to build low power consumption x86 CPUs that can still run the normal version of Windows Pro. Fine.

But here's where it breaks down. It seems to me so far that in order for an Intel x86 device to be as thin, light, and long lasting as a ARM device, the Intel processor in it is so low power that the performance is horrible. I don't necessarily blame Intel for this—it's really more of a Microsoft thing. The Windows Pro OS is just completely designed for a CPU environment that is different than what people want today. And when you go to Windows.com and check out the devices that Microsoft is pushing, a lot of them are powered by processors like the Atom Z2760 which has a Passmark CPU score of 679 versus a typical Ultrabook with an i7-3667U which scores 3828. Would you want to use a Windows device that was only 1/5th the speed of the fastest Ultrabook? I wouldn't.

Of course there are also new Windows 8 Pro Intel-based tablets / convertibles / detachables that have i5-3317U and i7-3517U processors which get us closer with Passmark CPU scores of 3100 and 3734, respectively. But now we're talking about 3-5 hours of battery life instead of 8-10 hours like ARM tablets. So really these are just normal laptops where you can detach the keyboard or touch the screen.

To be clear, I'm not complaining about these Intel devices. I would love to have the option to pull off the keyboard and touch the screen of my current Ultrabook. But I have that Ultrabook and my ARM-based tablet because they each serve different needs. I like my super-thin, super-light ARM tablet and that I regularly use for 10 hours. I love that I can leave the house in the morning and not have to worry about power.

Again, I don't think this is an "Intel versus ARM" thing per se, rather, it's more that the Windows 8 Pro OS is doing so much stuff that it just needs a lot of power to run, whereas these ARM-based iPads and Androids are running OSes and apps that have been designed from the ground-up for very low power consumption. You just can't get Windows to do that. (Need proof? See Windows RT.)

So I wonder, can we ever have the best of both wolds? (Low power and normal Intel-based Windows desktop applications?) How "all in one" these really are?

We hear over and over about how 2013 is the year that tablets will outsell laptops. But are people buying tablets instead of laptops? No. Instead they're buying them to augment their laptops. So if I have the option for a long lasting Windows Pro tablet, I'm going to say, "Meh, but it's too slow to run my Windows desktop applications, so I still need a laptop." Or if I buy a fast Windows Pro detachable, I'm going to say, "Meh, but the battery life is too low so I still need to buy an ARM-based tablet."

What am I missing here? I keep hearing about all these future breakthroughs of Intel processors that are supposed to change this, but Windows Pro will always need more horsepower than iOS or Android. So by the time I have a super thin long lasting Intel-based Windows tablet, won't my ARM tablets be running for 20 hours per charge instead of 10?

 
 




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Comments

Kata Tank wrote re: Can Intel-based Windows 8 Pro tablets ever come close to the low power and long batteries of ARM-based devices?
on Thu, Jan 24 2013 5:30 AM Link To This Comment

For battery life, lookt at the HP Envy X2...

Around 8 hours (nearer to 7 in fact) when in tablet, and additionnal 9 (nearer 8) with keyboard plugged... Not bad at all (for me). Enougth for a full day of working (including laptop and tablet usage).

Don't way to advertise for this particular model as there is similar elsewhere, but that's a great one !

help4ctx wrote re: Can Intel-based Windows 8 Pro tablets ever come close to the low power and long batteries of ARM-based devices?
on Thu, Jan 24 2013 8:36 AM Link To This Comment

I think the form factor and usability of a mobile computing device will always be about compromise, but as far as selecting a device is concerned, personal choice will always play a big part.

For years I have carried around a selection of 13-15 inch laptops each of which at their time met my requirements but never did everything I needed.

When I needed to carry around a demo environment comprised of several VM's I used a bespoke system with lots of memory, a faster, larger hard disk and an additional external hard disk for additional VM's.  A great solution, but a pain (quite literally) to carry around.

When I could demo my VM's 'from the Cloud', I chose a smaller and more portable device, this was great but it was a pain working on sizeable documents at client sites on a smaller screen.

Now my role has changed again I can do most of my mobile work using a simple tablet. Email, note taking, creation of smaller documents, Cloud demos and all the other advantage of a tablet based work style such as location based services and easily being able to pull down new apps when the need arises.   I haven't carried a laptop to a client site for several months, but when I travelled extensively recently I still took my lappy with me to work on large documents and for other tasks where my tablet keyboard and tablet apps simply aren't up to the job.

At home I still have a very capable desktop system which I use almost daily for other, more demanding work.  This has two 24 inch monitors which are almost essential (to me!) when cutting and pasting from several documents simultaneously, or working on a home movie or many other tasks which I would not want to be doing on a 15 inch laptop, let alone a 10 or 7 inch tablet.

I'm an IT guy, so many of these more demanding use cases above are unique to this way of working, but this is my work/lifestyle and I need devices which best meets these needs.  Others will have their own work/lifestyles and will select a device which meets their own needs, and this device will undoubtedly be different to mine.

The point I am (somewhat ramblingly!) trying to make is that it doesn't really matter if we produce a mobile device which is capable of the fast/light/long nirvana, it would be nice....but we can live without it!  I don't think many of us will be ever in a position where a tablet will meet all of our needs. Who cares if my tablet runs for a week if it doesn't allow me to produce my own home movies, or creatively allow the kids to produce their homework, or allow me to work on complex documents.  I can't ever see a 10/7 inch tablet ever being anything but a device which 'augments' our work/lifestyle, and as such it can be a compromise.

To round this off, my current laptop recently met an untimely end and I just spent a couple of weeks deciding what it's replacement would be as the landscape for hybrid devices is very interesting right now.  I reviewed and played around with several of the current suspects including the HP Envy, ASUS Taichi, Fujitsu 702/902, Sony Duo 11 and Dell XPS12.  My requirements were a full Windows 8 device which can be used primarily as a laptop, but which can also be used as a tablet.  It needed to be portable, responsive in all modes, capable of running many of my old Windows apps, easy to integrate with my existing home network,  and above all, resilient...as many of these hybrids have mechanisms which will undoubtedly fail in a short time.  I chose the Dell XPS 12 (the screen rotates on its axis to provide tablet mode....I am not a Dell employee by the way).  Two weeks later I am blown away, as a laptop it is superb as it is essentially a full Ultrabook, as a tablet it is a little heavier than my old tablets, but not noticeably so....this has never stood out as an issue.  I currently get nearly 6 hours of use as a tablet, which for me is fine.  This device, for my work/lifestyle is the perfect compromise and I will use it for 95% of my mobility needs, the only downside for me is the Windows AppStore, but I'm sure this will improve.

So, I've done my homework and selected the XPS12, will this be the device for everyone....absolutely not as you all do different stuff to me.  Is it fast/light with a long battery life....two and a half of those are good enough for me,  I currently have to carry around a bluetooth keyboard/mouse  to be productive with  my existing tablet, so carrying around my hybrid with its reasonably small power supply leaves me no worse off.

It'll be great when we do get 12 hours of use out of a full Intel/Windows tablet device, but by that time I probably won't care anymore, and the use cases for Windows as a tablet OS may have dried up anyway!!

Tony wrote re: Can Intel-based Windows 8 Pro tablets ever come close to the low power and long batteries of ARM-based devices?
on Thu, Jan 24 2013 10:27 AM Link To This Comment

My opinion, at the end of the day MS and Intel needs to tune the OS to the CPU.  Intel can only put so many  power saving features into CPU's.  MS has to start leveraging those features to drive more battery life and to date MS has done a piss poor job at that.  If anything the OEM's have tried to tune their base factory images along with Intel.

For example (no surprise, I work for Dell)  The Latitude 10 is a Windows 8 tablet built with a dual core Atom CPU.  Intel and Dell worked together to dial in the OS to get max battery life with acceptable performance.  MS needs to lead here, not the chip makers and OEM's.

Scott Bowling wrote re: Can Intel-based Windows 8 Pro tablets ever come close to the low power and long batteries of ARM-based devices?
on Thu, Jan 24 2013 2:17 PM Link To This Comment

I feel like it is really of a question about apps (desktop vs. metro)

Desktop applications are the legacy and what is most familiar. Keyboard and mouse driven UI's, windowed presentations, running multiple apps at the same time, years of iterative improvements.

Metro apps are new and developers are still learning about it. This takes time and each new release will improve the experience. As metro apps get closer to provide full functionality then there will be less need for desktop applications.

help4ctx wrote re: Can Intel-based Windows 8 Pro tablets ever come close to the low power and long batteries of ARM-based devices?
on Fri, Jan 25 2013 6:17 AM Link To This Comment

I had a few more thoughts on this, about what specificaly for me would make the whole mobility thing more compelling and it bolis down to three things:-

Forget 8/10/12 hours on a single charge, would it not make sense to incorporate inductive/wireless charging into desks and tables as we all get more mobile?  I visit the office, or get on the train or MacDonalds and I just put my hybrid device on the table or a rack of some kind and it simply charges.  Starting to see charging stations everywhere, this seems the next logical step?

A standard is adopted for wireless communication with any type of display panel.  I can just put my device down onto the nearest inductive charger and have the device send all display information to the nearest panel.  It might be my two 24-inch monitors at home, or my office monitor or a TV panel somewhere.  The point is that I can now use my 'core compute device' more productively as I can increase my desktop real estate when required making the device suitable  for a much wider range of use cases.

So, I'm out and about and can now forget about power and display issues, but I still need a keyboard/mouse.  The hybrid device in my 'nirvana' will also be capable of transforming into a simple keyboard, either a virtual one for casual use or just being able to rotate the display underneath the device leaving just the keyboard and touchpad exposed.

With these three things in place, wherever I go I can just carry my hybrid device.  It will charge without thought, it will wirelesly display my work on any monitor combination and it will act as a keyboard/mouse without the need to carry additional componnets around with me.

Now thats nirvana..........

TheJokker wrote re: Can Intel-based Windows 8 Pro tablets ever come close to the low power and long batteries of ARM-based devices?
on Fri, Jan 25 2013 1:10 PM Link To This Comment

Will Battery life get better?  The next intel processor, Haswell, will offer significantly better battery life.  When it becomes avaliable this year the current generation of Intel tablets, powered by the ivy bridge processor, should drop in price.  Sometime in 2014 the Broadwell processor will replace the Haswell processor offering even better battery life.  Haswell Tablets should likewise drop in price.

Summary:  Over the next two years Windows 8 Tablets powered by Intel processors will become more and more powerful, offering better and better battery life, and become cheaper and cheaper.  Apple better step up their game or lose the race...

Brian Madden wrote re: Can Intel-based Windows 8 Pro tablets ever come close to the low power and long batteries of ARM-based devices?
on Mon, Jan 28 2013 12:15 AM Link To This Comment

Man I'm sick of hearing that next year Intel will have better stuff, and that in two years it will be awesome. Don't you think that ARM will also have better stuff next year and even more awesome stuff in two years? So what are you saying, that Intel of 2014 will be as awesome as ARM today? Sounds like Intel needs to step up their game.

help4ctx wrote re: Can Intel-based Windows 8 Pro tablets ever come close to the low power and long batteries of ARM-based devices?
on Mon, Jan 28 2013 9:39 AM Link To This Comment

@Brian   I have to agree with Tony, this is not just Intel's issue, the OS needs to pair intimately with the hardware to get best results.  Be interesting to know how much recoding was done in Windows 8 to make it more power friendly, my guess is very little, they just relied on Moore's law.

If you look back at some of the 5.0 iOS releases for iPhone, there were several instances where battery life suddenly decreased due to software issues.

Comparing Intel to ARM is not a fair face off...most of the OS's deployed on ARM have been taliored to be fit for purose where power is concerned.  If you ran iOS or Android on an i7 I'm pretty sure you'd see some pretty good results in power terms.

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