ARM vs. X86: How to Make the Choice for Windows 8

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Microsoft is really jumping in to the politics of their anti-Apple product by offering a choice of processors to emphasize, as if you didn’t get this already, that what makes the two companies different is choice.  

We really have never had a consumer choice between processors on a single smart product type before. Think about it: Smartphones are typically all ARM and PCs are all x86 – the two are very different, and for the first time, the consumer will pick which they favor. This is in effect the first processor architecture cage match. 

 You’ll have tablets on the x86 side using processors from Intel and AMD, and on the ARM side largely using processors from NVIDIA and Qualcomm. But the real fight will be between ARM and X86.

Let’s talk about this choice.

ARM = Entertainment/Consumption

Right now, tablets used for entertainment are typically 10” and under with the 7” Nexus and new Kindle Fire HD coupled with the rumored iPad Mini catching a lot of the interest at the moment. Here, small size and battery life are important because this product is primarily used to consume entertainment like movies and books, so being able to hold it for a long time and use it unplugged form the strongest benefits driving people to the platform.  

This is where the ARM-based products rule; think of them as the designated iPad killer providing what the iPad does but with the added benefit of being able to be used for work as well because of the included version of Office. 

This processor shows best when it is primarily used for entertainment (movies, games, music, and reading) and occasionally used for work and web browsing.   That’s why the class scales down to 7” nicely though there won’t be a 7” Windows 8 product at launch. 

X86 = Creation

Laptops set the minimum screen size for productive work and here 12” or larger tend to play better, largely because office is easier to use in this range. The most successful screen size at the moment in the light weight class that the Windows tablets will be released in is actually 13.3”, and this configuration will likely optimize close to that. But bigger is better, and there are OEMs talking about tablets up to 20” right now for those that want something like a portable all-in-one that they can also use while traveling.  

This is where the x86 products rule; think of them as a better replacement for a having to carry a laptop and a tablet because they better blend the productivity of the laptop with the portability of a tablet. So this is a product used for creation that also works for entertainment and thus has the opposite focus.  

This processor will be best used when it is as a creation device. Editing, composing, drawing, and creation in general will likely work better on this class of system.  This is why the x86 products are trending larger than 12” at the moment, and some like the Lenovo Yoga are 13.3”.   

Hybrid vs. Convertible

Flowing down from these use cases are the configuration types. The products will come in two general forms – hybrid and convertible. Hybrids use their keyboards as kind of a dock and the two components can be disconnected so you can carry the tablet and leave the keyboard behind. Keyboards often have extra batteries nearly doubling battery life.   

Convertibles morph from tablet to laptop but the keyboard stays with them, strengthening their laptop use model.  

As you would expect, the hybrids trend smaller and fit the ARM use case nicely in that they primarily give you an iPad like experience but can be transformed into a notebook in a pinch. Convertibles may primarily be used as notebooks, lending this configuration to x86 products in the Ultrabook class. 

X86 products will likely not perform as well as hybrid/tablets, and ARM likely won’t perform as well as convertible notebooks. You’ll likely find them but you’d be better with the choice that best defines the relative use cases.    

Wrapping Up

In short, start with what you want to do with a tablet and then follow that down to the best processor type and configuration for you with Windows 8.  If you primarily want it to entertain, then ARM is best and hybrids are your ideal configuration. If you want to replace your notebook, then x86 is best and convertibles are your ideal configuration – particularly if you want to leave your redundant iPad tablet behind.  

Isn’t choice wonderful?



President and Principal Analyst, Enderle Group

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