Microsoft blazes trail to next PC

commentary With its serious processor, and its guts-behind-the-glass design, Microsoft's Surface Pro may well be the template for the new PC. And device makers should pay attention.

Microsoft Surface Pro: the design isn't perfect, but the fact that it can function as a standalone tablet and is thin and light puts it ahead of the convertible-laptop pack.
Microsoft Surface Pro: the design isn't perfect, but the fact that it can function as a standalone tablet and is thin and light puts it ahead of the convertible-laptop pack. CNET

PC makers take note. Microsoft is pioneering the next PC.

Surface Pro makes a good case as the template for the new PC for a couple of simple reasons: Microsoft put the device's electronics behind the glass, not under the keyboard, and the device uses a real processor.

Let's address the electronics first. Most of the newfangled laptops I saw at CES were convertibles. That is, the displays are not detachable because the core electronics are under the keyboard, just like your father's laptop.

And most of them were unimpressive. The mechanics necessary to flip and/or slide the screen and convert the laptop to tablet mode were more often than not kludgy and some seemed destined for mechanical problems down the pike.

And the more problematic designs weren't thin or light, either. At least not when compared with popular tablets like Apple's iPad or Google's Nexus.

One of the few exceptions -- as I noted before -- was the HP EliteBook Revolve. That 11.6-inch design was about as well conceived as a convertible can be.

But there's a reason for that: HP has been building Windows convertibles for ages. The EliteBook 2700 series and its progenitors have been around since the dawn of Windows XP. So, HP has this down to a science.

But, again, that's a rare exception at present. The future leans more toward a PC with the electronics behind the glass. And there's no better example right now than the Surface Pro.

Microsoft was bold enough to go with a mainstream third-generation Core Intel "Ivy Bridge" chip, not the slower Atom processor that most Windows 8 tablet and detachable makers have opted for.

Yeah, the battery life won't be great, but Microsoft, I think, knew (rightly so) that it would be crucified if it opted for the performance-challenged Atom chip, which isn't up to the task of running serious desktop applications on Windows 8.

Remember the netbook? That's one way to look at the first crop of Atom-based Windows 8 tablets: a netbook in tablet clothing. Microsoft didn't want to go there.

And give Lenovo some credit too. It showed off the ThinkPad Helix detachable at CES that separates from the base to become a full-fledged Ivy Bridge-based tablet, not unlike the Microsoft Surface Pro.

And Intel, I think, in its heart of hearts knows Atom isn't really up to the task. Thus, the revelation at CES of the most power-efficient Ivy Bridge yet. One of Intel's goals is to get these new Ivy Bridge chips -- as well as upcoming "Haswell" chips -- behind the glass, as Intel's Adam King told me at CES.

So, I would expect to see an increasing number of Windows 8 tablets and/or detachables sporting Intel's mainstream Haswell Core processors later this year.

And battery life will improve with Haswell. I would be fine with a Windows 8 tablet packing a real Intel chip that gets six hours of battery life. And a Haswell-based Surface tablet should meet or exceed this.

Sony Vaio Duo 11 convertible: The apparatus to support the display in tablet mode isn't exactly elegant.
Sony Vaio Duo 11 convertible: The apparatus to support the display in tablet mode isn't exactly elegant. CNET
 

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