A quad-core Windows 8 laptop more ultra than an ultrabook?

Imagine a quad-core Windows 8 laptop as light as a tablet. Enticing -- but first let's see if commercial designs actually appear from top-tier device makers.

Can a quad-core Windows 8 laptop be as thin as an iPad? That's the design Qualcomm is aiming for. But we've heard this story before.

The San Diego-based chip supplier anticipates superthin laptops running Windows 8 on top of its Snapdragon chips, according to a report in PC World.

It's certainly an enticing idea: Laptops lighter and thinner than even Intel-based ultrabooks -- an idea also put forward by Nvidia, which already supplies its well-received quad-core Tegra 3 processor to Asus for its Tranformer Prime tablet.

At a macro level, this is about ARM versus Intel on Windows 8, which will be compatible with both chip technologies. More specifically, it's about the camp of chip suppliers, like Qualcomm and Nvidia, that use a power-efficient silicon design versus performance-centric Intel.

The argument goes something like this: ARM-based laptops can be thinner and lighter than an ultrabook because power-sipping ARM processors don't require fans (Intel-based ultrabooks do).

Qualcomm made a similar argument a couple of years ago, in fact. At that time, it made a lot of noise about Linux-based "smartbooks." And Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs even "announced" one from Lenovo -- which never saw the light of day, by the way. Nor did any smartbook.

Though Windows 8 offers more hope than Linux, a competitive ARM-based laptop will be a bigger challenge than either Qualcomm or Nvidia anticipate, because Intel is a moving target, and a pretty fast one at that.

Intel's highly integrated (and likely much faster) Haswell chip will be available in the timeframe in which Qualcomm announces its quad-core Snapdragon.

Moreover, it's not clear how soon Windows 8 will be ready for ARM. Microsoft is carefully choosing its words here. The company's Steven Sinofsky said on his blog that Microsoft's "collective goal" is for Windows 8 on Intel and ARM to become available at the same time. That tells me Microsoft is leaving itself some wiggle room for ARM.

And, Microsoft, on the same blog, made it clear that Windows compatibility on Intel chips will be radically broader than on ARM chips.

But there's still plenty of opportunity for Qualcomm and Nvidia, because Windows 8 tablets will probably favor ARM chips, for the power-efficiency reasons cited above.

So, Qualcomm, Nvidia, et al would be well-advised to focus more on proselytizing tabletlike designs, not laptops, which have been, and will always be, an Intel stronghold.

 

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