Intel Core M chip means really thin Windows 8.1 hybrids are on the way

The Core M processor is built for devices that redefine thin. And device makers like Asus are already pushing the boundaries of that definition.

Brooke Crothers Former CNET contributor
Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.
Brooke Crothers
3 min read

One version of Llama Mountain sports a 12.5-inch screen and is 0.28 inches thick with the keyboard detached. A 10-inch version is only 0.26 inches thick. That tops Apple in thinness for both tablets and laptops. Intel

If you could sum up the impact of Intel's new processor in a word, it would be "thin." In two words, "very thin."

The Core M, based on the chipmaker's new Broadwell silicon, debuted on its own Llama Mountain design at the Computex conference in Taipei this week. Llama Mountain is an impossibly thin (even thinner than the iPad Air) hybrid that bodes well for upcoming two-in-ones running Windows 8.1.

While Intel won't market Llama Mountain (but maybe it should), device makers are using it as a template for similar designs.

One of the first examples of coming attractions is the Asus Transformer Book T300 Chi (eerily similar to Llama Mountain), which is only 0.29-inches (7.3mm) thick. It's a Windows 8.1 design that Intel and Asus collaborated on, according to a source familiar with the product. The Chi comes with the same 12.5-inch 2,560x1,440-pixel resolution display as Llama Mountain.

The Core M processor-based Asus Transformer Book T300 Chi: It runs Windows 8.1 and sports a 2,560x1,440 display. 4G LTE is also supported. Asus

Much of this svelte goodness comes from Intel's new Broadwell chip design. It's based on the company's most advanced manufacturing process (14 nanometers), which means the circuits are smaller and cooler. In fact, the Core M runs cool enough that no fan is needed.

In this respect, it tops the 12-inch Surface Pro 3, which uses Intel's current mainstream Haswell Core processor. Surface Pro 3 requires a fan and is thicker at 0.35 inches (9.1mm).

Of course, sacrifices have to be made somewhere. Unlike the 12-inch Microsoft Surface Pro 3 , the Chi has only a Micro-USB port (the Surface 3 has a full USB 3.0 port), as pointed out by CNET's Aloysius Low . (Though the Chi does offer built-in 4G, which the Surface Pro doesn't.)

And you're not going to get the performance of a Core i7 (which the Surface Pro 3 offers) in a super-skinny -- let's say, anything less than 0.3 inches thick -- design.

But you will likely get something that's faster than Apple's iPad Air and rivals the MacBook Air in performance. And you will get a Retina-class display and a tablet that can double as a full-fledged laptop -- something Apple has yet to offer.

That could bring real style to a category that's been, for the most part, relatively lackluster on aesthetics and coolness.

"I think the concept of two-in-ones is still appealing to businesses, and these new Core M-based devices now offer very sexy, slim form factors that I think will attract attention back to the category," said Bob O'Donnell, founder and chief analyst at Technalysis Research.

"The key is that they're now being built to be better notebooks with the tablet capability being more of an extra. I think that's the right message for Intel and its partners to deliver, and it will start getting people to realize that these are essentially the evolution of the traditional notebook."

One problem: We won't know how attractive these devices are until Asus and others announce pricing. And that won't happen until the Broadwell processor is available to device makers in large commercial volumes later this year.

Intel said this week that 50 percent of the tablet-laptop two-in-one products will hit price points below $700 and that new devices are expected by the year-end holiday season.