Windows 8.1 tablets pin hopes on Intel's 'Bay Trail' processor
Will Windows 8.1 tablets take off? A lot of it depends on the performance of Intel's new chip combined with head-turning designs.
Brooke CrothersFormer 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.
Future Windows 8.1 tablets will be powered by the marquee attraction at Intel's annual forum that starts Tuesday -- the Bay Trail Atom chip.
What is Bay Trail exactly? At the high end, it is a series of Atom processors built primarily for tablets. (Lower-end Celeron and Pentium variants should appear in low-cost laptops.)
Maybe most importantly, it's a completely redesigned Atom that is trying to break from the past of pokey Windows 7 Netbook Atoms.
Bay Trail uses so-called "out-of-order execution," analogous to what Intel uses in its higher-performance mainstream Haswell processors. It also packs improved graphics silicon -- to cite just two high-profile features.
Anandtech posted Intel benchmarks that compare a current Clover Trail Z2760 to a future Atom Z3770 that show "nearly 3x the performance."
"Obviously the big unknown here is power consumption. As Bay Trail is destined for tablets, I'd expect lower average power than pretty much all of our comparison targets in the graph," wrote Anand Shimpi. (See graph at bottom.)
And a recent post from graphics chip expert Jon Peddie said Bay Trail "handily runs Windows 8.1," citing similar Intel benchmarks.
"It's very respectable but not a mind blower," Peddie said in a phone interview.
Benchmarks, however, are just benchmarks and don't guarantee vastly better performance for the consumer and/or success in the market.
The first Windows 8.1 tablet out of the gate, the Toshiba Encore, impressed some but not others who did some hands-on evaluations.
Windows 8 device makers will need to produce stellar designs to match the better performance in order to make any inroads against Apple and Android.