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Windows RT devices will see limited release initially

The first wave of Windows RT products will be little more than a ripple.

Windows RT tablets will use the Metro interface.
Windows RT tablets will use the Metro interface.

Only a handful of Windows RT devices will appear initially, as Microsoft wades slowly into new Windows waters, sources told CNET.

Chipmakers Nvidia, Qualcomm, and Texas Instruments will initially get two "slots" each for devices, according to sources familiar with Microsoft's plans.

"ARM is restricted to two designs each, meaning six total initial designs," one source said, referring to the chip design from U.K.-based ARM that those three suppliers use.

Windows RT -- aka, Windows on ARM -- is the first mainstream, desktop-class Windows operating system to run on ARM chips. This presents a challenge for Microsoft because each ARM chip vendor's platform is different. On the other hand, Intel is expected to have more than a dozen Windows 8 designs.

Though final product decisions have not been made in some cases, Nvidia's chips may land in Windows RT designs from Asus and Lenovo. Those designs could be a tablet, a hybrid tablet-laptop, or a more conventional clamshell laptop design.

Nvidia is "working with two manufacturers" a second source said, who is familiar with Nvidia's plans.

One of Qualcomm's slots had been slated for a Hewlett-Packard tablet, but that may not happen this year, as that situation is fluid, according to a source. Nokia is also a candidate for a Qualcomm slot, according to the first source.

Texas Instruments' status is less clear. But designs may appear later rather than sooner, according to one source.

"Decisions regarding who [the] go-to-market hardware partners are remain TBD [to-be-decided]," according to a Microsoft spokesperson, who added that companies that have demonstrated ARM reference designs are not all necessarily going to market.

Of the three ARM chip suppliers, Nvidia appears to be the farthest along.

In 2013, the number of Windows RT products is expected to expand significantly, according to one source. Nvidia, for example, is working with a number of device makers for 2013.

The first RT devices are expected to be announced later this year along with Intel-based Windows 8 products.

Nvidia, Qualcomm, and Texas Instruments declined to comment.