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New Windows RT tablets raise competition among ARM chip makers

Agam Shah | Aug. 31, 2012
New Windows RT tablets announced at the IFA trade show in Berlin have intensified competition among ARM-based chip makers, which are adding unique capabilities to processors so tablets become more attractive to buyers based on performance and features.

New Windows RT tablets announced at the IFA trade show in Berlin have intensified competition among ARM-based chip makers, which are adding unique capabilities to processors so tablets become more attractive to buyers based on performance and features.

Samsung and Dell announced Windows RT tablets with Qualcomm's dual-core Snapdragon S4 APQ8060A processor, which is built on ARM architecture. These are the first Windows RT tablets using Qualcomm's chips, while tablets announced earlier in the year, such as Microsoft's Surface and Asustek's Vivo Tab RT (previously called Asus Tablet 600), were based on Nvidia's quad-core Tegra 3 processor.

Microsoft is working only with ARM-based chip makers Qualcomm, Nvidia and Texas Instruments for Windows RT on tablets and PCs. Toshiba previously showed a Windows RT tablet based on Texas Instruments' OMAP processor, but the device was scrapped due to a component shortage. Microsoft has also announced Windows 8 for tablets and PCs based on Intel and Advanced Micro Devices chips. The Windows operating systems will become available Oct. 26, at which time devices like tablets and hybrid laptops are also expected to ship.

Much like Android, the Windows RT ecosystem is fragmented with the OS divorced from the hardware, said Dean McCarron, principal analyst at Mercury Research. Hardware makers are offering unique features in Windows RT devices, and key differentiators could be connectivity, performance and form factors, McCarron said.

Windows RT devices on Qualcomm's S4 chip may provide a better blend of performance and connectivity, while Nvidia's quad-core Tegra 3 chip may deliver faster overall performance and better graphics, McCarron said. ARM processors are power efficient and will bring long battery life to Windows RT devices, McCarron said.

Windows RT has the look and feel of Windows 8, but Microsoft says that RT has been re-engineered with mobile features like power consumption and instant connectivity in mind. Chips with ARM processors are used in most smartphones and tablets that ship today, and Qualcomm and Nvidia are pitching different features on their chips in order to capture a larger share of the future Windows RT device market.

Qualcomm wants to bring smartphone features to Windows RT tablets with its S4 chips, said Luis Pineda, senior vice president of product management at Qualcomm. The chip in the Samsung and Dell tablets will bring a wide range of cellular and Internet connectivity features, while also enabling long battery life on tablets, Pineda said.

The S4 chip being used in the tablets has an integrated 3G/4G radio, Pineda said. The S4 chips also have a powerful graphics core, and the integration of all key components helps enable thin and light devices with long battery life, Pineda said. Qualcomm has also announced a quad-core S4 chip for tablets, which will bring more performance to tablets.

 

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