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Microsoft Hits Back At Intel Over Tablet Readiness

Updated: Microsoft and Intel might be sniping at each other now, but we can still look forward to an on-time delivery of Clover Trail-equipped Windows 8 tablets with the same great battery life as the ARM-equipped iPad.

Last week, it was Intel's Paul Otellini criticizing Microsoft, for releasing Windows 8 before it's ready. (Intel quickly denied Otellini was unhappy.) On Monday, an unnamed "person with knowledge of the matter" blamed Intel's delay in shipping power management drivers for slowing development of Clover-based Windows 8 tablets.

Microsoft and Intel have remained relatively mum about these claims, and both might be overblown. Operating systems are always a work in progress and no one has claimed that Clover Trail tablets will slip their launch dates. This might be nothing more than tit-for-tat bickering between Wintel partners: Microsoft promotes ARM battery life at the exclusion of Intel, Intel fires back about Windows 8 readiness, and then Microsoft complains about delayed Clover Trail drivers.

Update: According to an Intel spokesperson, the company confirms that their Atom Z2760 'Clover Trail' chip is on track for Windows 8. Intel stated that "We can't comment on OEM device availability but I can say that we remain on track from a Intel Atom Z2760 perspective."

Intel showed incredible battery life benchmarks for Clover Trail last month. At least half a dozen PC makers including Dell, HP, Lenovo, Asus, and Acer are committed to offering Windows 8 Intel Clover Trail tablets on Oct. 26 alongside the Windows 8 launch. Intel showed that Clover Trail could compete in battery life against an Asus Infinity Transformer running a Qualcomm ARM processor and Apple's iPad 2 and iPad 3 running Apple's internally developed ARM. Using a standard brightness of 200 nits, all of the tablets were able to achieve nine to 11 hours of video playback. Here are some detailed results of the total system power draw.

 Intel Clover Trail tablet (1366x768)Asus Infiniti Transformer (1920x1080)iPad 2 (1024x768)iPad 3 (2048x1536)
Video playback3 watts3.1 watts2.5 watts4.3 watts
Web surfing2.8 watts3.4 watts2.6 watts4.5 watts

Note that the differences in system-level power draw are largely proportional to the differences in screen resolution. The higher the resolution, the more power the backlight needs to penetrate the screen transistors and achieve 200-nit brightness. Some of the other differences might be attributable to the radio base band and the video decoder. However, the processor technology used by Intel and its ARM competitors is very similar.

Intel Clover Trail is crucial to both Intel and Microsoft because it is the only system-on-chip (SoC) technology that allows Windows 8 tablets to support existing Windows applications and hardware drivers as well as always-on, all-day battery life. Windows RT on ARM architecture will lack Windows applications and hardware support, which makes those slates a hard sell given how small the Windows App Market is for tablets.

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Just because the server market's in the doldrums doesn't mean innovation has ceased. Far from it -- server technology is enjoying the biggest renaissance since the dawn of x86 systems. But the primary driver is now service providers, not enterprises.
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