Meet Windows RT

Microsoft’s first serious foray into tablets came just after the turn of the new millenium, with Bill Gates demonstrating the first tablet PC prototype onstage at Comdex in the autumn of 2000. From there, OEMs started releasing tablets based on Windows XP Tablet PC Edition in 2002, with a full range of pen-enabled slates and convertibles releasing over the next few years. In addition to oftentimes prohibitive cost, each had its own set of drawbacks. Convertibles tended to be quite bulky compared to their notebook counterparts (the ThinkPad X-series being a notable exception), while slates were rather difficult to use - a symptom of shoehorning a desktop operating system into a purely touch-centric form factor. 

Fast forward a decade, to the beginning of 2010. After a number of conceptual non-starters in the tablet PC space - building tablet PC support into all editions of Windows Vista and 7 (other than Basic/Home Starter), the entire Origami class of devices - Microsoft’s touchscreen devices were floundering. The iPad had been announced to mixed reaction but an extremely high level of anticipation. Microsoft and HP countered with the Slate 500, an Atom-based device shown off at CES 2010 with solid state storage and Windows 7 in roughly the same form factor as Apple’s iPhone OS-based ARM tablet. With speculation pointing to a pricetag of just $549, the Slate appeared to be the most viable hope Microsoft had in trying to make mainstream headway with the tablet PC concept. But shortly after the iPad shipped in April 2010, rumors of the Slate’s demise started to circulate, and after a six month delay, the Slate 500 started shipping as an enterprise-only product in December of that year for $799. HP’s acquisition of Palm (RIP) definitely played a role in the sidelining of the Slate, but more importantly, it essentially spelled the end for the tablet PC. This was news that was perhaps known already, but the Slate saga officially pulled the plug on Microsoft’s original idea of what a tablet was. 

The problem was two parts software, one part hardware. Microsoft had developed a very interesting touch-oriented user interface for its handhelds, so at least one part of the equation was relatively straightforward. The hardware issue came down to this: the iOS and Android tablets succeeding in the market ran off ARM system-on-chips, which resulted in slim, power-efficient tablets that had idle times stretching for days. At the time, there was just nothing in terms of x86 hardware that could compete with that in low-power device realm (Clover Trail and Haswell, of course, change this part of the story considerably). The other question? How to converge the touch-centric UI with the classic desktop environment that had been the corner of Windows dating all the way back to 95. 

Meet Windows RT. It’s Microsoft’s first major foray into the modern tablet market, the shipping version of Windows-on-ARM, and it’s one of Microsoft’s most important product launches ever. Windows 8 shares the same touch-friendly user interface, but the ARM silicon makes RT an almost entirely tablet-centric operating system, the first for Microsoft. Combined with the focus on premium hardware experiences, this is Redmond’s most serious push to be competitive with the iOS and Androids of the world. How does it fare? Keep reading.

User Interface, Gestures, and Multitasking
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  • The0ne - Friday, October 26, 2012 - link

    The same search may not present you with the same results however due to changes in Windows 8 but essentially it should be the same.

    For those complaining this is what you need to make Windows 8 more like Windows 7, completely! Try, love it and move on.
  • mga318 - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    Really? Are you serious?

    You have no idea about the specialized software needs of other fields of study...
  • VivekGowri - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    Sorry, sweeping generalization, but I can't think of a class I took in the first two or three years of undergrad that an RT system wouldn't have been adequate for. Only after you start getting into the upper division classes do you start having a lot of non-Office computing needs.
  • SetiroN - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    the general public using facebook only are going to keep buying iPads, not windows tablets with physical keyboards.

    ARM's power consumption advantage is very marginal: the medfield based RAZR i has shown better standby than the almost identical RAZR M, as well as amazing talktime and slightly better video reproduction power consumption; where it fares worse is normal screen-on usage, but overall, it's hardly worse.

    So although there still aren't tests available of the newer dual core, I see no reason to expect worse standby power consumption (considering how intel manages to turn cores off completely); also cloverfield supports connected standby, which both ARM and RT do not, and it seems to be a pretty big deal to me.

    Clovertrail will run standard windows 8 (call it home premium if you will) which is as full as it gets unless you consider the pro features essential: it will still be able to run windows 8 pro anyway so it's up to OEMs to offer that version preloaded.

    As far as I know, the only difference between clovertrail tablets and standard PCs is that the software will be preloaded and the bootloader locked (there is no SATA support anyway); so with the exclusion of other OSs, you will be able to run all the x86 software you want.

    So, to the original question: why in the world would I prefer an ARM solution?
  • SetiroN - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    And I don't believe we have to thank RT for Clovertrail: it was clear that Intel would have entered the mobile market, in competition with ARM, anyway.
  • SetiroN - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    By "in competition with ARM" I mean It couldn't have done it at higher prices.
  • VivekGowri - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    The only thing with Clovertrail is that it comes out to around $200-250 more if you want Office and a keyboard attachment. See $599 VivoTab RT/Surface RT versus the Samsung Series 5 Slate (or whatever they're calling it in the US - ATIV something or other.)

    It's an 11.6" Clovertrail tablet that goes for $749 with the dock. Looks great, too. But the thing is, you toss in Office 13 on top of that (because it's Windows 8, that's not included) and then the price ends up going from iPad range (RT) to ultrabook range (Clovertrail.)
  • wsw1982 - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    The clovertrail basically has the same price as the windows RT. the Acer W510 and Asus Vivo smart all cost 499. The surface RT is also 499 without the keyboard. But what i really don't understand is why those low end netbook level tablet are all much more expensive then the netbook, it make no sense to me. The article said the clovertrail and tegra 3 are actually half of the price of conventional ATOM which are used in all those cheaper netbooks. The netbook has more expensive processors (40 to 20), mother board (less integration), harddisk (320G harddisk is more expensive than the 32G SSD) and some other staffs (keyboard, big battery, touch pad). The only thing more expensive on the tablet is the display, but I don't think the display could cost 200 more then the display on the netbook.
  • hokiesfan - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    I've wondered about that as well. For a very marginal bit of extra weight and thickness and a bit less battery life, you can get a CT based tablet. That should have an enormous advantage in horsepower. I just wish there were some reviews of the CT devices. Hopefully soon. The only advantage I see with RT is the included Office.
  • ssiu - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    Ditto here about eagerly waiting for Clover Trail Windows 8 tablet reviews. At least anandtech drops some concrete "Clover Trail is faster than Tegra 3 tablets" benchmark results -- hopefully a full review is imminent.

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