Microsoft's been calling Windows 8 a no-compromise operating system since day one, but tablet buyers are going to have to make a difficult choice. They can pick up a sleek new ARM-based tablet that runs Windows RT and sacrifice their legacy x86 applications, or they can go with (comparatively) power-hungry x86 hardware for full compatibility, but sacrifice thinness and / or battery life. Intel just might have a third option, though: today, the company is formally introducing its Atom Z2760 "Clover Trail" chip, which it claims is compatible and power-efficient at the same time.
Intel says these tablets can be just 8.5mm thick, weigh 1.5 pounds, and get up to 10 hours of battery life. Intel isn't fudging that last statistic, either: the company says that it measured 10 hours of HD video playback with a 30Wh battery, and the screen set to a very reasonable 200 nits of brightness.
If those sounds familiar, that might be because it's describing real products that are already inbound (the company announced plans for 20 Windows 8 tablets running Clover Trail back in July), like the 8.5mm thick HP Envy X2, the Dell Latitude 10 (with a 30Wh removable battery), and the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2, which also promises 10 hours of battery life. We've also seen the Asus Vivo Tab and the Samsung Ativ, and Fujitsu, LG and ZTE are also producing Clover Trail tablets for Windows 8.
So, what kind of Intel is inside? The Atom Z2760 is basically a beefed up, Windows 8-friendly version of the company's Medfield smartphone chip typically seen running Android. Rather than a single-core 2GHz chip with outdated PowerVR SGX 540 graphics, though, the new Atom runs at 1.8GHz and has a dual-core, four-thread CPU and the more recent PowerVR SGX 545 inside, and a TDP of just 1.7 watts, which means the chip should require less cooling and offer more battery life than laptop-sized Atoms even when fully stressed.
As we've seen in reviews of the company's Medfield phones, though, the new Atom's real strength is when the device is idle. Since the chip can almost completely shut itself down, Intel claims that Clover Trail devices will last up to three weeks in standby mode.
What we don't know, unfortunately, is how powerful Clover Trail will actually be. It will run all Windows 8 applications, but how well? That remains to be seen.