At $149 (trending down) this is an interesting Windows 8.1 PC but when you know it weighs just 54 grams / 0.116 pounds it becomes a bit of an eye opener. The Intel Compute Stick, and its branded variants, are starting to become available in the market and I’ve had one for testing (from Intel) for the last two weeks. It’s not a tablet and it’s not a desktop. It’s not even a mini PC. This is a PC sealed inside a pocketable stick that can be plugged into an HDMI port on your monitor, powered by USB and used with a keyboard and mouse. It runs Windows 8.1 and can be upgraded to Windows 10. You will not find anything with this flexibility at this price, but is it powerful enough? I’ve been running tests on the Compute Stick and wanted to focus on one aspect that will interest a lot of people – web working.
Intel’s Kirk Skaugen, GM of the Client Computing Group, will be giving the opening keynote at Computex in Taiwan at 2pm local time and, as always at Computex, it’s an important one for Intel. The Internet of Things and wearables will feature in the keynote but we’re also likely to see some important mobile-PC related topics. The ultimate ‘reveal’ would be an Intel-based Windows 10 Mobile device, even a phone, but there are other things to think about too. Here’s a check-list of what you can expect. The keynote will stream live here.
Intel’s new entry-level mini PCs, codenamed Pinnacle Canyon, have appeared in retail channels and will start at $140. The new NUCs, NUC5CPYH and NUC5PPYH, will replace the Baytrail-M versions that were available in 2014 and add an SD card slot, optical audio output, optional VGA and replaceable lid modules. A consumer IR receiver is included on the front of the unit.
Did you know that Intel makes own-brand tablets, laptops and 2-in-1s? I’ve had a couple and they’re pretty good. The latest is built on the next-generation Core platform codenamed Skylake which is due in late 2015. Nicole Scott from Mobilegeeks got a close look at the prototype at Intel’s developer conference in Shenzen and I’ve just taken a look at a PDF presentation describing what’s inside. It’s inspirational, and that’s the idea because these products aren’t targeted at consumers, they are early showcases that are meant to stimulate product designers and software developers into creating the next-generation PCs that you and I might want to buy in 2016. Read-on to find about E-ink, WiGig, USB-C, wireless charging and other new technologies that you’ll find inside the Skylake reference design and might find in your next 2 in 1 tablet.
Skylake, the next generation Intel Core platform, has been teased a few times and it has usually been in conjunction with Intel’s ‘no wires’ marketing and 2-in-1 designs. I expect the platform to form part of a new Core M range (probably before any other laptop or desktop versions) and for it to be a big step forward in both processing capability and features. WiGig is coming of age as is USB-C but there are other technologies like wireless power, NFC and RealSense that Intel want to push. In a presentation at IDF 15 last week Intel even highlighted E-Ink secondary screens.
E-ink secondary screen on a tablet.
You’ll see it demonstrated in the video below but before you take a look at that, look at some of the details that Intel presented to attendees at IDF. The presentation PDF (available here but you might have to go through the session catalog here first) is titled “Integration of New Technologies for 2 in 1 Detachable Systems” and although it doesn’t directly reference Skylake, it’s clear that Intel are talking about next generation high-end architecture in the presentation.
Processor block diagram. Likely to be Skylake.
Note wireless charging in base.
Intel sees USB-C playing a big part in docking connectors for tablet and keyboards. In theory this could lead to some level of standardization. You might be able to plug a wireless charging keyboard into a tablet with a small USB-C cable, for example.
USB Type C can be used for docking keyboards to tablets.
The tablet internals showing RealSense camera, 34 Wh battery and more.
This ‘showcase’ doesn’t look as tidy as the new Macbook does on the inside but then the new Macbook doesn’t have RealSense, WiGig, GPS and (given that there’s a fan) a laptop-class processor in a dockable tablet design. Finally, there’s the wireless charging and WiGi to consider…
WiGig – Critical to Intel’s ‘no wires’ strategy.
Wireless charging on a 2-in-1.
Nicole Scott from Mobilegeeks got to take a look at the real thing at IDF 15 in Shenzen. Take a look at the video below and read Nicole’s article here. Let us know what you think of these new technologies in the comments below. Which of the features do you want first and how much are you prepared to pay?
Presented in a technical session at Intel’s IDF in Shenzen today were details about up-coming low-cost tablet and 2-in-1 platforms. The session covered a Core M reference design (used to make the Cube i7 low cost Core M tablet) and talked about the advantages of Atom X5 / X7. They also presented Brawsell as a solution for clamshells and 2-in-1s. Orchid Island is the reference design.
It’s build around a Celeron N3000 (Brawsell) and a target price of $299. For $299 – $349 Intel expects you to get a 1366 x 768 11.6-inch multitouch IPS screen with 64GB of eMMC storage and 4GB of RAM. A useful 37 Wh battery is included in the reference design.
There’s an HDMI port, USB 3.0 (Braswell does not support USB 3.1) and an SD card slot. The ‘lid’ weighs about 750 grams. The operating system could be Windows, Android or even Chrome OS. Battery life is said to be up to 11.5% better than systems built on previous generation (Baytrail M) processors.
We’ve previously seen most low-cost 2-in-1s being built on Baytrail-T (now X5 / X7) but it looks like Intel think that the Braswell platform can offer enough for the low-cost market. Lighter solutions with the longest battery life are possible with Atom X5 and X7 but at the end of day it’s the OEMs decision.
You are probably familiar with Intel’s NUC range of Mini PCs. They’ve been popular and now that Braswell is shipping you’re probably going to see a new range of them. Intel are also introducing a Mini Lake reference design that will be over 30% smaller. Beyond Mini Lake though is a proposal for a completely wire-free Mini PC. Meet the ‘no wire’ Mini PC.
Intel’s Braswell platform, the replacement for the Baytrail-M platform that you see in many Chromebooks and low-cost Windows laptops under the Pentium and Celeron brand, is now shipping to their customers. Intel claims that it will have 2X GPU performance and that 40 designs are in the pipeline.
Pay attention mobile computing fan, because the Intel Atom X3, X5 and x7 are looking good! Intel have just released more details at MWC.
We heard about the new Intel Atom naming scheme last week and it was fairly clear that Intel would be using the new designations on the 14nm Cherry Trail range of processors. Those processors (Z8000-series) are actually going to slot into the x5 and x7 ranges with Sofia (C3000-series with integrated 3G and/or LTE) sitting in the Intel Atom x3 slot. While all ‘x’ ranges could include Windows products it’s the x5 and x7 that will interest us more as the Cherry Trail architecture leans towards more productive, feature-full tablets and 2-in-1s. Intel have announced that 6 partners have products coming in the first half of 2015.
Here’s a round-up of the product types that Intel are aiming at.
Intel has revealed today that Cherry Trail comes in three variants. The Z8700 series will fit into the x7 range as the performance option with Z8500 and Z8300 dropping into the middle-range.
It’s not clear if x7 will also include more features than x5 but if you look at the key features that Intel are highlighting on Cherry Trail it would make sense if x7 were to host them.
RealSense is going to appear in both R100 form (post-processed selective focus, special effects as seen in the Dell Venue 8 7000) and R200 with real-time depth imaging. Intel Pro WiDi is highlighted too which means business-class WiDi (with more security features) comes into the Atom range. True Key is a facial recognition security feature that we suspect is only enabled by RealSense. We’ll check that for you over the coming hours and days.
The x5/x7 block diagram shows us that we’re still going to be stuck with eMMC as the storage interface but there’s a new audio processor which should improve battery life on video playback as it does on Core M products. HDMI 1.4b (4K/30 fps) is supported as are internal displays of up to 2K resolution.
The GPU gets an upgrade to Generation 8 and it looks like we might be into smooth Minecraft territory…
Those performance figures were based on the following products:
One the unanswered questions is battery life and TDP. We should be able to track that information down for you at MWC where we’re expecting to get hands-on with one or two demo systems and maybe even a product from the vendors listed above. In the meantime, here’s the round-up slide for Intel Atom x5 and x7:
Core M is a product borne of the feature that was Scenario Design Power (SDP) which itself was an extended ability to monitor and react to processor and product temperature by changing clockrates across CPU and GPU cores. I called it smoke and mirrors at the time because Intel never actually revealed what ‘scenario’ they were talking about. The scenario was actually a continuation of what Intel had done with the Ultrabook project. Touch, 2-in-1, responsive, mobile and, ultimately, fanless systems with Core-class features and enough power to cover mainstream users scenarios were to be the next generation consumer PC.
Early products based on the Y-series Core CPUs were poor. I remember testing the first Yoga 11S and seeing performance levels at half of what an Ultrabook could produce. A Fujitsu Q704 down-clocked by about 50% when you took it out of the keyboard dock to improve battery life and cut case temperature. A fanless HP Pro X2 410 was so sensitive to ambient heat that I could speed it up by pointing a desk fan at the rear of the tablet.
Like the Ultrabook project (which made us suffer with high prices before it finally worked out to be a game-changer,) the road to fanless has been rocky but were there now and Core M is exactly the marketing relaunch that Y-series and SDP needed.
Core M enables
Core M enables more than just new designs. It’s one of the smallest Core processors that Intel produce and with that comes cost reductions. It’s also a gift to designers as it reduces component count and allows flexibility in thermal design. It enables mainboards to sit close to other components. It reduces the need for big, expensive batteries.
In 2012 we were seeing 45 Wh batteries in Ultrabooks laptops but today’s Core M designs are based around a 35 Wh design and still offer over 5 hours of battery life. In 2007 it took 10-12 watts of energy to drive a web browsing experience. It’s now down to 5-6W now and if someone can work out how to cut the energy required by a screen backlight we’ll be down another 30%. Sealing a battery inside a casing also reduces the need for certified batteries casings and prevents people tinkering. Reducing support costs, shipping costs and storage costs are all part of the plan.
Ideally a consumer tablet is easy to hold and the tablet PCs of the past were a pathetic offering. The Samsung XE700 broke the mold in 2011 with a 826 gram 11.6-inch specification and since then we’ve seen 11.6-inch tablet weights come down to just over 700 grams. In the 10-inch space it’s reached 550 grams which is more than acceptable. As we move towards the removal of most physical ports, a further reduction in battery size, storage size and a slimming of the screen layers we’ll see larger tablets at the same human-friendly weight. With larger tablets comes more space to build a better keyboard and with Core M you reach a point where processing power is at the consumer PC level. Being able to deliver the perfect consumer tablet along with the most flexible operating system, the power to do everything and a keyboard that is as productive is possible is real 2-in-1. Bigger products generally command a higher price too so the 12.5-inch size we’re seeing are hitting the sweet spot in many ways.
The Acer Switch 12 shows us that there’s another generation to go before we hit all the sweet spots though. This low-cost design (plastics, styling, weight, size) is too heavy to be a consumer tablet but Acer have focused well on making this a very usable tablet in other ways. It’s a great laptop and if you have time you can think of some crazy ways to use it…
The digitizer brings in more tablet value and the removable wireless keyboard is simple but very, very effective. The Acer Aspire Switch 12 is a good product now and a true 2-in-1 that anyone would be happy to have as an office PC but just think about how the design could improve by being lighter and more stylish. This is a $699 laptop today with the power of a basic Ultrabook of 2013 that cost $999. You’ll see this at $649 or less soon and this time next year we’ll be talking about 20% improvements in power, battery life, weight and again, price. We might also be talking about a wire-free experience. That stand could turn into a removable WiGig breakout box.
A few years ago I bought an Acer W510. This Clovertrail-based 10-inch tablet was light but weak. It served well on holidays and I experimented with it as a desktop but for mainstream users it was far from the mark. Today we’ve reached a refinement called Core M that’s making 2-in-1’s extremely attractive as, well, a true 2-in-1. Windows 10 might just get the praise it needs too and if the Windows Store becomes a first-class citizen of the ‘apps’ world then the stars will align.
For me the stars have already aligned. I love the Switch 12 and I want to keep it. If I didn’t have a Surface Pro 3 here (on long-term loan from Intel) I’d probably order one. I’ve tested video encoding, gaming and I’ve seen some excellent AC WiFi speeds in my office. 20 MB/s file transfers from the local NAS? Yes please! It boots Ubuntu from a USB stick without issues and that’s a security bonus in my opinion. I love the ergonomic and presentation possibilities of the removable keyboard and digitizer. I adore the screen. Most of all I love how I can do everything I need without any noise whatsoever.
If you’re thinking about the Acer Aspire Switch 12 too then you need to remember that the ASUS Transformer T300 Chi is coming soon, for the same price. It’s likely to have a better keyboard and it will definitely have a lighter tablet. It will probably perform as well as the Switch 12 and it has a sensible clam-shell design. It looks a lot more stylish. The built-in stand on the Acer Switch 12 does it for me though and there’s one more thing you need to know. The Acer Switch 12 is more lappable than most laptops.
This Atom Z3745D-based HDMI dongle is ready to plug into your TV or monitor. It will be pre-installed with Windows 8.1 or Linux and has built-in WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity, 2GB of RAM, 32GB of on-board storage, a standard USB port and a micro SD card slot for extra storage. A Micro-USB port is also on board for power supply. Basically it’s a Baytrail-T tablet without the screen, battery and speakers.
CES is huge, scary, entertaining, unhealthy and informative all at the same time but I really wish I was there. The advantage of being in the office this year though is that even if it’s 3am I can wade through a ton of feeds to pick out relevant news items. Here are the news items I haven’t blogged in full today, Day 1 of CES 2015.