Intel's Windows 8 tablet specs omit some important details

Intel releases Windows 8 tablet system requirements, which underscore its determination to take on Apple's iPad. But there are still a bunch of unknowns

Intel has been showing off prototypes of a 10-inch Windows 8 tablet since their keynote at CES in early January. As widely hyped at that show, the Intel vision of a Windows 8 tablet includes the new "Clover Trail" flavor of Atom processor.

Last night in Beijing, according to Brooke Crothers at Cnet, Intel released a "long list of specifications" for new Windows 8 tablets. It isn't clear if the specs constitute a reference design or minimum hardware requirements, but they do point to a determined effort to take on Apple's iPad mano a mano.

The specific chip mentioned in the announcement, the Z2760, appears to be a "Clover Trail W" chip, although Intel hasn't provided details. The Z2760 was described last night as dual-core capable with burst mode and hyperthreading. The Z2760's lower-numbered sibling, the System-on-a-Chip Z2580 (which has been announced), has two cores, can handle four threads, runs at 1.3GHz -- up to 1.8GHz in power-hungry burst mode -- and couples with Imagination's PowerVR SGX 544MP2 graphics chip, which is similar to the PowerVR SGX543MP2 video chip used in the iPad 2. The 544MP2 supports Direct3D 9.3, which is the minimum set by Microsoft's Hardware Certification Requirements.

Acer and Lenovo have promised to bring "Clover Trail" Windows 8 tablets to market, as has HP. Asus' plans aren't known, but its CEO is on record saying he expects Windows 8 to "defeat iOS and become the mainstram platform of the tablet PC market."

Intel requires a battery life of 9-plus hours, which is comparable to the iPad 2. Maximum weight is 1.5 pounds (the new iPad weighs in at 1.44), maximum thickness is 9mm (new iPad is 9.4mm). The Intel spec calls for near-field communication, just like the new iPad. Starting to sound familiar?

I found it odd that Intel requires "3G/4G" -- presumably HSPA and LTE. That doesn't leave any wiggle room for a less-expensive Wi-Fi-only product. The Z2580 ships with an Intel XMM7160 chip, which supports 3GPP Release 9, HSPA+, and LTE. Perhaps Intel will require hardware manufacturers to use one of its communications chips as well.

The Intel spec also calls for Domain Join capability, encryption, Intel Wireless Display, and Wi-Fi Direct, a technology that makes it easy to set up an ad-hoc Wi-Fi network without a Wireless Access Point.

Intel in Beijing announced two form factors: 10-inch tablet only and 11-inch hybrid with a keyboard, presumably like the Asus Eee Pad Transformer or Dell Inspiron Duo.

What's missing? Plenty.

I/O ports stand out as a big open question. The Intel tablet at CES had one USB port, an HDMI port, SD card slot, an unidentified 10-pin connector, and a SIM card slot. No word on what ports the Intel machines will have -- if any.

There's also no report on display type or resolution. Presumably the minimum will run 1,366 by 768 at 32 bits, which is necessary for the Metro interface to operate properly. But beyond the basics, who knows? HD perhaps?

Microsoft's requirements include five hardware buttons: power, rotation lock, Windows key, volume up and down. Microsoft also requires Wireless LAN, Bluetooth 4.0, a camera that runs at least 720p, and a handful of sensors. There's no mention of any of those, but presumably they'll all be there.

Will Intel implement UEFI (Unified Extensible Firmware Interface) with the controversial Secure Boot as default? Another point not mentioned.

Perhaps Intel will release written specs in the near future. In the interim, we're left with a lot of guesses.

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