What If: Surface RT Did Not Take The ARM Route?

With the looming arrival of Surface with Windows 8 Pro tablet, the Surface RT has had ample time in the sunshine to finally be judged. Latest estimates put Surface RT sales number at 1 million units (since its October 2012 launch) while most analysts expected Microsoft to shift twice as many.

What went wrong? We take a look at various what-if scenarios in this short series.


At CES 2011 Microsoft made an announcement that it is expanding its mobile horizons and Windows 8 will run on ARM platforms. While ARM-based architecture offers several advantages, the two most notable ones are that it brings high performance with minimal power consumption.

There is no denying ARM-based processors have made the smartphones and tablet market their own. In fact, in 2011 alone 7.9 billion ARM chips were produced, powering everything from smartphones to HDTVs. In fact, 95% of smartphones shipped that year made use of the British company’s solution.

Then again, it is hard to deny that this new fragment of Windows powered by ARM is underwhelming when it comes to performance and a giant step back when you are talking about compatibility — one of the reason why you see limited developer support, and few premium games available for Windows RT.

Ultimately it became an operating system that was snugged between Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8, but offering little advantages of either.

The perfect option here would have been the newer version of Intel’s Atom platform, Clover Trail, which in most benchmarks beats solutions from ARM quite handily. Or even AMD’s Hondo platform that comes with a highly capable Radeon GPU capable of running graphic intensive games.

In short, both platforms provide better performance more importantly both boast excellent battery life (9 hours for Clover Trail and 8 for Hondo), but more importantly, both offer low-power x86 compatibility. Plus both platforms are set to feature in a number of tablets this year.

Besides, when you have a library of millions of programs, you do not want to throw away the compatibility factor so easily, particularly when the hardware Microsoft has created is so refined.

Sure, given time, native Windows 8 apps (ones that made use of the Metro UI) would have slowly found their place in this new ecosystem Microsoft plans to create, but going the x86 route would at least have ensured that developers (and even end users) would have had one less thing to worry about.

A $500 x86-compatible, graphically-capable slate from Microsoft? Who would say no to that?

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