Reports: Microsoft Surface Mini to feature ARM CPU, stylus support

How does Microsoft plan to make its upcoming Surface mini tablet stand out from other small, cheap Windows tablets like the Dell Venue 8 Pro and Asus VivoTab Note 8?

If reports making the rounds this week are true, it seems Microsoft’s tablet will be powered by an ARM processor, run Windows RT software, and come bundled with OneNote and a digital pen for note-taking functionality.

onenote

OneNote

To be fair, OneNote is free for everyone these days, and both Dell and Asus offer digital pens for their tablets. But neither of those devices has an ARM chip… they have Intel Bay Trail processors and run the full version of Windows 8.1.

So umm… yeah, I guess that Surface Mini will stand out. It just remains to be seen if it’ll do that in a positive way.

When Microsoft started working on Windows RT, ARM-based chips were way ahead of Intel and AMD chips when it came to power consumption. If you wanted all-day battery life without a 2 pound battery, ARM was the way to go. But Intel has done a pretty good job of catching up to ARM in power consumption, and its chips have the benefit of x86 architecture, which means that in addition to new “Modern” Windows apps, you can run classic Windows desktop apps on a device with an Intel Bay Trail chip.

Of course, most of those apps will be hard to navigate on a tiny 8 inch touchscreen display, so it’s not likely that you’re going to want to run a lot of software designed for a desktop system on a small Windows tablet… but you can if you want to, and if you plug in an external display, keyboard, mouse, or other peripherals, you might really want to.

Still, Microsoft put a lot of time and money into developing Windows RT, so it’s not surprising that the company is trying to produce another device running the software in hopes of kick-starting the platform. If Microsoft doesn’t launch any new Windows RT devices, who will?

Anyway, Neowin and WindowsITPro are both reporting that Microsoft will tout a “high quality” stylus for the Surface mini and the company will offer a click-in case with a built-in kickstand. The tablet is expected to hit the streets in June.

  • Grant Russell

    *Thumbs down/fart noise* It must be a very low end Arm chip to justify the cost/power savings over a Bay-trail chip. I don’t know the exact numbers, but I’m certain the Z3xxx atom chips compare very well performance/power-wise with the higher end Arm chips.

    • http://www.liliputing.com/ Brad Linder

      Yeah, I suspect it’s not because Microsoft thinks an ARM chip would be *better* so much as the company has already invested a lot into developing Windows RT and wants to give it another try.

      • Grant Russell

        A fair explanation. If this is some sort of attempt to compete with some of the cheap $150 android tablets, then I am very much onboard. I’ve been warming up to the idea of Windows RT, but I have had the perception that Microsoft was ‘winding-down’ on the RT stuff. This is a good sign, I suppose. To be honest, I would be more likely to buy Nokia-style 8-inch tablet, than a Surface-style 8-inch tablet.

      • Rex Xu

        I get Windows laptops for the ubiquitous amount of software available for PCs, It would be worth the extra money if their tablets could do the same… I couldn’t care less about the style (although if a L1620 had Windows 8.1 Pro, it would be the perfect tablet for me)

      • ssimo

        Yep. Throwing good money after bad. Accountants call it “sunk cost”, no point chasing sunk cost especially when the market has clearly signaled non-interest in RT.

      • Rex Xu

        I still think that developing RT on ARM was the worst idea Microsoft had. With pre existing relations with Intel, a heavily stripped down version of Windows 8 would have sufficed on even the first generation of Atom chips and would blaze on current Baytrails

  • BoloMKXXVIII

    Wow. If I wait just a short time I can pick one of these up for a song and place it on the shelf right next to the Playbook.
    This is such a bad idea. How much money is Microsoft going to throw away? Another RT tablet, possibly selling off Xbox (their foot hold into IPTV), Windows8, Kin, etc.

    • Rex Xu

      I feel like RT is only getting a bad reputation because it is so often compared to full windows. It’s important to consider RT runs on ARM and has only a fraction of the processing power available on modern devices running Windows 8. Everything has to start someone, and I’m glad companies try to venture into the “filled” tablet market place (which the only real competitors right now are high-end Android tablets and iPads). Give RT a few more years to develope, it might be pretty profitable.

  • nate

    I have been really enjoying windows 8.1 as a tablet OS since I got my Dell Venue 8 Pro(referb for $160), but Microsoft better be willing to just give away, and I am talking under $100, an 8 inch Windows RT tablet if they expect it to sell at all.
    If they are smart they will do just that: Make them cheap and flood the market with them. People will buy them just to mess around with if them, and that will mean more demand for apps, and that means that the store starts taking off. Hell sell the first 25,000 of them for $50 and the Windows Store will explode.

  • bodo

    If MS plans on merging RT with 8 where desktop apps compiled
    specifically for 8 can be run (I can live without compatibility with
    legacy non-maintained software) then I’d get it. Otherwise, I hope a
    “pro” version comes out with a Bay Trail T chip.

  • George

    Microsoft can make a go of this, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the device
    lhad a lsit price of $250. They could make it successfu if

    – they sold it for $99
    – they included full Word and Excel in addition to OneNote
    – they included a Wacom active digitizer and stylus pen,
    with a silo in the device for the pen
    – they included the ability to run Android apps
    – they provided 1 full size USB 3.0 port with host capability,
    and 1 microUSB charging/slave port
    – they sold a keyboard dock with ports, hard disk and battery for
    a reasonable price
    – they added the ability to play older Xbox 360 games, even
    if slowly

    Sure, they’d lose a few billion, but they would be king of the tablet mountain..
    They plan to lose billions anyway, might as well have something to show for it.

    • Rex Xu

      They would never support Android apps. If they did, developers will have less of an incentive to invest on their platform. And price is very subjective, while you claim reasonably priced, I can not see a device you are suggesting to cost only $99. You can’t even buy a decent smartphone with that price range, what you suggest is closer to the functionality of a kindle (paperwhite, not fire)

  • murble

    Paul Thurrot thinks there may be two devices revealed. Im going to throw my guess into the ring.

    Surface Mini – $199 – $249 Tegra 4 1280×800 7″ screen 32GB

    Surface Mini Pro – $399 – Baytrail 1920×1200 8″ screen

    • Rao

      I’m hoping for a Pro version. I think the Modern UI is great for my tablet usage but I still want to run desktop apps with no real Modern UI equivalent (not even for iOS and Android) enough to not want RT.

    • jm2c

      I’m in with this idea. I think RT makes sense for a lot of consumers, but think that full Windows 8 on Intel also makes a lot of sense.

    • Rex Xu

      with that high dpi for a 8 inch device (Surface mini pro), I can’t really see it used as a note taking device, it would be much to demanding on battery and processing power. 7 inch screen at 1280×800 would be fine, but include a baytrail and 8.1 pro that would be perfect.

  • Chris

    I’m interested. I know RT isn’t the greatest, but I think it’s workable and I know a few people who have the original Surface and are happy with it. 8 inches is the sweet spot for me so I’m interested, throw in pen support and I’m really interested!

    • Rex Xu

      Yup. I can see 7 and 8 inch devices running RT working pretty well. Full windows 8 applications don’t function well on 10.1 inches let alone 7.