Next month Intel will launch its next-generation Atom processor aimed at tablets and other devices running Windows 8. Code-named Clover Trail, the new dual core processors will be faster than the Medfield chips starting to pop up in smartphones, and they’ll offer better graphics performance.
But they’re still low-power chips designed to offer all-day battery life. In other words, you’ll get iPad-like battery life on a tablet designed to run the full Windows 8 operating system.
Part of the magic comes from a new power state called S0ix or “active idle.” When a computer is in this state, it will use 20 times less power than when it’s “on” and idling.
But unlike sleep and hibernate modes, when a computer is in S0ix it will be connected to the internet, which lets you receive incoming notifications. You’ll also be able to resume from active idle nearly instantaneously, much the way ARM-based phones and tablets seem to turn on instantly when you press the power button — because they were never really off.
Active idle will also be part of Intel’s upcoming Haswell chips, which are the fourth-generation Core family products due out in 2013. But it will shower up first in Clover Trail CPUs this fall.
In terms of pure processing power, an Intel Atom Clover Trail chip probably won’t be much more powerful than the N2600 and N2800 Cedar Trail chips used in netbooks today. But since Clover Trail was designed to play well with Windows 8, it will take advantage of new features in the operating system to balance performance and battery life — and Clover Trail tablets might feel faster than existing netbooks, much the way an iPad or Android tablet can sometimes feel like it’s faster than a notebook, even if it actually has a slower CPU.
I’m still looking forward to spending some quality time with a Clover Trail system, but the HP Envy X2 I got a chance to play with recently certainly didn’t feel sluggish. If it can really get up to 10 hours of battery life and if it’s sold for a reasonable price, Clover Trail chips might help Windows 8 tablets fill a middle ground between ARM-based tablets and higher-priced computers with high performance x86 chips.