Microsoft offers Windows licenses for free to makers of tablets with 9 inch or smaller displays… but the company also offers deep discounts for makers of low-end notebooks, 2-in-1 devices, stick PCs, and all-in-one desktops.
So if you’ve ever wondered why all cheap Windows devices seem to have extraordinarily similar specs, here’s the answer: because in order to qualify for a Windows license that costs $30 or less, they need to agree to specific hardware guidelines. Not only does using cheaper hardware help keep the price of a device low… but it also helps keep the software price low.
CNX Software has published a spec sheet that provides device makers guidance on which hardware qualifies.
In a nutshell, to qualify as an entry-level device, most systems need to have a “low end CPU” such as an Intel Atom processor, no more than 4GB of RAM and no more than 32GB of SSD or eMMC storage.
They shouldn’t have hard drives or optical disc drives. And 2-in-1 tablets should have 11.6 inch or smaller displays, while laptops should have 14.1 inch or smaller screens.
All-in-one desktops need to have 17 inch or smaller screens. And Stick PCs should (obviously), have no display.
Interestingly mini-desktop PCs which are larger than an Intel Compute Stick-sized device aren’t on the list at all… which CNX says helps explain why companies like Pipo and Gole are starting to put out mini-desktop computers with touchscreen displays: they qualify as Windows tablets and get cheap or free licenses.