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.

win10 license

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.

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68 replies on “This is why you don’t see cheap Windows devices with 8GB of RAM (specs for cheap Windows licenses)”

  1. To get around high cost, depending on needs, companies could just buy tablets 7″-9″ with a charge port and a USB port. Hook up to hub and monitor – free windows, sometimes even free office.

  2. Ram is extremely cheap and should be mandatory to have double of the minimum memory windows tablets have now.I have a very expensive tablet and only 4 gb of ram.It makes you wonder if money were ever well spent on a mobile device . Microsoft wants both productivity and weak rams which are unable to be upgraded. In the meantime android phones are preparing 6 gb of ram on freaking candy crush and facebook capable machines. What a bloody joke.

  3. Max 32 GB SSD/eMMC is the real problem. This makes the devices almost unusable with windows over time. Annoying updates (not enough free space) and the necessity to check / free the the file system on regular bases.

    1. Nope the problem is the 2GB of RAM. I have a Lenovo Yoga with 2GB of RAM and 32GB eMMC. The storage I can live with but the lack of RAM means that even browsing causes the machine to groan. The cursor becomes Uncontrollable and the touchscreen becomes a ferociously tapscreen. And yes I have tried various browsers with no addons installed.

      1. From my experience the problem is the flash plugin both on chromium and on firefox. video just kills the 2GB machines.

  4. I bet this doesn’t have much to do with why cheap notebooks are crap. I bet typically OEM licenses go for the same price.

    1. I like that! Percentage of retail price up until a certain amount.

  5. All good reasons to avoid buying Windows machines. Like they say about gambling: the house always wins. But, I often see low midrange traditional style Windows desktops and laptops that are probably upgradeable; its the ultrabooks, netbooks, phones and tablets (you know, the stuff that’s in style) where you pay high premiums for moderate spec increases.

    1. Microsoft killed the WinTel PC with Windows 8. Like Vista wasn’t bad enough, Geez!

  6. It seems ridiculous (and shortsighted) that Microsoft is even charging for *home* editions of their OS. These OSes are surveillance-based, data-mining machines built for the benefit (at minimum) of extracting ad dollars from the great unwashed and ignorant masses.

    License fees make sense for the elitist few who are priviledged with privacy.

    1. Do it yourself gamers might want to buy Microsoft Windows Home. They’re sure to buy the OEM version (the legality of which is dubious). Were I a gamer, I’d just buy a decent Windows desktop and a graphics card.

  7. Just move on to Linux, choose a bright side!
    Writed in Ubuntu, and yeah, this a way more freedom here.

    1. These machines fail real badly on Linux – the vast bulk of the drivers are missing.

      1. Vast bulk missing drivers? Maybe 10 years ago. Things have improved majorly over the last few years.

        1. I’m not so sure. If for majority desktops it’s true, for laptops it’s more complicated: bright control, FN buttons, sleep/hibernate issues, fan control, internal/discrete GPU switch (hello Bumblebee), some proprietary issues with “upgraded” graphics by OEM (when OEM re-label AMD/nVidia graphics and change their ROM, so, only OEM’s drivers works fine) – it’s small part of issues, which I had met on Linux with laptops.

          There are also a models which works fine under Linux, but they are, often, far more costly.

  8. I was more than happy to pay extra for my 2016 Dell Venue 8 Pro (a “small tablet”) to get the 4GB of RAM and 64GB eMMC. If I could have gotten a better CPU and 8GB, I would have coughed up the extra bucks including a Windows license fee. Unfortunately, high end small tablets are a dying breed. Sort of like high end small smart phones.

  9. 32gb of storage is a joke. Windows Bloatware fills up most of that after Patch Tuesday. I’ll never buy one of these low spec devices with only 32gb of storage.

    1. 20gb free with Windows 10, and the days when windows would grow with updates are over.

      Though 64gb devices are cheap enough, so there’s no reason to complain.

      1. Well, it depends on the user… Mainly, it depends on whether they are comfortable juggling their files around, know how to use a microSD or external drive to expand options, redirect folders, etc., and whether they have apps and data that needs lots of space…

        While not every Windows 10 system is properly set up by the OEM and that can mean less than 20GB of free space even with nothing else installed… Mind also OEM bloatware…

        So 64GB is the better minimum, mind Solid State memory works most efficiently when the drive is at least half empty and helps maximize drive life, with 128GB being the comfortable range for everyone short of those who need to store lots of data, like a large movie collection in Blu-Ray to 4K quality range…

        But yeah, it seems some people cling to the last decades worth of issues regardless of whether they’re still issues or not…

    1. Yes, but that means the product can’t be as thin & light and it will cost the OEM a tiny bit more… Something the OEMs try to avoid…

      Unfortunately, everything from mobile devices to Ultrabooks are pushing away from user upgrade-ability and towards having just about everything soldered… Even to the point it’s not always a option to even change the battery…

      1. more consumerism = more waste = more $$ for manufacturers. Perhaps its time to enforce regulations on upgradability to help curb some e-waste

  10. Is the ram limitation what the product ships with, or what it could be upgraded to? (And yes I know many of these devices cannot be upgraded.)

    1. Ship with, but yeah it’s the upgrade issue…

      Like with Netbooks, pretty much everyone just upgraded the RAM to 2GB even though they came with 1GB… On some systems that meant 3GB total as the 1GB was soldered but they still offered a RAM slot…

      So it’s a as sold configuration limitation but then it remains to what options are left as to whether those specs are set in stone or not…

    1. They don’t advertise but usually around $50-$70, depending on version between Home to Pro… Though, companies that can make volume license deals can get them for less but they have to be sure they can sell that many systems… along with other subsidized pricing discounts like for education market, etc.

      But there are other marketing factors, like OEM’s tend to try to target specific price ranges to increase the likelihood the product will sell but these tend to jump in price. So often either/or between say $249-$349 to just under $500… Can also vary upon region and local practices and external factors like VAT, etc.

      For devices using mobile hardware like eMMC, LP-DDR3 RAM, etc. then there’s also market practice of using storage capacity to leverage pricing for profit margins… For Android this can be anywhere from $30 to $50 premium for what would be a $8 to $16 price difference in hardware cost… For Apple this can go up to $100 premium… and the same OEMs will use the same practice on Windows tablets, etc.

      So we can add the MS guidelines to the pile of things that give us these lopsided prices and typically limited spec choices…

      1. It most definitely does NOT cost 15-20$ for Pro. CyberGusa is right.

  11. but then those devices you can buy now are mostly with 2GB RAM… not 4GB

    so i don’t think that this is the most important point holding people back from including better hardware.

    It might cripple the devices that are planned now and buyable in 1-2 years, but not the current ones.

    1. Newer products being announced now have started to offer 4GB RAM… The 32GB eMMC remains a solid limitation, however…

      1. It may be not so painful, if there was a SSD (M.2, PCI-e, or SATA), which could be upgraded instead of soldered eMMC

        1. SSDs can be soldered too and there’s a significant price and size difference…

          A SSD is a multi-chip drive that can offer very high performance but will use more space, cost more, and won’t be as power efficient…

          Versus the eMMC, which is a single chip solution designed and optimized for mobile use. It’s can’t offer as much performance but it’s tiny, cheap, and very low power usage.

          Mind the push for making things thin & light, with target range costs and it seems eMMC will be around for awhile… While general user upgradeability may rely on some ifixit skills in many cases as even with upgradeable SSDs, the system casing may not make it easy to access…

          Though, there are better performing alternatives coming out that’ll compete with eMMC and there’s still some effort for modular designs… And the push away from mobile helps…

          So there’s some hope, but for most we’ll be stuck with preinstalled configurations for awhile longer… At least on the low end…

          1. Well, if we are talking about laptops, not tablets, there are plenty room there to put SSD. I had Asus EEE PC back in 2008… I have a newer (slimmer) model of laptop, there are 7mm drive.
            About “single chip”, it could be done as single [ROM] chip with mSATA and M.2 – both socketable, light and compact – very compact to put them even in tablets, no word about laptops.
            So, this not about cents which OEM could save, this about thick pack of bucks, which OEM could earn, when OEM sell extra 32 GB with 100% premium margin (as Apple. They all want to do business like these greedy guys).

          2. Eee PCs were part of the pre-solder everything trend started, though it started before the end of netbooks…

            Anyway, you’re trying to argue something that I’m all for but the problem is what works for the OEMs who make these products…

            A 7mm SSD is still multiple times larger than a eMMC and price only has to be a few dollars for the OEM to choose the cheaper options because it adds up when you consider they’re making and selling millions of units… Even pennies can add up in that scale…

            Really, the problem is not convincing users but the OEMs…

            The eMMC is a single chip that can fit onto a board you could put into a small phone, etc.

            Soldered saves the OEM money, and also space that helps allow for thinner designs… Less materials, etc. And helps make the product more durable, which saves on support costs, etc.

            It’s true that this is less a issue for laptops vs tablets but between price, Ultrabook design mentality, and secondary costs (support, etc) it still leans in eMMC usage or the OEM solders a SSD and we still have a upgrade issue…

            Mind also, without easy access panels not everyone is willing to disassemble their system to upgrade parts…

            Larger laptops aren’t the issue, unless it’s a Ultrabook, but we basically have to convince the OEMs that giving more options on the smaller product won’t cost them even though it traditionally has…

            Thus efforts like modular designs are trends we should support… But it won’t change overnight, unfortunately…

    2. Indeed – there are low end devices that have 64gb of storage (so obviously don’t come under these rules) but 2gb RAM.

  12. Effectively the same as they did with the XP for netbooks license, that along with the Intel requirements for Atom ended up turning every last netbook into a clone.

    1. Except those were even lower spec limitations… Even Windows 7 Starter Edition imposed a 1GB RAM limitation… The Netbook ATOMs technically supported up to 4GB of RAM with dual RAM slots and could recognize more even if it wasn’t usable but they imposed such limitations to keep the costs low and minimalize the threat they posed to their higher priced products that provided them much larger profit margins.

      This is a little different now because they basically compartmentalize to direct subsidizing only to parts of the market they wanted to leverage to better compete against competition from mobile hardware products but is also similar in that they don’t want it to effect their higher profit margin product ranges.

      1. Ouch! Windows 7 with only 1GB of RAM — that computer would have been just about worthless for anything other than maybe word processing and printing from word processing documents, even going online with that computer would have been just about impossible. At least computer stores (at least in my area) were passing out CD-ROM copies of Open Office back then so people wouldn’t have needed to connect to the internet to install it. You would have still needed an external USB stick or hard drive with them, too as many only had 8 or 16GB of HDD-like storage (although I recall one netbook having a 160GB HDD back then).

        1. Not quite that horrible, but yeah… There was a reason upgrading to 2GB was the number one netbook upgrade but it was cheap to do… With a SSD upgrade being pricier but still usually worth it upgrade… While users developed ways to make Windows leaner and a bit faster with tweaks…

          Even XP had nlite and other tweaks and Linux distros like Puppy Linux specifically optimized for netbooks because of those limitations but they were fun for power users who liked to tweak and push limits just for fun… Even soldered components wasn’t safe from mods…

          Users today seem to be pretty different but it’s a different market now… And hardware needs to be more capable out of the box…

          1. That is true, Cyber. Puppy Linux would probably have run quite well on a 2008-era netbook. I don’t recall how well developed Puppy was back then but even nowadays installing it isn’t for the average person. As for the new cheap computers and their processors, it might take a year for Linux developers to write adequate drivers for them but I would guess within that time it will become possible to install a mainstream Linux distro (likely the most popular being Lubuntu) on them. Even with the last version there was a workaround to make a 32 bit Linux distro install and run with a UEFI. We are getting into areas of computing that 95% of computer users don’t have a clue about, though.

        2. I still have a running dell mini that came with Win7 starter and 1GB ram. I upgraded to 2GB and recently went to win10. It works just fine for light use and I haven’t thrown in a spare ssd yet. To be honest I really only need access to a windows PC for work any more. Right now I’m getting the most mileage out of a refurbished chromebook and an external monitor.

      1. You think? I don’t. I was studied in university, and because of microsoft’s somenamed program, all students were capable to get Windows Server for free… while normally, Window Server with all modules costs a fortune (in our country it is)… the same with MS SQL Server… and a lot of other software. You see, in our digital age, fair costs of bits information, just above bandwitch and price of local storage. Cents.
        So, while somebody paid a fortune for this license (very strictfull one, you know, EULA a bit more thickier than a normal book), somebody gets it for free.
        While you can get some Linux distrib for free… both for personal and for commercial purposes.

        1. Our university also had a similar deal though it only extended to the computer science department. Here’s the kicker though, those deals cost money, pretty crazily high amounts of it too.

          I later worked for a cloud hosting company and we needed a similar license so customers could get pre-licensed Windows VMs and the costs were something like £50/yr for each licensed copy of windows running concurrently. Scale that up to a university with 50,000 people and that’s £2.5 million gone to Microsoft.

          Just because you don’t see the cost doesn’t mean it isn’t being paid. Unfortunately the cost of ‘free’ windows 10 is crippled machines that won’t last beyond a couple of years so enforce an upgrade cycle again to boost the PC market’s sales figures.

          1. Edu licenses are a lot cheaper, especially if bought in quantity and even cheaper with an unwritten agreement to make sure all classes are taught based on Microsoft technology. Note that Edu licenses can never be used for any commercial purpose. So a student leaving university with a sack of Windows Server and other premium software can’t use it to start a business. It is strictly for schoolwork.

        1. without income, how do you purpose a company keep on improving a product on a global scale?

  13. Good to know, in the end The Wintel alliance is alive and well to screw us…this is why my next purchase is going to be chromebook with Android support runnning on ARM!

    1. No, it’s a mistake to assume it’s just Intel and MS… Intel doesn’t impose these limitations and supports multiple OS besides Windows. While you’ll have the exact same problem with AMD based products too! Along with any ARM devices running Windows 10 Mobile…

      It’s just a issue between the OEMs and MS that attempts to protect their high profit margin products from the low profit margin products, which also ties into how the OEMs try to leverage profit margins with premium pricing of storage options…

      Everything from a Google Nexus to a Windows device charges a premium for more eMMC storage!

    2. These rules only apply if you’re a cheapskate on the licence fee. I don’t mind paying for my operating system.

    3. It’s not like the Google-ARM monopoly is any better, to be fair Chromebooks are no more powerful than this devices but sometimes more expensive. And let alone Android, where smartphones cost twice or thrice the value it should really cost.

    4. Yes, they should charge full boat for every license on every system. That way they wouldn’t be screwing us! /sarc

    5. I’m quite happy with a chromebook with intel celeron N2840. On the list for future Android support but still waiting.

  14. This isn’t news. The problem I see here in Indonesia is NOT the Micro$oft restrictions, the problem is the laptop manufacturers all practicing the same Evil Marketing game when it comes to affordable machines:

    1. Hardware cripple the SDRAM to 2GB maximum soldered on board (impossible to upgrade).
    2. Bundle 64-bit Windows 10 only, NEVER 32-bit Windows 10 (or any other Windows versions).
    3. Supply drivers for 64-bit Windows 10 only, NEVER 32-bit Windows 10 (or any other OS at all).
    4. Pick drivers that make it impossible (or at least very hard) to install 32-bit Windows or Linux.
    4. Finally, DOUBLE THE PRICE of any machine that deviates upwards (even slightly) from the above specifications.

    So – You buy a new $220 laptop locally that comes pre-loaded with 64-bit Win10 from say, Lenovo. Then you find that 2GB is too small to really use the machine productively. Then you find you have Zero hardware upgrade or alternate driver options. Then you discover that all the new machines you can buy locally that have identical (or nearly identical) specifications, but 4GB SDRAM instead of 2GB go for $450 (and more!) Yup, you have pay $230 additional just to get a measly 2GB more SDRAM! So, you say screw it and try to install 32-bit Linux Mint instead, and find the wireless chipset is hopelessly broken (along with power management too), and that’s if you’re lucky enough to get past the ugly UEFI Troll!

    Yeah, Micro$oft’s draconian license practces suck. But the laptop manufacturers are even worse!

    1. There’s one big advantage to 64bit windows 10 over 32bit older windows: The linux subsystem 😀

      1. Hmmm… I’m not sure I quite get your reply. Maybe you’re referring to the Linux-like shell that’s supposedly in Win10 (he he, try using it to run rkhunter?) Or maybe you’re referring to all the BSD licensed Unix code Micro$oft (like Apple) has shamelessly “lifted” for its own closed OS over the years?

        If Win10 is like Win8 & Win7, I’m pretty sure the Win10 64-bit version has at least one major advantage over 32-bit Win10 – better security.

    2. So you want laptop manufacturers to slum it with a 32 bit Windows, just to accommodate your desire to run a 32 bit Linux distro?

      1. No at all. You either didn’t fully read and/or fully comprehend my post. Try again.

          1. If you have less than 4gb of ram there is absolutely zero reason to run 64bit windows none. And people run Linux on high end systems too because of preference. Some prefer that operating system and the concept behind the open standard.

      2. Nobody install 32 bits Linux today on x86, but people with very old hardware where even Windows 7 could not run. There is 32 bit layer for some 32 bits only applications like those of Windows and 32bit version of Wine.

      3. 32bit windows will function quite happily on these machines giving decent speeds. I have one of these latest Lenovo Yoga things with the 2gb of RAM and even browsing is painful. I do mean cursor being close to uncontrollable not long loading times. There is not enough RAM to run a 64nit OS.

  15. Well it’s an improvement over the earlier 2GB limit. And I’m pretty sure that says greater than or equal to 17″, so it has to be larger.

    1. True, but the 32GB is considered very limiting to most regular Windows users. Mind, unlike mobile OS, Windows uses up a lot more of that 32GB and leaves very little room for apps and data storage.

      While options to put extra storage on microSD card aren’t automatic enough and with usually only one card reader is still limiting despite fairly large capacities available enough, along with random issues like whether the card sticks out or not…

      64GB and 4GB would be better minimums for Windows but 4GB and 128GB would be when it stops being a issue for most people…

      The market is heading that way but may be another year or two and that’s a pain waiting for these changes…

    2. This is an improvement. 4GB will allow for a better browsing experience since Chrome is a RAM hog. This keeps cheap windows devices in striking distance of Raspberry Pie and similar devices. Having an Enterprise grade OS within reach of regular folks has its advantages. Yeah, windows locks out a lot of the the enterprise stuff (Like booting VHDs) at the Home level… but its there, you just have to know how to enable it.

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