Just under a year ago, Microsoft announced it would once again bring ARM-based laptops and mobile devices to market running Windows 10. The last time MS tried to bridge the gap between its x86 OS and ARM CPUs it didn’t end well. Windows RT shipped on an underpowered tablet and consumers were confused by Windows RT’s seemingly identical appearance to standard Windows, despite the fact that it couldn’t run any standard Windows programs. Windows 10 Mobile obviously ran on ARM, but this is Microsoft’s first attempt to bring its OS back to mobile processors in a desktop form factor.
There are two new systems debuting today under the “Always Connected” brand — the Asus NovaGo 2-in-1 laptop, and the HP Envy x2 tablet. Both use Windows 10 S, the stripped down, locked down version of the operating system that can only run applications from the Windows Store (which, unfortunately, is sometimes the same as not being able to run applications).
The NovaGo (pictured above and again top) is a 13.3-inch system with a 1080p panel, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835, gigabit LTE with an x16 modem, 4GB or 8GB of RAM, and a $599 list price (for 64GB and 4GB of RAM) or $799 (for 256GB of storage or 8GB of RAM). It weighs in at a svelte 2.9 pounds. Asus rates the battery at 22 hours, though manufacturers tend to be downright generous with these assessments.
The HP Envy X2 has a 3:2 aspect ratio, weighs just 1.5 pounds, and has a 12.3-inch screen with a 3:2 aspect ratio and a 1920×1280 resolution. The Snapdragon 835 is the chip of choice here as well, and HP claims the battery will last 20 hours.
Both machines will emulate x86 code in software, which will inevitably come at some kind of performance and power consumption hit. Both systems can be upgraded to Windows 10 Pro if the customer desires. Early reports from sites like PCMag are positive…ish. The machines aren’t painfully slow the way Surface RT was, but no one had time to do an in-depth testing session. There were no glaring flaws in testing, but it wasn’t a resounding success, either.
AMD Announces Its Own Initiative
AMD, not to be left out, has announced its own Always Connected plans. AMD plans to work with Qualcomm to develop platforms compatible with its X16 modem to provide gigabit LTE service in a mobile form factor. Any AMD system built under the Always Connected moniker will obviously differ from the Snapdragon 835 in some important ways. We’d expect these systems to be much faster than your typical Snapdragon 835 — AMD’s Ryzen can clock up to 3.6GHz compared with a 2.2GHz clock for the 835, and AMD has the advantage of running native x86 code. Even an excellent emulator is going to give up some performance and power efficiency relative to running native code, and that further favors AMD.
The other major difference between the Snapdragon 835 and an AMD Ryzen processor is their TDPs. HP and Asus are building exceedingly small systems with very low TDPs and in HP’s case, no fan at all. AMD doesn’t really play in these spaces and has shown no signs it intends to do so in the near future. Its Ryzen 5 2500U has a 15W nominal TDP (it can be configured to run in a 25W TDP envelope). Is it possible that there’s a Ryzen 3 or ultramobile Ryzen 7 in the works that would hit a 5-10W TDP? Definitely — but such a device would have to give up the clock speed and GPU horsepower that AMD’s larger, more powerful chips bring to the table.
It’ll be interesting to see what kind of devices Intel challenges with, if it mounts a challenge at all. With its low-power Atom devices generally cancelled, it’s possible Chipzilla will either roll its own option with an Intel modem and a higher TDP (taking a similar approach to AMD) or continue to focus on up-market ultrabooks, whose sales are still growing year-on-year, even if the wider PC market has been slightly down again in 2017.