New chips will revive the laptop

New chips will revive the laptop
Microsoft Surface Pro 3.

Many of my friends and colleagues are very excited about Microsoft's Surface Pro 3.

I think it's a decent product, but I have yet to be convinced that the 2-in-1 tablet and laptop hybrid deal makes sense. Furthermore, the limited Windows app store constrains buyers' appetite for Windows tablets.

However, Windows laptops are still in demand because we all continue to need Windows laptops for work and everyday computing. This is why Asus created hybrids that work as Windows laptops and Android tablets, effectively putting two computers into one device.

At times, the hybrid concept still seems like a gimmick to me. I would rather have two separate devices, each the best in its class.

There is another reason for Surface fans to hold on to their money for a while longer: Intel's upcoming Core M chip, an energy-efficient processor based on the new Broadwell architecture.

Laptops and hybrids that run on it will be lighter, slimmer and have a longer battery life, with a small - so one hopes - compromise. They will not be as powerful as full-fledged mainstream Intel processors, but they will have more muscle than low-cost Atoms.

Earlier in June, Intel showcased a prototype tablet running on Intel Core M which was only 7.3mm thick, or thinner than the 7.5mm Apple iPad Air.

The big deal here is that devices running on the Core M will be fanless - which explains why Asus is launching its new 13-inch Zenbook UX305 (1.2kg/12.3mm) compared with the current MacBook Air 13 (1.35kg/17mm).

Lenovo's new Helix convertible laptop is 12 per cent lighter and 15 per cent thinner than an earlier model. At 1.67kg and just 20mm thick, the new Helix is slim and light for a convertible hybrid. But, as I said earlier, it is still no match for a pure-play laptop such as the Zenbook which is unencumbered by the need for a heavy touchscreen and powerful hinges for stability.

HP showed off its Surface Pro 3 clone in Berlin last week. Its new HP Envy X2 has a fabric cover cum keyboard and an adjustable kickstand, just like the Surface Pro 3, and runs on Intel's Core M. These thin-and-light laptops and hybrids using Intel Core M will hit the stores from as early as next month.

By the time you read this, Apple's highly anticipated media event in California, which was due to start at 10am yesterday, (1am Singapore time today), should have ended. The swirling rumour cloud had centred on bigger iPhones, bigger iPads and possibly even the iWear smartwatch.

But Apple's choice of the Flint Center in Cupertino as venue, seemed to me to point elsewhere. Flint Center, it should be remembered, was where its late great co-founder Steve Jobs unveiled the first Macintosh in 1984, as well as the first iMac in 1998 after his triumphant return to Apple.

It seems to me that the killer devices might well be new Mac laptops running on the new Intel Core M processors. Or maybe even a hybrid of an iPad and a Mac?

For too long now, the rise of touchscreen tablets and hybrids has pushed laptops out of the limelight. But for me, anyone who needs to work on-the-go will always have a need for a thin and light 12-inch or 13-inch clamshell laptop with a quality non-touch matte screen, a great keyboard and long battery life.

Tablets with detachable keyboards had stolen some of the shine, but thin-and-light laptops might finally be sexy again this year with the new Intel Core M processors.

ginlee@sph.com.sg

This article was published on Sept 10 in Digital Life, The Straits Times.

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