Here Come the Intel-Powered Always-Connected PCs

Posted on January 8, 2018 by Paul Thurrott in Microsoft, Mobile, Windows 10 with 13 Comments

A month ago, we thrilled to news of new Qualcomm-powered Always-Connected PCs. But with CES underway this week in Las Vegas, Intel is promoting what promises to be a much bigger market of devices: Always-Connected PCs based on its x86 hardware platform.

As you may recall, I feel that Always-Connected PCs are the future of the mainstream Windows PC platform. These PCs bring mobile device advantages like great battery life, instant-on, and cellular data connectivity to users of Windows.

But there is some confusion around Always-Connected PCs, since PC makers will be able to choose between two basic architectures, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon and Intel.

The Snapdragon-based PCs are a bit of an unknown. But PCs based on this platform will get over 20 hours of battery life, a huge win. But in the minus column, performance isn’t great, especially for emulated x86 Windows applications.

Always-Connected PCs based on Intel are, of course, a known quantity: These PCs will offer the best performance, plus good to very good battery life. They will be powered by Intel Core processors will utilize Intel’s XMM modem for connectivity.

And on that note, we know about three Intel-based Always-Connected PCs already, here on the eve of CES 2018. They are:

Acer Swift 7. Announced this week, Swift 7 is just 8.98 mm thin.

HP Envy X2. HP announced the Snapdragon variant of this PC a month ago. The Intel version offers up to 17 hours of battery life, compared to 20 hours for the Snapdragon version.

Dell Inspiron 5280. Announced in late December, this new 2-in-1 will be made available in China with two months of free LTE data.

In an interesting twist, and perhaps a poke at Microsoft for partnering with Snapdragon, Intel also notes that these new devices join a growing lineup of Always-Connected PCs that include, wait for it, Google’s Pixelbook.

“All these devices offer an optimal, always-connected PC experience,” Intel says. “And because of the outstanding performance powered by Intel Core processors, users will enjoy immersive entertainment, a seamless and trusted Windows experience enabling productivity in the office or while on the go with all the favorite apps, world-class connectivity, uncompromised battery life, and sleek, thin and light designs.”

Methinks we will see more Always-Connected PCs—of both Intel and Qualcomm variants—soon.


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Comments (13)

13 responses to “Here Come the Intel-Powered Always-Connected PCs”

  1. rockycpa

    I am excited about the instant on feature. It's probably one of the things that keeps me from treating my surface like an Ipad. I think there might be a good use for them with sales people. ie You go to meet a prospective client and start booting up.

    Even if it's quick, it's not instant. Alternatively, you just turn it on, pull out your digital pen, it's more like a paper tablet. Turn it on and start writing. And the battery lasting 20 hours means that I have no problem using it this way all day at a conference as opposed to worrying toward the end of the day if I'll make it to the end.

  2. Jim Priestley

    The PixelBook is not available with LTE, how do they get away with calling it "AlwaysConnected"?

    It will do an auto background thing using the radio in the Pixel2 phone if configured to do so, but I don't see how that qualifies it as "AlwaysConnected"

  3. Chris_Kez

    I will remain skeptical about the Intel-based always-connected PCs until I see them in real world usage. Will they really be instant-on? Have they solved standby/hibernation issues? Will they manage power as well as ARM-based devices?

  4. beckerrt

    Any chance AMD joins the Always-Connected party?

  5. edboyhan

    Of course the flip side of always connected is how much the cellular data usage will cost, and what adding additional devices (laptops) to your carrier account will cost (AT&T charges $10/month per device for certain device classes).

    Always connected may be convenient, but it also may be a large expense added to your already fixed internet connection expense.

  6. longhorn

    "As you may recall, I feel that Always-Connected PCs are the future of the mainstream Windows PC platform. These PCs bring mobile device advantages like great battery life, instant-on, and cellular data connectivity to users of Windows."

    Excuse me if I'm not up to date on mobile tech. My understanding is this. A smartphone is not instant-on. Those I have used have pretty long boot-times, in fact similar to PCs. However the smartphone (Android/iOS) turns off the display while not in use. I guess it goes to "sleep" and holds the data in RAM. Much like a Windows PC can go to sleep if you wish, but this doesn't happen automatically; you have to trigger it yourself. Resuming from sleep is always pretty much instant-on if I remember correctly. It should be because the data is already in RAM.

    So "sleep" on modern smartphones works like Windows since Windows 9.x. Keeps data in RAM, but turns off CPU and GPU but not connectivity. Actually you can't turn off CPU and still have connectivity so sleep was more energy efficient on Windows 9.x than on today's smartphones. Well, only in theory, the PSU was still running so those old machines still consumed energy despite the lack of stand by connectivity.

    I think MS was trying to change user behavior with Vista. The Vista startmenu had "sleep" as default option instead of "shut down". Of course people were upset because most Vista machines were desktops or laptops with power hungry CPUs.

    "By default, the red power button in Vista's Start menu is set to Sleep. While this makes for quick startup and shutdown, it also means that your PC will continue to suck electricity even when it's presumably off."

    Let me guess that these instant-on PCs will have "Vista's sleep setting" kick in after a couple of minutes of inactivity. I don't think there is a big difference between PCs and smartphones. If you visit a site like in a browser and then minimize the browser (or even switch tab) the CPU activity (like ads) will be suspended, just like smartphone apps. The number one battery killer in Windows are MS own background tasks. In particular Windows 10 has excessive CPU, disk and network activity. Add third-party bloat to that and that's essentially what separates Windows from other OSes on the same hardware. Android and Linux (on x86) aren't better than Windows because of worse drivers. If MS takes battery life seriously there is nothing stopping Windows from being competitive on ARM. Those 20 hours of active battery life on ARM are probably more than the average smartphone.

    • plettza

      In reply to longhorn:

      I think ARM devices (at least recent Qualcomm chips) have a couple of processor cores. More powerful yet thirstier ones for when the device is switched on. They run full clap and do what they need to. When the power button is pressed, the device doesn't go to sleep as such, but I believe another low power core kicks in so the device can still get alerts, messages, etc. In a way, the device is never really off (unless of course, you shut down the device).

      • longhorn

        In reply to plettza:

        Yes and I believe Windows 10 supports "connected stand by" on both x86 and ARM. I think as early as Windows Vista MS had support for connected stand by in sleep mode by running the CPU in a low power state. Of course ARM probably has a "connected stand by" advantage over x86, because of ARM's "big.LITTLE" design as you describe.

  7. Jorge Garcia

    I'm skeptical, but hopeful. Hopeful that Intel has finally nailed the problem, but it's the too-convenient timing that makes me a bit skeptical. Well, it's kind of a moot point as Windows and x86 (x86 tracing its roots back to the 1969-70 CTC Datapoint 2200) aren't long for this World anyway...Google will someday get their OS act together and make an all-inclusive interface that brings together the best of Windows and Android and negates the need for MS Windows, save for a few niche business/scientific applications.

  8. Stooks

    I am super skeptical about all of this. When it was first announced it was all about Windows on ARM, a device between a big phone and a tablet or computer. The "Surface Phone" some led on about. Microsoft getting back into phones by using ARM and have LTE.

    Now it is currently all about Intel because the ARM version lacks native software and emulation is going to suck most likely.

    The Intel versions are just updated ultra books with even lower powered CPU's and LTE. Can you even get them without LTE?

    At the end of the day "Always connected PC's" are not really anything new if the Intel version is going to be the version bought 99% of the time.

    While I am sure there are some that really want this type of device (sales people on the road?) I do not see it ever becoming a big deal. Those sales people probably use LTE iPad Pro's already.

  9. James Wilson

    Basically, Microsoft is dead in the consumer space on anything outside gaming, education or creators. These are the three areas they will focus on. Anything else - forget it.

    That being said - this platform may be good for education users but not the other two.