Are x86 Tablets Worth Messing With?

In past articles I’ve talked about how I think that ARM will have an uphill battle if it wants to establish itself in the desktop/laptop market with Windows 8. I just feel that x86 is a better choice standard PCs, primarily because of its support of older Windows applications that require an x86 processor to run.

What about the other side of the fence though? Is x86 a worthy competitor in the tablet market or is ARM the clear choice here? This question is a little harder to answer because it depends on which factors you are considering.

What does x86 do better than ARM on a tablet? This again comes to two primary components: Windows x86 application support and faster processing speeds.

With an x86 tablet you have full use of all Windows applications, and with a nice wireless keyboard and some kind of binder-style case you could pretty much turn your tablet into a laptop when you need it for some serious productivity, and detach the keyboard/mouse when you are looking for a more portable or casual device.

Additionally, x86 means a vast library of older drivers allowing TV tuners, printers, scanners, webcams, and literarily many thousands of devices that an ARM Windows 8 tablet just can’t run.

This probably sounds like a compelling enough reason to at least consider x86 on the tablet scene, right? Again, it depends on what you are looking for. These compatibility features with x86 Windows 8 are certainly nice, but there is a clear downside.

Even the most mobile Intel solution, Atom, just doesn’t do as well with power consumption and the average Windows 7 x86 tablet only has about 3-5 hours of battery life. This is pretty small when compared to many Android tablets that could run 10+ hours easily on one charge.

So battery life isn’t great, but at least you have x86 application support right? Unfortunately, the downside doesn’t end there. Expect your x86 tablet to get hotter and louder than an ARM equivalent, additionally keep in mind that many of these older Windows programs are far from optimized for touch interfaces and so using them without your keyboard/mouse attached might be a little frustrating.

The final downside is generally price, many Windows 7 tablets run well above $500 (closer to $1000+). On the other side, you can get a reasonable Android tablet for $200-$350, and Windows 8 ARM tablets will likely be as cheap as $250-$400 as well (though this is merely speculation).

So who should get an x86 tablet? If you absolutely have a need for a particular Windows x86 application on the go, then the x86 tablet is a no-brainer. If you have peripherals that need x86 drivers and they are must-have for you, than get an x86 tablet.

Right now, Windows 7 isn’t optimized for touchscreens but when Windows 8 gets closer to release you could certainly snag a W7 x86 tablet and install Windows 8 BETA to get a little more out of these tablets. Will companies only focus on ARM tablets? I think that ARM will be the primary focus, but business-model tablets will likely still have x86 options.

Personally, I think that x86’s battery problems, potential heat issues, and noise make them a little less than appealing. Would I purchase an x86 tablet? It really depends on the price, but I could see the possible appeal. What do you think of x86 versus ARM for tablets? Share your thoughts below.

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