Low-cost Windows 10 Intel Atom laptops and hybrids stand to get a performance boost now that Intel has announced its latest Apollo Lake CPU platform and Goldmont 14-nanometer microarchitecture.
With improved features for graphics processing and energy efficiency, the new Intel Atoms are designed especially for running low-cost Windows 10 hybrids destined to compete with Chromebooks in price point and feature set.
At the IDF 2016 Shenzhen conference, Intel touted graphics improvements for end users, and cost savings for OEMS, over devices built with previous generation of Intel® Atom™ CPUs, the 14-nanometer Cherry Trail (also called Atom x5 and x7) released in early 2015.
So what does this mean for new low-cost hybrids? It is looking like a Cloudbooks vs. Chromebooks showdown is headed for the budget laptop category.
Cloudbooks vs. Chromebooks showdown in 2016
Last year’s Cherry Trail laptops gained a solid reputation for offering nice bang-for-buck in the budget laptop and notebook segment. For NeweggBusiness, notable sellers were the TOSHIBA Satellite Click 10, the ASUS Transformer Book T100, ASUS EeeBook, and Acer Aspire—each of them Windows 10 Intel Atom Cherry Trail hybrids, a low budget ($300-$350) option for harnessing the latest Microsoft OS has to offer.
Then, the first sub-$200 Windows 10 laptop, the Acer Laptop Aspire One Cloudbook, started shipping at the end of the year. It became clear where this was headed.
All these new Windows 10 hybrids, with their small solid-state drives, low cost builds, and energy-efficient hardware designed for prolonged battery life, signals a demand for a Windows 10 device at a Chromebook price point. That is what OEMs and Intel are hoping for at least.
Can inexpensive Windows 10 devices take momentum away from the popularity of Chrome hardware? Google has experienced enormous success with Chromebooks in the classroom, and using Chromebook in the office is fairly common in many workplaces. For personal and work use alike, the main advantage of a Chromebook has always been a very low cost of entry.
Even the most decked-out Chromebooks seldom retail for more than $300. Even a Rolls Royce-grade Chromebook like the Acer Acer C910-54M that boasts an Intel Core i5 CPU and 4 GB of memory sells for well under $500.
Now as Windows 10 becomes more established, and shifts from “liability” to “selling point” in the adoption cycle of operating systems, a Windows 10 laptop with a low-cost Chromebook philosophy might be logical piece of hardware.
A Windows 10 device will need to offer a little something extra, and Intel hopes Apollo Lake will provide the incentive to drive the “Cloudbook” push for OEMs.
A bargain 4K experience?
Performance-wise, a graphics processing boost seems like the key Apollo Lake advantage over previous Intel Atom iterations. The new Goldmont microarchitecture employs Intel’s Gen9 graphics design introduced with Skylake CPUs in desktop PCs. This will allow Apollo Lake devices 4K video playback capabilities and an overall better visual appeal.
Intel made clear in its pitch to OEMs that Apollo Lake CPUs promise to cut down production costs, a huge selling point for manufacturers fighting for table scraps in the low-margin budget laptop arena.
To give you an idea of how cutthroat the budget laptop market is, Intel is excited to quote a combined savings that can range between $5.55 to $7.35 per machine for manufacturers.
What does this mean for retailers, manufacturers, and consumers?
Chances are pretty good that OEMs will jump at the opportunity to produce Chromebook-priced Windows 10 Intel Atom laptops. Intel will make out just fine, and as always, OEMs have the tougher sell.
Whether Apollo Lake-based hybrids will turn a profit depends on whether retailers move a lot of inventory. It has to go beyond personal users. Manufacturers will be looking to court high-volume customers in education, and larger companies with a lot of end users needing lightweight laptops.
The idea is that a low-cost Windows 10 will appeal to CIOs more accustomed to deploying, managing, and securing PCs in a Windows Server environment. When there is pressure from IT management to have a homogenous OS environment, Windows devices almost always have an edge.
That said, Google and Chrome owes its recent success in the business realm to IT that accommodates BYOD and multiple operating systems. Google never set out to replace OSX or Windows devices, it made gains operating within and alongside them. This trend shows little sign of stropping any time soon..
Ultimately success for OEMs will come down to how they harness Apollo Lake CPU advantages moving forward. It is up to hardware manufacturers to provide the best experience for both IT and the end user. We’ll see how Windows 10 Intel Atom processors shake out for OEMs when we get a glimpse of what they can do with it—and we expect to see product previews as early as 2H 2016, so stay tuned.