Collaborating to deliver Windows RT PCs

Since RTM on August 1, PC manufacturers have been using the released software to ready new PCs designed for Windows 8. Collectively, we are all very excited by the innovation and creativity that will arrive in market this October. Our engineering collaboration has been better than ever as we work to bring better performance, reliability, and battery life to new PCs designed for Windows 8. We also know many are interested in how we extended this process to a new generation of PCs built on the ARM platform. This post details how we have collaborated on the development of Windows RT and new PCs designed for the operating system. Mike Angiulo, the vice president of our Ecosystem and Planning team, authored this post.

Windows 8 and Windows RT each reached the RTM milestone, and we are hard at work in collaboration with ecosystem partners, including PC manufacturers, Silicon partners, and other component suppliers, to complete high quality Windows RT and Windows 8 PCs that we think you’ll love. We’re very excited about the designs PC manufacturing partners have built on the foundation of Windows 8 and Windows RT.

The breadth of Windows 8 Intel- and AMD-based designs from our PC manufacturing partners will continue to push the envelope with powerful computing and innovative design. You can expect to see everything from ultra-thin sleek designs with stunning high-resolution displays, to beautifully designed All-In-One PCs with large immersive displays complete with touch, to high-power towers rocking multiple graphics cards and high-performance storage arrays. In addition, this broad range of PCs will provide price and feature combinations that allow every customer to find a PC that fits their needs and lifestyle perfectly.

We are particularly excited about the new low power x86 Windows 8 PCs that will take advantage of Intel’s SoC platform innovations to provide an always on and always connected experience (known as connected standby). Just recently, Lenovo announced the ThinkPad Tablet 2, which offers an outstanding combination of new features built on the latest Intel ATOM® processor. We’ll cover the benefits of this scenario later in the post.

Microsoft has worked very hard with this release to provide the tools and support to contribute to new PCs that are more reliable, faster, use fewer system resources, and have improved software loads than comparable Windows 7 PCs. From the newest Ultrabook™ to the most powerful and extensible workstations, Windows 8 PCs are on the way.

Windows RT begins a new era of ARM-based PCs, where we are working with our Silicon and PC manufacturing partners to bring a whole new set of innovations to market. In an earlier post, Building Windows for the ARM processor architecture, we focused on the detailed engineering work required to create Windows RT. In the remainder of this blog I would like to provide an update on our efforts to collaborate across the ecosystem in bringing new Windows RT PCs to market. But first, let’s briefly recap the key points from the previous post: 

  • Windows RT shares significant code with Windows 8 and has been developed for and will be sold and supported as a part of the largest computing ecosystem in the world.
  • We have achieved our goal of one Windows binary for all Windows RT SoC platforms from NVIDIA, Qualcomm, and Texas Instruments, each of which has developed innovative ARM CPUs that form the basis of a complete system.
  • Delivering Windows RT PCs has been about building out a new system for the first time—a completely new ecosystem of PCs providing opportunities for PC makers to bring to life a new generation of PCs with new capabilities, starting with ARM-based processors.
  • Windows RT PCs are thin and light in industrial design, and have long battery life and integrated quality. These PCs have all been designed and manufactured expressly for Windows RT.
  • PC makers will provide Windows RT PCs as integrated, end-to-end products that include hardware, firmware, and Windows RT software. Windows RT software will not be sold or distributed independent of a new Windows RT PC, just as you would expect from a consumer electronics device that relies on unique and integrated pairings of hardware and software. Over the useful lifetime of the PC, the provided software will be serviced and improved.

If you are following Windows RT, perhaps you have taken note of the Asus Tablet 600 (Windows RT) announcement or Microsoft’s own Surface RT™ news. Along with Asus, we are excited to share that there will be ARM-based PC designs from Dell, Lenovo, and Samsung running Windows RT.

You will need to stay tuned for more details; PC manufacturers will be unveiling their products as we approach the Windows 8 and Windows RT launch. What I can say is the spectrum of form factors and peripherals being developed to meet each unique customer’s computing needs is unique in the industry.

“Dell’s tablet for Windows RT is going to take advantage of the capabilities the new ecosystem offers to help customers do more at work and home. We’re excited to be Microsoft’s strategic partner, and look forward to sharing more soon.”

- Sam Burd, Vice President, Dell PC Product Group

The uniqueness of our approach starts with a new way of working across partners to engineer a PC—a collaboration that brings the best of all parties together to deliver end-to-end experiences that are integrated and optimized from the chipset to the experience.

It’s also worth taking a moment to describe how our collaboration on these PC efforts has been different than in any other Windows release. Our engineering collaboration on these Windows RT PCs has been strong, collaborating with the PC manufacturers, Silicon partners, and Operators to focus on hardware, software and services integration. Each respective partner was committed to sharing early iterations of their products, whether it was a SoC bring-up board, early builds of Windows RT, firmware and drivers, or hundreds of pre-release PC hardware samples (such as the ones featured in earlier demonstrations and videos). Product designs were informed and revised by our collective efforts through development and testing. As a result, all of these Windows RT PCs will have consistent fast and fluid touch interactions, long battery life, connected standby, and are beautiful, thin, and light designs. All of these are designed to make the most of the capabilities of Windows RT.

This is a snapshot of an actual pre-release Windows RT PC, showing a very early engineering prototype and the evolution to its current form.

Two laptop PCs side-by-side

Windows helped achieve these goals by focusing on optimizing key scenarios. Taken together, these scenarios drive a new level of mobile experience and performance not possible without new technology and engineering collaboration. So let’s dig into to some of the specifics.

Connected standby is the scenario of having your PC be always on and always connected in the new connected standby state without excessively draining your battery, so that you have access to your important and up-to-date information whenever you need it. When your Windows RT PC is not in use, it will move into a new low-power mode that allows it to keep your data fresh and current while also not requiring a battery charge for days. And when you need your system, it will turn on in less than a second at the touch of a button, which is a mobile phone experience but in a full PC. Additionally, we focused on an aggressive whole system power modeling scenario that has allowed us to better inform battery capacities to deliver all-day battery life with days of connected standby in thin and light designs.

The following chart shows some of the measurement ranges we are seeing as we test early production PCs for the connected standby and power scenarios.

The measurements are based on firmware still undergoing final optimizations, and the just released Windows RT RTM code, and will only improve as the PCs move towards manufacture. To provide context on the significance of the measurement, it is important to understand how the scenario was measured. In this case, the PC was playing back in full screen a local HD video at full resolution with a screen brightness of 200 nits. It was also configured for one email account using the Microsoft network. Finally, these numbers are also influenced by the different PC form factors themselves, which include both tablets and laptops, screen sizes that vary from 10.1” to 11.6”, and battery sizes spanning 25 Whr to 42 Whr.


Early production range

HD Video Playback

8 hours to 13 hours of scenario run time

Connected Standby

320 hours to 409 hours of scenario run time

During development, further power modeling analysis at the component level allowed us to better understand where we needed to invest in design optimizations. For example, typical touch controller solutions were based on multi-chip solutions. By reducing those solutions to single-chip designs, we achieved lower power usage and reduced thermals, which translated to smaller battery sizes and thinner and lighter designs. The table below provides an overview of the typical weight and thicknesses we have been able to achieve with our partners across the different models representing different form factors based on ARM SoCs.


System characteristics

Measurement range

Weight (g)

520g to 1200g

Length (mm)

263mm to 298mm

Width (mm)

168.5mm to 204mm

Height (mm)

8.35mm to 15.6mm

These single-chip solutions not only reduce power requirements, but they also provide performance optimizations that result in fast and fluid touch usage. The Windows RT PCs that our partners will be delivering for the upcoming launch provide sampling rates of 100Hz per finger. This not only allows for fast and fluid response, but also incredible industry-leading accuracy.

Our graphics core has also gone through extensive optimization. Besides the optimizations around power-efficient HD video playback, the core Windows RT UI animations achieve 60fps, which was our design goal.

We didn’t stop at optimizing power, thickness, and weight. We also focused on enabling exciting new scenarios in these Windows RT PCs, such as sharing information intuitively and easily. You will see NFC integration in some of our Windows RT launch PCs that open up fun and interesting things like tap to share. By simply tapping two NFC-enabled Windows RT PCs together, users can easily share photos, URLs, map directions, and anything else that our software partners have designed into their Windows apps. And of course Windows RT natively supports a broad range of device scenarios such as USB mass storage, printing, audio/video peripherals, and more, along with connectivity through WWAN, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and USB. These build on the common foundation of Windows 8 and Windows RT, and were previously shown as early as the //BUILD/ conference.

Windows RT is not just for tablet form factors. Some of our Windows RT PCs come with full keyboard and touchpad solutions, whether removable/dockable or a traditional clamshell. Not only do these solutions provide additional battery capacity, but they also provide a new touchpad experience that incorporates intuitive Windows 8 gestures. By working closely with our touchpad component vendors, we have incorporated native support in firmware to deliver incredibly fast gesture recognition that makes interacting with Windows a breeze. The touch gestures that will be natively supported are described in these two tables:

Single-finger slide

Single/two-finger tap, double tap

Two-finger slide

Hand with index finger extended, with arrow indicating slide direction

Hand with index finger extended with arrow indicating a tap gesture Hand with two fingers extended, arrows indicating horizontal or vertical movement

Mouse cursor manipulation

Primary/secondary button click, double-click at cursor location

Horizontal or vertical scroll (mouse wheel)


Two-finger pinch

Swipe in from the right edge

Swipe down from the top edge

Swipe in from the left edge

thumb and index finger shown pinching together

Index finger sliding to left from right edge Index finger sliding down from top edge Index finger sliding to right from left edge

Zoom (Ctrl + mouse wheel)

Toggle the charms (Windows logo key + C)

Toggle the app commands (Windows logo key + Z)

Switch to last app (Windows logo key + Ctrl + Backspace)

Finally, the wealth of hardware components and optimizations is only as rich as the applications that take advantage of them. As an ecosystem, Windows, the PC manufacturers, and the Silicon partners have been engaged with developers around the world to design application experiences that will light up the capabilities of this new PC hardware. We’ve purposely built thousands of reference design hardware systems to develop and test the OS and apps, collectively seeding over 1500 Windows RT reference systems to ISV and IHV companies in preparation for launch. The results are starting to show, as we’ve seen over 90% of the RTM applications in the Windows Store support Windows RT, as well as the Windows Hardware Certification requirements working to ensure every Windows RT PC is indeed compatible with a broad set of peripheral devices such as printers, webcams, and mobile broadband modules.

Windows RT represents a significant re-imagining of not only Windows, but Windows PCs and how we partner together to engineer them. The deep engineering collaborations from the Silicon and component manufacturers through to our PC partners and Windows engineering team have provided a compelling suite of exciting new Windows PCs that deliver on the promise of fast and fluid, always on and always connected, thin and light, and all-day battery life. We are looking forward to the exciting announcements ahead from Dell, Lenovo, and Samsung.