Quad-core Windows 8 tablets could come to developers this fall

A new report suggests that Microsoft is close to having a build of Windows 8 running on quad-core tablet hardware, and it may soon give away units to developers.

Microsoft is starting to make some ecosystem rumblings in the tablet space. We already know that Microsoft plans to use Windows 8 as its tablet platform and that Windows 8 is likely to land in the real world during the middle of 2012. Reports out of Tech Ed New Zealand on Thursday suggested that Microsoft is close to having a Windows 8 build running on unspecified quad-core tablet hardware that could arrive in the hands of developers as early as next month.

IT consultant Alan Burchill, a Microsoft MVP and Tech Ed 2011 NZ attendee, posted a short report and a few photos of the hardware that Microsoft teased the audience with. Burchill's original post included a line that referred to the tablet as a "Quad Core Windows Slate that will be give(n) out at an upcoming Microsoft Event." However, he later removed that reference. Obviously, since he has close ties to Microsoft, it's conceivable that Microsoft asked him to remove the give-away part but didn't ask him to take down the post.

The "upcoming Microsoft Event" that Burchill was referring to would likely be Microsoft BUILD on September 13-16 in Anaheim, California. The conference is focused on Windows hardware and software developers and is generally expected to be Microsoft's coming out party to get its partners started on developing devices and apps for Windows 8 (see preview on the right).

The big question from Burchill's report is what's the quad-core processor that's running this Windows 8 tablet? There are no quad-core mobile chips on the market yet and I have to believe that Microsoft won't make the same mistake of trying to run another tablet with a laptop processor. The battery life just isn't good enough.

NVIDIA, Qualcomm, and Texas Instruments each announced quad-core mobile chips earlier this year and promised that they'd arrive before the end of 2011. This spring, I got a report from a very reliable source close to NVIDIA that it had a big quad-core announcement involving a tablet that would come sometime around August. Also, since NVIDIA was the first of the big three ARM chipmakers to announce quad-core, the smart money is on NVIDIA powering this Windows 8 tablet. Remember, Microsoft announced at CES 2011 that Windows 8 would run on ARM processors in addition to the traditional x86.

Whoever makes the processor is, it looks like developers could soon be getting their hands on a Windows 8 build running on zippy mobile hardware. The timeframe makes sense. If these tablets do show up at BUILD, we'll quickly start to know how much potential these Windows 8 "slates" are going to have.

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