The future of speedy paper-thin tablets running Intel's Broadwell chips seems promising, after we tested the first-ever prototype shown by the chip maker.
We got an exclusive hands on, albeit for a short while, with a paper-thin tablet called Llama Mountain, which ran on an as yet unreleased fifth-generation Core processor, at the Computex trade show in Taipei. The tablet was fully operational and running Windows 8, and it wasn't the typical dummy unit often shown at many press conferences.
At 7.2 millimeters, the tablet is thinner than the iPad Air, which is 7.5 millimeters thick. For the screen size of 12.5 inches, it also felt extremely light in the hand with a weight of just 670 grams. Compare that to the weight of Microsoft's Surface Pro 3, which has a 12-inch screen and weighs 800 grams.
To be sure, the product won't ship to consumers, and is a prototype for Intel to showcase to PC makers, who can make products based on the design. Intel is chasing the tablet market aggressively and also trying to rejuvenate a slowing PC market.
The tablet has a Broadwell Y chip which will be called Core M, which is a new brand Intel is introducing for its low-power chips. The processor was made using the latest 14-nanometer fabrication process, which makes chips smaller and more power efficient. But Intel could not estimate the battery life of the device.
The tablet had only a few basic programs, but they loaded with the blink of an eye. The map loaded in a burst, the e-mail application came on instantly, and there was no wait to load the latest weather information or news. In an eye test, the tablet definitely felt faster than any PC we have used, including systems with the current crop of Core chips code-named Haswell.
The tablet had tapering sides, and there was a single USB 3.1 port on the base that could be used to charge the laptop. A set of connectors allowed the tablet to be attached to a separate keyboard dock, which was solid but extremely thin. With a detachable keyboard, the tablet is being pitched by Intel also as a full PC with keyboard.
The full high-definition screen was sharp, and images were visible from multiple angles even in direct light.
But in the larger picture, this prototype -- whether looked at as a plain tablet or hybrid -- represents how thin full-powered computers could be in the future. PC makers could reduce the size of the current hybrids by half while enhancing overall performance. PC makers like Dell at Computex showed tablet-laptop hybrids that were between 18 to 20 millimeters thick, and they are too heavy to be full-time tablets. But then device makers will have to make decisions on ports such as DisplayPort and HDMI, which may not fit into tablets as thin as Intel's Llama Mountain.
More importantly, the prototype is also a positive sign that Intel has readied mobile versions of the Broadwell processors, which have been delayed. A specific shipment date for the chips has not been provided, though the company has said products will be available in time for the holiday season this year.