Will Microsoft’s Surface Mini Leave Intel in the Cold?

Microsoft is allegedly planning on releasing a Surface Mini at a May 20 unveiling. Will Intel be a part of this, or will Microsoft leave Intel out in the cold?

May 8, 2014 at 3:52PM

It's pretty obvious that, during the last several years, Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) and Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) have seen their relationship erode quite substantially. Indeed, it seems that with Microsoft's continued pushing of its ARM (NASDAQ:ARMH)-based Windows RT operating system in its flagship line of Surface products, as well as its close ties with Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) on Windows Phone, Intel has become a second-class citizen to Microsoft. Will Microsoft keep trying to shut Intel out with its upcoming Surface Mini?

The Windows RT move -- it originally made sense
At the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show, or CES, Microsoft announced Windows RT, which meant support for ARM architecture processors. Back then, Microsoft seemed to sanction support for chips from Qualcomm, Texas Instruments, and NVIDIA. The idea here was that the next generation of Windows -- which was meant to extend to tablets -- would run on a broad range of SoCs from a number of vendors.


Microsoft's Surface 2. Powered by Windows RT and an NVIDIA Tegra 4. Source: Microsoft. 

At first, this move made perfect sense. At the time, Intel was still goofing around with abominations like Moorestown that offered neither the integration nor the performance/power to really be competitive in the tablet market as we know it, so Microsoft needed chip vendors that could deliver competitive product on time. Porting Windows to ARM, quite frankly, made perfect sense at the time, given Intel's apparent rank incompetence at producing competitive mobile chips.

Clover Trail changed the game -- Bay Trail ended it
While Windows RT made sense for tablets when Intel appeared to not be able to design a mobile chip to save its life, the launch of Intel's Clover Trail -- a low power, highly integrated SoC for tablets -- really put that argument to bed. It offered superior CPU performance to the Qualcomm Snapdragon and NVIDIA Tegra 3 that were available for Windows RT at the time (although it did lag on graphics), and offered extremely competitive power consumption.


Source: Intel. 

Following Clover Trail, Intel launched Bay Trail-T, which once again offered leadership CPU performance and offered graphics performance that was within the same ballpark as the best ARM-based products --  although, yes, Qualcomm and NVIDIA did offer superior graphics performance in Snapdragon 800/Tegra 4, respectively. More importantly, the Bay Trail-T offers full compatibility with full Windows 8.1 rather than Windows RT, which cannot run the millions of traditional Windows programs.

Microsoft keeps pushing RT, but will Surface Mini bring Intel closer?
Microsoft is hosting an event on May 20 at which it is reportedly launching a Surface Mini. This tablet is expected to pack Qualcomm silicon which, of course, implies that it will be running Windows RT and not Windows 8.1. Interestingly, the sources that claim that Qualcomm will power the Surface Mini also claim that Intel will be "participating" in the May 20 rollout.

This may mean that Microsoft is planning two models, perhaps a Surface Mini and Surface Mini Pro, the former powered by Qualcomm/Windows RT and the latter powered by Intel/Windows 8.1. If this is true, then this would signal that, perhaps the relationship between Microsoft and Intel isn't as bad as the company's prior aggressive marketing of Windows RT/Surface RT would have suggested.

Foolish bottom line
The development of Windows RT made sense back in the day -- Intel didn't have the right silicon for a mobile world. However, now that Intel is competitive in tablets and offers full Windows 8.1 application compatibility, it seems like a no-brainer for Microsoft to cool its jets on Windows RT and start promoting full Windows 8.1 (and successor) products with full X86 chips (i.e. Intel). We'll see at the Surface Mini launch whether the Intel/Microsoft relationship has been mended to any degree depending on what platform and silicon choices Microsoft makes for whatever it rolls out. 

The biggest thing to come out of Silicon Valley in years
If you thought the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad were amazing, just wait until you see this. One hundred of Apple's top engineers are busy building one in a secret lab. And an ABI Research report predicts 485 million of them could be sold over the next decade. But you can invest in it right now... for just a fraction of the price of AAPL stock. Click here to get the full story in this eye-opening new report.

Ashraf Eassa owns shares of ARM Holdings and Intel. The Motley Fool recommends Intel and Nvidia. The Motley Fool owns shares of Intel, Microsoft, and Qualcomm. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

1 Key Step to Get Rich

Our mission at The Motley Fool is to help the world invest better. Whether that’s helping people overcome their fear of stocks all the way to offering clear and successful guidance on complicated-sounding options trades, we can help.

Feb 1, 2016 at 4:54PM

To be perfectly clear, this is not a get-rich action that my Foolish colleagues and I came up with. But we wouldn't argue with the approach.

A 2015 Business Insider article titled, "11 websites to bookmark if you want to get rich" rated The Motley Fool as the #1 place online to get smarter about investing.

"The Motley Fool aims to build a strong investment community, which it does by providing a variety of resources: the website, books, a newspaper column, a radio [show], and [newsletters]," wrote (the clearly insightful and talented) money reporter Kathleen Elkins. "This site has something for every type of investor, from basic lessons for beginners to investing commentary on mutual funds, stock sectors, and value for the more advanced."

Our mission at The Motley Fool is to help the world invest better, so it's nice to receive that kind of recognition. It lets us know we're doing our job.

Whether that's helping the entirely uninitiated overcome their fear of stocks all the way to offering clear and successful guidance on complicated-sounding options trades, we want to provide our readers with a boost to the next step on their journey to financial independence.

Articles and beyond

As Business Insider wrote, there are a number of resources available from the Fool for investors of all levels and styles.

In addition to the dozens of free articles we publish every day on our website, I want to highlight two must-see spots in your tour of fool.com.

For the beginning investor

Investing can seem like a Big Deal to those who have yet to buy their first stock. Many investment professionals try to infuse the conversation with jargon in order to deter individual investors from tackling it on their own (and to justify their often sky-high fees).

But the individual investor can beat the market. The real secret to investing is that it doesn't take tons of money, endless hours, or super-secret formulas that only experts possess.

That's why we created a best-selling guide that walks investors-to-be through everything they need to know to get started. And because we're so dedicated to our mission, we've made that available for free.

If you're just starting out (or want to help out someone who is), go to www.fool.com/beginners, drop in your email address, and you'll be able to instantly access the quick-read guide ... for free.

For the listener

Whether it's on the stationary exercise bike or during my daily commute, I spend a lot of time going nowhere. But I've found a way to make that time benefit me.

The Motley Fool offers five podcasts that I refer to as "binge-worthy financial information."

Motley Fool Money features a team of our analysts discussing the week's top business and investing stories, interviews, and an inside look at the stocks on our radar. It's also featured on several dozen radio stations across the country.

The hosts of Motley Fool Answers challenge the conventional wisdom on life's biggest financial issues to reveal what you really need to know to make smart money moves.

David Gardner, co-founder of The Motley Fool, is among the most respected and trusted sources on investing. And he's the host of Rule Breaker Investing, in which he shares his insights into today's most innovative and disruptive companies ... and how to profit from them.

Market Foolery is our daily look at stocks in the news, as well as the top business and investing stories.

And Industry Focus offers a deeper dive into a specific industry and the stories making headlines. Healthcare, technology, energy, consumer goods, and other industries take turns in the spotlight.

They're all informative, entertaining, and eminently listenable ... and I don't say that simply because the hosts all sit within a Nerf-gun shot of my desk. Rule Breaker Investing and Answers contain timeless advice, so you might want to go back to the beginning with those. The other three take their cues from the market, so you'll want to listen to the most recent first. All are available at www.fool.com/podcasts.

But wait, there's more

The book and the podcasts – both free ... both awesome – also come with an ongoing benefit. If you download the book, or if you enter your email address in the magical box at the podcasts page, you'll get ongoing market coverage sent straight to your inbox.

Investor Insights is valuable and enjoyable coverage of everything from macroeconomic events to investing strategies to our analyst's travels around the world to find the next big thing. Also free.

Get the book. Listen to a podcast. Sign up for Investor Insights. I'm not saying that any of those things will make you rich ... but Business Insider seems to think so.

Compare Brokers