Picking a PC or Device
Picking a PC or Device Type
With a few exceptions, the PC world has consisted of two major device types to date: the
venerable desktop PC and the laptop. Sure, there were exceptions, like the poorly-selling
Tablet PCs that barely made a blip in the marketplace in the early 2000s, the successful
but short-lived and inexpensive netbooks, and so on. But for the past 20 years or more,
we’ve pretty much had two choices: desktops and laptops.
Picking a Windows 8 PC or Tablet
With Windows 8, that’s changing. On the desktop side, all-in-one computers
modeled on Apple’s successful iMac are becoming more and more popular, and outselling
traditional tower PCs with detached monitors.
But portable computers, overall, are far more successful than any desktops,
and with Windows 8 (and RT), an estimated 80 percent of new computers sold will
be portable PCs and devices. And in addition to traditional laptops and the thin
and light Ultrabooks, we’re seeing interesting new hybrid PCs—laptops where the
screen can flip around to turn the device into a tablet—as well as slate-like tablet
devices similar to Apple’s iPad.
Here’s a rundown of PC and device types to consider.
Deskt op PC/Workst ation
For those who prefer or need the ultimate in expandability, PC makers still offer traditional
desktop computers, which typically come in some form of tower configuration
in which the guts of the computer—or what some erroneously describe as the CPU—are
separated from the display, keyboard, mouse, and other external peripherals, including
speakers, microphone and web camera, external drives, and more.
The advantage of a desktop computer is manifold, but the primary advantage is
expandability: You can install multiple internal hard drives inside the PC’s case, as well
as external expansion cards for USB, video capture, and the video card, among others.
Desktop computers also tend to have more ports—especially of the USB variety—and
can be easily expanded to accommodate more.
Desktop computers will remain the machine of choice for power users of all
kinds, as well as those with high-end needs, including graphic designers, CAD
designers, hard-core gamers, and others. Some desktop PCs are referred to as
workstations, though that name is quickly losing favor. That said, PCs that utilize
server-class CPUs can be considered workstations.
A typical desktop PC is shown in Figure 1-4.
The vast majority of traditional desktop PCs are
Intel-compatible machines, not ARM-based PCs. One
exception is ultra-small form factor PCs, which can
be found in both configurations.
Thanks to Apple’s iMac, there’s been a resurgence in allin-
one computers, a special form of desktop PC in which
almost all of the components—including the CPU and
Figure 1-4: Traditional
desktop PCs are less popular
than they were 10 years
ago, but they’re not going
“guts,” the screen, the speakers, the microphone and
web camera, and all of the ports—are found in a single,
generally slim and attractive form factor. All that’s found
separately from the box are the keyboard and mouse, and
of course any additional external peripherals.
All-in-one computers, like the one shown in
Figure 1-5, are typically very attractive, with a sleek
and modern design.
While both Intel-compatible and ARM-based
all-in-ones are available, most are Intel-compatible
Laptop and Port able Workst ation
The venerable laptop computer survived a temporary wave of competition from lowend
netbooks. But with those toy-like computers disappearing from the market,
there’s a new more ideal option arriving in the form of Ultrabooks, thin and light
laptop computers that generally cost under $1,000—
often well under $1,000—and things don’t look good
for traditional laptops (see Figure 1-6). Suffice to say
that laptops will of course continue in the market, and
some high-end models might be considered portable
workstations. But the Ultrabook, described in the next
section, will almost certainly take over this segment of
the market during Windows 8’s lifetime.
Most laptops and all portable workstations are
Intel-type designs, but you can find ARM-based
Windows RT laptops as well.
Although netbooks (Figure 1-7) were all the rage when Windows 7 first shipped in
2009, this low-cost alternative to the laptop has since fallen out of favor. And while
Windows 8 is certainly capable of running rather well on the low-end hardware that’s
found in such machines—a 1 GHz Atom-class processor and 2 GB of RAM—this version
of Windows is not suited to netbooks very much at all.
The issue is the screen. Most netbooks ship with 1024 x 600 resolution screens,
which is fine for the Windows desktop but below the 1024 x 768 minimum—and the
recommended 1366 x 768—resolution needed for the Metro environment. This means
that if you do install Windows 8 on a netbook class computer and try to run any
Figure 1-5: All-in-one
PCs utilize laptop parts
but offer much more onscreen
Figure 1-6: Traditional
laptops are on the way out,
but will still be common in
There is a 33
fix, as it turns
out. We discuss
this in Chapter 5,
which deals with
Picking a Windows 8 PC or Tablet
Metro-style app, even Windows Store, you’re going to
get a full-screen error message. It just won’t work.
You won’t see Windows RT-based netbooks. These
machines have come and gone.
Most people understand the basic concept behind a
laptop: It’s a portable computer with a clamshell case
design in which the laptop lid can be closed over the
keyboard for easy portability. An Ultrabook is simply a modern take on the laptop,
but with some rules. First, Ultrabooks are much thinner and lighter than traditional
laptops and are thus much easier to carry around. Second, Ultrabooks feature the
latest Intel CPUs and chipsets, which are designed to perform well and offer excellent
battery life. Third, Ultrabooks must obtain at least five hours of battery life, which
is decent, though most offer more. And they must offer USB 3.0-based connectivity
(which we discuss later in the chapter).
A typical Ultrabook is shown in Figure 1-8.
There’s a final, unofficial requirement of
Ultrabooks, and it’s perhaps the best of them all.
Ultrabooks generally cost less than $1,000, and
many cost closer to $650. (On the flip side, some
high-end Ultrabooks cost almost as much as
low-end Mac laptops. Almost.)
Speaking of Macs, the Ultrabook design was
clearly based on Apple’s trendsetting MacBook
Air line. And not surprisingly, many of the first
generation Ultrabooks—which appeared in the year before Windows 8’s release—
looked an awful lot like the Apple entry, albeit it while costing hundreds of dollars
less. You can expect more innovative and unique designs to appear in the coming
years as PC makers become more familiar with this type of device.
Ultrabooks are available in both Intel-compatible and ARM-based designs, but
the Intel underpinnings are far more common.
We assume most people have seen an iPad, and given that device’s popularity, it
should come as no surprise that Microsoft and its PC maker partners have raced to
create both an operating system, Windows 8/RT, and a wide variety of multi-touchbased
tablet devices that can blow the iPad’s doors off.
The nice thing about Windows 8/RT-based tablets is the variety. You have numerous
machines to choose from, on both the Intel-compatible and ARM sides of the
fence, and they come in a variety of sizes, with screens that range from 7 inches on
up. A standard slate-style tablet can be seen in Figure 1-9.
Tablets are also not limited by their form factor.
Many can be docked and easily expanded with an
external screen, keyboard, mouse, and other
peripherals, becoming, in effect, a full-fledged PC
in the process. In this usage scenario, a tablet can
work much like an iPad while you’re out and about,
accessed solely through its multi-touch capabilities.
But when you get home—or to work—and dock
the device, you have a real PC (Figure 1-10).
Figure 1-10: A docked tablet can function as a desktop computer by adding a keyboard
Figure 1-9: The looks of an iPad
but the power of a PC
Picking a Windows 8 PC or Tablet
The tablet market is pretty evenly split between ARM- and Intel-compatible designs,
and many of both types are available. This is the one type of PC where ARM-based
products may eventually outsell the entrenched Intel juggernaut. In fact, Microsoft is
betting pretty heavily on this market and is releasing its own Windows RT-based tablet
device, called Surface, and a Windows 8-based tablet PC, called Surface Pro. Both look
almost identical, and resemble the device shown in Figure 1-11. But the Intel-based PC
version is more powerful and a bit thicker and heavier.
Figure 1-11: Microsoft Surface RT
Ultrabooks are obviously a huge improvement over traditional laptops but they suffer
a bit when compared to tablets in certain situations. For example, Ultrabooks aren’t
as personal as tablets and aren’t as easily used in casual situations, such as when you
are sitting in bed. Fortunately, PC makers have created a range of hybrid devices that
bridge this gap, offering the best of both product lines.
The most basic of such hybrid PCs dates back to Microsoft’s first foray into Tablet
PC computing in the early 2000s. This type of machine, called a convertible laptop, is
essentially a laptop or Ultrabook computer in which the screen is permanently attached
on a swivel. So you can use a convertible laptop like a regular laptop or Ultrabook, or
you can flip the screen around and lock it over the keyboard, creating a somewhat thick
tablet device in the process.
A convertible laptop like the one shown in Figure 1-12 is ideal for those who
usually need a full-fledged laptop but would occasionally like to use the device in
Slate hybrids are essentially tablets that can
accommodate a clip-on keyboard base, sometimes with
an extra battery under the keyboard to provide better
off-power run time. This design essentially reverses the
convertible laptop usage pattern and is best used by
those who will use the PC in tablet mode primarily but
sometimes need to type as well.
You will find both Intel-compatible and ARM-based
hybrid PCs of all kinds.
Hardware Capabilities to Look For
Once you’ve determined whether to stick with an Intel-compatible machine or switch
to an ARM-based device, chosen the Windows version you need, and picked out the
type of PC or device that suits your fancy, there’s one more area of concern. And it
concerns new hardware capabilities, some of which won’t be available on certain PCs
With each new Windows release, Microsoft supports a wider range of hardware
devices and peripherals, of course. But with Windows 8 and the new portable scenarios
that are opened up by tablets, Ultrabooks, and hybrids, the possibilities
have expanded dramatically. And many of these possibilities are tied directly to
new hardware capabilities that you should be aware of.
Here are some of the more relevant new hardware capabilities you should consider.
While Windows has offered pervasive multi-touch support since Windows Vista, the
release of Windows 8 has changed things pretty dramatically. Instead of simply tacking
multi-touch support on top of Windows as was done in previous releases, Windows
8 has been re-architected so that multi-touch is a full-fledged input type, alongside
the mouse and keyboard. And in the new Metro environment, multi-touch is arguably
even better supported than is mouse and keyboard. It is, as Microsoft puts it, a touchfirst
We discuss multi-touch throughout this book, but it’s important to know that
multi-touch isn’t just relegated to tablets. In fact, once you start using Windows 8
via multi-touch, you’re going to expect this capability on all of your PCs. And not surprisingly,
multi-touch devices of all kinds have come to market alongside Windows 8,
including touch-capable displays that can attach to desktop computers, and touchbased
Ultrabooks, hybrid PCs, and even all-in-ones.
Figure 1-12: A hybrid laptop
lets you use the machine
as a laptop or a tablet.
Picking a Windows 8 PC or Tablet
You may not believe it until you try it. But once you’ve experienced multi-touch,
you’ll find yourself touching all of your screens, whether they’re touch-capable or not.
NO TE S till not convinced? Know this: Microsoft requires that all Windows 8
devices support at least five touch points. That translates to a hand of fingers—
or foot of toes—that are able to interact with Windows and apps all at once. And
many devices will of course support even more touch points.
CROSSREF Check out Chapter 3 for more information about Metro and its
Connecte d Standby
While Windows’s support for power management has evolved over the years, the new
emphasis on highly portable computing in Windows 8 has triggered the development
of an excellent new power management mode called Connected Standby. This mode
isn’t generally available on PCs created before 2012 and is designed for new, highly
portable devices that will only rarely be turned off. In other words, it works much like
power management on a modern smartphone.
Instead of using a standard sleep state, Connected Standby allows your PC or device
to enter a nearly powerless state in which battery life is only minimally impacted but
Metro-style apps can run in the background, performing tasks like updating e-mail
and triggering notifications. Of course, traditional desktop applications are unaware of
this new power mode, so Windows 8 utilizes a new Desktop Activity Monitor to reduce
the resource utilization of desktop applications while in this mode.
Connected Standby is available in all Windows 8 versions, including Windows RT,
but will work best on new hardware designed specifically for this mode. But even if
your PC or device doesn’t support Connected Standby, Windows 8 includes numerous
power management improvements that should improve battery life and performance
when compared to performing similar tasks in Windows 7.
Many of Windows 8’s new capabilities are inspired by smartphones and other highly
mobile devices and the new wireless scenarios these devices enable. Key among these
capabilities is a support for a variety of sensors, small hardware devices that provide
interaction between the outside world and Windows itself. Some of the new scenarios
supported by Windows 8 and sensors include:
Adaptive screen 33 brightness control: In the past, controlling screen brightness
was at best semi-automatic. You could manually configure a brightness
setting in Power Options. Or those with portable computers could use power
modes to automatically change the screen brightness to one of two settings,
depending on whether the machine was attached to power. In Windows 8, the
situation is much more sophisticated, and if you have a PC or device with an
ambient light sensor (ALS), Windows 8 will automatically change the brightness
of the screen on the fly. This capability is better for your eyes and for
readability, but it can also improve battery life when you use the PC or device
in a dimly lit area.
33 Automatic screen rotation: Tablets and hybrid devices and other screens can
utilize an accelerometer to determine the orientation of the screen and rotate
the on-screen display appropriately as it’s changed. This type of activity is
common on smartphones and, with Windows 8, it’s come to PCs as well.
33 Tilt and motion: Using a gyroscope sensor, a Windows 8-based PC or tablet
can register its movements in 3-D space, providing feedback to games and
apps. In this way, you might tilt a tablet forward to accelerate during a driving
game, or tilt the device to the left and right to steer. This isn’t limited to
just games, however, and the types of motions gyroscope sensors can detect—
including shakes, twists, and rotations in multiple dimensions—are quite
33 Location and directions: Using a standard GPS sensor, a Windows 8 PC or
device can accurately report its geographic location and then plot routes and
distances to other destinations. Mapping and driving apps are obvious applications
for this capability.
33 Compass: Using a 3-D accelerometer and a 3-D magnetometer, or a gyroscope,
a Windows 8 PC or device can emulate a compass. In fact, they can be used to
create a multi-axis, tilt-sensitive compass.
Tap to Send (NFC)
Utilizing new Near Field Communication (NFC) chipsets, Windows 8-based PCs
and devices can send content to another compatible device (Windows 8 PC or device,
Windows Phone 8, or other NFC-compatible device) using a new method called Tap to
Picking a Windows 8 PC or Tablet
Send. This method additionally requires a unique tap zone on the device’s exterior,
which is used to initiate a send or receive action, but even without this part, NFC can
still be used via Bluetooth to send information wirelessly.
So what’s the big deal with NFC? As an emerging standard, NFC is being used to
perform contactless (that is, wireless) payments at retail locations, data exchanges,
and other duties. And while these activities may seem better suited to a smartphone,
the inclusion of NFC in Windows 8 means that these PCs and devices will be able to
participate with coming NFC-based systems as well.
UEFI Firmw are
New Windows 8-based PCs and devices will utilize a new type of firmware called Unified
Extensible Firmware Interface, or UEFI, instead of the old-fashioned BIOS firmware
we’ve been using for decades. UEFI provides many advantages over BIOS, but key among
them is performance: UEFI-based PCs and devices will boot much more quickly than
those based on BIOS.
UEFI offers other advantages over BIOS, of course. The user interface for this
firmware type can be graphical instead of text-based like BIOS. And it enables a new
security feature called Secure Boot that protects system components from tampering
CROSSREF UE FI and Secure Boot are discussed a bit more in Chapter 12.
Don’t buy a Windows 8 PC that includes only USB 2.0 ports. Rated at throughput
speeds of up to 5 Gbps, USB 3.0 is up to 10 times faster than USB 2.0 (480 Mbps),
which can have a significant impact on the performance of certain peripherals,
especially hard disks.
USB 3.0 has other advantages over USB 2.0, though. You can mix and match
USB 2.0 and 3.0 devices on a single controller without impacting the speed of the
faster USB 3.0 devices. (This was an issue with USB 2.0 controllers, which would
ratchet the speed of all devices down to 12 Mbps if a USB 1.0 device was attached.)
USB 3.0 also provides more power to devices, removing the need for USB 2.0-type
double connectors and speeding the charge time of battery-powered devices. And
while the plugs look a bit different, they’re 100 percent compatible with previous
With every Windows release, customers face challenges when it comes to picking the
correct Windows version. And while Windows 8 is no different in this regard, it does
at least offer the simplest product lineup we’ve seen in over a decade, with just two
mainstream retail versions—Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro—being offered alongside
a version for ARM-based devices that’s called Windows RT.
The addition of an ARM-based variant of Windows 8, sold only with new Windowsbased
devices, is perhaps where things get trickiest. Picking between such a device
and a PC based on more traditional Intel-compatible chipsets can be difficult, but not
insurmountable if you understand the differences and issues.
Also, for the first time in many years, you’re going to want to pay close attention
to the hardware peripherals and sensors that come with your PC or devices. Windows
8 and Windows RT are far more useful when used on a machine with the latest hardware
capabilities, so be sure to shop carefully, regardless of which Windows 8 version
or processor architecture you choose.