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Thin Tablets and the "Gunslinger Syndrome"

I’m reading some reports from CompuTex 2014 right now with a degree of bemusement. Among the slew of new product announcements typical of this event, there’s news from Asus about a new convertible tablet named the Transformer Book T300 Chi that’s billed as “the world’s thinnest 12.5-inch detachable tablet” (quote source: Engadget). At 7.3 mm thick (0.29″) it beats the previous record holder in this interesting category (the Microsoft Surface Pro 3, 9.1 mm) by a significant 1.8 mm (~0.071″).

Last week we saw the SP3 at 9.1 mm; this week it’s the Asus Transformer Book T300 Chi at 7.2 mm; what’s next?

Details on the new offering are still pretty sketchy. According to FirstPost (my best source of such skinny as is available at the moment), we’ve got a device with some kind of Haswell (or possibly Broadwell) “next-gen Core microarchitecture” (undoubtedly of the ULV variety, given the form factor), “up to 128 GB of flash” SSD, 4 GB of DDR3 RAM, and this surprising element “up to 1 TB of storage” (which may mean a hybrid HD, or perhaps an add-in second mSATA SSD). I’m pretty sure it will be available in at least i3 and i5 models, but would be surprised if i7 also joins the mix because the slim package doesn’t leave much room for battery capacity. The keyboard dock is itself quite slender (total width for the device with keyboard and tablet folded together is reported at a mere 14.3 mm, which indicates it’s only 7.1 mm (~0.29″) thick on its own. I have to suspect that doesn’t leave much room for a second internal battery, nor for too many additional ports (from the various photos currently available, there may be one or two USB ports of some kind, possibly a mini DisplayPort, and perhaps a Kensington Lock port, but it’s really hard to tell).

One thing’s for sure: aspiring to be the thinnest tablet is an interesting proposition nowadays, and apparently gives contenders little or no time to rest on their accomplishments before being dethroned. But at 7.2mm, Asus may be in a position where other vendors will be challenged to match them, let alone surpass them. We’ll just have to wait and see about that!

The Llama Mountain motherboard faces one way, the sisterboard the other way, to help heat dissipation. The entire package is just a little bigger than an iPhone. Wow!

[Note added 6/3/2014 10:22 AM: Part of the mystery behind the new Asus tablet is addressed by coverage from Computex that emerged this morning, regarding the so-called “Llama Mountain” prototype laptop from Intel, which provides a reference implementation built around the upcoming Broadwell incarnation of the company’s ultra-low voltage Haswell processors, now called the “Core M” (M is for Mobile) line. This is a “die shrink” from 22 to 14 nm of the already-popular Haswell family, and results in a set of mobile processors for which all members enjoy a TDP of under 10 watts. The best Llama Mountain story I’ve found so far — and there are already oodles of them out there — is from TheNextWeb and is entitled “Intel introduces incredibly thin Llama Mountain reference design running Windows 8.1.” Among other things, this story reveals that the Asus Transformer Book T300 Chi is indeed based on the Core M processor line, that it’s an entirely fanless design, and that Intel’s own reference tablet is a mere 7.2mm thick itself. TheNextWeb includes photos of the motherboard (which contains RAM and CPU plus the bulk of the PC’s circuitry) and a so-called “sisterboard” that houses SSD storage and the Wi-Fi radio components. The whole package is just slightly bigger than an iPhone (looks like a 4c model from what I can tell from the side-by-side photo). Here’s my favorite quote from the story: “Because of the small motherboard, the 12.5 inch tablet can house more batteries. The board is flanked by two batteries that give the device 32 hours of battery life. The tablet without the keyboard is 670 grams and 7.2mm thick. It’s thinner than an iPad air but running Windows 8.1 Pro.”

My! My! My! Hasn’t the tablet scene just suddenly gotten a lot more interesting? I have two thoughts on this: Poor Microsoft, with its triumphant SP3 announcement from last week now completely eclipsed. And is it possible that Apple will finally start feeling some heat from the long-downtrodden PC-derived tablet sector?]

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