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Windows 8 portables to get inexpensive, long-lived by Xmas 2013?

New Haswell chips will power touch-enabled, $600 machines with all-day batteries

Wait until next Christmas to buy a Windows 8 ultrabook for $600, says Intel. Well, more or less.

The company predicts that by the end of the year PC makers will be cranking out low-powered portables with touchscreens based on new Intel chips that can support Windows 8 hardware specifications.

BACKGROUND: Ultra-hyped ultrabooks ultra-flopped in 2012 

LEARN: 12 essential Windows 8 keyboard shortcuts 

FIRST LOOK: Surface RT 

In addition to extending battery life to a full day, the chips – called Haswell – are designed to cater to touch as well as voice and gesture commands, says Kirk Skaugen, Intel’s PC chief, at a press conference.

$600 is a better price than Microsoft’s own Surface Pro tablet/notebook that is meant to show off Windows 8 to best advantage, supporting all legacy Windows apps as well as the Windows 8 Modern apps crafted for the operating system’s touch capabilities. That’s about the same price as a Surface RT tablet that doesn’t support traditional Windows apps.

Surface Pro tablets are scheduled to go on sale at the end of the month for $900. If there’s no rush for buying Windows 8, saving $300 and perhaps getting better battery life may be worth the wait.

On the other hand, perhaps Microsoft will come out with more Surface models than the two it has already announced, the Surface RT that limits its support to Modern apps and Surface Pro. It could build an ultrabook version of Surface also based on Haswell to come out by the end of the year.

This fits with a rumor circulating last month from MS Nerd’s Twitter feed that Microsoft will indeed come out with a Haswell-based device called Surface Book with a 14.6-inch screen.

MORE: Rumored follow-ons for Surface tablelts

Given the estimated slow sales of Windows 8 devices through the just-ended holiday season, it looks like the Microsoft game plan may be letting devices and software revisions tune up the product over the course of 2013.

That would give IT departments breathing room before they commit to supporting the new operating system. If they have no plans to deploy it, they still could be forced into dealing with it officially on their networks if enough workers bring them in as part of BYOD programs. If significant use of Windows 8 doesn’t arise until a year from now, that will reduce the urgency for IT to learn the operating system.

Battery life improvements may be key to devices that support the full Windows 8 operating system as opposed to the limited Windows RT. Microsoft has acknowledged that Surface Pro will have half the battery life of Surface RT, which it claims to be about 10 hours.

Battery life will be important to businesses as well. With mobile workers being the most likely to embrace Windows Surface and other Windows 8 portables, they must have a day’s worth of power to insure their users can be productive when unable to plug in the devices.

The bottom line is that Windows 8 adoption may continue to be a slow roll until better power consumption and pricing come along.

(Tim Greene covers Microsoft for Network World and writes the Mostly Microsoft blog. Reach him at tgreene@nww.com and follow him on Twitter https://twitter.com/#!/Tim_Greene.)

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Why aren’t Apple and Amazon dumping on Windows RT?

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