Windows 8.1 tablets with 64-bit Atom chips not coming until Q1

Intel's Bay Trail chip will initially be used in 32-bit Windows 8.1 tablets, with 64-bit versions due in the first quarter

Buyers looking for a tablet with Intel's new Bay Trail Atom chip and a 64-bit version of Windows 8.1 will have to wait until early next year.

Intel executives on Wednesday said the first Bay Trail tablets will use only the 32-bit version of Windows 8.1, despite 64-bit support on the chip.

Tablets with the 32-bit OS have a 4GB ceiling for DRAM memory, while 64-bit can actually support 512GB. Most early Bay Trail tablets with Windows 8.1 will not have more than 4GB of memory, said Steve Smith, vice president and director of tablet development at Intel.

"We have the capability, now it's a matter of when a consumer system would need that, that's probably sometime in the future, I'd say a few generations away," Smith said.

The reason is limitations in Microsoft's software, said Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst at Insight 64. A feature in Windows 8.1 called connected standby, which allows computers to be put in sleep mode and wake up instantly, is available today only in the 32-bit version.

Microsoft is adding the feature to the 64-bit Windows 8.1, and it will be available in early 2014.

Intel also doesn't feel 64-bit is necessary on consumer tablets, though it knows IT managers want 64-bit compatibility across all PCs and mobile devices in the enterprise.

Intel is developing a separate Bay Trail tablet chip intended for 64-bit versions of Windows 8.1, and the processor will ship in the first quarter of next year, said Chris Walker, general manager of tablets at Intel's Mobile Communications Group.

"We're developing new hardware with Windows 8.1," Walker said. "There will be a [chip] that supports the enterprise-class feature set."

There are benefits to 64-bit support. Tablets with 64-bit operating systems can run applications faster with a wider bus and have access to more memory. A tablet is more likely to be able to play 4K video with 64-bit support.

64-bit may also be relevant in environments where IT administrators want to run the same OS images on PCs as on Windows tablets, Intel's Smith said.

Intel's upcoming Bay Trail chip for 64-bit enterprise tablets may include VPro, a set of remote management technologies for IT administrators. Such chips also have on-chip security technologies, and Intel's McAfee security software has been optimized for 64-bit Bay Trail chips, said Hermann Eul, vice president and general manager of the mobile and communications group at Intel, during a question-and-answer session at IDF.

Brookwood said there could be 64-bit Windows 8.1 tablets for consumers by the first quarter of next year as well.

Intel's previous Clover Trail and Clover Trail+ chips supported only 32-bit operating systems. Tablets running ARM processors are also 32-bit, as the chips do not support 64-bit addressing. Apple this week announced a 64-bit iPhone 5S smartphone.

The new Bay Trail chips are based on a new CPU architecture called Silvermont. Intel has started shipping 64-bit Atom server chips code-named Avoton based on Silvermont.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

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