The Hardware Behind Windows 8 Developer Preview

Inside the Microsoft Windows 8 development labs, the company had a few dozen PCs and other peripheral devices used to test its first preview of its new OS and Metro interface. Here are nine of them.

Millions of developers are evaluating the Windows 8 Developer Preview, unleashed by Microsoft at its BUILD conference this past September.

While the Developer Preview has been out for several months, perhaps you're ready to give it a spin, maybe to build some apps or just to get the feel of Windows 8 and its brand-new Metro interface.

The ultimate experience of Windows 8 will come from a new crop of machines that are being designed specifically for the new OS but Microsoft has indicated that many existing PCs will be upgradable as well. You might be surprised to know there are more than a handful of Windows 7 systems -- both desktops and portables -- that have touch interfaces.

Back at the Windows 8 Developer Preview launch, Steven Sinofsky, president of the Microsoft Windows and Windows Live division, published a list of machines that are in the company's test labs. Sinofsky emphasized that these are by no means recommended, certified or devices with a Microsoft logo, but rather a view of what the company has been using to build and test Windows 8 Developer Preview.

"We think if you're looking to experience some of the latest scenarios and aspects of Windows 8 before there are purpose-built Windows 8 machines, this is a good start," Sinofsky wrote.

If you want to use hardware that Microsoft has already tested before releasing the developer build, it makes sense to consider those machines. Sinofsky also emphasized that the list he published is not an exhaustive inventory of hardware in the lab and surely more systems have since worked their way in.

The following is a glimpse of some of those on the list. But you should keep in mind that just because these machines are in Microsoft labs, there's no guarantee they'll be optimal for the final shipping version of Windows 8.

Some of them are relatively new machines and are easy to procure, while others are several years old and have been discontinued by the vendors.

HP Slate 500

The HP Slate 500 provides a pretty straightforward reference platform for comparing Windows 8 builds against other tablets.
Back in 2010, just a week before the introduction of the first Apple iPad, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer famously demonstrated a prototype tablet from Hewlett-Packard Co. that he promised would ultimately usher in a new crop of such devices designed to run Windows 7. Well, that didn't quite come to pass as planned. Not only did HP drag its feet on promoting that device and bringing it to market, but it ultimately acquired Palm Inc. for $1.2 billion and announced plans to develop a tablet on that company's platform webOS. And then suddenly the company went dark on its plans for a Windows-based slate. Meanwhile, millions of iPads shipped.

Ultimately, though, the company delivered the HP Slate 500 six months after the release of the iPad. Weighing in at 1.5 pounds, the HP Slate 500 has an 8.9-inch diagonal LED-backlit WSVGA wide-viewing angle display supporting 1024x600 or 1024x768, depending on the app. It's powered by an Intel Atom Processor Z540, 2GB of RAM, a 64GB solid state flash drive, an Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 500 and a Broadcom Chrystal HD Enhanced Video Accelerator.

Peripheral support includes one USB 2.0 port, an SD slot, a built-in 3MP outward-facing camera and an inward facing VGA webcam. Networking interfaces include 802.11b/g/n and Bluetooth. HP claims a battery life of 5 hours. It comes loaded with the 32-bit version of Windows 7 Professional.

HP has recently upgraded this device with the new HP Slate 2 Tablet PC. With a similar form factor, it has a more powerful Intel Atom Z670 processor, improved touch, improved local wireless support (WLAN and Bluetooth) and compatibility and optional mobile broadband support. HP also improved power management in the upgraded system, saying it supports up to 7.5 hours of usage.

If you want to go with the unit running in Microsoft labs when Windows 8 Developer Preview was built, the HP Slate 500 starts at $799. Actually, the newer model costs less; the HP Slate 2 starts at $699.

Acer Aspire 1420P

Back in November of 2009, attendees of the Microsoft Professional Developers Conference (PDC) in Los Angeles received all of the test software the company was giving out on an Acer Aspire 1420P. Suffice it to say, there are probably more than a handful of developers that probably still have this system around. So it's not surprising to learn that at least one of them is in Microsoft labs as well.

The Aspire 1420P is a convertible with an 11.6-inch multi-touch display powered by a 1.2 GHz Intel Celeron processor. While it starts with 1GB of RAM, it's upgradeable to a healthy 8GB. Storage options include either a 250GB or 320GB hard drive. The version given out at PDC had a 250GB drive, 2GB of RAM running Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit edition.

Acer built this machine with either a 1366x768 resolution WXGA display or a 1024x600 resolution LCD, though PDC attendees received units with the higher-res HD display. It weighs 3.8 pounds.

Equipped with a 6-cell lithium ion battery pack, Acer has rated this machine at 8 hours of battery life. It's available with or without 3G broadband communications, supports 802.11 b/g WiFi communications as well as Bluetooth 2.1.

Of course, while Windows 7 isn't a touch-first OS, the Windows 7 Sensor Location Platform allows users to switch between landscape and portrait modes and allows apps to adapt based on the whereabouts of the device, as determined by GPS sensors and other communications devices.

Lenovo ThinkPad X220T

Touch-enabled, the Lenovo ThinkPad X220T might provide what enterprises are seeking for their information workers.
The ThinkPad line is popular with enterprise users, especially the X-Series line. The Lenovo X220 convertible is less than a year old and is available in a wide variety of configurations.

At the CPU level, users can opt for an Intel Core i3, i5 or high-end i7 processor and a variety of storage options, ranging from solid state drives to traditional hard drives in different speeds and sizes. It can hold up to 8GB of RAM.

The X220T is touch-enabled, designed to accept input from a pen or fingers and is designed to switch from laptop to tablet mode by just twisting the display panel. Lenovo says the X220T can run up to 15 hours on a single charge when using its 9-cell battery. This model is available in both standard laptop and tablet editions, though those wanting to test Windows 8 will naturally want to get their hands on the latter. Pricing for the tablet version starts at $1,200.

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Lenovo ThinkPad T41

If you're partial to the ThinkPad line of notebooks but the X200T is too small for your taste and portability isn't a primary concern, the older T410 can also be used to test the Windows 8 Developer Preview. Not all T410s have a touchscreen display, which cost $400 extra at the time of its release back in mid-2010.

The T410 weighs about 5 pounds and comes with a 14.1-inch display in either WXGA 1280x800 or WXGA+ 1440x900. It's available with either an Intel Core i5 processor or an i7. Although not in the Microsoft labs, at least initially, a 15-inch T510 model is marketed with the T410, with the difference primarily being the display size.

It supports up to 6GB of memory or as little as 2GB and is available with either a hard disk drive up to 500GB or an SSD up to 128GB. Lenovo has since upgraded this machine to the T420, which had a starting price of $747.

Samsung Series 7 XE700T1A

The Samsung Series 7XE700T1A is a hefty tablet with an optional dock.
When many people think of Samsung, PCs and tablets are not the first thing to come to mind. Let's face it, the company is best known for its plasma TVs, computer displays and its smartphones these days. Samsung does have a line of PCs and tablets and they gained some prominence back in September when Microsoft gave out a model specifically developed by the company loaded with the Windows 8 Developer Preview at BUILD.

To be sure, Samsung is not a newbie to tablets, the company's Galaxy Tab devices running the Google Android OS have had marginal success as well.

If you weren't one of the lucky 5,000 developers attending BUILD and don't have a Windows tablet, the Samsung Series 7 XE700T1A is certainly worthy of consideration. This tablet has an 11.6-inch 1366 x 768 HD LED backlit touch display, powered by an Intel Core i5-2467M processor and Intel HD Graphics 3000 chip.

It has a 64GB solid state drive, comes with 4GB of RAM (maximum capacity), a 2MP front webcam and 3MP rear camera, 802.11 a/b/g/n WiFi, one USB port, a micro SD slot and an HDMI port.

For a tablet it's a bit on the heavy side, weighing in at just a tad under 2 pounds and is available in four versions starting at $1,100. Samsung offers an optional dock for $100 as well. A higher-end version of the XE700T1A is available for $1,349 with 128GB of SSD storage. This device is available in the channel.

Asus Eee Slate EP121

The Asus Eee Slate EP121 comes bundled with a wireless keyboard and supports digital ink.
A few years ago, you'd be hard pressed to find customers in the United States familiar with ASUSTek Computer Inc. (Asus). The Taipei-based company quickly came to prominence with its reliable netbooks, which among other things were popular for their long battery life and lightweight form factor. These days, Asus is a familiar alternative brand with a broad set of PCs. And that includes tablets.

The Asus Eee Slate EP121 was released a year ago and is one of two Asus PCs Microsoft has in its Windows 8 labs. The system runs on an Intel Core i5 470um/ HM55 processor and features a 12.1-inch Wacom digital pen-enabled multi-touch display.

Although Asus machines are popular for their long battery lives, this machine doesn't share that attribute. The four-cell battery is rated at a mere 4.5 hours. It's available with either a 32GB or 64GB solid state drive, 2GB or 4GB of RAM and one 2 MP camera.

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Dell Latitude 6420

With the Dell Latitude 6420, the Windows 8 Developer Preview gets the ruggedized test.
If you want to give Windows 8 a try in a tough environment where a little more size isn't a drawback, the Latitude 6420 should be a suitable alternative. It's available with an Intel Core i5 or i7 processor and sports a 14-inch display. Its higher-end LCD offers 1600x900 resolution with an anti-glare display.

The Latitude 6420 is available with a large 256GB solid state drive or 500GB hard disk drive. It has an optical drive, accommodates up to 8GB of RAM and is marketed by Dell as a machine for those looking for rugged performance. Our sister publication, Government Computer News, ranked it as one of the 11 best products in 2011.

HP TouchSmart 610

HP was the first to make a splash with its touch-enabled TouchSmart desktops several years back. While it was based on HP's own touch interfaces, it's a good sign that at least one TouchSmart model, the 610, seems to be in line with where Microsoft is headed with Windows 8.

This all-in-one desktop has a modern look. Based on a 23-inch widescreen 1080p HD display, it can be mounted on a wall.

This machine is available with an Intel Core i7 quad-core processor, accommodates up to 16GB or RAM and comes with a 1TB hard drive (a 2TB option is available as well). It's available with a variety of graphics cards, either 1GB or 2GB. A recent upgrade, the 620, adds 3-D support.

Dell Inspiron Duo

If you're looking for a low-cost convertible, the Dell Inspiron Duo starts at $500 and functions both as a netbook and a tablet device.

The Dell Inspiron Duo is small with a 10.1-inch HD display and is powered by a dual core Intel Atom N570 processor, 2GB or RAM and a 320GB SATA hard drive. Its four-cell battery gets just under 4 hours of battery life.

While this machine is definitely a compromise over some other systems in this roundup, its price tag and multi-purpose form factor will appeal to those not wanting to spend a fortune for a convertible.