And Here Come the Cheap Windows 8 Tablets

Asus' Transformer T100 hybrid starts at $349.

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Intel has been talking for months about how its Bay Trail processors would enable cheaper Windows 8 tablets, and now it’s finally happening.

The company is holding an annual developer conference this week, where Windows 8 and tablets have been a major focus. During the conference, Asus announced the Transformer Book T100, a $349 Windows 8.1 device that serves as both a laptop and a tablet.

The T100 has a 10.1-inch, 1366-by-768 resolution display, and like many other hybrids, its screen portion detaches from the base, letting users switch between tablet and laptop modes. Other specs include 32 GB of storage, 2 GB of RAM, microSD, microHDMI and microUSB, with a full-sized USB port on the keyboard dock. A 64 GB version will cost $400.

The price tag along is a drastic change from last year, when not a single Windows 8 tablet sold for less than $500, and most hybrids cost at least $600. But not only is the Transformer Book T100 less expensive, it comes with Intel’s more powerful Bay Trail processor.

Intel claims that Bay Trail will have twice the processing power as last year’s Clover Trail chips, and three times the graphics performance. We’ll have to see how those claims pan out in the real world, of course, but the fact that Bay Trail has been demoed running Team Fortress 2 is a good sign. And battery life isn’t suffering; Asus claims that its tablet will last up to 11 hours on a charge.

Asus’ Transformer Book T100 isn’t the only inexpensive Windows 8 tablet on the way later this year. Over at WinSuperSite, Paul Thurrott has a good roundup of other Windows 8 tablets¬†on the way, both rumored and confirmed, and some of them sound promising. Among the highlights: Dell’s unnamed 10-inch tablet, with a 1080p display and Bay Trail processor for $399; Lenovo’s 8-inch Miix 8 tablet for $249; and Microsoft’s Surface Pro 2.

None of these tablets spell imminent danger for the iPad or Android tablets–both of which have better catalogs of tablet apps–but the lower prices, along with a wave of beefed-up Windows 8 hybrids, should breathe some life back into Microsoft’s touch computing efforts. The idea of having one machine that serves two computing scenarios is still intriguing, and the hardware is starting to look more practical. It’s going to be an interesting holiday season.