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Hardware: Is There a Reason to Upgrade?

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As fall begins, computer manufacturers hope their new hybrid tablet PCs are powerful enough to move consumers and business.

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HP has an ultrabook with a screen that snaps off of its magnetic hinge to function as a tablet. Asus has its own model with a standard screen that flips around to be used as a touchscreen. Samsung will introduce hybrid screens up to a jumbo 27 inches in width that accept commands by hand gesture and voice as well as touch input. Acer is showing a laptop that folds flat for touch screen input, while Toshiba's touchscreen pops over the keyboard like a lid.

And then there's Microsoft's own version, the Surface, which uses the reverse side of the keyboard as a cover. Different versions of the Surface will run on chips from Intel and ARM Holdings.

As product design features, some of these are pretty minor. But all of them are trying for a better answer to a very contemporary problem: Why must we choose between a "media player," or tablet, and a "workhorse," or laptop, for a task, or a road trip, or a day out?

Nobody can say whether any or all of these options, or the operating system they run on, is spiffy enough to convince people to go with Microsoft instead of Apple.

At the high end, the models that use Intel's ultrabook chips are struggling to keep their prices below $1,000, the price point they see as critical to wide acceptance. At the low end, they all fear that somebody - maybe Microsoft itself - will lowball it with a $199 device that nobody else can match.

The problem at the moment is that few of these devices have gotten a proper test-drive from reviewers, and none are in the stores. Expect the flood on or about October 26, when Microsoft officially launches Windows 8.
No positions in stocks mentioned.
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