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Microsoft Windows RT + HDMI Dongle = Pure Awesomeness?

Take Microsoft Surface RT tablet, remove the screen, the battery and a few components, shrink it till it looks like a USB drive and hey! Presto, you have a Windows RT-powered HDMI dongle, a device which could not only bring the joy of computing to millions but also make life for system administrators worldwide so much easier.

These dongles are already flooding the market where their affordability made them a runaway success with those comfortable enough to plug something at the back of a television set and hook it up with wireless devices (keyboard, router or printer).

But it will probably take a short while before this vision turns to reality. The average price of system-on-chips powerful enough to run Windows RT needs to come down. At the moment, the only popular solution is the Freescale iMX6 and can be found on units costing around £60.

Chinese fabless semiconductor firms like Allwinner, Mediatek and Rockchip are in the process of bringing affordable, quad-core models with enough oomph to drive Windows RT. These (like the RK3188) are optimized for performance rather than power consumption and hence will have a high clock speed.

The other (long-term) change that would be desirable rather than required is an increase in the power supplied over HDMI, which currently stands at 50mA which is unfortunately not enough to power a dongle. The current solution is either to use a free USB socket on the TV or use an external adaptor, both of which are fine if you don’t intend to move the dongle around often.

Then there’s the prospect of using MHL (Mobile High-Definition Link) as the default connector rather than HDMI. MHL supports a small connector (microUSB) and also provides ten times the power of HDMI (500mA).

The current promoters of MHL are Samsung, Sony, Toshiba and Nokia but others are likely to follow suit. But for now, there aren’t many televisions that offer MHL connectors; Samsung and LG were the only two manufacturers we tracked that offered it. (Update: A spokesperson for MHL pointed us to this exhaustive list of products that feature MHL technology (opens in new tab))

We expect that by the end of the year, third generation dongles with quad-core cores powerful enough to run Windows RT will be available for well under £40 with 2GB of RAM and 16GB of onboard storage. At this stage, it would technically be possible for Microsoft to launch an affordable subscription service that offers a cloud-infused version of Office 2013 RT with a free "computer". Any takers?

Check our our article on Dell's Project Ophelia and how that could herald the impending death of the desktop PC (opens in new tab).

Désiré Athow

Désiré has been musing and writing about technology during a career spanning four decades. He dabbled in website building and web hosting when DHTML and frames were en vogue and started writing about the impact of technology on society just before the start of the Y2K hysteria at the turn of the last millennium. Following an eight-year stint at where he discovered the joys of global tech-fests, Désiré now heads up TechRadar Pro. Previously he was a freelance technology journalist at Incisive Media, Breakthrough Publishing and Vnunet, and Business Magazine. He also launched and hosted the first Tech Radio Show on Radio Plus.