Two of the first Microsoft Surface tablets featured ARM-based processors and shipped with the Windows RT operating system. But the Surface RT and Surface 2 are long gone, and every Surface device Microsoft has released since 2013 has featured an Intel processor.
This could be the year that changes. According to Petri’s Brad Sams, Microsoft is currently testing Surface Laptop and Surface Pro tablet prototypes featuring AMD and Qualcomm Snapdragon chips, respectively. Windows Central says its sources confirm Sams’ report.
It’s not yet clear if these devices will ever see the light of day, and Sams says Microsoft isn’t giving up on Intel altogether. But if the new device do make it to market, it could be a big deal for the wider PC market.
AMD is already making inroads into the laptop and desktop PC space thanks to the company’s Ryzen processors which offer competitive pricing and performance when compared with their equivalent Intel chips.
A Microsoft design win would be big news, since Surface devices tend to be premium products that Microsoft pitches as offering best-in-class performance for Windows laptops, tablets, or whatever you want to call the Surface Studio. I wouldn’t be surprised to see more PC makers opt for AMD chips if and when Microsoft starts shipping some AMD-powered Surface devices.
As for the rumored Surface Pro tablet with an ARM processor, that may be even more important… for Microsoft, if not for other PC makers.
Microsoft have been pushing Windows on ARM for the past two years, but so far most of the Windows 10 notebooks and tablets to ship with the software have offered extra-long battery life, always-connected capabilities thanks to integrated 4G LTE and… pretty lousy performance.
Qualcomm says its upcoming Snapdragon 8cx processor should change that by offering Intel Core i5-like performance. But according to Brad Sams, Microsoft is working with Qualcomm on a custom system-on-a-chip code-named “Excalibur,” which may be better optimized for Windows 10.
Sams rightly notes that if Microsoft isn’t ready to ship first-party Windows on ARM software soon, it’s going to get harder and harder for the company to convince third-party device makers to do it… which could make the years of R&D that went into creating Window on ARM look like a waste.
This is a problem Microsoft hadn’t really had in the past. Historically the company was known only for its software and not for making PC hardware. But when Microsoft started making its own computers earlier this decade, it positioned the Surface lineup as the exemplar of what it thought a modern Windows computer should look like. And right now that lineup doesn’t include any ARM-based devices.
Sams says Microsoft may also have new Intel-powered hardware on the way including new Surface Book 2-in-1 laptops and a new Surface Pro 7 tablet with an Intel processor and a USB-C port (a first for the Surface Pro lineup).
The next Microsoft hardware event is expected to take place in October.