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The future of Microsoft Surface: What to expect from Surface 3 and Surface Pro 4

Mark Hachman | March 25, 2015
Just over ten months ago, Microsoft launched the Surface Pro 3 in New York City. While the first two generations of Surface tablets were undeniably clunky, the SP3's clean lines and bright, forceful design have carved out a niche in the 2-in-1 market that no other manufacturer has matched.

Just over ten months ago, Microsoft launched the Surface Pro 3 in New York City. While the first two generations of Surface tablets were undeniably clunky, the SP3's clean lines and bright, forceful design have carved out a niche in the 2-in-1 market that no other manufacturer has matched.

Yearly version updates are inevitable, but I suspect that Microsoft doesn't plan to overhaul the Surface Pro 3 radically. In fact, here's what I think Microsoft may do: release an "updated" SP3 with an ultra-low-power processor in the near future, then reveal a significantly redesigned Surface Pro 4 in the fall to coincide with the launch of Windows 10.

As for upgrade specifics, it's just a matter of connecting the dots — and for clues we look to Intel, not Microsoft. Intel touts its fifth-generation, 14-nm Core chips (aka "Broadwell") as drop-in replacements for the earlier 22-nm "Haswell" chips inside the Surface Pro 3. This suggests Microsoft could update the existing Surface Pro 3 cheaply and with few engineering tweaks.

Intel's redesigned Skylake chips, due this fall, should require new motherboards. This presents a good opportunity for crafting an entire new generation of Surface tablets — whose central selling point, I believe, could be a suite of apps built on Windows 10, depth cameras, and services like Microsoft Hello.

Prioritizing battery life in a refreshed' Surface lineup

Before we delve into the flashy new features, let's look at battery life, one of the most critical specs for any mobile device. I'll take a Surface Pro 3 over a MacBook Air any day, but even the most loyal fan must concede that the MacBook Air still handily outpaces the SP3 in terms of battery life — and even more so with Apple's updated MacBook. 

But with Intel's Broadwell chip, Microsoft has a chance to close the gap. Intel says that its Core M chip can extend battery life by an additional 1.7 hours compared to a system powered by the Haswell-based Core i5, the chip that powers the mid-range Surface Pro 3. Intel's new "Cherry Trail" Atom chips extend battery life even further.

In our own processor-intensive battery tests, the SP3 lasted about 4 hours, although you'll get more life if you limit yourself to light web surfing and office work. Still, Apple says that the new MacBook can last 8 or 9 hours, so Microsoft could use some extra oomph here. That might come in part from the smaller Broadwell processor module, which requires about half the space as the Haswell chip. Who knows, Microsoft might be able to leverage extra space for a larger capacity battery.

 

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