Microsoft Reportedly Prototyping Surface Devices With Qualcomm and AMD Chips

Posted on June 25, 2019 by Mehedi Hassan in Hardware, Microsoft, Microsoft Surface with 45 Comments

Microsoft is expected to introduce its new Surface lineup of devices this Fall. This time around, though, there might be a little twist. According to a new report from Brad Sams on Petri, Microsoft is toying with the idea of putting non-Intel chips on some of the next-gen Surface devices.

It’s no secret that Microsoft’s relationship with Intel internally hasn’t been smooth, pushing Microsoft to start thinking about moving away from Intel. The company is apparently testing a 12nm AMD Picasso SoC on a variation of the Surface Laptop, according to Petri.

And on the Surface Pro, Microsoft is testing a custom SoC that could potentially power the next Surface Pro device. The company is working “extremely” closely with Qualcomm to build the new custom SoC codenamed Excalibur for the ARM Surface Pro. The custom SoC is being built closely with Qualcomm based on Microsoft’s own specifications to work better on Windows 10. Microsoft may also use the new SoC as a reference device for its OEM partners.

Here’s the thing, though: Microsoft will continue to rely on Intel for its other devices, including new Surface Book, and Pro 7. Microsoft’s new Surface Pro 7 will continue to feature a similar design to the Pro 6, and Microsoft will finally introduce a USB-C port on the device. The company was originally planning to introduce a new look for this year’s Surface Pro, though that’s apparently been pushed till next year.

October will be a big month for Redmond and Microsoft finally leading the Windows-on-ARM space with an ARM Surface Pro might just change Windows laptops as we know it.

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Comments (45)

45 responses to “Microsoft Reportedly Prototyping Surface Devices With Qualcomm and AMD Chips”

  1. ecumenical

    Honestly more excited for AMD than ARM. It would be great to get a little more graphics power in the tablet form factor.

    • ChristopherCollins

      In reply to ecumenical:

      Exactly. I guess the good side with Intel is that we get decent Nvidia built in. I think the dynamic of the Surface Book (GPU in tablet and GPU in dock) is something AMD doesn't do well? It's the only reason I can think of for them not to use AMD, considering the Xbox business. Does AMD support QuickSync? That is a must have video encoding feature if you edit.

  2. hrlngrv

    Much greater battery life vs Intel/AMD would be a selling point. Other than that, what benefits?

    • Stooks

      In reply to hrlngrv:

      None IMHO. Windows on ARM has been a failure since Windows Phone 7, for one reason....lack of native apps.

      If you believe all the rumors this time it will work with a combination of PWA's, Android apps and Win32/32bit emulation.

      Where do I NOT sign up?

      • digiguy

        In reply to Stooks:

        Stooks you are not up-to-date on Windows on ARM. Things have changed a lot.

        8cx is on par with current gen I5s

        Emulation impact has been reduced

        Many more core native apps are available, notably browsers (Chromium Edge, Firefox)

        Battery life, stand-by time and LTE are key for business users on the go.

        This is not for home use

      • Tony Barrett

        In reply to Stooks:

        Exactly. MS have been bitten here more than once - but they don't seem to learn. Devs just aren't interested in developing for Windows on ARM, no matter how 'easy' MS try and make it. Another dud in the making...

    • skane2600

      In reply to hrlngrv:

      It wonder what impact Win32 emulation would have on power savings. I imagine it would take a lot of RISC instructions to implement CISC instructions in software.

    • dontbe evil

      In reply to hrlngrv:

      lighter, cooler and thinner device, 4g/5g integration ... possibility to run apps natively compiled for ARM (will be nice to see the benchmarks with native ones)

    • Greg Green

      In reply to hrlngrv:

      Battery life by itself is a big deal. If they can match low level intel performance and get 50% increase in battery life, the only thing left is the price. If they nail that intel’s hold on laptops is threatened.

      • skane2600

        In reply to Greg Green:

        That's a lot of "if's". Low-level Intel laptops are around $200. The users who would be most likely to find battery life critical, probably would demand better performance anyway.

  3. codymesh

    does chromium run on ARM yet? I feel like that is the biggest missing piece for now.

  4. digiguy

    Contrary to some here, I don't care about AMD, as I don't care about GPU power (no gaming, no video editing), but I do care about battery life, stand-by time and LTE, so I am looking forward to windows on arm.

    However I am more interested in a surface go on ARM than a pro.

    • webdev511

      In reply to digiguy:

      The CPU capabilities of the Ryzen 3k with the 7nm process itself should be an eye opener. Very powerful CPU that won't suck down the battery. Zen Mobile chips based on 3rd gen Ryzen should be much more power efficient than the intel cpus. Not ARM efficient, but better all around.

  5. glenn8878

    I would think the regular Surface Go tablet can use a speedier AMD chip, but it will still be a slow tablet and last no longer than 2 years.

  6. craigb

    Is it conceivable that they include both processors on the surface? That way the most appropriate processor can run the application. Not being a techie I wouldn't know if this was possible but rather than choose one or the other if both were there then it would seem to solve the problem.

    • skane2600

      In reply to craigb:

      Besides any technical challenges with respect to coordinating the use of two different CPU architectures, it seems that the only advantage ARM would have would be lower power consumption and having two chips would likely erase that advantage.

  7. skane2600

    They shouldn't call any Surface device "Pro" if they're going to use an ARM chip unless the point is to rhyme with "Slow". Nobody wants a new RT device or wants to emulate Win32.

    • BigM72

      In reply to skane2600:

      Performance with the 8cx looks promising so far, they are targeting dual-core Core i5 equivalent performance.

      But, I agree, keep "Pro" for x86 chips be they Intel or AMD with Windows 10 Pro. Re-introduce a non-Pro Surface tablet running the ARM chip with Windows Lite Core (or whatever it is going to be called).

      • digiguy

        In reply to BigM72:

        Even better than that, the tests I have seen so fare are more in line with quad core i5 performance. Also, emulation has been improved a lot and the impact is much lower

        • skane2600

          In reply to digiguy:

          ARM native performance isn't really the key question. I haven't read any new review of Windows on ARM that indicates that emulation performance has been improved, do you have a link?

    • Greg Green

      In reply to skane2600:

      So far it’s compettive with i5-8250U on MS Store apps, and gives 50% more battery life. That may not be Pro, but it’s at least Pro-Am.

  8. SvenJ

    Would seem to make more sense in a new Go device. That works well as a portable device and would benefit from cell technology more than the Pro line. My Go has LTE and it has come in handy. More cell-ish connectivity might be very useful.

  9. Jhambi

    Does anyone have an spreadsheet of speculative Microsoft devices/cpu/OS. We can use a vlookup to figure out whats going in what.

  10. will

    Looks like another tock year for Surface? Maybe a Surface Book with updated specs, minor changes to some items and while not TB3 maybe USB-C 3.1 gen 2?

  11. BigM72

    It's kind of funny to see Mehedi write a story on Thurrott quoting Brad on Petri when Brad also writes here. Nothing wrong with it, just funny as it's almost self-referential.

  12. docpaul

    I would be all over an AMD Surface!

  13. red.radar

    I don't see the appeal to a Qualcomm / Arm part. Microsoft just upset that PC devices are expensive and blame intel? Microsoft has a hole in the ultra low end of the product sku and thus not competing with Chromebooks? Is Microsoft still keeping the hope that Windows backs into a mobile capacity?

    I genuinely don't' see the appeal to me as a customer nor the strategy...

    • BigM72

      In reply to red.radar:

      Battery life and integrated cellular connectivity. You can't see the use cases?

      • red.radar

        In reply to BigM72:

        No I don’t.

        I don’t want to pay celluar providers a device access fee just because I own a PC. Especially when Wifi is pervasive.

        x86 laptops already get 12+hrs in battery life that is long enough to get through one day. Anything beyond that is diminishing returns. Also I am not certain that ARM is that much better in power efficiency when stacked against the Y-series core processors.

        but beyond that... there are products today that solve the market niche of needing 12+ battery life and celluar connectivity. They are not that popular. .... Why does Qualcomm and windows suddenly mark an improvement? Is it price? Will these machines be cheaper and thus connectivity is more accessible?

        I don't see the vision.

      • digiguy

        In reply to BigM72:

        Yes, and stand-by time. How about a surface with 1 month stand-by time? The big advantage of the ipad over the surface is not only battery life (2-3 hours more than SP5 and SP6, and motre than double than SP4 and SP3) but above all stand-by. You can put it in a bug and find it fullychanged after days. Also only SP5 has a variant with LTE, no other pro does. All ipads have LTE variants.

        • red.radar

          In reply to digiguy:

          laptops offer 1 month stand-by today. My lenovo laptop that I use as my daily driver from 2015 offers 1 month stand-by.

          Not to mention most charge their devices everynight. Do people really care about 30-day standby?

          And you bring up a point. Ipads have had LTE options for quite a few generations. What is the uptake? maybe 30%?

          My point: I believe this fills a product hole for windows for lucrative enterprise customers, Traveling consultants and sales perhaps. Keep them plugged into windows and not migrating to the Ipad. However, I am not certain there is mass market appeal for this item and as such I think there will be disappointment.

          I wonder if this is really about shoring up windows for computing devices like the raspberry pi. When computing hits another level of "cheep" Microsoft doesn't want to be priced out its customer base because Intel won't lower price. For me its not features but I wonder if its just Price?

          • wright_is

            In reply to red.radar:

            And Lenovo, for example, have been offering 2G/3G/4G connected versions of their business laptops for well over a decade.

            That said, I've never used the cellular abilities of my laptops.

  14. Omen_20

    I would love an APU powered Surface. Enough for consumption, and indie to mid level gaming. Anything higher end could be done with xCloud.

    Does anyone know if mobile style motherboards could pack in Thunderbolt 3? I know AMD motherboards can have add-in cards, but not sure about whether AMD laptops have this.