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Memory bump and NFC may also be added

Despite a rocky start for its tablet experiment, Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) is reportedly prepping its second generation of Surface tablets for this holiday shopping season.  The Surface Pro 2 is expected to receive Haswell Core series chip from Intel Corp. (INTC).  

I. First Gen Surface Pro Was Sunk Largely by it's Intel Processor

Before 2010 no tablet had achieved strong enough sales to be characterized as a hit and the market was considered a niche space.  Then in 2010 Apple, Inc.'s (AAPLiPad debutedposting stunning sales.  A key to its success was its decision to dump the power-thirsty Intel processors that littered its underappreciated Windows predecessors and instead adopt a weaker but more power-efficient core design from ARM Holdings Plc. (LON:ARM).  Thanks to the ARM chip, the tablet boasted a battery life of 10 hours -- a key selling point.

Two years later, Microsoft, still steaming from missing the tablet craze, ditched its OEM partners to launch its own first-party tablet hardware -- Surface.  And Microsoft offered up a variant dubbed Surface Pro that packed a 1.7 GHz dual-core Intel i5-3317u Ivy Bridge chip.  The hot question was whether Intel's primary "Core" chip line had come far enough power-efficiency-wise to truly compete with hit ARM-equipped Android tablets and the iPad.
Things looked promising at first.  The tablet launched in Feb. 2013 to much buzz and some retailers sold out of their early stock.  In fact in its first month the tablet reportedly moved 400,000 units.  But eventually sales petered out leading Microsoft to take a whopping $900M USD write-down and slap a permanent $100 USD discount on the struggling tablet.

Data-mining indicates that Surface RT is actually the stronger seller, comprising about 9.5 percent of Windows 8/RT devices sold, while Surface Pro occupied a measly 1.0 percent.

Surface ARM
The Surface Pro has been outsold by the ARM-equipped Surface RT.

The deal breaker for many was the high price ($799 for 64 GB and $899 USD for 128 GB after the latest discount) coupled with the poor battery life.  The Intel chip shaved the ample 7-hour battery life of the ARM-equipped Surface RT down to a little over 4 hours.  Arguably, Intel is to blame on both of these counts as it demands up to $300 USD more for its power-hungry chips, versus popular ARM competitors.

To make matters worse, the tablet at times felt sluggish during heavy use with "only" 4 GB of RAM and the Windows 8 OS consumed much of the storage, leaving only 83 GB free on the 128 GB Surface; 23 GB on the 64 GB Surface. By contrast the iPad -- which requires about 10 percent of storage to be free, plus room for the OS -- offers about 105 GB for the 128 GB version and 54 GB for the 64 GB version [source].  It appear the Windows recovery technology is primarily to blame -- of the 10.4 GB allocated for Windows, 7.9 GB of it is reportedly for recovery.

II. Fixing Surface -- Haswell May Do the Trick

Microsoft has already moved to remedy storage shortcomings by bumping the capacity to 256 GB in the first-generation models.

But the pivotal question remained what to do about the power-hungry Intel chip.  It appears Intel has sold Microsoft on the idea of a Haswell brain for the Surface 2.  A recent analysis by AnandTech showed Intel making serious power-efficiency gains with Haswell, with a projected battery life of 8 hours with a 42.5 Wh battery.  Of course these numbers were based on Apple's OS X and iOS -- but they suggest that if Microsoft does its homework on the firmware front, their may be hope that the Surface Pro 2 fixes the abysmal battery life of its predecessor.

Haswell die
Haswell is offering 8+ hours of battery life on a 42 Wh battery.

The aforementioned tests were done on a Haswell ULT processor (13.5 W TDP).  In June Intel also announced an even more efficient ULX line (10 W TDP) (with 'Y' tacked onto the chip numbers), which could bump battery life even higher.  If Microsoft can get it hands on ULX chips, it has a shot at least doubling the battery life of the first generation Surface Pro.

The Surface Pro 2 is also expected -- according to Neowin -- to pack a "refined" kickstand, improving on a popular feature in the first model.  It's also expected to bump the memory to 8 GB.  TechRadar reports that other Surface Pro 2 rumors point to NFC, wireless charging, an LTE variant, and 802.11ac Wi-Fi support.

Meanwhile the Surface 2 (the second generation Surface RT) is expected to receive a predictable bump from NVIDIA Corp.'s (NVDA) Tegra 3 arm processor to a Tegra 4 chip -- possibly the Tegra 4i.

The only official word from Microsoft is that it has committed to "updates" as noted in a video from Microsoft captured by ZDNet.  However AdDuplex -- which claims to be the largest Windows 8/RT-specific advertising network -- has noted Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 devices are already logging internet hours, indicating that Microsoft is likely dogfooding prototypes in preparation for a launch.

Microsoft FY2014
Microsoft has confirmed a "refresh" of Surface. [Image Source: ZDNet]

Those same numbers hint that Microsoft may be competing with its own recently acquired subsidiary -- Nokia Oyj. (HEX:NOK1V) -- as a pair of Nokia tablets (codenamed RX-107, RX-108) also show up in the mined data.

Sources: NeoWin, TechRadar, AdDuplex, ZDNet

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RE: PC replacement
By dgingerich on 9/4/2013 2:38:49 PM , Rating: 2
Amen to that. I have my main PC and a Dell XPS 10 RT tablet. That Dell has an extra battery in the keyboard dock, giving me over 10 hours of battery life. It's great!

Now if they'd just add drivers for USB to Serial adapters so I could use it to talk to raid arrays and switches at work, I'd have a complete replacement for my work laptop. I hate undocking my work laptop just to setup a switch or raid array.

RE: PC replacement
By Labotomizer on 9/4/2013 7:44:12 PM , Rating: 3
And therein lies the beauty of the Surface Pro, which is what I've got. 12 hours in a data center bringing up firewalls and switches? Plug in the Surface Pro, USB to Serial and, after a point, USB to Ethernet and you're golden. And because of the size you can sit it in a cabinet and have room for a Bluetooth mouse next to it. It's pretty amazing.

My "laptop", which is an Elitebook quad core i7 with 16GB of memory, stays at the office. I connect to it remotely for VMs, test environments, etc. But my Surface is the only thing I travel with now.

RE: PC replacement
By flyingpants1 on 9/4/2013 11:57:59 PM , Rating: 2
Cool, so that appeals to what, 5% of the population tops?

RE: PC replacement
By w8gaming on 9/5/2013 3:31:22 AM , Rating: 2
A surface RT with its current dismal situation in the app store, and lack of 3G connectivity, appeals only to people who wants to use Office on a tablet device. That percentage is not great. If one wants to play music or video, iPad and Android fares way better than what Surface RT can do. Microsoft has a lot of things to catch up with.

RE: PC replacement
By damianrobertjones on 9/5/2013 4:07:24 AM , Rating: 2
"current dismal situation in the app store"

Oh, that one again. Have you even looked through the app store?

RE: PC replacement
By domboy on 9/5/2013 8:47:14 AM , Rating: 3
My problem with RT isn't the app store, as since it has a fully functional desktop browser, with flash, all the web page replacement apps aren't necessary. Same with all the apps for facebook games and the like (assuming you have wifi connection). My problems with RT are 1. the locked out desktop (no non-Microsoft apps), and 2. I'm not convinced "modern ui" is a good replacement gui for the desktop. WinRT applications really need to be able to run in a desktop window mode. The big selling point of the Surface devices is they are convertibles, both tablet and laptop, possibly even desktop replacement. Surface Pro works, especially with Haswell. Surface RT with the jailbreak also works, but out of the box it doesn't.

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