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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: could be a hit
By CosmoJoe on 9/4/2013 4:30:20 PM , Rating: 2
I simple don't see mobile devices or "converged" devices replacing laptops and desktops, especially when it comes to content creation. I have a WinRT device and have used iPads as well. They are great for sitting on a plane and passing time, as e-book readers, web browsers, etc. They are _awful_ for composing emails, unless you dock the device and then pull out a decent sized keyboard and mouse. I have a 27" monitor at home. Why on earth - given the choice - would I game or create documents on a tiny tiny mobile device screen.


RE: could be a hit
By InsGadget on 9/5/2013 8:00:09 AM , Rating: 2
Hook the Surface Pro up to that monitor. Since it is, after all, a computer.


RE: could be a hit
By troysavary on 9/5/2013 8:20:52 AM , Rating: 2
The typing experience on a Surface with the type cover is as good as most laptops. Not sure why it would be awful for composing an e-mail.


RE: could be a hit
By Helbore on 9/5/2013 12:33:11 PM , Rating: 3
You're missing the point; why buy a tablet for its long battery life and simple media consumption, a laptop for working on-the-go and a desktop PC for gaming or some involved content creation - when instead you can buy a Surface Pro 2 which will (hopefully, if things pan out as the rumours suggest they might);

1. As thin and light as a tablet, with as much battery life,

2. Capable of attaching to varying types of keyboard docks so it can be used as a laptop for your mobile working.

3. Have inductive charging, Bluetooth and WiDi, meaning you can simply drop it in front of your 27" monitor and it becomes a full desktop PC without you even plugging a single wire into it.

One device for ~$1000 that does the work of three devices that would also probably cost around 50% more combined. That's a fantastic proposition.

Whether the Pro 2 will deliver on that promise is another matter and we won't know the answer to that until its out in the wild. But its plainly obvious what Microsoft's intentions are. They just need to get the hardware right AND actually sell this idea to people who haven't realised it.

Why have a PC and an iPad, when you can just have a PC that costs less and does everything the other two do in one device?


"Nowadays you can buy a CPU cheaper than the CPU fan." -- Unnamed AMD executive














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