In terms of raw computing muscle, Intel's Core i chips live in a league of high performance far beyond the ARM chips that dominate mobile devices. What they lack is the extreme power efficiency of a system-on-a-chip, but it looks like that's a priority for Intel. And not just because the chipmaker has been working on smartphone tech for a couple years now: Intel reportedly plans to cut down the power consumption of its current-gen Ivy Bridge processors.
Ivy Bridge processors currently range from 77 watts max TDP to 17 watts TDP. The 17W ultra-low voltage chips power Ultrabooks and Apple's MacBook Air, which offer better battery life than most laptops but far less life than weaker ARM-based tablets. It makes sense, then, that Microsoft Surface Pro--also expected to run on a 17W Core i5--will offer about five hours of battery life. Given the tablet's size, and its processor, that's actually better than average.
The Surface Pro won't benefit from Ivy Bridge's expected drop in power consumption, at least not when it releases in January. But devices released later in 2013 may run on an improved version of the processor line and deliver longer battery life for comparable performance.
It's hard to predict exactly when these more power efficient chips will be released; Haswell, Ivy Bridge's successor, is already slated to include a new 10 watt chip when it launches by summer 2013. Intel could reposition Ivy Bridge as a cheaper, lower-power alternative to Hawell when the new chips hit the market, or it could have a few improved Ivy Bridge chips in store for release early next year. Either way, Ultrabooks and Windows 8 convertibles like the Lenovo Yoga should see a nice improvement in battery life in 2013 models and beyond. In a couple more years, the mythical 10 hour mark could be the rule, and not the exception.