Microsoft Announces Atom-Based Surface 3 Tablet

By Norman Chan

What does this mean for the Surface Pro 4?

Even though Windows 10 isn't coming out until later this year, Microsoft is launching a new Surface tablet next month. This isn't the follow up to the Surface Pro 3 that I liked so much last year, nor is it a new ARM-based RT tablet like the Surface 2. Instead, it's simply called Surface 3, and it'll run a full version of Windows 8.1 (upgradable to Windows 10). What separates it from the Surface Pro lines is its processor: Surface 3 is equipped with Intel's Atom x7 Z8700 CPU, which is clocked at 1.6GHz and turbos to 2.4GHz. Atom has come a long way since its netbook days, and Cherry Trail just launched earlier this year. The advantages of using an X86-based SoC mean Surface 3 can run a fully-capable version of Windows, while keeping power down to as low as 2 watts in "Scenario Design Power". That gives Surface 3 a claimed battery life of 10 hours, while keeping the weight and thickness below Surface 2 RT's specs. Along with a new hardware platform is the use of a 3:2 display (like the Surface Pro 3), with a 1920x1280 touchscreen, and an N-trig pressure sensitive digitizer. Unfortunately, the Surface Pro 3's versatile hinge doesn't make it to this model--this hinge only snaps to three positions.

The interesting thing for me is what this may indicate about the next-generation Surface Pro model. Surface Pro 4 will presumably come out before the end of the year and make a great Windows 10 launch device. But Microsoft can go either the Broadwell U route for hardware (a direct follow-up for the Haswell chips in the current Surface Pro 3) or Core M/Broadwell-Y, which is what's in laptops like the Lenovo Yoga Pro 3 and Apple's upcoming MacBook. My hope is that Microsoft will use Broadwell U chips for that model, given the ultra-low power needs are somewhat satisfied with this Surface 3. But my gut says that they'll design Surface Pro 4 around Core M to take advantage of its low power consumption, at the cost of performance. Given my experience with Broadwell U vs. Y, I'm much more inclined to buy a Broadwell U-based laptop if it's going to be my dedicated computer. We'll just have to wait and see.

Surface 3 will ship in May, and starts at $500 for 64GB of storage or $600 for 128GB and twice the RAM. LTE models will also be available for $100 more.