Microsoft recently unveiled Windows 11, launched it for Windows Insiders and today announced Windows 365, it is clear 2021 will be a big year for Microsoft, but what will the company launch at their annual hardware event this Fall? The SQ3-powered Surface Pro X, that is almost a certainty. An SQ3-powered Surface Laptop 5, that is likely. Surface Go 3, powered by SQ3, possibly. The long-overdue Surface Studio 3, that’s a safe bet. A redesigned Surface Pro 8, probably. A much-improved Surface Duo 2, definitely. The Surface Neo, powered by SQ3 and running Windows 11, maybe. But what about the long fabled true Pro-level Laptop we all want?
Surface Pro X (SQ3)
Surface Pro X is not only Microsoft’s ARM-platform flagship but it is also Microsoft’s flagship for the Windows 11 on Arm platform. Unfortunately, the second-generation Surface Pro X was not that exciting, a slightly overclocked SQ1 that was named SQ2, the addition of the Platinum finish and additional keyboard colors and no 5G connectivity was all we really got. There is a lot of hopes riding on a 3rd-generation Surface Pro X, powered by the upcoming SQ3-based Snapdragon 8cx Gen3. Now that Windows 11 on Arm includes x64 legacy app support, all the next Surface Pro X needs is more power and the upcoming SQ3 looks like it will deliver.
SQ3-powered Surface Laptop 5
When Apple launched their M1-powered MacBook Air and MacBook Pro, they virtually decimated their competition with the sheer performance the M1 chips produced. Both Microsoft and Qualcomm want to go toe-to-toe with Apple’s M1 by launching a true M1 MacBook Killer. Qualcomm’s upcoming Snapdragon 8cx Gen3 might be what we needed all along Recent benchmarks point to a big improvement for Windows on Arm but not exactly the M1 MacBook Killer we are waiting for. One thing is for sure though, the ARMs Race is heating up.
SQ3 powered Surface Go
Surface Go is perhaps one of the most fun Surface devices to use, it is small, lightweight and perfect for media consumption like iPad devices are. The one thing holding it back however is its CPU. The performance and efficiency that comes with Arm CPU’s like SQ2 are profound and perfect for light computing tasks where most of the time you are in the browser or watching videos on YouTube, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video. Now that Windows 11 features x64 legacy app emulation, there is really no reason not to bring SQ3 to Surface Go 3.
Surface Studio 3
Perhaps the Surface most in need of an update is Surface Studio. Surface Studio is powered by 7-generatio Intel Core CPUs and Windows 11 documentation says that Windows 11 won’t support 7th-gen CPU’s. So, either Microsoft will amend the Windows 11 CPU requirements to include the current Surface Studio 2 or Microsoft will finally release Surface Studio 3 with Intel’s latest CPUs or both. Microsoft would both amend the Windows 11 requirement and launch Surface Studio 3, but Microsoft is definitely going to launch Surface Studio 3 in October.
Surface Pro 8
It is clear that Microsoft is holding Surface Pro back, but what is not clear is why. Microsoft launched the Surface brand on with Surface RT and Surface Pro, so clearly Microsoft’s aging Surface Pro has had importance over 7-8 generations. Today, the Surface Pro 7+ (the latest surface Pro) is near indistinguishable from a Surface Pro 5. Both devices were released 3-years apart and share the same chassis design, the same thick display bezels but each generation comes with newer Intel CPUs. So why hasn’t Surface Pro gotten any love? Because of Surface Pro X and the platform it represents… Windows on Arm. When Surface Pro X launched, it had followed two-years of Windows on Arm platform development and many 3rd-party OEM devices. Surface Pro X launched with the sleekest Surface Pro design yet, powerful cameras, a beautiful display, a show stopping pen charging cradle in the keyboard and Microsoft’s first-ever self-branded Arm CPU running Windows 10 on Arm. Surface Pro 7 was unveiled before Surface Pro X at the same event and for good reason, Microsoft was going to hold Surface Pro back, so that Surface Pro X and by extension Windows on Arm could grow. So, three years down the road now, will Microsoft finally deliver the Surface Pro 8 everyone has been waiting for or let the upcoming 3rd-generation Surface Pro X lead the Surface Pro category?
Surface Duo 2
Surface Duo recently reached an all-time low price of $410 on Woot, making it a no-brainer for anyone wanting to try out Microsoft’s most portable Surface device. I cautioned many of you to wait till Microsoft releases Surface Duo 2 this fall as it will see major software improvements coupled with hardware advancements like 5G, wireless charging, the addition of a rear camera with the accompanying cavity on the other side and better battery life.
Surface Duo 2 will ship with Android 12, feature the latest Snapdragon 888 or 888+, at least 8GB of RAM and possibly up to 12GB, more storage options, 5G, NFC, wireless charging and slightly small bezels within the existing chassis. We really hope that Microsoft ships a black model like in the photo above of Panos Panay holding a prototype Surface Duo with a rear camera, flash and a hole in the opposite side for the camera bump to nest in when closed. We also want to see Microsoft ditch the white color for Platinum along with black, to bring the color options in line with the two main Surface color options.
After announcing Surface Neo in the fall of 2019, Microsoft postponed the device’s launch indefinitely and just this last week we got word of the Intel CPU powering Surface Neo would be discontinued. So where does that leave Surface Neo? Surface Neo will return this fall will two major differences, it will be powered by Microsoft’s upcoming SQ3 and will run Windows 11 instead of Windows 10X. Windows 11 on Arm now includes 64-bit and 32-bit legacy app support right out of the box and so now there is no reason Microsoft can’t put its most efficient CPU in Surface Neo and expand its dual screen product portfolio.
Windows 11 runs even smoother on Arm and performance gains can be seen in recent benchmarks. Microsoft invested a lot of time and money into Surface Neo, not to mention it is Panos Panay’s baby, its inception reaches back to the Courier days. With Panos Panay being the head of hardware and Windows, the device has a heavy hitter in its corner.
The true Pro-level laptop
Neither the current Surface Laptop 4 or Surface Book 3 live up to the Pro-level performance of its competitors like Dell’s XPS series or Apple’s current Intel-powered 16-inch MacBook Pro and others.
The Surface Laptop 4 is more of a high-powered MacBook Air and the Surface Book 3 is more of a low powered Dell XPS. The design of the current Surface Book 3 currently has too many constraints that do not allow for a higher power and frankly a much hotter CPU inside of the detachable tablet that serves as the display for the device. Last year we made the case that Surface Book 4 should be completely reimagined and shortly after a Designer delivered with a concept that combined the Surface Pro and Surface Laptop into one innovative pro-level laptop design that had the internet screaming at their screens “take my money now.”
The Surface Book 4 design favors the laptop over the detachable tablet while still enabling digital sketching. This would enable Microsoft to get a 45W Intel Core i7 processor in there for sure. The appearance is still very Surface looking, combining the base of the current Surface Book and a Surface Pro as the display only connected by the kickstand. Will we see this design for Surface Book 4 this fall?