Microsoft refreshes Surface Pro X tablet with faster chip, new colours

Microsoft Surface Pro X
Microsoft Surface Pro X

What's new is on the inside, with a new SQ2 Arm chip and revamped code

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2 October 2020 | 0

Microsoft is taking the unusual step of refreshing its existing Surface Pro X tablet lineup by adding premium options built upon a second-generation Microsoft SQ2 Arm processor. In addition, Microsoft has reworked some of its key applications, delivering more performance and longer battery life on Windows on Arm.

Microsoft’s SQ2 will be featured in the new, high-end Surface Pro X options, announced Thursday, which will be priced at up to €2,064.87 and be available from 13 October. Besides the new CPU, there are no significant changes to the Surface Pro X design, save for new cosmetic options: a new Platinum finish, and three new Surface Pro X Signature Keyboards in Platinum, Ice Blue, and Poppy Red.

Surface Pro X: Better performance, battery life and compatibility

We know that the Microsoft SQ2 is based on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8cx Gen 2 5G, a 7W chip that Qualcomm believes will trounce a 15W 10th-gen Intel Core i5 by 39%. Microsoft likely upclocked the SQ2 in the same way that its SQ1 was essentially an upclocked Snapdragon 8cx, with SQ1 speeds reportedly reaching 3GHz. (Officially, Microsoft isn’t saying how fast the SQ2 runs.)

 

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Historically, however, processors like the SQ1 have faced another hurdle: compatibility. By now, it’s a familiar story for anyone who’s followed Windows on Arm: Arm processors and devices like the Surface Pro X can run 32-bit and 64-bit Arm code natively. Code written for traditional PCs that runs in 32-bit X86 mode can be interpreted by Arm processors, but with a performance penalty.

The vast majority of traditional PCs can also run 64-bit code written for X86 chips. Currently, however, this code doesn’t run on Arm chips at all. This incompatibility remains a significant weakness for Windows-on-Arm PCs.

Microsoft said it is solving that particular problem, announcing plans to release code to allow 64-bit X86 apps to be emulated by Windows on Arm beginning in November. That code will be distributed to members of Microsoft’s Windows Insider beta programme first. Running 64-bit X86 apps on top of Arm would still introduce a performance hit, however, and Microsoft’s answer to that has been to work to develop more optimised versions of popular apps specifically written for the Arm architecture.

Those applications apparently include a long-awaited version of Google Chrome written on top of Arm64, as well as the existing, optimised versions of the Firefox browser and WhatsApp. Microsoft also said that it’s continued to work with its Edge browser to optimise it for Arm processors, and announced plans for a version of Microsoft Teams specifically coded for Arm. Visual Studio has been optimized for Windows on Arm. All told, “thousands” of existing Windows apps now run on Surface Pro X, either natively or via emulation.

Via these changes in software, Microsoft is now saying that the Surface Pro X will deliver up to a theoretical 15 hours of battery life “across all configurations”.

Totally unrelated to Microsoft’s 64-bit development work, but still noteworthy, is Eye Contact, a technology Microsoft developed that taps Qualcomm’s AI capabilities. Eye Contact uses machine intelligence to alter your image during a video call, making it look like you’re always looking at the camera – and your audience – even when you’re really looking at their face upon the screen.

Below, we’ve listed the basic features for the revamped Surface Pro X. Underneath, we’ve added the available configurations. 

Microsoft Surface Pro X basic specs

  • Display: 13″ (2880×1920, 267 PPI) PixelSense display, multi-touch
  • Processor: 3GHz Microsoft SQ1, SQ2 option
  • Graphics: Microsoft SQ1: Adreno 685; Microsoft SQ2: Adreno 690 GPU
  • Memory: 8Gb/16Gb LPDDR4X
  • Storage: 128Gb/256Gb/512Gb SSD 
  • Ports: 2xUSB-C, Surface Connect, nanoSIM, Surface keyboard connector
  • Camera: 5MP/1080p (user facing); 10MP/1080p rear-facing, autofocus with 1080p/4K video options 
  • Battery: Up to 15 hours of typical device usage
  • Wireless: Wi-Fi5/802.11ac; Bluetooth 5.0; Snapdragon X24 LTE modem with nanoSIM or eSIM
  • Operating system: Windows 10 Home on ARM
  • Dimensions (inches): 11.3×8.2×0.28″
  • Weight: 1.72lbs; 2.37 with keyboard and pen; 2.99 with charger
  • Colour: Matte Black, Platinum
  • Optional accessories: Surface Pro X Signature Keyboard with Slim Pen Bundle, available in Ice Blue, Poppy Red, and Platinum

IDG News Service

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