Although the M1 Macs rekindled interest in the use of ARM-based chips for desktops and laptops, Apple was not the first major technology company to experiment with them. Microsoft has been attempting to market a desktop-worthy device powered by an ARM processor since the ill-fated Surface RT. It hasn’t had the same success as Apple’s homegrown silicon, but that doesn’t mean the Redmond company is ready to give up just yet. Microsoft has been relatively quiet on the subject, but new — albeit unofficial — information suggests that momentum is building. The bad news is that Microsoft might discontinue the Surface Pro X. The good news is that it will almost certainly increase.
The success of the M1 Macs and MacBooks, not to mention years of data from smartphones and tablets, have already demonstrated the benefits of an ARM-based computer. ARM processors are known for their power and space efficiency, and the most recent generation has proven to be as capable as some Intel offerings. Except for software and peripheral compatibility, which are slowly being resolved, there are almost no drawbacks.
Unfortunately, Microsoft has had little success in this area. Because of Windows RT’s poor performance and app selection, the Surface RT was regarded as a farce. While the Microsoft Store situation has improved, subsequent devices that used Qualcomm’s Snapdragon chipsets did not inspire confidence in performance. The closest Microsoft came was its own Surface Pro X, which is apparently being phased out.
Surface Pro 9 with Windows on ARM
According to Windows Central, the next generation of the 2-in-1 Surface Pro will be available with two processor options. The most obvious will be models that use 12th-generation Intel processors of the “P” variety. Despite only a single generational difference, this is expected to provide significant improvements over the Surface Pro 8. Surprisingly, there is still no AMD option available.
The other variant is said to use a Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, which could be the same as the Project Volterra mini-PC. This would be a Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3 processor with a dedicated Neural Processing Unit (NPU) to power AI capabilities. Of course, the exact performance of this silicon is unknown, but Qualcomm has been steadily improving its Compute desktop processor line with each generation.
It’s quite interesting that Microsoft has discontinued the Surface Pro X line as a distinct ARM-based device, if the leak is correct. On the one hand, including an ARM option in the mainline Surface Pro series indicates that Microsoft is confident that this will succeed where others have failed. On the other hand, the lack of a specific brand makes it easier for Microsoft to simply kill off ARM options. Of course, this is still unofficial, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Microsoft is attempting to streamline its Surface Pro lineup to avoid future confusion. The only remaining question is whether this rumored ARM-based Surface Pro 9 will have the same slim profile.