There have been reports that Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT ) is planning an event to launch next-generation Surface tablets at a May 20 event. While the new Surface Mini is rumored to run Microsoft's Windows RT and pack a Qualcomm (NASDAQ: QCOM ) Snapdragon processor, there is word that Microsoft also plans to launch something with an Intel (NASDAQ: INTC ) -based processor. While some have speculated that this will be something along the lines of a Surface Mini Pro, it's more likely to be a fanless Surface Pro 2 based on lower power Haswell-ULX silicon.
Surface Pro 2 done fanless?
When Microsoft first launched the Surface Pro 2, it was largely the same as the original Surface Pro, with the exception that instead of an Intel Ivy Bridge processor, it sported a Haswell-ULT processor, which brought with it significant idle power savings and much improved power management. However, the power consumption of this part at full load (rated at a 15W thermal design power) was still too high to enable a thinner -- potentially fanless -- chassis.
At the time of the Surface Pro 2 launch, the low-power Haswell-ULT, aimed at Ultrabooks, was just beginning to roll out. The lower-performance, lower-power variant, Haswell-ULX, had been discussed and even demonstrated, but it wasn't really available in huge quantities. Only later did the first systems with Haswell-ULX begin to show up, which enabled fanless detachable and convertible systems. This chip would have been the perfect match for a high-end, productivity-oriented tablet or convertible like the Surface Pro 2.
Could that be what we see on May 20?
What's interesting about the Intel mention with respect to this upcoming Microsoft Surface event is that while the rumors very distinctly point to an Intel involvement at this event, the same sources that claim this also say that whatever Microsoft does won't involve Intel's low-power Bay Trail Atom. If true, this effectively rules out a Surface Mini Pro, since Haswell won't fit in such a small device.
It's still far too early for Intel's 14-nanometer Broadwell processor, which is slated to bring significant performance and power improvements to notebooks and high-end detachable and convertible designs. Further, it wouldn't make sense for Microsoft to make an event of simply using a slightly faster Haswell-ULT SKU inside an updated Surface Pro 2. So given the "rumors" that are flying around, the only thing that makes sense would be a fanless (or at least thinner) Surface Pro 2 using Haswell-ULX.
Foolish bottom line
Do remember that we still don't have a whole lot of information about what will be launched at this event, but it is a pretty safe bet that if Intel is involved, and if Intel's Bay Trail Atom won't be involved, then this all has something to do with the Surface Pro family of products. If this product were made thinner and potentially fanless, then it could mitigate the remaining shortcomings of the Surface Pro line and make the product even more compelling for both consumers and business users.
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