Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) recently announced the Surface 3, the next iteration in the lower-cost line of Surface tablets. However, it has not yet announced a follow-up to the Surface Pro 3, which launched in June of 2014.

That being said, DigiTimes reports that Microsoft will announce the follow-up to the Surface Pro 3, referred to as the Surface Pro 4, at its annual BUILD developer conference this year. The device is expected to go into mass production in June and will reportedly launch with Windows 10 at some point in the second half of this year.

Will this be a Core M based device?
Perhaps the most interesting question is what processor Microsoft winds up using in this next-generation device. The timing of the launch seems to suggest that Microsoft could actually use a next-generation Intel Skylake processor (which Intel says will come in the second half of 2015), skipping right over Broadwell -- which launched at the beginning of this year.

If the device does indeed use a Skylake-based processor in place of Broadwell, then I would say there is a pretty reasonable chance Microsoft could also opt to use a Core M processor based on the Skylake design. In that case, the Surface Pro 4 should be a relatively thin, fanless design in contrast to the Surface Pro 3, which included a fan to cool the processor.

Skylake could help Microsoft deliver fanless with good performance
Microsoft uses full 15-watt Haswell processors inside of the Surface Pro 3 models. If Microsoft were to sell a Broadwell-based Core M-powered Surface Pro 4, some users might complain about the performance regression that comes with moving to a 4.5-watt processor.

At the very least, if Microsoft waits until Skylake to move to the Core M family, then the performance regression in going from a 15-watt chip to a 4-watt chip (as Skylake is rumored to be) will be minimized.

Why would that be the case? Well, Skylake is what is known as a "tock" in Intel parlance, meaning Intel plans to deliver a meaningful architectural improvement. From what I can tell, both the CPU and graphics/media architectures will receive significant overhauls.

Additionally, I believe Intel will be moving the auxiliary platform controller hub chip (see image below) that sits alongside the processor on the same package to its 22-nanometer FinFET technology, from 32-nanometer on both Haswell and Broadwell. The lower power consumption on this portion of the chip should allow for added performance headroom for the CPU and graphics.

Source: Intel with author annotation

Microsoft is expected to double Surface shipments this year
According to DigiTimes, the Surface 3 and the new Surface Pro products should help Microsoft achieve a doubling in Surface unit shipments this year to four million units, up from two million units last year.

Frankly, given how much more compelling the cheaper Surface offering is now, I would not be surprised to see such an improvement in Microsoft Surface sales. Microsoft might also be able to improve the value proposition of the next Surface Pro, particularly if it can deliver a thin, fanless, and high-performing device.

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