Although Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Windows RT-based Surface tablets did quite poorly in the market, the company is apparently seeing success with its Surface Pro family of devices powered by Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) processors and "full" Windows.
According to website WPDang, Microsoft is planning to launch the Surface Pro 4 at an event in October. Here's why this device might be a huge leap forward.
It's all about Skylake
Chipmaker Intel recently disclosed the technical details of its next-generation processor family codenamed Skylake, and it seems that many of the improvements Intel has made with these chips will bring tangible benefits to the Surface Pro 4 and devices like it.
Let's take a look at some of these improvements and how they'll make devices like the Surface Pro 4 significantly better than prior-generation devices based on older Intel silicon.
Better graphics and media engines
One of the big improvements in Skylake is the inclusion of Intel's next-generation "Gen. 9" graphics and media engine. Intel has made improvements to both the hardware that handles 3D rendering as well as the hardware responsible for encoding/decoding video.
The 3D graphics improvements should allow for more of the popular PC games in the market to run smoothly at higher-quality settings relative to older generations of Intel chips, increasing the versatility of the device.
The media improvements should allow for improved efficiency (potentially leading to longer battery life) when playing back advanced video streams as Intel has now included dedicated hardware to handle decoding of newer video-compression formats like HEVC and VP8.
Integrated image-signal processor
One of the interesting new additions to Intel's Skylake chip is a dedicated image-signal processor, a feature that is common in modern smartphone/tablet applications processors.
According to Intel, the image-signal processor will be able to support up to four cameras (with two running at the same time). The company says that the image-signal processor can support up to a 13-megapixel sensor, can capture 1080p video at 60 frames per second (and 4K video at 30 frames per second), and comes with a whole host of "advanced capabilities."
In addition to compelling camera performance, Intel claims that the integrated image-signal processor should allow for reduced costs relative to a stand-alone image-signal processor. It should also, per the company, lead to lower power consumption and a smaller physical footprint (which Intel says will lead to "smaller and thinner form factors") relative to a discrete image-signal processor.
Although a typical laptop probably doesn't need all of these sophisticated imaging capabilities, this should be quite useful for "2-in-1" devices like the Surface Pro 4.
Cortana gets hardware accelerated
In a presentation, Intel talked about the Voice Activation feature that is present in Windows 10. According to the company, this feature allows users to, in a hands-free fashion, easily interact with Cortana, the virtual assistant built into Windows 10, using the phrase "Hey Cortana."
Intel says that the software used to "spot" keywords can be run directly on the CPU to "achieve excellent Correct Accept (CA) and low False Accept (FA) performance."
However, Intel highlighted the fact that Windows 10 allows for the use of dedicated hardware to run this "keyword spotter." Intel's new Skylake platform integrates such hardware, which should lead to lower power consumption compared to performing the task on the CPU.
The Surface Pro 4 should be quite solid
Thanks to the new Skylake processor, the Surface Pro 4 should offer solid performance and efficiency enhancements thanks to advancements along a number of key technological vectors. In its most recent quarter, Microsoft saw Surface revenue grow by a cool 117%.
It will certainly be interesting to see the impact that the Surface Pro 4 will have on the company's Surface-related revenue in the coming quarters.