One of the reasons why Apple’s iPads and iPhones are considered far superior to its Android counterparts in terms of processing power is their homegrown chips.
Apple’s tight integration between hardware and software by placing an in-house chip instead of off-the-shelf parts brings all the difference.
Following Apple’s footsteps, Microsoft has now introduced custom-designed chips in its recently announced Surface Pro X and Surface Laptop 3. The Windows-maker has collaborated with Qualcomm and AMD respectively — the industry leaders in the chipmaking niche to add new capabilities to the Surface lineup.
Ryzen ‘Surface Edition’ Processor In Surface Laptop 3
AMD is already catching up with Intel’s Cascade Lake processors with its AMD Ryzen 9 3000 series. Microsoft has added a tailor-made Ryzen Surface Edition chips in its 15-inch Surface Laptop 3 (13-inch variant still carries Intel processor). These are Ryzen 5 Surface Edtion and Ryzen 7 Surface Edition.
The exclusive processors feature an extra graphics core in addition to the standard Ryzen specifications for increased GPU performance. Microsoft’s chief product officer Panos Panay said during the Surface event that AMD Ryzen Surface Edition delivers the fastest graphics performance of any laptop in its class.
The Ryzen Surface Edition processor is capable of running at 15 watts and unleashing the raw power of around 1.2 teraflops, which is as fast as the Xbox One.
With AMD processor, Surface Laptop 3 15″ has graphics performance which is well above its predecessor, Surface Laptop 2. But we still need to wait for real-world tests to come out in the open. As per Microsoft’s website, the laptop can easily run Adobe Lightroom, Adobe Premiere Rush, Rocket League, League of Legends, and Forza Horizon 4.
Microsoft has also promised 11.5 hours of battery life on the Surface Laptop 3 (running Ryzen 5 Surface Edition chip). It remains to be seen the actual real-world improvement Microsoft and AMD’s collaboration has brought to the battery life as Microsoft has promised the same battery life for both 13″ and 15″ models.
Microsoft SQ1 Processor In Surface Pro X
Continuing its efforts to delve into ARM-based devices after Surface RT and Surface 2, Microsoft launched a new Surface device in the form of Surface Pro X which carries the SQ1 processor that is co-engineered with Qualcomm.
Microsoft Surface Pro X is a 2-in-1 laptop with LTE, a 13-inch touchscreen display, support for Slim Pen, and an all-day battery life up to 13 hours. However, the main attraction of this new device its the Microsoft SQ1 processor.
SQ1 processor in Surface Pro X is a custom-made variant of 7nm Snapdragon 8cx SoC that Qualcomm specially designed for Always-Connected PCs. As compared to contemporary ARM-based SoCs that usually run at 2 watts, Microsoft SQ1 has been designed to run at 7-watts.
Speaking to The Verge, Microsoft’s Surface engineer Pavan Davuluri says SQ1 is an octa-core processor featuring the first-ever Kyro CPU clocked at 3GHz. It is the first 3GHz ARM processor fitted in a PC. Besides delivering above-average CPU performance, the chipset also delivers 2 Teraflops of graphics processing power.
Microsoft’s decision to include a tailor-made ARM-based processor in Surface Pro X is a statement in itself. We’ve seen that ARM processors are much better at delivering raw power as compared to x86 processors. Apple’s ARM-based A-series chipsets are a testament to it.
Besides adding a new product to its Surface lineup, Microsoft also ensured that it is future-proofing itself by adding support for x86 as well as ARM-based processors. The new ARM-based PCs are believed to be much faster than their x86 counter if not powerful. They get the likes of instant resume and robust battery backup which is still a big problem for many Windows users.
App compatibility in Microsoft Surface Pro X could still be an issue owing to the limited number of native ARM apps available and might be a deal-breaker for some. Nonetheless, Pro X is a device designed by keeping the future in mind.
Microsoft following Apple’s footsteps?
The inclusion of custom-built chips in Surface devices seems like a sensible decision from Microsoft at the moment. The company could bring the best out of the devices as Apple has done for several years.
Moreover, this would also increase the competition for Apple as Microsoft would be able to provide a seamless experience on Surface devices. Also, various rumors of Apple working on ARM chips of Mac are in the air.
Speaking of Microsoft’s SQ1, the new chip adds capabilities like instant-on and day-long battery life. It could set a new benchmark for the current Windows PC lineup as well so that they can catch up with the quickness offered by current-day smartphones. And Microsoft knows it can only do this by optimizing an Arm-chip, and not the one made for full-fledged PCs.
All of this comes at a time when many believe Microsoft is slowly shifting its focus away from Windows 10. The company wants to focus more on the cloud, apps, and services instead. Anyway, it remains to be seen where Microsoft’s newly found hobby of making its own chips takes it into the future.