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Will the Surface Pro 7 ditch Intel chips for Qualcomm’s 5G support?

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Microsoft’s Surface laptops all come with Intel processors at their heart, delivering solid all-round performance with seventh and eighth-generation CPUs. But that might change with the Surface Pro 7. Whispers of Microsoft opting for an AMD or even Qualcomm Snapdragon chip in the new system suggest Microsoft could have quite different hardware options in its new Surface notebook. Better yet, it could launch with 5G support right out of the gate.

The last few generations of Microsoft’s Surface Pro (apart from the Surface Pro 6) have seen the most connected versions, sporting LTE cellular data connections, launching months after the main model in the range. These models were often more expensive for potential buyers, making them a premium feature. If Microsoft were to take Qualcomm as its partner for a new Surface Pro 7 device, as Petri suggests, it would likely include one of its high-end Snapdragon SoCs, which would give it LTE Advanced or even 5G connectivity. That would mean giving access to such a connectivity option at the line’s launch, not months later with a specialized version.

Buyers may not have to sacrifice much by moving away from an Intel chip either. Microsoft could opt to use the Snapdragon 8cx, which as we’ve seen in early benchmarks, is more than capable of going toe to toe with Intel’s Core i5 CPUs in general computing and gaming. It also holds a significant advantage in battery life. In a demonstration of the 8cx at Computex 2019, it managed more than 20 hours of video looping, where a comparatively specced Intel laptop managed just 12 hours. We’d have to test it out ourselves to know for sure, but those are some impressive claims on paper.

If all of this seems like an out-of-character shake up for the typically iterative Surface Pro line, it might be a warranted overhaul of a range that could do with it. We’re big fans of the Surface Pro range. In fact, the Surface Pro 6 is our favorite 2-in-1 laptop in the world, but it wasn’t much of a change over its predecessor. Beyond the new paint job, there wasn’t a lot to say about it, and its port selection was practically antiquated. That seems likely to change with the next-generation device, although chip selection doesn’t particularly matter if we’re talking generic USB-C. Thunderbolt 3, on the other hand, remains an Intel exclusive for now, so if Microsoft does ditch Intel for AMD or Qualcomm, we wouldn’t expect that high-speed standard to be present.

Fortunately, it looks like USB 4 could save us all from this mismatch of features and performance, though that’s still a ways out.

If Microsoft opted for AMD instead of Qualcomm or Intel, the extra connectivity of the Snapdragon chips would likely fall at the wayside, but we could see more capable graphics in the new Surface Pro. AMD’s Zen + APUs with Vega graphics tend to be more capable than Intel’s comparable HD graphics and they’d likely blow past even the Snapdragon 8cx too.

Microsoft hasn’t suggested which way it’s leaning just yet, but if it does go in a new direction, it will shake up one of its major hardware lines. One that feels in most need of it too.

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Jon Martindale
Jon Martindale is the Evergreen Coordinator for Computing, overseeing a team of writers addressing all the latest how to…
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