Microsoft’s rumored Always Connected Surface Pro could emerge as a 5G PC

Surface Pro 6 Review
Dan Baker/Digital Trends

Chip-partner Qualcomm is making big bets on the Windows on ARM initiative with the latest Snapdragon 8cx chipset. Will Microsoft answer by putting more weight on the Always Connected PC platform?

While describing a version of the Firefox browser being developed for ARM, Thurrott also reported that Microsoft has developed a prototype of its Surface tablet that relies on an unspecified version of Qualcomm’s ARM-based Snapdragon chipset rather than an Intel CPU. It’s unclear if and when Microsoft intends to launch this PC, but if this Surface Pro prototype runs on Qualcomm’s newest 8cx platform, it could be one of the first 5G PCs given the chip’s support for 5G modems. Even if 5G networks aren’t ready, a Snapdragon 8cx-powered Surface Pro could fall back on LTE and take advantage of other features of the Always Connected PC experience, including long battery life, background app refresh, and a thin and light design.

This will make Microsoft’s convertible more competitive against Apple’s iPad and Google’s latest Chrome OS-powered Pixel Slate. In addition to Microsoft, Apple may also be transitioning away from Intel in favor of a custom ARM-based chipset for a future version of MacOS.

While it’s been rumored in the past that Microsoft may have initially considered releasing its entry-level Surface Go tablet with ARM-based processors, opting to switch to the Pentium Gold chipset at the last minute after pressure from Intel, Sams suggested that Microsoft’s prototype ARM-based tablet will go the high-end route with Surface Pro branding. To date, even though Microsoft’s partners like Samsung and Lenovo have released ARM-based tablets relying on older Qualcomm Snapdragon chipsets, Microsoft has not pushed out its own Surface-branded computer with a Qualcomm chipset. All products under the Surface umbrella, including the current Surface Pro 6, rely on Intel silicon, save the Surface RT, which ran on the Windows RT operating system and was powered by an ARM-based processor designed by Nvidia.

Because of limited app support, Windows RT and the Surface RT never caught on, forcing Microsoft to cancel the product and write off some of the development costs. With the Always Connected PC platform, Microsoft has applied the learnings from the Windows RT failure. Although the new platform relies on an ARM-based processor, the Always Connected PC allows the full Windows 10 operating system to run on the platform. This means that users will be able to run legacy apps in emulation mode. Though legacy apps may run slower in emulation mode, the platform promises longer battery life and integrated mobile broadband support. Combined, this allows some apps, like email clients, to continue to refresh in the background, similar to how a smartphone works, making the platform appealing to business users.

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