Will Microsoft's Surface Pro offer better battery life than promised?

Summary:Will the just-announced lower-power/higher-battery-life version of the Intel core 'Ivy Bridge' chip make it into the Microsoft Surface Pro devices which are due to ship by the end of January 2013?

Will or won't Intel's just-announced lower-power, high-battery-life IvyBridge chip be what ends up powering the first generation Microsoft's Surface Pro PC/tablets?

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Neither Microsoft nor Intel is saying.

Back in November 2012, Microsoft officials admitted the Surface Pro will have about half the battery life of the Surface RT, which is based on ARM. Microsoft officials regularly cite the battery life of the Surface RT at just over 10 hours. (I've been lucky to get eight, myself.)

Microsoft's spec sheet for the Surface Pro specifies the systems will run a third-generation Intel Core i5 processor (that is what is known as IvyBridge). Intel announced on January 7 that it is bringing "the low-power (down to 7 watts) line of processors into its existing 3rd generation Intel Core family."

 So does this necessarily mean SurfacePro will have these newer processors included?

 Microsoft officials refused to say. I asked, but received only this statement from a company spokesperson:

“Microsoft is excited and optimistic about the continued evolution of Intel Core and Atom processor technology and believe it will continue to fuel innovation around new form factors and user scenarios that will benefit customers around the world.”

These lower-processor IvyBridge/Core i5 processors are "available now," according to Intel's press release from today. They will allow for "thinner, lighter convertible designs."

Intel's press release from today also claims that "(c)urrently there are more than a dozen designs in development based on this new low-power offering." Intel cited the recently announced Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 11S ultrabook and "a future Ultrabook detachable from Acer" as being "among the first to market this spring based on the new Intel processors." There's no mention of the MIcrosoft Surface Pro.

The Surface Pro tablet/PCs are expected to start shipping as of the last week of January, as Windows SuperSite's Paul Thurrott first reported over a month ago. (The expected launch date is somewhere around January 27-29.)

Why has Microsoft been so cagey about all this? My guess is the Softies weren't sure the new low-power Ivy Bridge processor would be ready in time for incorporation and testing in Surface Pros in order for them to come to market three months after the Surface RT machines. I'm still doubtful that these lower-power processors are going to be embedded in the Surface Pros. (If they are, Microsoft might want to get the word out sooner rather than later, as the currently stated mediocre battery life on the Surface Pros is a deal breaker for some.)

One might have thought Microsoft could have hedged its bets, acknowledging that the battery life of the final Surface Pro models couldn't be determined due to uncertainties in the Intel chip schedule -- if that was the case. But that's not the new Microsoft way. Instead, it's underpromise and overdeliver whenever possible.

In other Intel chip-related news, the successor to the Atom/Clover Trail processor -- the system-on-a-chip (SoC) Bay Trail -- is due to debut in new machines in holiday 2013, according to Intel. The "Haswell" fourth-generation Core processor, which is the successor to Ivy Bridge, is slated to be available in late 2013, which makes it seem as though it might not be available inside many new Windows PCs and tablets until early 2014.

Update: As a couple of readers have noted, the only way for the lower-power Ivy Bridge to have made it into Surface Pros is if Intel provided Microsoft with access to these processors ahead of other OEMs. That could have happened, and might explain Microsoft officials' sudden change to no-comment mode about all this, but I have to say I'm doubtful the first generation Surface Pros will include these chips or that their battery life will come in above the 4/5 hours Microsoft officials cited at the end of last year.

Topics: Microsoft Surface, Microsoft, PCs, Tablets

About

Mary Jo Foley has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications, including ZDNet, eWeek and Baseline. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008). She also is the cohost of the "Windows Weekly" podcast on the TWiT network. Got a tip? Se... Full Bio

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