Surface Pro battery life: The high cost of using Intel

Surface Pro battery life: The high cost of using Intel

Summary: The admission by Microsoft that the upcoming Surface Pro tablet would get about half the battery life of the Surface RT makes it clear that using Intel instead of ARM carries a high cost.

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Surface Pro -- half the battery life of the RT model

Say what you will about the first tablet from Microsoft, the Surface RT gets great battery life. This is due to using ARM-based hardware, the primary architecture currently used in tablets. ARM is powerful and very gentle on power consumption. It may not be as powerful as Intel hardware but it hits the battery much lighter.

Having two Surface models is giving us a rare look at how the two processor families compare for things like battery life on mobile devices. The Surface Pro will have a conventional Intel Core i5 processor in a package roughly the same as that of the ARM-based Surface RT.

"Hey Shahroom, #Surface pro will have approximately half the battery life of Surface RT." — @surface Twitter feed

The admission by Microsoft that the  Surface Pro will get about half the battery life of the RT model, about 4 - 5 hours compared to the 9+ hours seen on the latter is a big deal. It shows dramatically the cost to battery performance that Intel levees over the ARM systems. This is in spite of using a 42 W-hr battery in the Pro model and only a 31.5 W-hr battery in the RT. A much bigger battery in the Intel model only delivers half the battery life of the ARM version.

The cost of using Intel over ARM is evident in other ways. Mobile computers using Intel have a very nasty problem of heat to counter. As laptops and tablets have gotten thinner and lighter, the measures needed to dissipate the massive amount of heat that Intel processors generate has become harder to deal with. It is likely that the Surface Pro will have those pesky fans inside to help keep the thin tablet from melting inside. Those fans hit the battery very hard, a double penalty.

The next generation of Intel's Atom processor family, the Clover Trail, is showing decent performance with much better battery life on tablets just appearing on the market. This may be the way to go for tablet makers, although Microsoft has chosen to use "real" Core i5 processors in the Surface Pro.

Perhaps Microsoft wanted the Surface Pro to have full performance like that on high-end laptops. That's good for power users but it may be a high cost to mobile users in the end. The quoted battery life on the Surface Pro is not even close to that of other tablets. The high cost of Intel is glaringly evident in this area.

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Topics: Microsoft Surface, Tablets, Windows 8

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181 comments
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  • With a tablet that big, where will you carry it?

    I'd take the i5 over the battery life, since, with a tablet so large, it's not very mobile considering how fun the Nexus 7 is. Oh well, it's Microsoft; they're doomed.
    zaine_ridling
    • The same place you carried every other tablet.

      Unless you want the 7 inch tab to fit in a purse, it would go in a backpack or briefcase like every other person carrying a tablet. It will fit there just fine... Seriously people, think about how small the thing really is that your calling "so large." A tablet isn't useless if it's over 7 inches. All tablets are to people are toys. I couldn't do anything productive and useful on a 7 inch screen that I wouldn't already rather do on my phone. It fits in my pocket! Your 7 inch tablet is huge! See how ridiculous it sounds?
      Justin Jones
      • I agree

        I have the Samsung Ativ with Win 8 and love it. It runs an Intel Atom processor and gives me 9+ hours of battery life. This thing runs cool to the touch no heat issues at all.

        When I look at a 7" tablet I ask my self what purpose does this have? It's not a productivity tool you can't effectively produce a Word Doc or edit Excel. It's purely a media consumption device. Surface and the Win 8 hybrids give you the best of both worlds. Real world productivity and media. This is the zero-compromise solution. Surface Pro has 5 hrs of battery life but for some they'd rather have a lightning fast CPU capable of handling anything you throw at it. It's still a portable 10.6" tablet with a powerful OS and X86 compatibility. This is the tablet for people that hate to wait on slow CPUs.
        Rob.sharp
        • "win 8" and "love it" in the same sentence...

          is a sure sign a ballmersoft shill is posting it.
          tetraclit
          • Seriously?

            It's impossible to love something without being a fanboy or a shill? What if he just loves the product?
            chefgon
          • Exactly!

            To each there own. I am not a fan of Win 8 but can respect if somebody else likes it. At the same time I love my iOS devices but that doesn't make me a fanboy that is blind to all other options.
            non-biased
          • Grow Up or Seek Therapy

            I bet you're like the many out here that is talking out of the side of your head and never really tested or evaluated Microsoft Windows 8 for yourself.

            I love Windows 8 and I am not an employee of Microsoft.
            DarkWorks Entertainment
          • Then you have Stockholm Syndrome

            They copy/pasted a small screen cell phone UI onto a desktop solely for the purpose of leveraging their monopoly and forcing users to learn Metro so that when they went to the store to buy their next phone or tablet they'd pick an MS one because they didn't want to learn a new interface. A few folks including me and ZDNet's Gewirtz have been saying this for a long time; the NY Times finally revealed that Sinofsky went to Ballmer and argued exactly that; that Win8 needed Metro or they'd never get traction in the mobile market.
            It's NOT DESIGNED for you to love; if there's anything to love it's by coincidence. It's there to treat you like a trainable monkey (which is why they removed the registry hack to turn it off). This is like the folks who claimed the nude emperor had wonderful clothes. Even UI experts with doctorates have come out and savaged Windows 8's interface, including the suggestion it be renamed "Microsoft Window". It simply doesn't work the way human beings work. Assuming you're a human being then, that means you can't love it for any objective reason. It's objectively broken.
            jgm@...
          • Or you're suffering from parnoia

            Convergence of platforms is not inherently bad and if a company builds a compelling experience, it should be rewarded with sales. I'm sure you'll agree that human history is replete with example where "expert" critique and popular opinion were divergent. Even the iPad was panned by "The Experts" in the beginning.

            "there to treat you like a trainable monkey" - Last I checked, no grapes nor electric shocks were administered as part of using Win8/Metro/Modern. And no electrodes wired into my brain. Is this some new form of monkey training that only you are privy to?

            I think you presume too much to suggest that most people are so blindly led. That would imply a high degree of trust for Microsoft, which many MS detractors are quick to sputter doesn't exist. Granted, we are creatures of habit and change is hard, but it's ridiculous to suggest that people will be so mesmerized by an OS desktop experience that they will blindly prefer that experience for all other platforms. People will judge it by its own merits, their needs and experiences.

            "It simply doesn't work the way human beings work." - So....touch and gestures aren't intuitive or commonly employed by human beings? I've always wondered about those useless appendages hanging from my shoulders. Where's my ax? Oh, that's right - you have it...for this hatchet job.

            And thanks for speaking for all of humanity. We appreciate you taking the time so that we can remain in queue for the MS devices provided by our benevolent caretakers.
            Nierteroth9
        • You can't effectively do anything but view Office docs on a tablet

          If you think you can produce a meaningful one on any tablet, you're deluding yourself.

          7" is an ideal form factor for reading, a book, internet, email. The 4-5 hour battery life makes the Windows Intel one laughable. The only 'defence' people can come up with is that windows requires the extra horsepower an Intel processor gives. Well, that too is laughable, considering the two market leaders in this space can make their devices perform well on an ARM.

          This is the tablet for people that have convinced themselves that a slow OS and slow apps are ok.
          meski.oz@...
          • The cost of Intel?? More like the mistake of MS

            Win 8 doesn't require extra horsepower and it uses less resources than Win 7, which is a very good OS. Microsoft has made some mistakes (Win RT, ARM procs, developer support, no premium games), but this article makes it seem as if Intel is to blame.

            The fact is that Clover Trail and AMD's Hondo give great battery life (9 & 8 hrs respectively) and they provide more processing power than comparable ARM procs. Hondo actually has a great Radeon GPU that can run Modern Warfare and it's cheaper than Clover Trail.

            Microsoft made the right move by bringing one OS to rule them all, so for any person who'd like to take the desktop experience with them then a Win 8 hybrid like the Samsung 500T or the Acer w510 (18 hrs of battery life!) is the way to go. Personally, I hope MS kills Win RT, licenses their Type Covers to their OEM partners, integrates Xbox or XLA with Win 8, and does a Surface with Hondo or Clover Trail inside.
            Sim Lash
          • The success of the iPad and various Android tablets ...

            ... tells Microsoft that there is a large consumer market for tables as consumption-only devices. For this reason alone, Microsoft needs to succeed with the Surface RT.

            I like iPad for the iTunes music/video experience. I like Kindle Fire for the Amazon store. I like the Surface RT for it's compatibility.
            M Wagner
          • But that's $499 for a Atom powered Windows 8 Pro netbook.

            Might be OK if a little on the slow side for lightweight Metro apps, but running Windows apps on an Atom processor with only 2GB RAM and 16GB usable RAM, and paying $499 for the privilege - is Microsoft completely out of it's tiny collective mind? You can get a higher spec'ed netbook for about $200 less.
            Mah
        • Samsung 500T Design

          Hey, I was checking out the 500T too. The hybrids really piqued my interest after I saw the high price and dismal battery life of the Surface Pro. Does the button layout of the 500T get in the way of how you hold the device? I noticed most of the buttons are across the top of the tablet if you're holding it in landscape mode.
          Sim Lash
        • Typical JK Fashion

          And in typical JK fashion, he barely hints at Clover Trail, a chip that runs circles around anything out there from ARM today, including the A15. And it does it all with 3.5 watts TDP. So to summarize, the i5 kicks the Clover Trail's butt but at the expense of 1/2 the battery life. But Clover Trail kicks ARM's butt at no real expense. And you have an 11" tablet that can do EVERYTHING save big gaming and super fast video encoding. Oh and in less than 12 months Intel will ship BayTrail that takes TDP down to ~ 2 watts and will have an all new Intel GPU engine that supposed to kick some serious but in ultraportable device land.
          jjworleyeoe
      • Win 8 will still win...

        With most of the logic here, people are pretty much saying that a MS tablet with the OPTION of more power than some of its competitors is a bad thing. I would love if Apple gave a few things I could change about the iPad other than storage. They never will. The OS will be the same forever, or at lease until it's too late. I ditched Apple for Android and am able to do so much more by doing so much less that I can't go back. Then to top it off, my boss hands me an iPad to use for work. I cannot find a single SIMPLE way to make that heap useful. It can show me e-mail and my calendar, sure. But I can't actually get work done using it. I can't multitask in the REAL form of multitasking (not that crap Apple calls multitasking). Even for personal purposes, I can't edit any documents without some rickety third-party office app, printing is then not supported from that app so that's out, I can't then use the printing function on the iPad to print what I did in that office app because I can't access the file system from the device (at least not without yet another app). I was an Apple freak... For a long time... Enter the Surface. It is big enough to be more useful than my phone yet smaller than a laptop, can actually access AND EDIT files from network resources, I can remote into it if we were to ever give it to our users here at work, I can customise it in a huge variety of ways, the keyboard is the cover that the iPad had for years, - but it also doubles as a useful keyboard [OMG], I can add any old printer I please (even from print servers), map drives and [eventually] add the Surface to a domain so that it can be remotely administrated. I can hand a person who needs mobility but actually has work to do (who doesn't have a team of developers on standby to make for them what the other tablets won't do out of the box) a Surface RT and they can do all of that. It has destroyed the capabilities of the iPad. Windows 8 as a mobile yet also fully functional desktop OS is the answer. Then comes the Surface Pro. The OPTION for a little more power in a still remarkably small package. All I have to do is add one of these to a domain and they are immediately set up exactly as we need it to have all their network resources available to work anywhere there is internet! How far away are you from an outlet at any given time anyway? I am going out to get a Pro literally as soon as I can. They've made a tablet and a laptop in ONE package that can literally do everything I need it to do in my day to day work. From the moment I log in, email is setup, my calendars are ready, and I can get to all my files and EDIT them. Now on the flip side, I feel the fallbacks are no 3G/4G/LTE, but that's not a deal breaker. I think that Apple should have considered how they would integrate with the world of Windows when they stopped thinking about enterprise at all after ending their server grade hardware. When MS catches up the the tablet game and makes it integrate with EVERYTHING the EVERYONE else already uses in a working world, if Apple can't adapt, Apple will fall. Since the times where the iPhone and iPad were the first of their kind, they have been surpassed by new ideas and easier usability while their products continue looking and functioning almost the same. It's getting stale and compared to the endless other tablet options now, I'd say the Surface is far from half-baked... While the world continues running more and more complex software, go ahead and keep your power saving hardware. You already can't do anything with it; if that's good enough for you, it always will be.
        Justin Jones
        • Have you ever heard of ....

          paragraphs?

          Or is it just one VERY long, rambling point?
          D.T.Long
          • Was the message any different?

            Or is the lack of a gap to make things looks better perplexing?
            Justin Jones
          • JJ .. actually D.T.'s right

            and you're a dumb ass. Learn to separate your thoughts, in written form of course, into blocks (i.e. paragraphs).

            Because you can't bother to make it easier to comprehend, like most people with a reading age of above 18 won't read, your lazy ass waffle.

            I suggest you get some remedial reading and writing classes at your local Community college (with heavy emphasis on the 'writing' part).
            thx-1138_
          • Rip that apart if you must...

            Okay, paragraphs. Got it. Just saying I'd have still had the same content. Other people have chimed in and people are getting my point. I could have shortened stuff up. And yeah, it was a rant.

            I just don't think that this device (the Pro) paired with its operating system is something that can be compared to the other existing tablets. The RT, maybe. It will all be about integration. Soon your computer and your phone and now your tablets will all just work together and still be cheaper than having each of the equivalent Apple products.

            That is why I think Microsoft and the Surface are a good answer to the current tablet market. It has potential - to change a lot.
            Justin Jones