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

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?


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, Tablets, PCs


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • Better not be worst

    Because the promise life is worst than most laptops.
  • I'm really not worried...

    I've said several times before that even with a current generation i5 processor, my Dell Vostro V131 easily gets 8 hours of moderate use (fairly constant email, IM, web, and such... not heavy video streaming) running Windows 8 and a solid state drive with screen brightness on about 40%.

    I really expect the Surface Pro to hit the 7-8 hours mark even without the new chips under the same usage. I mean, I could be wrong... even 6-7 would be good, in my opinion. Anything less than 6, and it might be a deal breaker though.

    People's sensitivity to battery life is baffling to me though. I have 300 PC's in my business (about half are laptops), and I know of exactly 5 people in my whole organization that actually carry their laptops around for mobile use... the three people (myself included) in IT, our hospital CO (Chief Operating) and CN (Chief Nurse) Officers. It's disappointing, but most keep it on their desks and only go mobile to take it home (and they plug in there too). It's ludicrous for most people. For those who DO use them on battery, I have to really wonder if we're really using it all that time or if we are just expecting too much out here on the "fringe" of heavy mobile computing.
    • I agree, for the most part

      my notebook remains on my desk for a majority of the time, but I travelled to a new customer in a different country and the plug adapter I took didn't support the earth pin (I bought it for a previous trip, where I only needed to recharge my phone and camera, neither of which need the earth pin), so I couldn't charge my notebook. Luckily the battery lasted long enough for my needs.
    • Meetings

      For meetings scheduled over 1/2 hour I usually bring and likely use my power cord when presenting. If I am not presenting, I rarely bring my notebook.
      • Exactly...

        Where the users I mentioned above currently use HP EliteBook 2730/2760p tablets that they take notes in OneNote. OneNote (and inking in particular) is an unsung hero for business users, and I wish that would change. I have long argued why some of my users "need" a laptop at all when they NEVER take it home and NEVER use it mobile.
        • Because...

          Sometimes it's nice to take it home and watch movies on it :P
        • OneNote

          If I didn't need OneNote, I'd have gone with an Android Tablet. OneNote is my #1 app and I using inking about 80% of the time. I also use the audio recording feature of OneNote in meetings that I have to produce minutes for - it is a life saver feature! These are the main reasons I am very, very interested in the Surface Pro. I have been using a TC1100 for like forever - so any speed, battery, performance improvements will be huge for me!! I'll have to entertain other options if the Surface Pro fails!
    • I am like you.

      I take my laptop to every meeting. I had to charge my laptop after a half-a-day, if I am presenting. Otherwise, it just sits there in the meeting room, and I take notes on OneNote using tablet, previously iPad, now Surface RT. :)
      Ram U
  • Deal breaker

    - battery life
    - 3G or 4G
    - GPS

    What are alternatives?
    • Try Lenova Yoga or Twist

      or Asus VivoTabs.
      Ram U
  • Still no cigar

    4 hours is worse than existing ultrabooks. This is supposed to be a tablet (sort of). An 8 hour battery life is what you should expect.

    When you are using your device away from home, you cannot always find a charger. Since this puppy does not have a replaceable battery it becomes dead weight when the charge is gone.

    I am still waiting for MS to put an XP mode in Windows 8. I have legacy software that needs it. They did so with W7 Pro. The W7 mode in W8 does not support it.

    I would be happy with a free downgrade to Windows 7 Pro. Heck, even XP would satisfy my needs. I don't need a touch screen.

    I know an ultrabook will do the job for me. I do like the size and weight of the Surface.

    Give me an XP mode and decent battery life and I'll be in line to buy one. Otherwise I'll wait.
    • Xp mode in Windows 8 is called

      Hyper-v and it blows xp mode in 7 performance wise, as the xp mode in 7 was simply virtual pc (type 2 hypervisor), Hyper-v is type 1, the one you use when performance is key.
  • Intel will win it for Microsoft

    As I said long time ago, as Intel is catching up and surely surpass ARM Performance at some point, it will give windows based products a boost. A signficant part of Microsoft's woes in the consumer market comes from fact that Intel up to now was not competive in that area. This is changing...
    • Good point...

      Good point. So do you think that Microsoft is just working with ARM as a placeholder until Intel can bring high performance to low power chips? In other words, Microsoft knew that it needed some Windows-based tablets on the market asap, and they knew that they had to compete on battery life... so they created Windows RT... but it's really just a placeholder until the Intel chips catch up.

      Or... maybe it's the other way around, and Microsoft is waiting for ARM to develop more powerful architecture...

      Either way, it's hard to believe that Microsoft enjoys having two different versions of its OS when the goal is "unification" of all devices/screens. Eventually, there will be ONE Windows again (or that's what I think). The question is... which Windows will survive, and how long until the other falls along the wayside?

      Any bets?
      • Not just tablets

        But Windows Phone as well. If Intel Atom processors start to have better performance and battery life you will see Win 8 Pro on all windows tablets (except the cheap end to out due Android with Win RT) and even Win 8 Pro on Windows Phones. MS will have app development for all of these versions of Win8 working together very well in about another years time. Then you will be able to switch processor (ARM to Intel) and Win OS (RT to 8 Pro) and not loose a single application. Note that the you cannot go the other way (Intel and 8 Pro to ARM and RT) without loosing all of your desktop apps.
      • I think we'll see

        Both types survive for the foreseeable future. What MS are doing here is extremely typical of them. They're including support for additional hardware. MS are covered no matter which way the wind blows. Historically the tech that succeeds in the consumer space is the good bet. Having said that however, it is going to take time and treasure to replace x86 applications with ARM applications.

        Sheer flexibility and processing power will keep x86 chips popular at least through 2025. Intel are also hedging their bets and splitting x86 chip tech to develop less powerful and more efficient designs in the interim. I'm kinda surprised The Surface Pro didn't delay till Haswell was vetted.
    • Re: Intel will win it for Microsoft

      Why doesn't Windows Phone run on x86 chips? Even Android can manage that.

      Why isn't the x86-based Surface Pro price-competitive with the ARM-based Surface RT? Wouldn't that help make Intel-based mobile devices more popular?

      It's like Intel and Microsoft are working at cross purposes, instead of helping each other they're dragging each other down.
  • Surface Pro

    My advice would be to hold off till Surface Pro 2, you will get 4 to 5 hours at best given the majority who would buy a Surface Pro will be running desktop applications which will eat into battery life.
    • I dont this so.

      My current Lenovo G570 with 2nd generation Intel i5 gives me 6 hours of battery life even with multiple instances of VS 2012 and SparxSystems Enterprise Architect running. I also have few servers that constantly push me information to this machine. Now Surface Pro comes with 3rd Gen i5 and which is more advanced in battery performance would definitely give 7 to 8 hours. Your point is moot or FUD.
      Ram U
  • Wait for MS announcement

    So far all that we got a tweet about a month ago that PRO has half the battery life of RT, so that will be 5 hours. Now if they got the new Intel processors before actual production happened, that time will change.

    5 hours is good enough for a heavy lifting processor and a device for that size.