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

    10-hours of battery life for a mobile computing device was unheard of.

    As a matter of fact, if you mentioned such a thing 4-years ago you would have been laughed out of the room.

    If you mentioned it 10-years earlier you would've been locked up and placed in a straight jacket!

    That's because for the last 30-years Wintel hijacked the PC industry, plundered all the profits, and stifled innovation just so they could keep doing the same thing in perpetuity (or so they assumed).

    Now that consumers realize that, at least for about 80% of folks, all they need is an iPad to do the same thing a bug ridden, overpriced, inefficient Wintel machine could do (basic email, browsing and social media updates), the cat is now forever out the bag.

    The end result is that Wintel is left scrambling, as they can see the writing on the wall.

    The Wintel PC pardigm of old is now obsolete.

    And all these desperate offerings (Surface, Windows RT, Windows 8, Windows Phone 8, Ultrabooks), are all "cries for help".
    • and then along came

      the 'Asus Taichi' and the whole world rejoiced!

    • Haha

      So you are claiming that ARM innovates and Intel stands stil ? Of course the reason why ARM has good battery life is simply because it designs underpowered processors. In fact, Intel's lineup with their clover trail chips has equal battery life compared to ARM with slightly better performance, indicating that Intel remains the number one chipmaker when it comes to innovation. I don't talk about their core line, as the performance difference to ARM is simply to big to compare them, and of course these chips won't offer the same battery life, and quite frankly that is a positive thing !
      • Re: So you are claiming that ARM innovates and Intel stands stil ?

        No, only that ARM as a whole freely competitive ecosystem can innovate much faster than a single company like Intel.

        As to the whole argument whether ARM processors are "underpowered" compared to x86 or not, let's just remember that ARM chips mostly run OSes like Android that are optimized for low-power applications like mobile phones. Certainly if you try running Windows with all its legacy baggage on ARM, you're not going to be very happy. That's why Windows Phone and Windows RT devices are not selling well.
        • poor sales

          "Windows baggage" has nothing to do with the sales of windows phone or win RT c'mon now mainly for the fact that there is none. Battery life on the devices isn't a problem, WP hasn't had good sales because it was very immature wp8 is the first time WP has been ready for competition against android and ios and I know a lot of people really like it and are making the switch.
          • sorry

            And I apologize for the run on sentences lol

      Not everybodies computing needs is emailing and browsing facebook. If that's what you do, then and "ipad" of some sort is good enough for you and you can go ahead and buy one. For all others, including myself, with real computing needs the ipad or any current Android tablet, can't do the job.
      • Good Feedback

        You are exactly correct. I wrote about this on my blog recently. http://rghnews.wordpress.com

        It's probably true that for the most part, computing power has outpaced demand for performance. Often the performance bottleneck is not even the local computer, but rather speed of the network connection.

        One other thing to note, now that Apple is making more money from their low end computers (iPads - selling for $500) and now that those devices can do everything needed...how are you liking the future of Apple profits? Their average computer price will be dropping from $1500 per laptop to what, $500 for an iPad?

        The industry shift is happening. Lower cost tablets, netbooks and the like are simply a response to the new market.
        Russell Hall
    • Utter garbage

      Orandy what complete and utter garbage you talk. You cant even send multiple attachments or create folders on an IPad, I've been able to create files and folders since the dawn of computers and email multiple attachments since Windows 95. The IPad just doesn't cut it for anything serious. I recently sold the IPad and purchased a surface tablet and I can do these basic things again. I see windows 8 tablets/ultrabooks being a real success.
    • And here I though innovation in other areas allowed the ipad to exist

      touch screens, low power cpus, flash storage, improved batteries, etc.

      All of that technology was created during the same years you claim that innovation was stifled.

      What you are doing is called revisionist history or basically twisting the facts to fabricate something to cry about.

      Try again.
      • Excellent critique of his somewhat biased comments

        Little Old Man
    • Uh, no

      Hijacked, no. I've used PC and Mac since Windows 2.1 and a Mac SE. I choose Windows simply because I like the OS much better. I always found the Mac OS to be clumsy to use.