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Microsoft's October 12 Surface launch: What's on tap

Microsoft's expected Fall Surface launch event now has an official date but not a lot of other hints. Expectations are there could be a couple of Arm-based devices unveiled.
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Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor on
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Credit: Microsoft

Microsoft's expected fall Surface launch now has an official date: October 12. That's the same day that the company's Ignite IT Pro conference kicks off and the day after Meta holds its Meta Connect metaverse-focused hardware event.

Microsoft posted on September 21 a placeholder page for the event on microsoft.com/event (Thanks to The Walking Cat for the link.) On that page it simply says "Watch Live to See What's Next" with a watercolor version of the Windows wallpaper screen. The event starts at 10 a.m. ET. 

Microsoft's October 12 event is widely expected to be a launch pad for a number of refreshed Surface-branded products -- but not for anything metaverse/AR/VR-related, as far as we Microsoft watchers have heard at this point. Various sites are predicting that Microsoft will take the wraps off a new Surface Laptop 5, its large screen Surface Studio 3 all-in-one desktop, and the Surface Pro 9 family of 2-in-1 convertibles. There was a report that Microsoft could launch a Surface-branded gaming laptop at the event, which, in theory, doesn't seem too far-fetched given how hard Microsoft is pushing Xbox gaming services. (But for now, most company watchers don't seem to give this rumor much credence.)

It does seem that a big theme of the fall Surface launch will be Microsoft increasingly betting on Arm for some of its hardware. As Windows Central first reported, Surface Pro 9 may include both Intel and Arm-based models, which would be a not-so-subtle positioning statement about how ready Microsoft believes its Windows-on-Arm operating system is.

Speaking of Arm, Microsoft also may use its October 12 event to announce availability of the "Project Volterra" hardware that it first revealed at its Build conference in May. Project Volterra is an Arm-based desktop PC which Microsoft is positioning as a developer workstation that is particularly suited to AI computing given it features a built-in neural-processing unit (NPU) from Qualcomm.

During the Project Volterra reveal earlier this year, Microsoft officials highlighted what they're calling a "cross-development pattern for building AI experiences that span the cloud and edge," which they've christened as "Hybrid Loop." This capability will be surfaced through the ONNX runtime and Azure Machine Learning, along with a prototype AI toolchain enabling developers to target CPUs, GPUs, and Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs) and NPUs. 

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For the past year or so, Microsoft has been stepping up its work on Windows on Arm (WoA). For more than five years, Microsoft has been working to make WOA a commercially viable alternative to Windows on Intel but has had little to show for its efforts. Since Apple went all-in on Arm with its own silicon, Microsoft officials seem to have decided to double down on the company's Arm PC work by porting more of its own software natively to Arm. 

However, Microsoft -- at least for now -- is dependent on Qualcomm bringing better Arm chips for PCs to market. And that's something not likely to happen until late 2023 (or maybe later, given the recent lawsuit by Arm against Qualcomm.

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