The Silent Treatment

Surface Goes Fanless on Atom

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Today Microsoft introduced the Surface 3, a tablet-laptop hybrid intended for students, schools and business users. Shipping will begin on 7 May in selected markets. The Surface 3 fills a gap in Microsoft’s tablet portfolio which had lacked an entry-level version of the Surface Pro 3.

Unlike the Surface 2, the Surface 3 runs a full version of Windows 8.1 and will be upgradable free to Windows 10. The ARM-based Surface 2 ran Windows RT which lacks a broad application library. CCS Insight believes Microsoft will stop Windows RT development, and the platform will reach the end of its life within two years.

Surface Pro 3 is the first product to run on Intel’s Atom x7 processors based on Cherry Trail architecture for greater power efficiency. The chip’s power requirements are low enough to enable standard micro-USB charging, an added convenience for travellers. Intel’s chip also runs cool enough to support a fanless design, meaning near-silent operation and longer battery life. This is the first fanless tablet from Microsoft and addresses noise-related problems seen in other models of the Surface family.

Other hardware features include a 10.8-inch, 1920 x 1280 display, a three-position kickstand, front-facing speakers, an eight-megapixel rear autofocus camera, a front 3.5-megapixel camera, USB 3.0 port, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0.

Prices range between $499 for a 64GB dual-core educational variant and $699 for a Windows Pro quad-core version with 128GB of storage and LTE connectivity. Optional accessories include Microsoft’s magnetically-attached Type Cover keyboard for $130 and the Surface Pen stylus for $50.

Prices for Microsoft’s new tablet are higher than for Apple’s iPad line-up, the most direct competitor to the Surface 3. Furthermore, the cost of the Surface 3 tablet and Type Cover combined is greater than competing hybrid products from Acer, Asus, HP and Toshiba. Microsoft will need to market the advantages of the two-in-one design over competitors’ hybrid devices, and highlight the usability of the Type Cover, the convenience of USB charging and the silence of the fanless operation.

We believe the Surface 3 is aimed at students and families that don’t need the power of Intel Core processors. The 4G-enabled version could prove successful with field workers needing Windows, constant connectivity and a longer battery life. The device might also suffice in some healthcare settings. USB charging could make the device attractive to frequent travellers.

The Surface 3 further reinforces Microsoft’s dedication to the two-in-one design and accelerates its single-kernel Windows strategy by seemingly ending development of Windows RT on ARM-based processors. Devices like the Surface 3 will make product categorisation increasingly difficult. We believe the amalgamation of form factors will continue across manufacturers and platforms.

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