Surface Pro 4 – If there were two models…

Updated on 16 September 2015 by

Hopefuly you’ve seen the news that Microsoft has sent out invites for an Oct 6th Windows 10 event in New York. No-one doubts that we’re going to see Lumia, Surface and Band products along with an official launch of Windows 10 Mobile which makes it an extremely important event for anyone who reads UMPCPortal. Lumia, with Continuum, could form an important part of an entry-level ultramobile PC set-up. Surface sits at the very high-end of ultramobile computing solutions.

Surface Pro 3, and pen, review.

It seems certain that we’ll see a Surface Pro 4 with much the same sizing as the previous model but two questions remain unanswered. 1) Will it be fanless? and 2) Will there be a second, 14-inch model? The reason I ask the latter is that there have already been rumors about a 14-inch model and in a recent search I found screen covers for a 14-inch Surface Pro 4. If a 14-inch model is coming how can Microsoft position the two devices ? There’s a poll below and i’d like to see what you think would be the best constellation of Surface Pro 4 devices. But first, some thoughts on what’s possible and what it brings to a 12-inch and a 14-inch Surface Pro 4.

Surface Pro 4 14-inch

Surface Pro 4 14-inch display cover at Amazon.de

 

In an article last year I looked at the Surface Pro platforms and analysed the possible product configurations in 2015. I was spot-on with the Surface 3 but will my predictions for a Surface Pro 4, in two sizes, come true too? Here’s what I said:

 

“Surface Pro 4 requirements. (March 2015)

  1. Fanless build
  2. 20% – 30% improvements (processing, GPU and battery life.)
  3. A showcase feature like borderless screen for 13.3-inches in the same frame size for docking station compatibility. Also possible is Wireless Charging. Intel would love to showcase Skylake’s ‘no-wires’ capability and the Surface Pro 4 would be the best showcase for that.
  4. USB-C charging and connectivity.
  5. Availability that doesn’t clash with the Surface 3 early sales. (rules out Summer in my opinion.)
  6. Slight weight improvement. Thinner design will be a marketing requirement.
  7. Entry level price slightly less than Surface Pro 3.  Surface Pro 3 will go end-of-line.
  8. Improvement in accessory range. (Wireless charging. Laptop keyboard dock with battery could be the way to solve USB-C worries and to appease those that aren’t convinced by the Type Cover keyboard.)

Everything points towards the use of Skylake for a 12.5 – 13.3 inch product later in 2015.

That leaves space for one more product. Surface 3 Plus. An entertainment focused hybrid all-in-one with a 15-inch screen. Core M fanless and ground-breakingly light for home and office productivity, education and more.  It’s not something interesting for UMPCPortal but it’s an interesting thought. As for a Surface Mini it seems unlikely at this stage.”

Yes, maybe a 15-inch product is too big but there’s a more important problem with the Surface Pro 4 specifications. Points 1 and 2 might be incompatible. A fanless, 12-inch Surface Pro 4 will have to use the Y-series (Core M) Skylake processors. To get 20-30% more processing power Microsoft will need to stick with U-series Core, which will need a fan.

I asked my Twitter followers if they would be happy to have a fan on the Surface Pro 4 if it has an Ultrabook-class processor (U-series Skylake.) Most people said No. Obviously the follow-up question would be “Would you be happy with a Surface Pro 4 without fan if it had less performance than a Surface Pro 3?” I think the answer would be ‘No’ too so how are Microsoft going to please these two groups of people? Maybe there’s a clue in the rumor of a 14-inch model. Could this be the way to please everyone?

There are 4 scenarios and you can vote on them at the bottom of this article:

  1. 12-inch Surface Pro 4 with a higher-powered processor but retaining a fan.  14-inch model using Core M to be a lightweight fanless super-entertainment and home tablet.
  2. 12-inch Surface Pro 4 with Core M giving ‘similar’ processing power to Surface Pro 3 but lighter, fanless and with +50% battery life. A 14-inch model becomes a productivity slate for graphic artists, a 4K display for personal use and a mini all-in-one hot-desking ‘desktop class’ PC (that would blow the iPad Pro out of the water in terms of performance.)
  3. Both use Core M and offer fanless builds with weight and battery life being the key features.
  4. Both use U-Series Skylake with a 12-inch model needing a fan. A 14-inch model might get away without a fan if it was configured as a ‘TDP-Down’ processor (down-clocks under heat / load.)

ipad pro 1Personally I’m happy with the Surface Pro 3 being one of the most powerful PCs-per-pound / KG and I would like to see the Surface Pro 4 follow that principle. A fan under load helps improve performance when I need to be seriously and time-critically productive. I accept, however, that there’s a big need for longer battery life and that other people might expect the Surface Pro 4 to be fanless, especially as the ‘desktop class’ Apple iPad Pro is here. (Image: Right.)

Given that the Surface Pro 3 is still a great desktop-capable PC it could be offered at a discount with the new fanless, long battery life Surface Pro 4 coming in to replace it at the old pricing level for people who want the battery life, silence and some premium features such as USB-C / USB 3.1, Windows Hello support and more. A more powerful 14-inch version that targets professional creativity, PC gaming and features such as RealSense, a professional keyboard and wireless charging, would come in as a premium model.

Whatever happens on October 6th it won’t be a perfect solution for everyone. The trade-off between battery life, performance weight and a fan means someone is probably going to be unhappy so which solution would you prefer? Let’s consider that 2-product scenario for Surface Pro 4. Vote below for your favorite.

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8 Comments For This Post

  1. Frank Cosgrove says:

    Looks like Fanless is the key spec

  2. HildyJJ says:

    I vote for the one not listed: a Surface 4 Mini. I know, I will be disappointed.

  3. cmvrgr says:

    What a pity, no powerfull specs for it professionals, 3d artists, architects, graphics designers, game developers and many other professionals.

    MS wants only professionals that use office as main tool and light Photoshop or light video editing. Follows the steps of apple in any aspect.

    Why to change my mac book air that has the same performance ? We need something very powerfull and super compact.

    Our only option is the Vaio Canvas Z with a real 4 core (47w) i7 haswell with intel iris pro that runs the same with an nvidia 940m. Hope the sales to go well and make one Vaio with Skylake and a dedicated nvidia Gpu. Someone has to see also our need. I know there is always a premium price to pay but that is for sure a tool for 3 to 5 years of heavy work.

  4. Vinhsynd says:

    Cmvrgr,

    I agree more performance in a smaller more mobile package would be great but it’s not really possible within the limitations of today’s technology.

    Putting a 47Watt CPU + Dedicated GPU for high performance tasks into a tablet with constrained thermals and an at best 60Whr battery leads to a very non-mobile tablet that compares poorly to equally non mobile desktop options.

    It’s not that the high performance digital artist is unloved or neglected its that it isn’t possible to create a viable package for them yet.

  5. Richard Steel says:

    Something I have seen put forward by other bloggers is the possibility of atom in the non-pro surface being a stop gap. The surface 4 may have core-m fanless etc. while the pro line retains core-i processors, possibly up to iris included for the 14″ model. With the LTE surface 3 only just being released it may be unlikely but we can hope.

  6. whoowhoo says:

    Very good article. Nice work.
    After reading your article, it inspire me with another though.

    1. A processor upgrade to the existing surface pro 3 chassis, maybe some minor tweaks. Remeber MS promise future service pro has full compatibility of accessories. Kinda like pro 1 to 2.
    2. A 14 inch pro 4 as you have predicted. Might even have the first quad core U (has to be used somewhere)

    It might not have a 12 inch fanless model, even though I wish there is. Remember, they know the iPad Pro exists before announcement. It is not wise for MS would not do a 12″ fanless to compete with ipad Pro. And I guess that is why they said from last year future model will work with existing accessory.

    This combination would be the most cost effective way ( reuse pro 3 chassis, still more powerful and better battery life) and marketable (14 inches pro).

  7. Marcus Schommler says:

    The only thing that annoys me about my 2013 Vaio Pro is the fan noise under heavy duty. Therefore I’d go for fanless models as soon as all other parameters are on par (approx. weight, screen size, battery time, price).

  8. dalestrauss says:

    How about a different alternative – full power 12″ that is fanless and throttles when mobile, but connects to an active fan driven exhaust system when docked for unthrottled desktop class performance. I think Lenovo tried this with one of the models a few years ago, but seeing Microsoft’s design aesthetic, I believe they could really pull it off.

    And PLEASE upgrade to Iris level graphics (and Nvidia in that turbo-cooled dock).

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