Now that Microsoft has announced the new Surface 3, everyone is speculating about its big-brother and the next likely product launch, the Surface Pro 4. The rumors range from ridiculous to plausible. What speculation is completely bunk, and what is likely to prove true?
Rumor #1: The Surface Pro 4 will offer Intel’s Skylake processor
While Intel just released its Broadwell processors for mobile, some rumors point out that Intel’s upcoming Skylake CPU will release in the third quarter of this year. Others have speculated that the Pro 4 will include Skylake. If Intel doesn’t suffer any delays — as it did in releasing Broadwell — that places a release somewhere between July and September, which is when Windows 10 is scheduled for release.
If true, the Surface Pro 4 would be one of the first devices to use Skylake. The upcoming architecture represents an even greater emphasis on energy efficiency than previous products from Intel. That means longer battery life and a thinner form factor.
Microsoft releases a Surface every eight months and it already missed the expected February delivery. That means the Surface Pro 4 has the longest development cycle out of all the Surfaces yet released. There could be something special planned.
On the other hand, it’s probable that Skylake won’t be out in large quantities until the holiday season, at the earliest, which would be late for a Surface Pro 4 launch. This rumor could come true if Microsoft works closely with Intel, and it’d be an awesome surprise, but the timeline doesn’t seem quite right.
Rumor #2: The Surface Pro 4 will launch in the Summer
The original Surface Pro released in February. Its successor, the Pro 2, came out eight months later in October. The third iteration dropped eight months later in June of the following year. So where does that leave the Pro 4? The current rumors suggest that the Pro will function as a technical demonstrator for the slew of features coming out in Windows 10. So when do we expect Windows 10 to release?
Microsoft has suggested that Windows 10 will release in the middle of 2015. Unless there’s serious delays in their delivery schedule, that means a release date between June and July.
So how truthful are these rumors? It’s anyone’s guess, but given that several of Windows 10’s selling points are the ability to draw handwritten notes directly onto the screen of a tablet, it seems almost certain that the Surface Pro 4 will release alongside the announcement of Windows 10.
Rumor #3: The Surface Pro 4 will kill off Windows RT
It’s been speculated that Microsoft may kill off its much maligned Windows RT after announcing the Pro 4. For those who don’t know, Windows RT is a different operating system from Windows 8.1. Many of your favorite apps from Windows 8 won’t run on RT — and vice versa. This led to a great deal of consumer confusion, where grandma tried to run her favorite malware and found it wouldn’t install.
Windows RT chugged into existence because of its ability to run on smartphone ARM chips. These chips had advantages in power consumption and price over Intel’s hardware. Intel has since made great leaps into the mobile world with its Atom series of processor. On top of that, the Microsoft Marketplace has placed a lot of weight on making apps work across all platforms. So with both the hardware and software ironed out, it’s unlikely that RT will continue past 2015.
As to the rumor’s truth. With Windows 10 offering a one-size-fits-all approach, and Intel’s low-end hardware evolution, and the Surface 3 already out without RT, this rumor seems true. It is doubtful that Microsoft will ever officially declare Windows RT dead, but it’s equally doubtful any new RT devices will launch.
Rumor #4: There’s going to be a Surface Pro 4 Mini
Another rumor from a Chinese tech site, cnBeta (the original post was removed, but you can find a reference to it here), claims that the Surface will release in two sizes. The first is the same as the 12-inch Surface Pro 3. The second will come in an 8-inch form factor.
So is there any truth to these rumors? Considering that the original post was removed, it’s unlikely. Also, the Surface series has always been designed to function as a hybrid between a laptop and tablet. An 8-inch tablet’s keyboard would be extremely hard to use, without serious redesign. This one is probably a miss.
Rumor #5: The Surface Pro 4 will cost around $1,200 to $2,000
Considering that the Surface Pro 3 launched for between $800 and $1,950, it’s kind of a stretch that Microsoft would increase the base price by $400. This rumor is further deflated by the declining cost of flash memory, which is used in solid state drives. In fact, there haven’t been any component price increases. If there were a price-jump for the base model, it would come out of the blue. If anything, the price should decrease (but it probably won’t).
Rumor #6: There’s going to be a Surface Pro 3.5
This rumor hails from Mark Hachman. More or less, the processor used in the Pro 3 can be swapped for a next generation Broadwell model, without any changes to the motherboard. This means — on a technical level — that Microsoft can simply drop in a new processor and call it a day. Hachman argues that Microsoft will release a Broadwell-equipped model halfway toward the release of the Pro 4.
So any truth here? It’s possible, but unlikely. While Microsoft did quietly change the processor in the Surface Pro 3 halfway through its life-cycle, they kept to the same architecture. A substantial jump in performance mid-product cycle would rightfully outrage those with older Surfaces.
However, there’s a grain of truth in this rumor. The Surface Pro 4 won’t likely represent a quantum leap in performance over the Pro 3. Broadwell by itself makes a big difference on mobile platforms in terms of its graphical prowess and energy efficiency. Microsoft could simply introduce some very simple cosmetic changes, increase the size of the hard drive on its entry level model, and throw Broadwell in, and call it day. The performance advantages offered by Broadwell would more than satisfy customers.
Rumor #7: The Pro 4 will have 1TB of storage and 16GB of RAM
The Surface series has traditionally included mSATA storage drives, which are slimmer, caseless versions of regular 2.5-inch hard drives. Although thin, their storage capacities at present max out at 512GB.
Regarding RAM, it’s highly unlikely that Microsoft would include 16GB of RAM. The kind of activities that would require loads of RAM, like video-editing, just don’t match up with the integrated graphics processor within the Surface series.
So — more or less — neither rumor is likely. There have been breakthroughs in miniaturization that permit 1TB of storage on M2 (small form factor) solid state drives, but they aren’t commercially available yet. And 16GBs of RAM in a tablet is just pointless. If either is available, it’ll only be in an extremely expensive, top-tier model.
Rumor #8: The Surface Pro 4 will offer a USB-C connector
While both Google’s Chromebook Pixel and Apple’s Macbook include those ultra-sexy, slender, and reversible USB-C connectors, it’s unlikely that Microsoft will adopt the technology. The Surface Pro series is all about functionality, and while USB-C holds promise, it’s actually rather difficult to use with current USB devices because an adapter is required. Users would probably frown on the need to carry yet another dongle.
In the long run it would actually make a lot of sense to include USB-C ports on the Surface, since port real estate is limited on hybrid-tablet-laptops. For now, though, it’s probably not in the cards. This is a feature more likely to debut on a Surface Pro 5 (or its equivalent) next year.
Rumor #9: The Pro 4 will use Intel’s Core M CPU
Intel created a spin-off of its Broadwell line of processors, called Core M. The chip is built for portable devices, such as tablets, hybrids, and the smallest ultrabooks. While Core M uses the latest Intel technology, it focuses on power efficiency over processing power.
It seems like the perfect fit for Microsoft’s Surface line of hybrid-tablets — on the surface (zing!), at least. In reality, Core M probably won’t make it. Core M would actually run slower than last year’s low-voltage Core i5 and Core i7 CPUs in the Surface Pro 3. Also, a fanless processor would require a redesign of the Surface’s chassis, which would prevent Microsoft from using the more powerful Y and U-series of Broadwell processor.
Rumor #10: The Surface Pro 4 will ship with Windows 10
Windows 10 includes some fairly hardcore, tablet-oriented features, like on-screen note-taking. Considering that the Surface already includes a Wacom stylus and a high quality touchscreen, it seems almost custom-designed to showcase some of Windows 10’s new features.
This one is pure speculation at best. However, if the Surface has been designed as a technical demonstrator for Windows 10, then this rumor is almost certainly true. If it hasn’t, then Microsoft has no reason to have a simultaneous press release for both at the same time.
So what can you expect on the Microsoft Surface Pro 4?
So what will the Surface 4 Pro look like and when will it release? My best guess is that it will offer Intel’s Broadwell processor, 128GB of storage for the low-end Surface, and Windows 10. I don’t really see any other hardware improvements in the pipe for the Surface, considering each succeeding generation of Surface device only offered minor changes.
This may seem a disappointment. If the evaluation of these rumors is anywhere close to correct, it means the Surface Pro 4 will not be that much different from the Pro 3. That, however, may be an unfair assessment. Even the introduction of Broadwell could be a big deal given the huge gain in power efficiency it provides, and there’s always the possibility that Microsoft will introduce a significantly redesigned chassis. It seems likely the Pro 4 will be a modest evolution of the concept, but that doesn’t mean it won’t impress.