This isn’t the first time that we’ve heard about an ARM SoC being destined for a Surface product. The Surface Go was rumored to use an ARM processor until Intel made Microsoft an offer that it couldn’t refuse. According to sources familiar with Microsoft’s plans, the company has been working closely with Qualcomm on a new SoC codenamed Excalibur, which from all accounts will be a custom version of the Snapdragon 8cx.
Microsoft insider Brad Sams, writing for Petri, states “Unlike previous attempts with ARM, I am told that Microsoft worked extremely closely with Qualcomm to build this chipset, based on their own specifications, to design a chip that would work better with Windows 10.” Excalibur is said to be installed in at least one version of the upcoming Surface Pro refresh scheduled for an October 2019 launch.
Even though Microsoft would be taking a huge leap by sourcing an ARM chip for its popular Surface line of devices, it wouldn’t use Excalibur exclusively. Instead, Sams says that Intel still has a lot of pull with respect to its brand name and can offer beefier performance profiles with Core i7 and Core i9 offerings (with the latter being reserved for the larger Surface Book models). In addition, Intel’s 10nm Ice Lake-U processors – which would be found in the new Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 -- could also be on deck for Microsoft’s fall Surface family refresh, and early results look promising.
But Qualcomm-based Surface prototypes aren’t the only things floating around in Microsoft’s labs these days; the company is also reportedly testing prototypes powered by AMD’s 12nm Picasso APUs as yet another alternative to Intel processors.
However, it seems unlikely that Microsoft would offer AMD, Intel, and Qualcomm-based chips all at once, so we’re gonna say that the safe bet is for dual-sourcing from the latter two. After all, Sams makes a very good point about Microsoft’s need to embrace ARM chips for its own Surface products, adding, “With the 8cx becoming commercially available this fall, if Microsoft doesn’t ship a device with the chip, or a derivative of the chip, why would anyone take this new attempt to ship Windows-on-ARM seriously?”
We wholeheartedly agree with that sentiment. After all, Qualcomm is promising that the Snapdragon 8cx will similar performance to Intel’s Core i5-8250U will delivering vastly superior battery life.