Beneath the Surface: Microsoft is now making its own silicon

24 May 2017

The new Surface Pro. Image: Microsoft

Microsoft has put some silicon in the game as its latest machines are revealed.

Tech behemoth Microsoft has been making its branded notebooks for the past five years, and has just taken the wrappers off its new Surface Pro devices, which boast 13.5 hours of battery life.

Last night (23 May) in Shanghai, the company revealed the new Surface Pro, which weighs just 1.7 pounds and is 8.5mm thin. The 12.3in screen, Microsoft claims, has 50pc more pixels than a 12in MacBook.

Where this gets interesting is that the company has now developed its own custom silicon, which it calls the PixelSense Accelerator, to improve colour and ink quality, and precision.

“This is something that evolved out of what we are doing with HoloLens,” explained Shirley Finnerty, Windows business group lead at Microsoft in Ireland.

“We have developed tiny controllers that sit inside the pen, leading to improvements in ink and colour.”

Microsoft is pursuing Apple with a new vigour

Beneath the Surface: Microsoft is making its own silicon

Finnerty said that the Surface family of devices is growing. “We have matured in terms of our ecosystem, with a huge emphasis on design but also around brainpower. We have learned that if someone writes or draws as opposed to typing, their recall is better.”

The silicon improvements developed in-house at Microsoft provide the new Surface Pro pen with a fourfold increase in sensitivity, with 4,096 levels of intensity, added tilt and no latency.

The increased battery life, emphasis on design and Microsoft’s decision to embark on creating its own silicon electronics is a statement of intent that the software giant has not only taken a leaf from Apple’s book – it wants to take on Apple.

In doing so, it is trying to take on both the MacBook Pro stable as well as the iPad Pro line. For example, Microsoft claims that the new Surface Pro has 800 custom parts and a 35pc longer battery life than the latest Apple iPad Pro.

The machine will come in three configurations: two fanless versions using Intel Core m3 and i5 processors respectively; and one with an i7 processor, which, despite having a fan, is virtually silent at just 18 decibels.

The new Surface Pro will launch in 27 markets on 15 June.

Finnerty also revealed that an LTE cellular version is likely to debut in September.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years