Microsoft Surface – Are you ready for what m”ai” be next?

Next week is Microsoft Build, and the day before (that’s Monday 20th May), Microsoft is set to host a significant event in-person in Seattle about the the future and of Windows, Surface and Copilot.

The event (which is not being live streamed unfortunatley) takes place at 17:00 UK Time (10:00am Pacific Time) and will showcase (I hope filled with the famous Microsoft sizzle videos) the next wave of innovation for Surface, Windows and Copilot powered by new AI powered chipsets…

As usual Microsoft has not disclosed specific details about what is being announced, but there have been many “suggestive” leaks, predications and teases about what is coming. What we do know is that this will be a big and “special” announcement.

This year, Microsoft have already launched the first generation of new AI PC with the release of the Surface Pro 10 and The Surface Laptop 6 which were built on the new Intel AI Boost technology – which you can read more about here.

So what is being announced?

We know this is a pretty big annoucement and we do know that this is the year of AI and the year of the AI PC, so we can expect some pretty exciting annoucements. Despite the various leaks, we wont know until monday what is actually coming, but we do know that Microsoft’s previous product updates were only around the Intel based devices and their ARM powered devices haven’t yet received an update.

Windows Insiders will be well aware of the all the AI innovating coming to the next generation of Windows 11 so we can expect some new AI wow to be announced for Windows 11 as Microsoft gear up for the 24H2 update coming later this year.

Next Generation of Windows and Surface (and Copilot)

Given the new Qualcomm chipsets such as the Snapdragon Elite X, it would make sense for this to feature in the announcements. These new chipsets (which I discussed here) provide huge NPU capabilities which are needed to process AI workloads efficiently without sloooooooowing down the device so it will be exciting to see if these feature in the future of Surface and Windows!

Will Copilot work “locally/Offline?

What? Well today, all the AI and Copilot experiences we have seen with Windows 11 (and Microsoft 365 Copilot) take place in the cloud, but I also wonder if Microsoft will discuss their plans and advancements around local/on-device Generative AI experiences. With the newer AI Boost PCs from Intel, what is now available with Qualcomm and what Microsoft have in their arsenal with Copilot and OpenAI, it will be interesting to see what Microsoft can tell us about how they could de-couple the AI experiences, providing the ability to run local LLMs “on chip”. This of course is as much about the software (Windows OS) as it is the hardware that powers it.

What about Windows 365?

I hope so – since Windows 365 is very much part of the Windows story and I’m hoping we will hear some updates about what is coming to Windows 365. We have seen huge performance and boot time increases this year, new innovation with Windows 365 Boot and Windows 365 Switch (i have covered this in another blog) so be great to see what is next for Windows 365. There were also many things annouced over the past 12 months such as offline mode that haven’t yet made it to market – could this be finally coming?

Will 2024 be the year of Windows 11 on ARM?

We are not even six months into 2024, yet we have already seen some of the most exciting innovation to hit the PC in a decade.

Earlier this year we saw the birth of the “AI-PC” which saw Intel ship their new Core Ultra chipset which includes their AI Boost technology (essentially an NPU) along with the much improved Intel Arc graphics chips which brought performance increases far beyond the i5 and i7 chipsets we have been using for years.


Why do we need NPUs again?

As we use increasingly more AI services, whether that is image blurring, sound enhancement or running a local LLMs on your device, Neural Processing Units (NPUs) are much much faster at processing these workloads locally and because they do all the hard work, the CPU doesn’t need too, also freeing up CPU time increasing overall performance. . This therefore also leads to more efficient processing and less battery use.


I remember back (too many) years ago, when the chipset battle was between Intel and AMD. This has moved on significantly of late though with Qualcomm now a real contender in realm of AI workloads, portability and battery/eco performance. Qualcomms new Snapdragon chipsets are built on what was previously called “Oryon” which was designed by NUVIA (which QualComm brought for $1.4 Billion in 2021).

Interesting fact: Nuvia was founded by a group of ex-Apple engineers who were responsible for the original Apple M1 + chipset architecture.

This Oryon chipset (known now as the Snapdragon X series) has been the result of that acquisition and ongoing investment. These ARM chip brings an amazing addition to lower power usage and energy consumption, mobile connectivity, longer battery life and amazing performance (especially with AI workloads) and will soon be running the current and next generation of Windows 11 on ARM technology.

Is Surface RT – Back from the Dead?

Well, yes and no – more sort of.

If you have been using Microsoft hardware (and Surface in particular for while, you may remember the Infamous Surface RT device that Microsoft launched in 2012 along side the Intel Powered Surface Pro (v1). Whilst not a success at the time (and laughed at by many), this was the real exploration of using ARM architecture in mainstream computing running a desktop Operating System (Windows 8.1 back then). Windows 8.1 RT was based on Windows 8 at the time but compiled specifically for the ARM chipset that drove the Surface RT.

Surface RT was a hybrid tablet developed by Microsoft. It was the first personal computer designed in-house by Microsoft and was released in October 2012. It ran on Windows RT, a version of Windows 8 optimised for ARM processors. It has a quad-core Nvidia Tegra processor, 2GB of memory, a 10.6-inch display, a USB 2.0 port, HDMI-out, and a magnesium chassis.

But it failed right? It did – but the failing (in part) was not really down to the ARM technology itself, it was more because the mainstream computing world only really knew the world of Win32 or x64 applications which were built on a totally different architecture and could not run on ARM. There were a number of Win32 applications that were recompiled for ARM and made available via the (then limited) App Store, but these were few and far between (a bit like Windows Phone) which meant that Surface RT was a good good for web browsing and web apps, plus the stock apps and re-compiled Office Applications which worked quite well.

ARM – “I’ll be back”

With the “fail” of Windows RT, ARM was pretty much a thing of the past until 2019, when Microsoft released the Surface Pro X, which I still love and use today. This was the start of a new era for Windows on ARM (some seven years later) which saw Windows 10 (WoA) running on a Microsoft customised Qualcomm which Microsoft called the SQ1.

The SQ1 was based on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8cx laptop chip but with some customization.
It combined Snapdragon hardware with AI capabilities, resulting in a powerful chipset, which gave impressive battery life (well more than in the intel version), and quick charging (to 80% in just an hour). It also featured 4G connectivity in addition to Wi-Fi. Graphics are powered by the Adreno 685 GPU

Microsoft did a brilliant job of this. They produced a super sleek and super thin, fanless Surface Pro device which ran full Windows 10 on ARM. Unlike the Surface RT, whist it could of course run native ARM apps, it was also able to run x64 apps through x64 emulation. These apps did ran slower than they would on their intel counterparts, but and ability to run these apps without recompiling the code removed (mostly) the “app gap”. With devices now going to market (other vendors followed), it also saw software giants like Adobe, beginning to develop their own apps compiled for ARM to run natively. Looking ahead to today, there’s a good steady (and growing) number of apps that are natively compiled for ARM.

As Windows 11 was released in October 2021, we saw a new and refreshed experience for fans of ARM devices with the the support to run Win32 and x64 apps through emulation as well as native ARM apps of course. Microsoft have recently released updated to their ARM powered Surface Pro devices (only Surface Pro devices currently ship with an ARM option), the latest being the Surface Pro 9 5G which features the Microsoft SQ3 processor.

The SQ3 was built on Qualcomm's Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3. This is an 8-core processor with 8 threads and is based on the second generation of Qualcomm Snapdragon chips. Graphics are powered by the Adreno 690 GPU. This also features 5G connectivity.

The Future of AI Powered PCs

There is no doubt we are witnessing a seismic shift in the market as devices are next generation devices are being primed for AI capabilities, and it’s nothing short of revolutionary. With Intel shipping their new AI powered chipsets in the fist part of 2024 and with what is coming from Qualcomm in the second half, 2024 looks to be the year for Windows 11 on ARM with new devices coming soon from leading PC/Laptop manufacturers, including new Microsoft Surface devices based on the rumours! Apple of course have also announced the M4 for their newest devices.

Intel Ultra with AI Boost

Earlier this year, Microsoft led the charge with the Surface Pro 10 for Business, armed with the Intel Core Ultra processor. What makes this processor different to the previous Intel generations is what they call their integrated AI Boost! This cutting-edge feature turbocharges performance by processing AI tasks locally. This results in a significant reduction in reliance on the CPU and, in some fortunate cases, even the GPU. This means faster, more efficient processing that’s sure to supercharge your productivity, powered by the Intel NPU.

Qualcomm Snapdragon Elite

But that’s not all! Qualcomm has also thrown its hat into the ring with the Snapdragon X1E Elite and Plus chipsets. This comes hot on the heels of their acquisition of Nuvia, marking a bold new chapter in their AI journey which we are about to start seeing hit the market.

Qualcomm AI Engine, Snapdragon X Elite can run generative AI models with over 13 billion parameters on-device. Qualcomm claims it has 4.5 times faster AI processing than its competitors. Qualcomm has called Snapdragon X Elite the “most powerful, intelligent, and efficient processor in its class for Windows,”

Apple M4

Yes so Apple have recently announced their new M4 Processor which will power the new iPad Pro. Apple say that the M4 promises 50% faster CPU performance than Apple’s M2 and is four times faster than the M2 in GPU performance.

Intel vs Qualcomm vs Apple

While benchmarking processor performance can sometimes be influenced by the manufacturer or even be misleading to the end user, the numbers below are really interesting to see.

The new Intel Core Ultra 5 chipset has also shown significant improvement, boasting a score of 2,150 and 10,450 for single core and multicore respectively. These numbers highlight the rapid advancements in AI capabilities and the potential they hold for our work.

The Qualcomm Snapdragon X Elite made a grand entrance with a single core score of 2,574 and a multicore score of 12,562. This immediately positions it as a formidable contender, outperforming the Ryzen 9 7940HS.

Qualcomm has added an AI engine to the X Elite too, which they say is capable of 75 TOPS (trillion operations per second) — that’s a huge increase over the roughly 34 TOPS the Intel Core 7 165H chip is capable of.

There are not yet scores for the Apple M4 to compare against the Snapdragon X Elite since the benchmarks for the M4 are not out yet.

Conclusion

With the latest iterations of Windows 11, we have a mature and stable build of ARM on Windows, that can run Intel apps in both Win32 and x64 mode, as well as native ARM applications. There are more apps than ever that run native ARM in Windows – and even Google have now launched an ARM version of their Chrome Browser.

The marked performance of the Snapdragon shows that will accelerate both the performance and advancements of AI edge compute in Windows 11, along with the efficiency and battery life expected. With this, the next generation of Qualcomm AI PCs on Windows 11 looks extremely exciting.

As we move into the second half of 2024, I think business, consumers, education and more are going to be super excited about the ability to get a new range of super quiet, super fast, super efficient devices with a real stonker of battery life that is able to run AI and traditional workloads with a breeze. All powered by Windows 11 on ARM and Snapdragon X Elite at the core.

So is 2024 the year for Windows 11 on ARM ?