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When will the Microsoft Surface Pro be released?

If you're hoping to catch a glimpse of Microsoft's first Intel-based Surface tablet at the Consumer Electronics Show this week, you may be out of luck. The Surface Pro won't be released until late January, according to several reports.

Last October, Microsoft released the Surface RT at Microsoft Store, an ARM-based tablet that signaled the software giant's intention to jumpstart a market for Windows tablets rather than leave that mission in the hands of its OEM partners. The Surface RT runs a version of Microsoft's new Windows 8 operating system optimised for ARM chips, but the forthcoming Surface Pro will use Intel's chips and run the same Windows 8 Pro software built for x86-based PCs.

Some reports have indicated that the Surface RT hasn't performed as well in the market as Microsoft may have liked. The software giant reportedly slashed new orders for the tablet from 4 million to 2 million late last year. In early December, IHS iSuppli projected fourth-quarter Surface RT sales of around 1.3 million units - not too shabby in terms of numbers, but down from more optimistic earlier forecasts.

There was some talk that Microsoft might launch the Surface Pro in Las Vegas next week, but reports from The Verge, CNET, and others suggest the tablet won't be released until much later in the month. PC World on Friday offered a roundup of several of those reports.

So when will the tablet be made available? The two potential release dates being discussed are 26 January and 29 January. The first date derives from the fact that Microsoft said the Surface Pro would arrive "about 90 days" after the Surface RT, which was released on 26 October. CNET spoke with one unnamed Microsoft Store source who named 26 January as the go date, but others were more vague and only referred to a late January release.

The 29 January possibility comes from Softpedia, which cited an unnamed "source close to the Redmond campus" as saying that Microsoft planned to unveil the Surface Pro on that date and begin selling it in the US on 30 January.

Redmond's only official comment on the matter has been to say the Surface Pro will be released sometime in January, which the company said last November when it revealed pricing and basic specs for the tablet. A Microsoft spokesperson said last week that the tablet would be "available in early 2013."

It must also be noted that the rumoured dates only seem to apply to the US at this moment, and the UK may have to wait a little longer still before seeing the Surface Pro.

When it does arrive, the Surface Pro will come in two versions: 64GB for around £560 or 128GB for around £620. Both versions will come with a Surface pen with Palm Block technology and support Microsoft's Touch Cover or Type Cover.

The Surface Pro won't be the only Wintel tablet available this year. Device makers including Acer, Asus, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo, Samsung, and ZTE joined Intel last September to showcase a healthy range of Windows 8 slates and hybrids powered by Intel's Atom Z2760 System-on-a-Chip (SoC). Those tablets should all arrive in the first quarter, according to the vendors.

There's actually been a bit of confusion about when several of the first Windows 8 tablets would actually arrive. For example, Lenovo said prior to the 26 October arrival of Windows 8 that its ThinkPad Tablet 2 would be available on the launch date, but later pushed that release back to December, and still has yet to deliver the product.

The Surface Pro, it should be noted, is expected to have a more powerful chip than the Atom Z2760 - namely, a dual-core, Ivy Bridge-class Core processor, possibly a Core i5. What's interesting here is that Intel is expected to release a new lineup of Core processors codenamed Haswell in May or June that may include a part with a power draw as low as 10 watts.

Intel is billing Haswell as making significant gains on power usage and specifically tailored for extending the battery life of tablets, ultrabooks, and hybrid laptops, so as PC World noted, it might be worth waiting for a later version of Microsoft's Surface Pro rather than snapping up the first edition.