Despite the Surface RT’s miserable performance, and almost every other tablet maker jumping ship to Qualcomm, it appears that the Surface RT 2 – due out in October alongside Windows 8.1 – will still be powered by Nvidia’s Tegra SoC. With Intel’s Bay Trail due to hit the market at around the same time, and potentially offering more performance than the ARM-based Tegra 4, does the second-generation Surface RT really stand a chance?
Curiously, this information comes directly from Nvidia’s CEO, despite the fact that Microsoft hasn’t yet officially announced the Surface RT’s successor. As we reported earlier today, CEO Jen-Hsun Huang told CNET: “We’re working really hard on it.”
Huang also mentions that the original Surface RT came bundled with Office RT, but it lacked Outlook. With the next version of Windows RT, based on Windows 8.1, Outlook is included. “[Outlook] is the killer app for Windows. Now we’re going to bring it with the second-generation Surface.”
This news comes shortly after we learnt about the true extent of how poorly the Surface RT and Pro tablets have performed in the market. Microsoft has millions of unsold Surface RT tablets sitting in a warehouse somewhere, and the Pro hasn’t done much better.
There are numerous theories that try to explain why Microsoft’s first attempt at first-party tablets has gone so poorly, but when it comes to the Surface RT, it’s clearly a combination of just two major factors: Sluggish performance, thanks to the Tegra 3 SoC; and atrocious marketing and communication about the capabilities of Windows RT. Why, then, is Microsoft going with Tegra again, when almost every other mobile device maker has shifted to Qualcomm?
Now, presumably, the Surface RT 2 will use a Tegra 4 SoC. Tegra 4 won’t have the same performance concerns as Tegra 3, but the jury is still very much out on whether the hot-and-hungry Cortex-A15 CPU cores in the Tegra 4 can compete with Qualcomm’s Krait CPUs without draining the battery dry.
Nvidia had lined up quite a few Tegra 4 design wins, but due to delays and other concerns, it seems like the company’s own Shield (the main logic board of which is pictured above) and the Surface RT 2 won’t have many cousins at all. In short, there is a reason why almost every smartphone and tablet announced in the last few months has been powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 or 800 SoC.
Which leads us neatly onto another rumour that Qualcomm will actually provide SoCs for “some versions” of the Surface RT, but not all of them. We have known for some time that Microsoft would like to release a smaller (7in or 8in) Surface tablets. Nvidia’s comments clearly indicate that Tegra will be in the “second-generation” Surface, which presumably means that Snapdragon will be used in the new, smaller version. With Snapdragon consuming less power than Tegra 4, this makes some sense. With Intel’s Bay Trail coming to market, though, and promising a performance-per-watt ratio comparable to ARM, it will be very interesting to see if the Tegra 4-based Surface RT is even worth buying.
In other news, this morning Asus said it had pulled out of Windows RT entirely, and will now solely produce Windows 8 tablets based on x86 processors. Windows 8.1 will rectify some of Windows RT’s issues, but it still has some fundamental flaws that will continue to hamper its success as a tablet OS.