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Microsoft Shifts to Intel for Surface 3, Which Goes on Sale May 5

The new models start at $499 and include the option of a built-in LTE modem for an additional $100.


Microsoft is making a significant change to its Surface tablet line, shifting the base model to an Intel Atom processor rather than the ARM-based chip found in earlier models.

 The Surface 3 features a three-position kickstand.
The Surface 3 features a three-position kickstand.

The new Surface 3 starts at $499 for a 64 gigabyte machine (or $599 for double the memory) and goes on sale May 5. Later this year, Microsoft also plans to offer a model with a built-in LTE wireless modem for $100 more. The LTE model will be available through T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless, though Microsoft said it plans to add support for more carriers.

While past Surface tablets have used chips from Nvidia, Microsoft also has a second line of tablets, the Surface Pro, which has always been Intel-based. The current model, the Surface Pro 3, starts at $799 and includes a larger, 12-inch screen. The Pro model is also slightly thicker and heavier, owing to the larger screen.

Like past Surface Pro models, the new Surface 3 supports a digital pen for input, though it will be sold as a $49 accessory versus the bundled pen offered with the Surface Pro. The Surface 3 uses the Atom x7, a new quad-core chip from Intel, and has a three-position kickstand versus the variable one found on the Surface Pro. Microsoft says the Atom chip allows it to keep the Surface a fanless design.

The move to Intel raises the question of whether this means an end to ARM-based Surface tablets from Microsoft. With Windows 8, Microsoft had two versions of its operating system, with Windows RT designed for ARM-based machines. That version of the operating system, which was not popular, supported new-style apps written for Windows 8 but not programs written for older versions of Windows.

The Surface 3 will come loaded with Windows 8.1, but Microsoft noted it will get a free update to Windows 10 (like all machines that are able to be upgraded). Surface 3 will also come with a one-year, one-PC subscription to Office 365.

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