Microsoft announced its new Surface Go, debuting a new system that should serve as an appropriate follow-up for the Surface 3 and a rare mainstream, affordable win for the space. Ever since ultrabooks debuted, we’ve seen manufacturers lavish all manner of perks and features on the top of the market, while only grudgingly extending those benefits to lower price points. The Surface Go seems to want to bring more premium capabilities and features to a lower-end market.
The system is powered by an Intel Pentium Gold Processor 4415Y. It’s a Kaby Lake-era part with two cores, four threads, a flat 1.6GHz clock speed, and an Intel HD Graphics 615 solution. TDP is 6W with a 4.5W scale-down option. That’s a significant shift from the Surface 3, which utilized an Intel Atom x7-Z8700. So how do the two solutions compare? Just for fun, we’ve tossed in the CPU Microsoft shipped in the original, high-end Surface Pro.
This is the first time we’ve seen an Intel “big core” in a lower-cost Surface tablet, so the comparison is particularly apt. In this case, we’ve got a Kaby Lake-derived part with a low clock and no turbo option — but it still offers four threads rather than the typical 2C/2T configuration that used to typify Intel’s Pentium parts (this changed in 2017 before Ryzen launched). We can’t find an apples-to-apples comparison between the Pentium 4415Y and the Atom x7-8700, but Anandtech’s Bench has results for the Surface 3 against the original Surface Pro, and the original SP leads by a substantial margin in virtually every test. Of course, all of this has to be weighed against the substantially higher peak turbo frequency that the Pentium 4415Y lacks and the fan that the Surface Pro used that the Surface Go presumably lacks. In other words: It’s hard to predict exactly how CPU performance will stack up. Still, we’d expect an overall improvement, even at lower clock speeds and fewer physical cores. Kaby Lake is significantly more efficient than the old Silvermont architecture. It may not match the Core i5-3317U, but it should still outperform the Surface 3.
The GPU side of things is easier to predict. From Sandy Bridge to Broadwell, each generation of new GPU delivered a substantial improvement in overall performance. The gains dropped off post-Broadwell, but the 4415Y has 50 percent more GPU execution units than the old x7-Z8700, a base clock that’s 1.75x higher, and a boost clock that’s 1.33x higher. We’d expect the Pentium to be significantly faster than the old Cherry Trail GPU on this basis alone. Stepping up to Kaby Lake also means additional support for features like H.265 decode and encode in hardware and additional codec support.
The tablet is expected to retail for $399, and a typing surface will still cost you extra. The display uses the same 3:2 aspect ratio as the rest of Microsoft’s Surface hardware with 1800×1200 resolution. The $399 version will offer 64GB of storage via EMMC and 4GB of LPDDR3-1866, while a $549 system will have 8GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD. Later, LTE options with 256GB of SSD storage will also be available. Total weight is 1.2 pounds (1.7 pounds with the Type Cover) and the system will ship with Microsoft’s first-ever USB-C port, Surface Connect port, micro-SD card reader, and a headphone jack.
The system comes with Windows 10 Home in S Mode by default, but you can put the system in non-crippled Windows 10 Home mode for free. Microsoft claims Surface Go will last up to 9 hours on a charge, though the company’s battery life predictions are often rather optimistic. We’ll have to wait and see if the system can actually deliver anything like that battery time. The $399 price point, however, should be a definite win — when Surface 3 launched in 2015, it was priced at $499, and the baseline configuration had just 2GB of RAM, not 4GB.