Surface Pro update: Canary for the problems in journalism?

typewriter2Ok, so this post is about what is happening with updates for the Surface Pro and the Surface Book, but is also about the problems in technology reporting, which themselves are symptoms of a wider problem.

Firstly, to the Surface Pro/Book.  There are lots of rumours of an update, and rumours there being rumours is understandable, but the rumours seem to all contain the same conclusion, despite logic to the contrary.  Why the continually repeating the same mistakes, and missing key points.  I mean, one person making an error….ok.  But so many websites repeating the same errors?  What is going on?

First, let me explain what I believe is the logical conclusion of the real news here, then, later the return to the question of journalism.

Surface news summary: Updated Surface Pro and Surface book with ‘Kaby Lake’ to be announced at the October 26th eventFor the reasons why this is true despite many rumours to the contrary, keep reading.

Everyone would love a new product to be announced, which is why there are rumours.  If you are waiting to order a new product then you are waiting.  If you are just waiting to write about a new product, then again you are waiting anxiously. Even if you are just waiting to bag a new version, you still wait with much anticipation.

For surface products, rumours have predicted October as news date, as that makes an anniversary of the last update to the surface line.  But, there is news of a major windows update early 2017, so perhaps the new surface products will not be announced until then.  All sensible speculation.   Now for the crazy part.  Websites over and over keep stating that these new surface products will also be delayed until 2017 in order to be able to use the new Kaby -Lake cpu chips which will not be available until this year, when, with one exception of one model, the updated Kaby-Lake CPU chipsets used in surface products are shipping already.

This is the crazy part.  No one seems to discuss how new CPU chips for four out of five Surface products are shipping, and it seems unbelievable so many people are repeating this same oversight error.  Sure, some Kaby-Lake (7th generation) Intel chips will not be shipping until next year, but the cpu chips for the Surface Pro/Book products are the shipping already as I write this.  In fact, here is a link to a page explaining the full story and cataloguing a list of computers already shipping using these newly available chips.

Kaby-Lake chips (U-Series as used in the Surface Pro/Book as well as Y-Series have started shipping, which is why you could be able to get a Surface Book/Pro device with these Kaby Lake chips sometime next month.  These new chips exactly replace the chips shipping previously in Surface products, and are available for all but one surface device.  No circuit change required, nor any increase in price, the price from Intel is the same.  The higher performance more power hungry versions of Kaby-Lake chips are the ones that will not ship until next year, which is why Apple cannot yet update to Kaby-Lake for the 15inch Macbook Pro, although the chip for the 13inch is available.  With Surface products, it is the i7 Surface Pro which does not have a direct replacement revealed already.

So the reality is Microsoft can simply specify the new chip and need make no other changes.  In fact if they do not update the build specification for Surface products, the range will come under price pressure as will be using a now obsolete CPU chip.

So at the very least, an update to Kaby-Lake CPUs can be announced at the now confirmed Microsoft Device event in late October, and the only challenge is the i7 Surface Pro.

Simply using the new CPU alone does not justify renaming for ‘Surface Book II’ or Surface Pro 5, so this may be simple production specification updates, and not new models.

So what is needed for the release of new models?

Dropping in a new CPU chip made by a supplier, is no real work for Microsoft, so what can Microsoft change to justify a genuine ‘new model’.

Overall, Microsoft logically should update the ‘Display Port’ connector on their devices to a Thunderbolt/USB-C connector as well as move to the rechargeable pen. Beyond these changes is speculation.

But what is repeatedly predicted makes less sense.  The repeated prediction is to change the still useful USB-A port to USB-C, rather than change the Displayport to a USB-C.

A USB-C port implements both USB and Displayport from a new USB-C connector. With both the ports from the previous model now available from a single port, the question becomes which of the old ports do you duplicate with a legacy connector.

Yes, USB-C does combine both of USB-A and Displayport, so it is a choice which of the old ports to keep.  But keeping the USB-A port, and thus have 2 USB ports (and one of those having Displayport functionality),  just makes more sense than keeping the dedicated legacy Displayport, to still in effect have one USB port and two Display port options.

If the Surface devices are to keep one legacy port, surely it makes more sense to keep the legacy USB port, than to keep the legacy Display port?

USB-C also implements display-port but from the USB-C connector, and with Thunderbolt moving from the Displayport connector to USB-C connector, Displayport connectors will become less common.  This is not the legacy port to keep providing.

How many USB devices do consumers have they wish to keep and not need adaptors for, vs how many Display port devices might they need adaptors for?   In fact the mini display port already needs an adaptor for most people!

Not only would this rumoured “delete the existing USB port” change be of less benefit to customers, it would also be more difficult for Microsoft, as it is more work to have a second display port.

Who knows which combination is correct, but for so many web pages to report the same choice by Microsoft of the illogical “delete the USB port, and keep the existing Display port” to make room for the new USB-C, either there are repeated leaks, or each site is echoing what that others say.  Leaks or just repeating mindlessly?  Perhaps when the Surface 5 is actually released it will become clear!  Note I believe Microsoft will add not simple USB-C, but Thunderbolt3, which is basically USB-C ‘on steroids’ and acts as plain USB-C with when the greater speed of Thunderbolt3 is not in use.

I will follow with another post to continue on the worrying journalism aspect, but to return to discussion of the new CPUs.

Device SkyLake (Current Surface Device, Sept 16) Kaby Lake (Avail Oct 2016)
Surface Pro i3 m3-6Y30 m3-7Y30
Surface Pro i5 i5-6300U i5-7200U
Surface Pro i7 i7-6650U i7-7500U  ?? (see note)
Surface Book i5 i5-6300U i5-7200U
Surface Book i7 i7-6600U i7-7500U

Note:  The i7-7500U is the direct replacement for the i7-6600U, but not for the i7-6650U which is used in the i7 surface pro.  The 7500U is in general a better performer than the 6650, but the GPU is one step back (the GPU has half the execution units).

So what is Microsoft to do. The choices are:

  • Hold back on any update at all, resulting in the surface product line being the lower spec choice for new buyers as competitor products will almost all have Kaby Lake
  • Hold back updates of models based on the one Surface Pro CPU effected?
  • Twist Intel’s arm to get the new CPU for the Surface Pro i7 quickly
  • Update the Surface Book, and wait to update Surface Pro

Remember, the Surface is support to be a flagship product line.  The goal has been to be a reference, not a discounted product using lower cost but superseded components.


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