Microsoft is taking the unusual step of refreshing its existing Surface Pro X tablet lineup by adding premium options built upon a second-generation Microsoft SQ2 Arm processor. In addition, Microsoft has reworked some of its key applications, delivering more performance and longer battery life on Windows on Arm.

Microsoft’s SQ2 will be featured in the new, high-end Surface Pro X options, announced Thursday, which will be priced at up to $1,799 and be available starting October 13. Besides the new CPU, there are no significant changes to the Surface Pro X design, save for new cosmetic options: a new Platinum finish, and three new Surface Pro X Signature Keyboards in Platinum, Ice Blue, and Poppy Red.

Microsoft’s nifty, rechargeable Surface Slim Pen, which resides within the Signature Keyboard’s cubby, will still be sold separately. The Slim Pen and the Surface Pro X Signature Keyboard are currently bundled together for $193 at the Microsoft Store, a $77 discount. 

Microsoft debuted the Surface Pro X less than a year ago, significantly revamping the Surface tablet hardware with additional USB-C ports and the rechargeable pen cubby.  But as our Surface Pro X review showed, it failed to deliver even a working day’s worth of battery life, in addition to the usual compatibility challenges Microsoft’s SQ1 Arm chip brought with it.

Microsoft

The new color options on the Surface Pro X include Ice Blue, Poppy Red, and Platinum.

Surface Pro X: Better performance, battery life and compatibility

Fortunately, Microsoft continues to make progress on both fronts. We know that the Microsoft SQ2 is based on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8cx Gen 2 5G, a 7W chip that Qualcomm believes will trounce a 15W 10th-gen Intel Core i5 by 39 percent. Microsoft likely upclocked the SQ2 in the same way that its SQ1 was essentially an upclocked Snapdragon 8cx, with SQ1 speeds reportedly reaching 3GHz. (Officially, Microsoft isn’t saying how fast the SQ2 runs.)

qualcomm snapdragon 8cx gen 2 5g performance Qualcomm

Here’s how Qualcomm sees its Snapdragon 8cx Gen 2 5G chip shaking out in terms of performance. It’s the foundation for Microsoft’s own SQ2 design.

Historically, however, processors like the SQ1 have faced another hurdle: compatibility. By now, it’s a familiar story for anyone who’s followed Windows on Arm: Arm processors and devices like the Surface Pro X can run 32-bit and 64-bit Arm code natively. Code written for traditional PCs that runs in 32-bit X86 mode can be interpreted by Arm processors, but with a performance penalty.

The vast majority of traditional PCs can also run 64-bit code written for X86 chips. Currently, however, this code doesn’t run on Arm chips at all. This incompatibility remains a significant weakness for Windows-on-Arm PCs.

Microsoft said Wednesday that it’s solving that particular problem, announcing plans to release code to allow 64-bit X86 apps to be emulated by Windows on Arm beginning in November. That code will be distributed to members of Microsoft’s Windows Insider beta program first. Running 64-bit X86 apps on top of Arm would still introduce a performance hit, however, and Microsoft’s answer to that has been to work to develop more optimized versions of popular apps specifically written for the Arm architecture.

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