The Next Surface Laptop Might Have a Powerful Surprise

The Surface Laptop 2, with Intel inside.
The Surface Laptop 2, with Intel inside.
Photo: Alex Cranz (Gizmodo)

German website Winfuture is claiming that the next generation of Surface Laptop could be using AMD processors instead of the Intel CPUs found in every other Surface device. If true that’d be a big boon for AMD and a bit of an embarrassment for Intel.

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On October 2 Microsoft is holding an event in New York City where it is expected to launch a whole new slew of Surface devices. We’ve heard rumors for over a year that the next Surface (the Surface Pro 7) would feature a major redesign including USB-C. We’ve also heard plenty of rumors about a dual-screen Surface device. Even this week Digital Trends also uncovered an FCC filing suggesting the Surface Pen would finally include wireless charging—similar to the latest version of the Apple Pencil.

Last year Brad Sams of Thurrot published a book, Beneath a Surface, that claimed Microsoft would be moving to AMD parts for the Surface Laptop. On Monday Winfuture went a step further and claimed that the AMD parts would appear primarily in a new 15-inch Surface Laptop. Last night data miner and serial leaker @TUM_APISAK tweeted what appears to be the actual parts appearing in the devices.

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Those processors have not been officially announced by AMD, but Tom’s Hardware reported on their probable existence last month and suggested they’d be quite speedy, with Vega 9 graphics. Those Vega 9 would potentially be superior to the Vega 8 graphics in the marketplace, and they’d be potentially as fast or far faster than the graphics found in Intel’s new Ice Lake CPUs.

Ice Lake, which is the obvious alternative to AMD’s product, has been slow to roll out. Between that and the potential power boost offered by Vega 9, there would be a clear reason for Microsoft to make the switch.

But boy, this would be a big deal.

For the past few years, Intel has firmly held the market on flagship devices. The most notable laptops almost always have Intel CPUs standard. You’ll find Intel standard in everything from the MacBook Air to Lenovo’s ThinkPad series to Asus’s Zenbooks.

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There’s a reason for that. AMD’s mobile processors simply weren’t as good as Intel’s for a very long time. It allowed Intel to get a huge chunk of the market and AMD has spent the last three years slowly trying to compete again. It’s been wildly successful in the desktop space, where it’s high octane Threadripper CPUs are coveted by gamers, streamers, and pros. Yet AMD has seemingly struggled in the laptop arena.

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Back at CES, AMD held a roundtable with reporters and AMD CEO Lisa Su I asked Su about the state of AMD’s laptop business and the absence of AMD in flagship devices. She said “You know it’s a journey but we’re making progress. We really are.” She then went on to note AMD was seeing increased traction in the laptop market, and that production of laptops with AMD parts would ramp up before admitting “We have work to do.”

If all these rumors are accurate the laptop space is about to be a lot more competitive. Both AMD and Microsoft declined to comment on this story, but if you know more about what’s coming from AMD and Microsoft you can reach me via Proton Mail or at alex.cranz@gizmodo.com. My DMs also open and you can anonymously contact us via SecureDrop as well.

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Senior Consumer Tech Editor. Trained her dog to do fist bumps. Once wrote for Lifetime. Tips encouraged via Secure Drop, Proton Mail, or DM for Signal.

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DISCUSSION

I’ve been expecting a roll-out to Zen2 chiplets for mobile for a while. I so, so wish we’d see this for Surface Book sometime in January. Would immediately purchase. The Surface Laptop having an AMD Zen+ APU though does make sense, especially considering the outrageous pricing of the high-end 10nm intel chips for similar or less performance. If they pair it with high-end ram? It WILL kick ass.

Important to keep in mind, no laptop manufacturer in the wild has put out a proper Zen+ implimentation. Zen+ is constrained greatly by Ram performance. HP, for example, put their 2 series and 3 series laptops on single channel DDR4 2166 ram (the crappiest ram they could possibly get with abysmal timings), soldered to the board. They did leave a ram slot open, but there was zero way to disable the onboard ram. Which crippled the systems and flat-lined IPC. Everyone else using the chip also constrained their chips similarly or used the lower end Ryzen systems with 2c 4t. Probably under orders from Intel or fearful of producing something that could compete with intel offerings and thus dig into their profit margins on higher cost units.

I’m hoping that Microsoft will sell a surfacebook with Zen2 chips in it.

I’m fully certain that *when* amd does a zen2 based mobile APU its likely going to be with a ram-stack on the die AND Vega 20 or even Vega 30 graphics for the pro-line, and Navi 20 graphics for the consumer line. With the ram on the stack being HBM2. Imagine 16gb of HBM2, or even 32 or 64gb of HBM2 or HBM3 shared between the processor and graphics through the IO die. On a laptop part. The speed of the ram is what enables infinity fabric to work well. On HBM2 it would obliterate. And if you had two Zen2 chiplets with 8c/16t? There’s absolutely NOTHING intel can produce in the same class that would come close to the cost/performance. 7nm zen2 is super-efficient when its not being max-clocked. You underclock a zen2 chiplet’s base frequency down to around 2ghz and the thing draws less than 7w under full load. AMD can produce a Zen2+Vega/Navi 8-10CU on-Die with IO chip under 20w TDP - even with a single core boost around 4.5ghz. And if they pair it with HBM memory on the die stack?  Yeah.  Even the most optimistic Foveros ideals don’t come close.