Tech

Surface Pro X (2020): Microsoft’s ARM processor SQ2 tested

Microsoft is selling its Windows-on-ARM tablet Surface Pro X in higher equipment variants with a different processor: Instead of the in-house SQ1, the SQ2 is now on board. We took a closer look at such a tablet: The equipment variant examined with SQ2, 16 GB of RAM and 256 GB SSD costs over 1650 euros – as usual without a keyboard cover or pen.

Microsoft’s SQ processors are not completely in-house developments, but are closely related to Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8cx. The SQ1 is a special version of the first 8cx, which was presented for the first time at the end of 2018, but did not actually appear on the market until mid-2020 – namely in a variant of the Samsung Galaxy Book S. The Surface Pro X with SQ1, on the other hand, has been sold since the end of 2019 .

The SQ2 is now again based on the one revealed in mid-2020 Snapdragon 8cx Gen 2The original Qualcomm version cannot yet be bought: The only device announced with it is the Lenovo Yoga 5G. As its name suggests, Qualcomm is focusing on Gen 2 on 5G connectivity, which is implemented via an additional chip – the SoC still “only” contains an LTE modem. This is important: Microsoft does not use the 5G modem, so the Surface Pro X is still limited to LTE. Also the Wi-Fi upgrade from Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) to Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) advertised for the 8cx Gen 2 is not possible for the Surface Pro X, contrary to what was originally expected.

The only noteworthy point in which the SQ2 stands out from the SQ1 is therefore a moderate clock increase: Instead of up to 3.0 GHz, the data sheet now shows a CPU clock of up to 3.15 GHz. The frequency of the GPU was also turned so that it can now be called Adreno 690 instead of Adreno 685. You can see that in the benchmarks: In the 3DMark Night Raid, 7369 points instead of 7010 points, in Geekbench 5 we measured 800/3142 points instead of 758/2949 points (single / multithreaded).

The Microsoft SQ2 processor is used in higher equipment variants of the Surface Pro X (2020).

(Image: Microsoft)

While you can measure the performance plus, it is not really noticeable: It gets lost in everyday life and corresponds roughly to what you find within a chip generation between a Core i5 and a Core i7 quad core. In our opinion, the name SQ2 is therefore misleading: an “SQ1 +” would have been more honest – and actually the somewhat faster chip should have been available from the start and not just after a year. After all: the tablet is still called Surface Pro X and not X2.

Current mobile processors

SQ1

Adreno 685

Surface Pro X

0.33 / 3.25

758/2949

7010

SQ2

Adreno 690

Surface Pro X

0.33 / 3.41

800/3142

7369

Snapdragon 8cx

Adreno 680

Galaxy Book S

0.33 / 3.13

n / a

6054

Core i5-L16G7

UHD

Galaxy Book S

1.45 / 2.98

670/1454

3562

Core i7-1165G7

Iris Xe

ZenBook Flip S

1.91 / 6.54

1542/4901

12251

Core i5-1035G7

Iris Plus

Grief 14

1.44 / 5.18

1168/2790

5266

Core i5-10210U

UHD

ThinkBook Plus

1.62 / 4.64

1054/2730

4621

Ryzen 5 Pro 4650U

Radeon Vega 6

ThinkPad T14s G1

1.93 / 10.54

1107/4872

10956

Ryzen 7 4800H

Radeon Vega 7

MateBook 14

2.03 / 17.40

1160/6460

12021

We carried out the tests in parallel on two Surface Pro Xs with identical software versions under Windows 10 2004 (Build 19041.572). The emulation of 64-bit x86 software announced by Microsoft is neither included in it nor in the recently published update to Windows 10 20H2 (Build 19042.xxx), but will be included at the earliest apart from Windows Insider beta versions explicitly addressed to testers the next Windows 10 version 21H1 will come in a few months. Until then, SQ1 and SQ2 – and all other Windows-on-ARM devices – will only be able to run 32-bit Windows software apart from the native ARM applications, which are still very rarely found. In Cinebench R11.5, which is executed using emulation – unlike Cinebench R15 or R20, there is still a 32-bit version – the SQ2 can only slightly differentiate itself from the SQ1, as with native software.

The longer battery life advertised by Microsoft in connection with the revised Surface Pro X is in turn due to general product maintenance in the meantime. It also benefits older SQ1 models through driver and firmware updates – and app optimizations (Chromium Edge, Teams) even all WoA devices. In the first runtime test (stationary desktop, full screen brightness), our SQ2 model ran a little longer with 6.2 to 5.9 hours, but it also had a brand new battery with 40,500 mWh. The battery of the one-year-old SQ1 model, on the other hand, only reports 37,260 mWh – which means that the SQ1 model is even slightly more economical with its calculated average power consumption of 6.4 watts to 6.5 watts.

We will publish further (runtime) tests in a future c’t issue. It is not to be expected that the Microsoft tablet will manage the runtimes of 24 plus x hours advertised by Qualcomm for Windows-on-ARM devices: In the test of the Surface Pro X published a year ago, it was only enough for a good 11 even in the best case Hours.


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Microsoft has given its Surface Pro X with the revision now available as well as the entire Windows-on-ARM ecosystem meaningful product maintenance over the past year. This was and is sorely needed: In the x86 world, for example, several processor options per generation of devices are the norm – especially for devices with four-digit price tags. The 64-bit emulation that has been announced so far, but also only announced, is coming very late. Maybe even too late: after all, other manufacturers had already released two generations of Windows-on-ARM devices before the Surface Pro X – and in view of the ongoing chicken-and-egg problem with a few (and expensive) devices and the lack of ARM apps, they have now lost interest .

Windows on ARM is also unlikely to benefit much from Apple’s upcoming x86-to-ARM switch. Because while Apple is changing over the entire Mac world in the short to medium term, ARM processors will remain a narrow niche under Windows for the foreseeable future. Apple has also shown with its iPhone and iPad CPUs that it is possible to develop very powerful ARM chips in-house. Microsoft’s technology supplier Qualcomm, on the other hand, has still not announced a successor for the almost two-year-old Snapdragon 8cx – which, based on experience, would not come immediately, but only after another year. And for the weaker offshoot Snapdragon 7c, which was actually intended for inexpensive Windows-on-ARM devices, there were hardly any interested parties so far, so the chip is now being used in Chromebooks.


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