Meet the Microsoft Surface 3: Powered by Intel Cherry Trail

The successor to the Surface RT, the Surface 3 is lighter and better built than ever, and has a full-fledged Intel Atom Processor.

Published Date
26 - Jun - 2015
| Last Updated
17 - Jul - 2015
 
Meet the Microsoft Surface 3: Powered by Intel Cherry Trail

Usually, tablets are treated as consumption devices mostly because they don’t have the software (or the hardware to drive such software) for creative professionals. Moreover, the ARM Processors in tablets were powerful enough for consumption, but didn’t have the grunt to run resource-intensive software like Photoshop.

Microsoft tried to change the dynamic by launching the Surface line alongside Windows 8, but the Surface Pro was too bulky and the Surface RT, while light, still ran on a crippled OS, with no support for desktop applications. The second Surface Pro was still bulky, but the successor to the Surface RT, the Surface 3 was lighter and better built than ever, and had a full-fledged Intel Atom Processor.

To think that a desktop-class processor can fit in a small space without any fans, that’s an impressive achievement, and it is all due to Intel’s latest Cherry Trail architecture, which enables better graphics and better performance while running more efficiently and at lower temperatures.

It is the holy grail of portable computing, giving you the power of a computer with the portability of a tablet. The Surface 3 is the first product using Cherry Trail, with a quad-core Atom Z8700 Processor running at 1.6GHz (goes up to 2.4GHz under heavy load).

Intel achieves all this with a 14nm manufacturing process, which enables better processing efficiency. Intel has done several customizations under the hood to make it run cooler, and it is one of the first desktop-class processors that can run without a fan.

The hallmark of the Cherry Trail architecture is the integrated graphics, which has improved by a considerable amount, and is now capable of playing 4K video, and perhaps even a few games. Of course, a dedicated graphics card is better any day, but Intel manages to squeeze out considerable power without sacrificing battery life. Keeping a dedicated graphics card running can drain your battery down in now time, and that’s why Intel’s optimizations are noteworthy.

By virtue of it running a full-fledged Atom Processor, the Surface 3 runs Windows, not Windows RT. This means applications like Photoshop can and will work, and the Surface 3 realizes the dream of the highly portable computer that you can work on.

Using the Surface 3: As a consumption device

The Surface 3 is built really well, and you do get your money’s worth with a sturdy magnesium alloy body. It has considerable heft, but it is in no way bulky, and makes for a very portable computer.

The back hinge is just right: Not too tight, not too loose, and stays in place. The important thing is that it looks like a tablet and feels like one. Now I mention this because most hybrid laptops are really just laptops, with the tablet part being an afterthought.

This means it is comfortable to hold while watching videos and for Web browsing. It has a 3:2 aspect ratio, which may seem a bit odd at first, but it is a good middle ground for watching videos and the Internet.

The Surface 3 didn’t break a sweat when I opened over 14 browser tabs with a full-HD video playing in one. The only time it showed signs of slowing down was when I opened 20 tabs with 5 tabs running full HD videos. That’s more than enough for most users.

I got the variant with 4GB RAM, so multitasking was handled with aplomb.

Even if you never decide to use the Surface 3 for creating anything, it still makes for a pretty good consumption device. It is light, and its screen is bright, vibrant and sharp. I must say it is among the best tablet displays in the market.

You may as well buy this just for the screen.

Using it for Work

We all knew the Surface 3 would be a good consumption device. But how does it fare for work?

It has enough processing power for word-processing, spreadsheet work and more. I tried editing photos with it, and it handled it with ease. I wasn’t able to test the keyboard cover, but I connected a keyboard and mouse through its full-size USB port, and it worked just as well.

You can run just about any program you use on your PC, since for all intentions and purposes, this is a PC.

Some GPU-intensive tasks like video editing are a tough-sell due to the lack of a dedicated GPU. It’s not like it doesn’t work, at all; it does, but it’s a time consuming affair.

For most office tasks, the Surface 3 does the job. You can now work anywhere you want, since the Surface is extremely portable while having the capabilities of a full-fledged computer.

Battery Life

In 30 minutes, with multiple apps running in the background and screen at medium brightness, the Surface lost 7% battery, meaning that with the same usage pattern, it will last over 7 hours.

In those 30 minutes, I had over 20 tabs open, streamed a full-HD video for a few minutes, opened some apps and played a local 4K file.

When you consider that it has a desktop processor inside that is one impressive achievement. The Surface is more powerful and more capable than most tablets, and yet it manages to equal (if not best) them in battery life, and it is all due to the more efficient manufacturing process and optimizations made by Intel in the Atom Z8700 processor.

Conclusion

The Cherry Trail Atom in the Surface 3 will suffice for most, and its integrated graphics are good enough for playing videos and perhaps even a few games. This performance is offered in a compact body that can be easily carried around, and if you ask me, that’s what a laptop should be.

The Surface 3 manages to be a good laptop and a good tablet at the same time. Of course, it has been made possible due to the Intel Cherry Trail line of processors. The Cherry Trail architecture will appear in more ultra books, tablets, etc. Lenovo recently announced the ThinkPad 10, which runs on Cherry Trail.

Cherry Trail, combined with Intel’s Core M, could bring about a fan less design and battery efficiency revolution in tablets, ultra books and laptops