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New Microsoft device sails through FCC, likely new ‘Surface Pro 9’ on ARM with 5G

Surface Pro X 2020
Microsoft's Surface Pro X (2020) (Image credit: Daniel Rubino)
  • A new FCC filing from Microsoft has just cleared
  • The reports are for testing 4G LTE, 5G, and Bluetooth radiation in a “portable computing device”
  • Previous reporting from Windows Central suggests that this is the new “Surface Pro 9 5G” based on an ARM processor

Historically, Microsoft has Surface launch events in the September through November timeframe, which is likely no different this year. On the Windows Central Podcast, Senior Editor Zac Bowden hears of a Surface Laptop 5 refresh, new Surface Studio 3, and Surface Pro 9.

It’s that last device that is in our interest today.

There are 21 filings for a new Microsoft device under the FCC listing C3K1997 spotted by Twitter user @Lilputingnews. While most of the exciting information is under confidentiality for 180 days, some bits in the hundreds of pages of reports hint at this being a new 5G Surface Pro.

The most significant clues are the many references to the device being tested in “tablet mode” and a notation that states, “This device contains the following capabilities: 850/1900 GSM/GPRS/EDGE, 850/1900 WCDMA/HSPA, Multi-band LTE, Multi-band 5G NR, 802.11b/g/n/ax WLAN, 802.11a/n/ac/ax UNII (5GHz), Bluetooth (1x, EDR, LE).”

None of the tests are for radiation near the head or using the device as a phone, as all are strictly data-only streams.

The most curious tidbit references Qualcomm’s Smart Transmit algorithm, which performs “time averaging … in real time to control and manage transmitting power and ensure the time-averaged RF exposure is in compliance with FCC requirements all the time.” This feature is used for 4G LTE and 5G during simultaneous transmission.

Most (if not all) Intel-based laptops with 5G capabilities use Intel-based 5G modems (or Fibocom) like the Intel 5G Solution 5000 due to competitive pricing and better inter functionality (as well as Intel’s disdain for relying on Qualcomm for PC modems). 

A Qualcomm-based 5G radio is very revealing. 

"Surface Pro 9" 5G reportedly ARM-based

Surface Pro 8 Profile

(Image credit: Daniel Rubino)

Recent reporting by Zac Bowden claims that Microsoft is effectively merging Surface Pro X into the “Surface Pro 9” this fall.

While most of the new Surface Pros will be based on Intel 12th Gen Core CPUs (possibly the P-series), at least the 5G model will be based on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3, likely with performance improvements and labeled as Microsoft’s new SQ3 processor.

While it is tempting to lean on these new FCC filings as evidence for a new Surface Duo 3, none of the tests relate to cellular phone calls, and, more importantly, our sourcing claims that a new Surface Duo won’t be available until at least fall 2023.

Microsoft has been pushing Windows on ARM a lot this year. The company is set to release its first Windows-on-ARM desktop PC in the form of a developer kit dubbed “Project Volterra.” According to Zac Bowden, that PC is powered by the Snapdragon 8cx Gen3 SoC and includes the same neural processing unit (NPU) AI features and power expected to ship in the Surface Pro 9 with ARM.

Qualcomm Snapdragon

Qualcomm's Snapdragon SoC (Image credit: Qualcomm)

Expectations for the chassis for Surface Pro 9 include further rounding of the edges, a thinner profile, and possibly moving the Type-C ports to the left side, with Surface Connect remaining on the right. That layout mirrors Surface Pro X, except even the ARM-based Surface Pro 9 is expected to have venting near the top like the Intel-based systems (but likely no fan).

A 5G-enabled Surface Pro 9 will be Microsoft’s first 5G non-phone device. The company has been more conservative than other OEMs regarding delivering high-speed cellular access for Windows PCs, many of which started coming out almost two years ago.

While offering two chips in one device may seem unusual, Microsoft has been giving shoppers an option for AMD and Intel processors in the Surface Laptop series for a few years. Merging an ARM-based chip into the premium Surface Pro non-X line is a big step in normalizing Windows on ARM as a legitimate alternative to x86-based processors.

Microsoft is expected to unveil the Surface Pro 9 alongside a new Surface Studio and Surface Laptop in the next few weeks. Of course, these plans could change between now and these devices being announced.

Want more info and scoops? Make sure to check our Surface fall 2022 hardware predictions and expectations.

Thanks, @spaceOranger, for the tip!