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Microsoft reveals technology underlying Surface tablet

updated 12:55 am EDT, Tue June 19, 2012

Two models have slight, but significant differences

Today's unveiling of the new Microsoft Surface tablets focused heavily on the aesthetics and functionality of the devices. Microsoft noted in its presentation, though, that a good deal of work went into the hardware design underlying the Surface family. Following the Surface reveal, the software giant provided a look at the technologies powering its new tablets.


The Surface sports a casing created using an approach called VaporMg, which allows for the magnesium parts to be molded as thin as .65mm. The whole chassis is constructed in this manner, including the built-in kickstand. Microsoft credits the VaporMg process for making the integrated kickstand possible without adding to the device's thickness, which is 0.37-inches in the Windows RT model and 0.53 inches in the Windows 8 Pro model. The difference in width is likely a result of the different processors the two devices use. The process and materials also help keep the Surface's weight down around 1.5 pounds for the Windows RT model and just under two pounds for the Windows Pro model, both of which are above the weight of the industry-leading iPad, the Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi+Cellular models of which weigh 1.44lbs and 1.46lbs, respectively..


Surface comes with a 10.6-inch display made with second-generation Gorilla Glass. The Windows 8 Pro model touts a ClearType Full HD display, while the Windows RT model comes with a ClearType HD display. Microsoft has yet to detail the resolution difference between ClearType Full HD and ClearType HD, but Full HD is typically taken to mean 1920x1080. The ClearType HD display may output at 1280x720. Both displays will support a 16:9 ratio.

Both models will also sport front and rear-facing cameras, though details on that feature are spare. Microsoft gave said only that the front-facing camera, dubbed "LifeCam," would be positioned at a 22-degree angle with the kickstand deployed, allowing for wider shots.

Internals and Inputs

The Windows RT Surface will come in a 32GB and 64GB model. This version will be powered by an NVIDIA-produced ARM processor. The Windows RT Surface also comes with a microSD slot, USB 2.0 port, and 2x2 MIMO antennae. Inside is a 31.5Wh battery.

The Windows 8 Pro version packs a 42Wh battery, which powers an Intel Core i5 Ivy Bridge processor. The Surface Pro supports microSDXC and USB 3.0, and has a Mini DisplayPort video output. The Surface Pro also supports the Microsoft's new stylus input, though it is unclear whether or not the Windows RT model will as well. The stylus input uses what Microsoft calls "Palm Lock" to ignore touch interface while the styuls is in use. The Surface Pro will be available in 64GB and 128GB models.

Microsoft has not announced any details on cellular connectivity for either device.

Touch Cover and Type Cover keyboards

Microsoft billed its Touch Cover and Type Cover covers as a major differentiating factor between Surface and other tablets running any other operating system. This is due to the presence of an integrated keyboard in both cover models. Both covers bond magnetically to the side of the Surface, and both the Windows RT model and the Surface Pro will support both Touch Cover and Type Cover.

Touch Cover is the thinner of the two cover options. Touch Cover is a 3mm-thick, multi-touch, capacitive keyboard. Touch Cover is said to have a slight texture to it, allowing for differentiation between keys. It features a full multitouch keyboard that uses pressure-sensitive technology to sense keystrokes as gestures. Microsoft claims that the keyboard can measure how quickly and forcefully a user strikes a key, allowing it to register keyboard commands much in the same way that a physical keyboard can.

The Type Cover is a thicker cover option, but includes actual physical keys. The presence of physical keys necessitates a tradeoff, though, and Type Cover is consequently two millimeters thicker than Touch Cover. Like Touch Cover, it features a full keyboard with a touchpad, including right and left-click capabilities.

Microsoft has yet to reveal whether either keyboard cover will be packaged along with the Surface. The company also has yet to detail the technology allowing Touch Cover and Type Cover to connect to the Surface, as well as the two covers' own battery life or impact on the Surface's battery life.


In announcing Surface, Microsoft has undeniably grabbed the attention of the tech sector. The device may have the potential to generate significant interest from a wide range of consumers, specifically the enterprise sector, due to Surface's focus on productivity with its novel keyboard covers. However, a number of questions still surround the device. Chief among these is the issue of price. Microsoft has said Surface will be comparable in price to many ultrabooks, but those notebooks can range from $500 to $1,200 in price. Microsoft also hasn't given any specifics on expected battery life. Nor has the company revealed what, if any, cellular connectivity may be featured in the device. Finally, there is the issue of release timeline. The Windows RT Surface is expected to debut alongside Windows 8, which would place its release some time in the fall of this year. Surface Pro, though, was given a more vague release time. Microsoft will surely clear up some of the uncertainties surrounding its device in the coming months, though, and the company may adjust as-yet-undetermined factors like pricing depending on perceived interest in the devices as the fall approaches.

by MacNN Staff



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