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Surface Laptop Success Will Depend on Long Battery Life

When Microsoft introduced its Surface Laptop last week, the company boldly promised it would "reset" the mobile PC category. Besides some innovative mechanical engineering, an impressive high-resolution PixelSense display that renders 3.4 million pixels and a lightweight, thin form factor, company officials were especially proud of the battery life the Surface Laptop is poised to achieve: 14.5 hours when continuously running video.

Most people take such battery life claims with a grain of salt, a point I reminded the lead engineer for the Surface Laptop at last week's launch event in New York City. The engineer, who requested his name not be used, seemed to take exception to my skepticism of such best-case claims. A year in the making in collaboration with Intel, the engineer was emphatic that the Surface Laptop's battery life will prove impressive.

First off, he emphasized improvements with Intel's 7th Generation Core processor and the work the two teams have done on ensuring the new Windows operating system and the engineering applied to the Surface Laptop, will ensure long battery life. Second, the team looked at its previous efforts, where engineers used telemetry from previous versions of the operating system, the Edge browser and Office.

"Architecturally we took a slightly different approach to developing the Surface Laptop in that we deliberately load-switched almost all of the subsystems to optimize those subsystems for when we need to bring them up and power them down," the engineer explained. "From the beginning there was a conscious effort to prolong battery life, increase connected standby time and off state power to minimize it."

The fact that the battery pack has four equal cells is also a key factor, he added.  "What's nice about that, is there are two serial and two parallel cells, which optimizes battery life because every cell works exactly the same way. You don't leave a lot of capacity on the table, and over the life of the battery, you have less aging."

Similar to the Surface Pro hybrid laptop PCs, the battery in the new laptop can't be swapped out. Many users of the Surface Pro 3 reported low battery lives on certain models, attributed to some bad batteries. Customers with expired or no extended warranties were out of luck. Will those who purchase the new Surface Laptop have better luck? The engineer was pretty confident that they will and that Microsoft has learned a lot about optimizing battery life since then.

"I do understand the issue that you may have had with the claims versus reality," he admitted. "We've done a lot of work over the last couple of years to make sure that the claims match the experience a lot more so. A lot of work went into getting to the 14.5 hours. We wouldn't have claimed it if we hadn't validated it with numerous SKUs and multiple lots, and a substantial number of devices."

Besides the battery life, I asked what else will help the Surface Laptop justify its premium price over the top-tier Ultrabooks from key OEMs? "Look at the thickness of this device, the fitting of the motherboard underneath that keyset and key travel, the vapor chamber design, the heat pipes underneath and the spreading that heat," he said as he showed me the system. "And then we vent all of the heat out of the back, so there's no exposure. And if the fan drives all of the exhaust air out the back, we actually have a real challenge in that we hold the touch temperatures to a really low temperature."

It sounds impressive but the temperature will be pretty high if the Surface Laptop doesn't offer the superior battery life promised.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 05/08/2017 at 10:29 AM


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