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New Surface 3 Tablet Abandons Windows RT, Rocks Intel Cherry Trail Chip (Updated)

Microsoft's corporate vice president of the Surface division, Panos Panay, today announced the Surface 3 tablet. The big news here is that the device doesn't sport Windows RT like the previous two versions, but the full-blown release of Windows 8.1 powered by an Intel Atom chip. Customers can pre-purchase the tablet today for a starting price of $499. The tablet ships May 5.

The Surface 3 features a 10.8-inch ClearType display with a 1920 x 1280 resolution, a 3:2 aspect ratio, support for 10-point touch input and support for the Surface Pen. Backing this screen is an Intel quad-core Atom x7-Z8700 (Cherry Trail) processor (1.6 GHz, 2.4 GHz burst) and a battery promising up to 10 hours on a single charge.

The specifications also show that the new Surface 3 ships in two flavors: 64 GB of internal storage with 2 GB of RAM, and 128 GB of storage with 4 GB of RAM. There's also a handful of sensors, a 3.5MP camera on the front, an 8MP camera with autofocus on the back, two speakers with Dolby audio, and Wireless AC and Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity. Ports include a full-size USB 3.0 port, a microSD card reader, a mini DisplayPort and more.

The new Surface 3 tablet comes equipped with a 1-year subscription to Office 365 Personal. The tablet also includes the Surface Pen (blue, red, black or silver), which is only compatible with the Surface 3 and the Surface 3 Pro. A FAQ also revealed that the new tablet will come packed with a thinner, lighter 13 W power supply that can only be used on the Surface 3 tablet. The device weighs a mere 1.37 pounds and measures just 0.34 inches thin.

So what's the difference between the new Surface 3 tablet and the Surface Pro 3? Launched back in May 2014, the Surface Pro 3 is faster, sporting an Intel Core i3, Intel Core i5 or Intel Core i7 processor, depending on the model. The Pro edition also includes a 12-inch ClearType screen with a 2160 x 1440 resolution, 3:2 aspect ratio and multi-touch support. Storage options range from 64 GB to 512 GB, and RAM options span from 4 GB to 8 GB.

The good news here for many customers is that they can run their desktop applications on the Surface 3. The previous model, the Surface 2, featured an Nvidia Tegra 4 chip and Windows RT, which isn't compatible with x86-based software. Windows RT turned off many consumers, so it's not surprising that Microsoft chose to take the Atom route with its new Surface 3.

Customers wanting to use Surface 3 on-the-go can purchase the tablet with 4G LTE capabilities. Options include the Surface 3 with 64 GB of internal storage and 2 GB of RAM, and 128 GB of storage with 4 GB of RAM. Unfortunately, Microsoft didn't provide pricing but did report that these two versions will ship on June 26.

Update, 3/31/15, 11am PST: We asked Microsoft about the obvious question with the Surface 3: Why did the company go with Intel's Cherry Trail platform as opposed to the Windows RT/ARM configuration? We didn't get much in reply, but we were told that ARM devices are still on Microsoft's road map (although we assumed that to be the case if for no other reason than so many smartphones have ARM chips) and that Windows RT will be getting an update soon that will give it "some of the functionality of Windows 10."  

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