Microsoft could build its own Apple M1 chip for Surface

Microsoft could take a cue from Apple. A recent job posting (via HotHardware) for Microsoft’s Surface division calls for a system-on-a-chip (SoC) architect, suggesting Microsoft may be interested in developing its own M1 competitor for future Surface devices.

A job listing confirms nothing – it just gives a vague hint at what Microsoft might be doing, so it shouldn’t be assumed that Microsoft is building an M1 competitor. It makes sense, though, especially considering that Apple is expected to launch its M1X chip next week, bolstering its advantage over the Intel competition.

The interior of the Surface Laptop Studio.

The most recent Surface devices, such as the Surface Laptop Studio, use Intel chips, continuing the decades-long partnership that Microsoft and Intel have maintained. Apple switched from Intel with the launch of its M1 SoC, which manages to stay cooler, quieter and offer similar levels of performance.

In addition to integrating the hardware vertically, using an internal SoC has some advantages. Microsoft would be free to choose the design that best suits its devices rather than a slot-in design from Intel, which could make for a more efficient SoC overall. The M1 is a good example of this. It’s powerful in all the right areas, but Apple has tweaked features like support for various external displays to keep the design in a clear direction.

It’s no secret that Apple is at the forefront of SoC design. Intel is taking some notes with its Alder Lake processors, which use a hybrid architecture similar to the M1. Even if we never see a Surface device with Microsoft-developed silicon, it makes sense for Microsoft to explore the possibility.

Although the Surface Laptop 4 had an AMD processor, Microsoft mainly stuck to Intel for its Surface series. And never has a Surface device used silicon developed by Microsoft. The job posting refers to someone who can “define the features and capabilities of SoC on Surface devices,” hinting that Microsoft is interested in at least a semi-custom design.

That’s not new to Microsoft. The Xbox Series X has a semi-custom SoC from AMD, and Microsoft just posted a job posting asking for a silicon SoC architect for its Xbox and Azure divisions.

In a year, however, we won’t know anymore. Microsoft just released a new generation of Surface devices and while Microsoft could develop its own SoC, it could stick with Intel or AMD for the next generation. Still, it makes sense for Microsoft to take this step. Even Intel has said it sees Apple as its main competitor in the future. We can only assume that Microsoft is looking for something similar.

Still, we recommend taking the posting with skepticism. A job posting doesn’t mean much, so it doesn’t confirm Microsoft is developing an M1 competitor.

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