In-depth Surface Pro 9 comparison (Intel vs ARM): What’s the best choice?  

In-depth Surface Pro 9 comparison (Intel vs ARM): What's the best choice?

Surface Pro 9 – The Surface Pro 8 was a reinvention of the surface line. It combined the Surface Pro X’s groundbreaking design with Intel’s powerful chips.

It was new with an exciting screen an exciting design and an exciting camera all the big tech buzzwords we know.

The new Surface Pro 9 is not that. In fact, the most exciting thing about the Surface Pro 9 is that there are two of them. This year’s Surface pro shoppers have a choice of two different models with two different processors.

There’s an Intel model which has a boring old 12th gen Core i5 or Core i7 and then instead of a separate Pro X model this year there’s another Pro 9 with a brand new chip that Microsoft co-engineered with Qualcomm called the SQ3.

The SQ3 is an arm chip based on Snapdragon and it’s the sort of chip that’s designed to power super thin, super light mobile devices. You may be looking at these and thinking to yourself, these look identical how will I ever determine? which one to buy? don’t worry I’m here for you and we’re going to get through this together.

Surface Pro 9 (SQ3)

The case for the Surface Pro 9 with SQ3 is that it’s perfect for the mobile Microsoft enthusiast. If the label happens to describe you the Qualcomm Pro 9 offers a unique package that you won’t find in any other laptop on the market you just need to know exactly what you’re getting.

Surface Pro 9 (SQ3)

First off the SQ3 model supports full 5G connectivity. I wasn’t able to get 5G speeds in various places and it’s a bit of a challenge to figure out where exactly millimeter wave is enabled but on paper, this laptop does support 5G.

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Second, this model has chart-topping battery life. I got over 12 hours of straight use out of this device which is longer than the vast majority of Windows laptops I’ve tested this year.

Finally, the Surface Pro 9 has this little thing inside called the NPU. NPU stands for Neural Processing Unit and its job is to handle AI features so that the processor doesn’t have to worry about them.

This powers a whole bunch of shall we say kooky camera features that were very fun to test.

Webcam Test

So my favorite feature is called Voice Focus and this does exactly what it sounds like it would do. This essentially cancels out all the noise around you except your voice so that if you’re on a video call in a loud setting people can still hear you.

Surface Pro 9 Webcam Test

Several camera features are theoretically supposed to work on the SQ3 but they only worked some of the time.

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I hope that Microsoft can fix that because these are legitimately very cool features when they do work.

Windows on ARM

So portability long battery life, 5G connectivity, the funky camera it’s a cool and unique packages so what’s the downside?

Surface Pro 9 ARM

Well, it’s the windows on ARM kinda suck. Windows itself like the menus and stuff run fine, but not every popular application is currently able to run natively on Qualcomm’s processors.

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Some of them are still running through an emulation layer and emulated apps in my experience were slow.

Chrome, for example, was not running natively on the SQ3 neither was slack and when I typed and crawl on this device I saw significant lag.

YouTube videos froze, Slack took forever to switch between channels, pen strokes were delayed, and stuff took a while to open it was a bad time.

Surface Pro 9 Apps

Your best bet if you’re using the SQ3 is to stick to apps that are running natively on ARM which includes a lot of Microsoft apps like Edge, OneNote, Paint, and Office those kinds of things weren’t lightning fast on the Surface Pro 9 but they were usable.

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Some of you already live your life in Microsoft’s ecosystem and some of you won’t mind switching over but for many others, it’s not as easy of a task.

Surface Pro 9 (Intel)

Between the SQ3 and the Intel models, a lot of things are the same, they have the same 13-inch display with a 120 Hz refresh rate which was also on the pro 8. They use the same attached kickstand and the same detachable keyboard which is sturdy and has a nice click and the same stylus which has great haptic feedback and lives in a little pocket.

Surface Pro 9 (Intel)

Here the only real difference on the outside is that the core i7 model has new color options.

The core i7 model of the Surface Pro 9 is a bit more fun-looking. The SQ3 only comes in boring silver. But mostly the Intel model is the boring model.

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Surface Pro 9 (Intel) Keyboard

There’s no 5G, there’s no NPU, and the battery life is closer to 7-8 hours with my workload at least but in exchange for giving up all that flashy stuff you get a device that runs Chrome, you get a device that runs slack, and that’s a really important difference between these two devices because the case for the Intel Surface Pro 9 is that it works.

While I was testing this Intel device I edited, I video called, I marked up, I spreadsheet, nothing lagged, nothing froze, nothing crashed, it ran all the apps my heart desired.


We did run some benchmarks, the Intel Pro 9 gets much higher numbers but you don’t even need to see the numbers to see how much faster this Intel model is performing in emulated apps just look at how much longer it takes for Cinebench to even start on the SQ3 model.

Surface Pro 9 Benchmarks

Across the board, in various emulated apps all kinds of things from clicking to typing to booting and quitting are just faster on the Intel processor. There was no fan noise or heat either even when I was using more intense Adobe programs like Lightroom and then there are a few other small differences.

The Surface Pro 9 is 0.01 pounds lighter which you won’t notice and it supports Thunderbolt 4 which the SQ3 doesn’t above all there’s the fact that the Intel model is cheaper.

Prices and Configurations

So it’s not cheaper spec for spec technically, the cheapest core i7 model is the same price as the equivalent SQ3 they’re both $1,599 but the cheapest SQ3 model is $1,299 while the cheapest Core i5 model is $999.

Surface Pro 9 Price

The keyboard and pen add $279 to the price. So if you buy those that get you up to $1,300 and $1,600.

The point is that the Surface Pro 9 is already a pre-expensive device but you can spend a few hundred dollars less if you stick with Intel.

Which one to pick?

The Intel Pro 9 is a laptop with an attached kickstand where the keyboard pops off and holds a stylus but it’s a reliable fast laptop and I don’t have all that much to say about it it’s fine.

The Surface Pro 9 with SQ3 has some really impressive AI features and those make it feel like a laptop of the future it’s a device for enthusiasts who are really into the surface form factor and who are confident that they’re only going to be using Microsoft’s apps.

If you are in that group and you want something to carry around and video conference with all the time, this may be the device you’ve been waiting for but if you’re anyone else you probably want the Intel model.

The Surface Pro 9 Intel is an incremental upgrade they took the Surface Pro 8 and they stuck a new chip in it this isn’t a machine anyone was excited about it’s not one that I’d show around at a party but it’s the one that most of you should buy.

It’s light, it’s portable, it’s well built, and it works for most people that’s the best kind of computer to buy.

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