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Microsoft offers cheapest Surface laptop yet to take on Chromebooks

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Microsoft added a new, cheaper laptop to its well-regarded Surface lineup, entering the low end of the PC market as the pandemic has stirred demand from consumers working and learning from home.

The Surface Laptop Go starts at just $550 and includes a 12.4-inch touch screen, a fingerprint sensor for logging in, and Intel’s older 10th-generation processor. The laptop is available for preorder, with deliveries starting Oct. 13. Previously, the cheapest Surface laptop was the 13.5-inch Surface Laptop 3, which starts at $1,000.

“The idea of working and learning from home, which at one point felt temporary, has for many of us started to feel more permanent,” Pete Kyriacou, vice president for the Surface effort at Microsoft, said in a statement. “Our goal is to design a Surface for every person, work style, and location, offering a variety of designs, colors, and price points.”

microsoft surface go laptop
Microsoft’s Surface Laptop Go starts at $550 and offers a 12.4-inch touch screen.
Courtesy of Microsoft

The announcement comes as the pandemic has boosted sales of all kinds of laptops, but particularly the cheaper Chromebook running Google’s Chrome operating system. Sales of Chromebooks increased 60% in the six months of March through August compared with the same period in 2019, while Windows laptop sales rose 40%, NPD Group said. But consumers typically spend about half as much on a Chromebook as on a Windows PC, the research firm noted. The cheaper device from Microsoft also comes ahead of Apple’s expected announcement of its first laptop using its own processor design, rumored to be a low-priced MacBook.

Microsoft also offered a minor update of its cool-looking but poorly reviewed Surface X tablet, which runs Windows on a custom ARM chip instead of a typical Intel processor. The 2020 version of the 13-inch tablet has the same starting price of $1,000 and the same design, with a thickness of just 7.3 millimeters, or 0.28 inches. It now comes in a platinum-colored case as well as the original black.

One of the biggest criticisms of the original model, released a year ago, was slow performance from the SQ1 chip, a proprietary Microsoft design based on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8cx. Microsoft said it had made software improvements to boost performance and offered a faster chip, dubbed the SQ2, in higher-end versions of the 2020 model.

Microsoft didn’t say much about the new SQ2 and declined to offer any performance benchmarks for the processor, or even compare it to the SQ1. The company said only that the SQ2 is the fastest chip available for running Windows on ARM, a narrow category with few contenders.

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