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Ctrl+Alt+Del: Microsoft’s Surface Laptop 6 could be the MacBook Air killer

OPINION: This week, rumours and reports have pointed towards a Surface Laptop 6 to arrive in the coming months. It seems like this could potentially mark the debut of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X Elite on a laptop. The new chip, alongside a long-needed design refresh, could make this new device a big threat to the new MacBook Air.

As someone who has spent much of my near-five years as a technology reviewer testing laptops, I’ve been keenly tracking the path that’s been leading us towards the Qualcomm Snapdragon X Elite chip. Ever since Qualcomm picked up upstart chip company Nuvia, comprised of some former Apple staffers, a more powerful PC chip from the company has moved closer and closer.

The announcement came last year, with the Snapdragon X Elite reveal, and now that big release looks to be converging with another similarly long road – the road towards a big Surface Laptop refresh. It could be a potent combination.

Arm wrestling

Putting the chips aside for one moment, the fact that Microsoft’s Surface Laptop 6 and the Surface Pro 10 are finally getting substantial refreshes is, well, refreshing.

In terms of design, Microsoft’s flagship laptop has always felt like the closest Windows machine to a MacBook. It offered a great keyboard, some of the best laptop speakers around and a delightfully portable design. But then, as soon as you open it up and peek inside, you’re greeted by what are some truly unsightly bezels in 2024, unbefitting of a luxuriously priced machine.

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But, hope is in sight, with Windows Central and The Verge reporting that the Surface Laptop 6 is set for a metaphorical kick up the backside. The new model is set to offer up thinner bezels, more rounded corners and a haptic trackpad. No word on if it will be particularly thinner or lighter though.

Outside of cumbersome bezels, the Surface Laptop range has often felt a tad behind key rivals on important metrics like performance and battery life, not by much but enough to see it eclipsed by models from Asus, Dell and, yes, Apple. But that could be about to change.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 5 (7)
Microsoft Surface Laptop 5 – Image Credit (Trusted Reviews)

The reports state that the new Surface Laptop will be coming in two flavours – an Intel Core Ultra version and the debut of the Snapdragon X Elite. Laptops with the new Core Ultra chip, like the Asus Zenbook 14 OLED have massively impressed, so the Intel version could be a strong contender in its own right. But, with it being more of a known quantity now, it is the Snapdragon edition that has that unknown sense of excitement to it.

With a Snapdragon X Elite model of the Microsoft Surface Laptop 6, we look set to finally see just how Qualcomm’s shiny new computing chip performs. The company has been making a lot of claims, up against both Intel and Apple chips, since it announced the new system-on-chip (SoC), but I’ve been keen to get my hands on it to put it through our thorough reviewing processes ever since. Will it live up to the overall performance claims being made? And, more importantly, how does it function day-to-day?

Snapdragon X Elite specs
Snapdragon X Elite specifications – Image Credit (Qualcomm)

I’ve previously written about the key hurdle Qualcomm’s new chip faces, and that’s Windows on Arm. Windows is still yet to prove that it has nailed the compatibility problem that still lingers when it comes to finding the best versions of your favourite apps on an Arm device. However, with Apple forging the path, it very much seems like the industry is determined to make Arm a thing, with Nvidia and AMD set to get in on the action more in the future.

As such, while it may not happen immediately, Windows on Arm seems certain to improve and will hopefully reach the heights that Apple managed with its Arm switcheroo with the M series.

A true MacBook Air challenger

So, what does this all add up to? The convergence of a modernised design, along with the touted power and battery life benefits that the Snapdragon X Elite provides, could make Microsoft’s Surface Laptop 6 a formidable foe.

The MacBook Air M2 was, and remains a top-notch machine, but the new M3 range does appear to be a largely iterative affair, as we learned in our review of the Apple MacBook Pro 16-inch (M3 Max).

The Apple MacBook Air M2 2022 laptop
13-inch MacBook Air (M2) – Image Credit (Trusted Reviews)

With Apple largely standing still this year in the laptop department – but we’ll investigate that further in our MacBook Air M3 review when the time comes – it seems like the perfect time for a Qualcomm Snapdragon X Elite device to pounce.

We’re expecting to see a range of devices sporting the new chip later in the year and there may be top picks from manufacturers other than Microsoft. But, with design long being the most valuable asset of the Surface range, even if the bezels fell by the wayside, the new Surface Laptop 6 looks best placed to give the MacBook Air M3 a run for its money.

Ctrl+Alt+Del is our weekly computing-focused opinion column where we delve deeper into the world of PCs, laptops, handhelds, peripherals and more. Get it straight into your email inbox every Saturday by signing up to the newsletter.

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