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Inside the Microsoft Surface Pro 3: Intel keeps things humming

Intel, Microsoft partnered for the internal design of Surface Pro 3, resulting in power-efficient and powerful internals.

Microsoft and Intel "spent tireless hours together" working on the silicon, says Microsoft's Panos Panay, general manager of the Surface team. Microsoft

The Surface Pro 3 is a snapshot of state-of-the-art Intel technology as much as it is a Microsoft tour de force.

On Tuesday, Microsoft's Panos Panay, general manager of the Surface team, had a lot to say about all the work it did with Intel to make the Surface Pro 3 -- which runs the full version of Windows 8.1 -- tick.

"We've partnered superclose with Intel. It's been the closest thing to a technical love affair," he said.

And the gush-fest didn't stop there. "We spent tireless hours together to put the Core i7 in the new Surface Pro 3," Panay said, referring to Intel's high-end processor. "To pack it this thin, how do you do that? Remember, the new Surface Pro [has] 10 percent more performance than the Surface Pro 2."

Core i7, high-end: That extra performance, to be exact, comes from the 1.7GHz Core i7-4650U (which can run as fast as 3.3GHz in turbo mode), a Microsoft spokesman told CNET.

This marks the first time Microsoft has tapped Intel's high-end HD 5000 graphics -- integrated into the 4650U processor -- in a Surface product. And those graphics are the most proficient at pushing around all the pixels in the Pro 3's 2,160x1,440 resolution 12-inch display.

For those keeping score, they also match the MacBook Air's HD 5000 graphics.

So how does Microsoft pull this off in a 0.36-inch thick tablet? By "reinventing" the fan. Microsoft said it was able to make the fan 30 percent more efficient compared with conventional fans.

This model starts at $1,549.

Core i3, low-end: "The i3 is probably the most interesting [of the models]" as far as wringing the most performance out of an Intel processor, the Microsoft spokesman said.

Because of the new fan technology, Microsoft is able to run the 1.5-GHz Core i3-4020Y a little faster than is typical for Y series processors, which are the most power-efficient (and slowest) Core processors Intel makes.

Y series chips are typically used in fanless designs. For example, the Hewlett-Packard Spectre 13 x2 tablet-laptop hybrid uses the 4020Y and is fanless. But note that the Spectre is thicker, at 0.44-inches, and heavier, at 2.18 pounds, than the Pro 3, at 1.76 pounds.

The Y series uses Intel's HD 4200 graphics processor.

The Core i3 Surface Pro model starts at $799.

Core i5, midrange: This is probably the least interesting of the processors because it's already used in the quietly updated Surface Pro 2 (Microsoft did a "stealth" update of the Pro 2's internals in January).

And, not surprisingly, it's the first Pro 3 that will be available on June 20 (the others are available in August).

"Application performance was comparable with Apple's current 13-inch MacBook Air, the tabletlike Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro, and even last year's Surface Pro 2," CNET Reviews said.

The Core i5 model starts at $999.

Sarah Tew/CNET