Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer may not have seemed serious about selling the company's Surface tablets, describing them as "just a design point" that the company "may sell a few million" of over the next 12 months, but it looks like the software giant is determined to compete with Surface. The Wall Street Journal reports that Microsoft has placed orders to manufacture between 3 and 5 million Surface tablets in the fourth quarter.

Mass production of the devices reportedly began earlier this month, and the company appears to be preparing to take pre-orders for Surface soon. Microsoft's first Surface ad aired on US TV earlier this week, alongside similar ads for Windows 8. Suppliers who spoke to The Wall Street Journal claim that the 3 to 5 million figure is similar to the orders placed for the Kindle Fire tablets and Nexus 7 by Amazon and Google respectively.

Microsoft has still not announced pricing for its initial Surface RT tablets that will launch in 32GB or 64GB models later this month. 5 million sales in the fourth quarter would be a positive start for Microsoft's Surface given its limited retail and international availability. In comparison, Apple sold 17 million iPads in its previous quarter, demonstrating the gap that Microsoft is attempting to close.