Microsoft Surface Pro Reviewby Anand Lal Shimpi on February 5, 2013 9:00 PM EST
There's clearly interest in a device that converges the tablet and notebook. ASUS saw some of the earliest success in this department with its Transformer line of Android tablets. Once the first Windows RT/8 designs started appearing, it became clear that everyone was aiming to deliver something that delivered the best of both worlds. Even listening to Intel's description of Haswell you can get a good idea for where part of the industry is headed: everyone is working towards delivering a platform/device that has the battery life and portability of a tablet, but with the performance and flexibility of a notebook PC. Apple has remained curiously quiet on this front, but I suspect that too will change in good time.
Last year Microsoft unexpectedly threw its hat into the ring with quite possibly the best branding decision since the Xbox. Under the Surface brand, Microsoft would produce two tablets of its own. These Surface devices would be built from the ground up to address this converged tablet/notebook space. The lesser of the two, Surface for Windows RT, would use ARM hardware and serve as a launch vehicle for Windows RT. The big brother in the family, Surface for Windows 8 Pro, would use traditional x86 hardware and come around 3 months later.
Surface RT launched less than four months ago to mixed reviews. I saw potential in the device, but it needed faster hardware and honestly Windows RT needed some sanding around the edges. Today we have the official introduction of Surface Pro. With a higher price, thicker/heavier chassis and lower battery life, could Surface Pro possibly fare any better than Surface RT did last year?
In my opinion? Surprisingly, yes. Let's get to it.
Surface Pro: Heart and Soul
The heart and soul of Microsoft’s Surface Pro is a 17W Intel Core i5-3317U (Ivy Bridge) processor. This is a two core/four thread part with Intel’s HD 4000 graphics and a 3MB L3 cache. Microsoft told me that it simply used the best hardware available when designing Surface Pro, which likely means that it didn’t get early access to any of the 7W SDP Ivy Bridge SKUs (the Intel/Microsoft relationship has seen better days, Intel isn’t super happy about the whole Windows RT thing).
The i5-3317U finds its way into Surface Pro unimpeded. In power saver mode without being plugged into the wall it’ll run both cores at 800MHz just like any other Windows notebook, but in balanced mode you’ll find the cores will start doing work at a 1.7GHz base clock and turbo all the way up to 2.6GHz (and beyond, for short periods of time). This is the same level of CPU performance you can get in most Ultrabooks, and the exact same hardware that’s used in Apple’s 11-inch MacBook Air by default. I won’t spoil the fun, but it’s considerably faster than what you’ll get in any ARM based tablet. That includes Google’s Nexus 10, Apple’s iPad 4, and of course Microsoft’s own Surface RT.
The performance advantage doesn’t stop at the CPU either. Microsoft integrated 4GB of DDR3-1600 memory (dual-channel, soldered on-board) and a full 64GB or 128GB SATA based SSD into Surface Pro. While Surface RT used a single chip eMMC solution, Surface Pro uses a 6Gbps SSD similar to what you’d find in an Ultrabook, MacBook Air or even some desktops. I’ll get to the deltas later in the review, but we’re talking a completely different league of performance here.
The usual tablet bells and whistles are all still here: WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0, ambient light sensor, accelerometer, gyroscope, compass, front and rear facing cameras. The only missing checkbox is the lack of any cellular connectivity. Both of Microsoft’s tablets remain WiFi-only at this point.
|Microsoft Surface Comparison|
|Surface RT||Surface Pro||Apple iPad 4|
|Dimensions||10.81 x 6.77 x 0.37"||10.81 x 6.81 x 0.53"||9.50 x 7.31 x 0.37"|
|Display||10.6-inch 1366 x 768 PLS||10.6-inch 1920 x 1080 PLS||9.7-inch 2048 x 1536 IPS|
|Weight||1.5 lbs||2.0 lbs||1.44 lbs|
|Processor||NVIDIA Tegra 3||
Core i5-3317U with HD4000 Graphics (17W Ivy Bridge)
|Connectivity||WiFi||WiFi||WiFi , Optional 4G LTE|
|Storage||32GB or 64GB||64GB or 128GB||16GB—128GB|
|Battery||31.5 Wh||42.0 Wh||42.5Wh|
|Starting Price||$499||$899 or $999||$499|
Surface Pro comes with a 10.6-inch capacitive touch screen and it runs Windows 8 Pro, meaning it not only runs everything that Surface RT can run, but it also runs all of your legacy Windows applications. Look around the edge of Surface Pro and you’ll find a miniDP output and a USB port. Has the lightbulb gone off yet? Surface Pro has the same underlying hardware as a notebook PC and it has the basic connectivity you need - this is the first tablet that can truly replace your tablet, notebook and desktop if you want. No compromises, no new apps, and no waiting for Flash to die and HTML5 to take over. Surface RT was Microsoft’s first attempt at a convergence device, but Surface Pro really is the first tablet that truly attempts to replace a PC and not just augment it.
All of this of course comes at a price. The CPU from Intel alone retails for $225, that’s over half the price of a Nexus 10. Surface Pro has Ultrabook insides and it’s priced accordingly. The 64GB model retails for $899, while the 128GB model is $999. Compared to similar capacity iPads, you’re looking at a $200 premium. Although to really get full use out of Surface Pro you need either the $119 Touch Cover or $129 Type Cover, so adjust those prices accordingly.
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kyuu - Thursday, February 7, 2013 - linkLol? You only agree with Anand when he gives glowing reviews of Apple products.
chizow - Wednesday, February 6, 2013 - linkI really like the idea behind Surface, but it just needs some refinement and improvements in hardware that only time and process fabrication brings.
20% faster CPU speed, 50% better battery life, 40% smaller form factor, and 25% lower price ($700-750 range with a cover included) and I think Microsoft has a real winner here. Hopefully they aren't scared away by the RT's lackluster sales and stay on course with consistent upgrades for Surface.
I think the only questions now are...whether Microsoft will follow the insane 10-12 month upgrade cycle behind tables/smartphones, or the longer 18-24 month cycles of CPU/GPU. Or maybe they go the silent upgrade route similar to Alienware and Apple with their laptop offerings. Just silently upgrade components within the same model with major changes every few years.
I personall hope they go with the tablet/smartphone upgrade path because that means we'll get faster upgrades and increases in performance.
Jaerba - Wednesday, February 6, 2013 - linkGo on Newegg right now and find a laptop, any laptop regardless of size, that has 1080p resolution, a 100GB+ SSD and an i5 or i7. The closest you'll get are refurbed Zenbooks, and the rest are $1500+ offerings from Lenovo, Asus, Sony, etc.
The pricing is simply not the issue, especially for the business user market. It's completely fair given the components.
chizow - Thursday, February 7, 2013 - linkWrong, low power, small form factor Ultrabooks are in the same price range and even use most of the same components down to the CPU. Afterall, Microsoft is limited to common components and didn't get any special consideration from Intel for Surface.
As for the pricing, I'm not sure why you are comparing to Ultrabook, might as well compare it to the Titanic. Microsoft's entire reason for coming out with the Surface was to bridge the gap between the PC and tablet/mobile platforms, but in order to offer an appealing alternative, they can't price it like a PC, otherwise they'll share the same fate with that dying market.
Surface is going to compete against $200-$500 smart phones and tablets, not $1000-$1500 Ultrabooks, and as such, it needs to get closer to that $200-$500 price point.
althaz - Thursday, February 7, 2013 - linkI'm actually a lot more ok with the price than I am with some of the other compromises (but I accept most of them as nessecary for now).
I think $799 for the 128Gb with a touch cover would be the perfect price and I DEFINITELY think the touch cover should be included in the $999 price, but at the end of the day it's certainly a FAIR price.
It's just not a great or even GOOD price.
kyuu - Thursday, February 7, 2013 - linkComparing it with iOS and Android tabs is just ludicrous. It's not even in the same class of device. The tablet form factor does not dictate a low-performance, low-price device just because that's what you're used to.
I would agree with Anand that a touch-/type-cover should be included for the price, though.
andrewaggb - Thursday, February 7, 2013 - linkagreed. Like anand said, the intel cpu alone is more than a nexus 7.
And it uses a real SSD with 400MB/s reads, not emmc with 30MB/s.
It's not a great deal, but it's not a ripoff either. I don't consider price the issue at all on this one.
Surface RT on the other hand is overpriced.
chizow - Thursday, February 7, 2013 - linkNo, it's not in the same class as iOS or Android devices in terms of hardware or even app/content compatibility, but that's the market it is competing with or hoping to cannibilize. People who want a portable cross-over device that gives them the flexibility and mobility of their tablets and smartphones with the power of their laptop/ultrabook.
People will be asking themselves if they want to spend $200-400 on a iOS/Android tablet and a $500-600 laptop OR if they want to spend $1000 on a Surface + type pad. Many will find the combination of 2 devices suits their needs better than the Jack of all trades Master of None approach of the Surface.
Does the Surface do a good job of hitting it's mark? Yes. Does it do a good enough job to make you ditch your tablet/handheld OR your Ultrabook, or both? Probably not. It's not quite yet there in form factor, performance or price, imo. But I guess we will see how the market responds. I think it needs to drop to $700-$800 before it really takes off with at least 1 iteration of hardware improvements.
Doominated - Thursday, February 7, 2013 - linkComparisons are made off of what the device can do, not what it looks like. What the Surface Pro does is in line with Ultrabooks, not with tablets. It just happens to look like a tablet.
If you buy a mini-fridge that looks like a TV, are you going to start comparing it to TVs and what they can do, or to what mini-fridges can do? It's a pretty obvious answer.
chizow - Thursday, February 7, 2013 - linkWhat a device can do and what it looks like are integral to one another as form and function are synonymous. The edge the Surface has over other devices however is with content, applications and performance, you can get better compatibility and functionality in this regard but then you lose the tablet form factor and end up with an Ultrabook in terms of form factor and pricing.
Ultimately, this device is going to be compared to tablets and smartphones because that's where the industry is going. Smaller, portable, handheld, easy to use, touch friendly devices. That's why the Surface exists, if not, we'd all be buying Ultrabooks. How many of you own Ultrabooks...how many of you want one?