Could I use a 64-bit iPad 5 or a Surface 2 as my main work computer?

Could I use a 64-bit iPad 5 or a Surface 2 as my main work computer?

Summary: We've asked these sorts of questions before, but now we have (or are about to have) a new crop of even more capable hardware. ZDNet's David Gewirtz put it to the acid test: could either serve as his main computer?


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  • Could I use a 64-bit iPad 5 or a Surface 2 as my main work computer?

    As we get ready for the next batch of Apple announcements (most likely the iPad 5 and a new iPad mini) on October 22, there's been some discussion about whether the iPad 5 (which will likely sport a 64-bit processor) can do the heavy lifting of a main work computer.

    To be fair, we've covered the iPad (and tablets in general) as work computers before, and — depending on what you do for work — the answer has been generally positive.

    But I wanted to see if I could use an iPad as my work machine. Could it handle the breath of tasks my current Windows laptop does easily, or would I be left out in the cold, unable to get the job done?

    To sweeten the story a bit, I decided it would be fun to compare the expected new iPad with the newly announced Surface 2 Pro (which runs full Windows) and Surface 2 RT (which runs Office, and not much else).

    Oh, and one last note: I'm not considering a jailbroken system. I want to know if it's possible to do my job, not take on a new job in addition to all I do.

    Stay tuned. At the very end, I'll rank the winners and losers. You might be surprised by the results.

    Image: GraphicStock and Microsoft

  • Can it be used to grade my classes?

    I teach an object-oriented programming course at UC Berkeley extension and we use the ANGEL learning management system. ANGEL requires the availability of both Flash and Java, as well as — in some places — Windows media.

    64-bit iPad 5: No way. iOS does not support Flash or Java.

    Surface 2 RT: No, although not necessarily well. Surface RT originally only whitelisted a few sites for Flash, but now just blacklists those sites it doesn't trust. But it doesn't run Java.

    Surface 2 Pro: Yep. It's Windows on Intel.

  • Can it be used to run virtual machines?

    I use virtual machines a lot. Before Windows 8 Pro, my go-to VM was VirtualBox, but I'm doing more and more with the built-in Hyper-V now. In either case, though, I need to run VMs.

    Because I teach programming, students have to program. They're all using Visual Studio, but some use Visual Studio 2010, some 2012, and some are tinkering with VS2013. Each version of Visual Studio lives in its own virtual machine.

    I also run VMs for testing questionable software and I run a number of Linux VMs to stage my websites before uploading them to servers. Additionally, I field a VM for whatever interesting new virtual appliance or application comes my way that I don't want to test on my main machine.

    Now, before I put the three machines to the test, note that I'm not talking about hidden VMs that come as part of provided solutions. I'm talking about the ability to spin up my own VM and run it, with whatever OS inside I choose.

    64-bit iPad 5: This is where a 64-bit iPad gets interesting, because you might be able to support a lot of RAM. That said, it's unlikely we'll see iPads that come with 8, 16, or 32GB of RAM that will let you run three or four VMs at once. In fact, the iPad doesn't have a way (other than remotely connecting to a real desktop) of supporting VMs at all.

    Surface 2 RT: No. No good news here at all.

    Surface 2 Pro: Yes. This supports Windows 8.1 Pro, and that includes native HyperV support. You can also run VirtualBox if you want. You can order a Surface 2 Pro with as much as 8GB, so you can quite nicely run a VM or two. My current laptop has 32GB, but while that's nice, the Surface 2 Pro would do nicely.

Topics: Windows, Apple, iOS, Microsoft Surface


David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

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  • Pretty much Mac vs PC in a real world

    Pretty and fashioned consumption device vs workhorse.
    • ?????

      A Mac can run pretty much any software a PC can in some really nice Mac only software.
      • Yeah, sure...

        I guess that's why most people who have Macs are running Windows in Bootcamp or thru Parallels.
        • Fact Check

          Exactly where do you get your information that 'most' people who have macs run windows on them, I'm not running windows on my macs nor is any other mc owner that I know. I'm sure there are some people who need that ability in business for specific software, but those of us who have realized that Mac is a better format have abandoned windows forever.
          • Winodws on Mac

            Most of the people I know who own a Mac, own it ONLY b/c it's required if you want to develop for iOS. When they're not developing for iOS, they're running Windows on their Apple hardware.
            Obviously you and I don't hang in the same circles, but nihilist is not the only person to see this trend.
            Jason Barkley
          • Clueless Windows fanboys

            Always funny how Microsoft sheep fanboys pretend that people buy Mac to run Windows.

            Reality check: I, like all the people I know buy Macs because they need a serious workstation, not some crappy Windows system, poorly performing and prone to all kind of stupid problems. Educated, wealthier people buy macs, there is a reason.
          • Educated, wealthier people buy macs, there is a reason...

            Somehow it seems appropriate to add, 'a fool and his money...' here!

            Your self stereotypification and derogatory loathing of those you disagree with seem a little over the top?
          • LOL

            Reality check: I, like all the people I know buy Macs because they need a serious workstation, not some crappy Windows system, poorly performing and prone to all kind of stupid problems. Educated, wealthier people buy macs, there is a reason.
            1) Spoken like true fanbois
            2) I've never seen wealthier, "educated" people running around with Macs and I'm in an industry surrounded by wealthy people.
          • performance for mac is a myth.

            there is a misconception of performance is better than windows. I have tried installing mac s/w for my clients and they are not as fast as what I thot. even the same for Photoshop. try installing both mac and windows with previous generation both running 2gb of ram and you will see they are the same or maybe windows is faster.
          • Isn't that ironic...

            ... a Mac is a PC. In fact, you can even run OSX on a Surface Pro. So this idea that a Mac is something special is a false notion. When I used to use macs back in the PowerPC days, a Mac was definitely unique and different. Today, a Mac is EXACTLY THE SAME as a PC....100%. It seems like Mac people get all offended when we they discover that a Mac IS A PC.
          • In theory, MacOSX can run on a Surface Pro ...

            ... just as Windows can run on a MacBook but I don't actually know if that has been done. On a MacBook, you need special software, such as Bootcamp or Parallels. On a Windows PC, I imaging that just about any VM solution would work.

            As for functionality, Windows, MacOSX, and Linux are pretty much interchangeable. All are equally capable. That is not to say that they are equally popular, or that they are equally user-friendly, or that software developers provide the same tools across all three platforms.
            M Wagner
          • A serious workstation

            You are kidding me. I think you couldn't get a mush bigger head with your "Educated, wealthier people buy macs" remark. I bet you are one of those people I see in Starbucks, who only go there to show off their Macs.
          • and buy over-priced coffee

          • Doomed by your own ignorance and prejudices


            Many years ago, Seymore Cray, the man who designed and built the worlds fastest computes, was asked for his reaction to Apple buying a high end Cray to design and simulate preproduction Macs.

            He thought it rather amusing, since he designed Cray's on his Mac.
            Henry 3 Dogg
          • You and your friends

            probably bought macs because you thought it was more of a status symbol. I bet it sits on your desk and you just look at it. Do you know to actually turn it on? Windows machines would be beyond your mental ability.
          • Really Now?

            Wow for someone who knows nothing of the real word you sure sound like you know nothing. I agree the comment your reacting to is stupid, but you just rebutted with an equally stupid comment.
          • Oh, that's adorable.

            This guy actually bought into every ridiculous notion introduced by apple cultists.

            Reality check: If you spend the same money on a PC as you spend on a Mac, you can actually get a serious workstation, not some form over function POS that likes to flash spinning rainbow wheels are you constantly. I run windows on my macbook because windows 7 is more stable, more intuitive, and above all because it plays well with others.
            And Apple's die hard customers consist of visual artists and hipsters that think they're photographers. The end.
          • Really


            Generally Mac users are people who

            - Don't need an animated paperclip and puppy to help them use a computer

            - Expect high quality and reliably machines, software and support. And have the sense to buy systems from a single vendor who will take responsibility for both the hardware and the OS

            - Buy the machine to do a job, rather than to give them 10 more jobs to do.

            - Value their own time and can afford to spend a little more for something that will cost them significantly less in the longer run.

            I do meet some over the Mac fanatics. But they're generally the people who have spent years as Mac Haters out of ignorance and fear, and then have over reacted once they've finally plucked up the courage to make the change. They usually become normal happy users after a few months.
            Henry 3 Dogg
          • Reality Check !!!!

            Time for you to readjust you reality perception. In every business and every Corporation they use Windows for day to day work.

            Apple product is more like a social status gadget. Only the unsuccessful and uneducated peoples need those gadgets in order to give them the impression they are educated and successful.
          • Reality Check 2 !!!!

            Windows is only users by patients in lunatic asylums who are given it to keep them busy. Frustration therapy.

            Does saying it make it true?
            Henry 3 Dogg