Microsoft Surface Pro review

Microsoft Surface Pro review

Summary: The Core i5-based Surface Pro combines ultrabook components with a (chunky) 10.6in. tablet form factor to deliver decent performance and excellent build quality. However, a few design issues, missing features and, above all, disappointing battery life suggest you'd be wise to wait and see how this product develops.

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  • Editors' rating:
    7.5
  • User rating:
    6.1

Features
The Surface Pro is powered by a third-generation dual-core Intel Core i5-3317U processor running at 1.7GHz (up to 2.6GHz in Turbo Boost mode) with integrated Intel HD Graphics 4000. This is the same CPU/GPU combo used in the MacBook Air, and it has a Thermal Design Power (TDP) rating of 17 watts — TDP being the maximum amount of power a system's cooling system needs to be able to dissipate. Although Nvidia doesn't quote comparable TDP figures, the ARM-based Tegra 3 used in the Surface RT has been measured consuming less than 2W under load. The trade-off, of course, is that the Core i5 is far better performer, as our benchmarks show (see below).

surface-system

There was pre-launch speculation that the Surface Pro might include Intel's new low-power Y-series Core processors, which at CES Intel claimed "will operate as low as 7 watts", but this didn't happen. It turns out that these new chips have a TDP of 13W, the 7W quote referring to a new Intel measure called Scenario Design Power (SDP) that estimates the average power consumption under load. Looking further ahead, the low-power variants of Intel's fourth-generation Core processors, codenamed Haswell, will have a TDP of 10W. Clearly, there's scope for lowering the power consumption of the CPU/GPU subsystem, and therefore increasing the battery life, in future versions of the Surface Pro.

surface-pro-storage

The Surface Pro comes with 4GB of (non-expandable) RAM and either 64GB or 128GB of SSD storage. Our review sample had 128GB, and reported 89.6GB of user-available capacity out of the box (see above). There has been some controversy over free space reporting on Microsoft's Surface tablets: check out Ed Bott's blog post for the details. Suffice to say that if you find the out-of-the-box free space insufficient, you may want to consider moving the system's 7.81GB recovery partition from the SSD to a USB flash drive using Windows 8's Recovery Media Creator utility. You can, of course, add more storage (up to 64GB) via the tablet's MicroSD card slot or attach a storage device to the system's USB 3.0 port; you also get 7GB of free SkyDrive cloud storage with your Microsoft account.

You'll have to rely on wireless connectivity, as there's no Ethernet port on the tablet, and no USB Ethernet adapter supplied. The Surface Pro has a dual-band Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g/n) Marvell chipset, reported as the Avastar 350N, which also includes Bluetooth 4.0. Wi-Fi connections seemed solid enough during testing, both on our office network and at home. There's no mobile broadband option for the Surface Pro, although many might find this useful on a more work-oriented system such as this. As it stands, you'll either have to attach a USB dongle, taking out the tablet's only USB port, or connect via a smartphone over Bluetooth.

As far as productivity software is concerned, the Surface Pro merely comes with a 30-day trial version of Office 365 Home Premium — unlike the Surface RT, which has Office Home and Student 2013 preinstalled. The same set of 'modern-style' apps are preinstalled, and of course you can install both legacy desktop apps and native apps via the Windows Store.

Performance & battery life
Given that it contains a solid set of ultrabook components, it's no surprise to find that the Surface Pro delivers solid ultrabook-level performance. Its Windows Experience Index (WEI) of 5.6 (out of 9.9) is determined by the lowest-scoring subsystem — in this case, the Intel HD Graphics-driven Desktop graphics performance. The other scores, topped by 8.1 for the SSD-driven disk subsystem, are shown here:

surface-pro-wei

The demanding Cinebench 11.5 benchmark confirms the Surface Pro's ultrabook credentials, as it more than matches a recent Core i5-based convertible Windows 8 tablet, the Lenovo ThinkPad S230 Twist, on the CPU and OpenGL tests:

surface-pro-cinebench

To get an idea of the Surface Pro's performance compared to its ARM-based Surface RT stablemate, we ran a series of browser tests (using the 'modern' version of IE 10) — Sunspider 0.9.1, Rightware Browsermark 2.0 and Microsoft Fishbowl on both systems:

surface-pro-rt-browser

Clearly the Surface Pro trounces the Surface RT on these tests, delivering 6.3, 1.7 and 2.6 times the performance on Sunspider, BrowserMark and Fishbowl respectively.

The Surface Pro is powered by a non-removable 42 watt-hour battery — a considerably heftier unit than the Surface RT's 31.5Wh battery. To test its longevity, we measured the (fully charged) system's power draw under various conditions: idling with the screen at 25, 50 and 100 percent brightness, and performing a significant workload (Microsoft's Fishbowl HTML5 test) with the same trio of screen brightness settings. Dividing the average power draw into the battery rating gives an estimate of the expected battery life (Wh/W=h). Comparable figures for the Surface RT are also shown:

surface-pro-battery

With estimated rundown times ranging from a paltry 1.5 hours (under continuous load with the screen at 100% brightness) to 6.7h (idling with 25% brightness), it's clear that the Surface Pro is short on battery life. Under real-world conditions, with the system alternating between periods of load, idling and sleep, you might expect the battery to last somewhere between 4 and 5 hours, if you keep the screen brightness down. The Surface RT, by contrast, delivers around twice the battery life of the Pro — a far more acceptable figure.

In case you were wondering about the accuracy of our battery life estimates, we performed a sanity check with the load/100% brightness setting. Our power draw measurements gave an estimate of 1.5 hours; on running down the fully charged system, we got a battery warning at 1h 33m and expiry at 1h 37m.

 (Continued)

Specifications

General
Dimensions (W x H x D) 27.46 x 1.35 x 17.3 cm
Case form factor tablet
Weight 0.903 kg
OS & software
Operating system Windows 8 Pro
Software included Office 365 Home Premium (30-day trial)
Chipset & memory
RAM installed 4096 MB
RAM capacity 4 GB
Video
GPU Intel HD Graphics 4000
GPU type integrated
Video connections Mini-DisplayPort
Display
Display technology ClearType Full HD 10-point touchscreen
Display size 10.6 in
Native resolution 1920x1080 pixels
Connections
USB 1 x USB 3.0
Flash card MicroSD
Wireless
Wi-Fi 802.11a, 802.11b, 802.11g, 802.11n
Bluetooth 4.0
Input
Pointing devices trackpad (on Touch/Type covers), stylus
Keyboard Touch Cover, Type Cover (optional)
Fingerprint reader No
Camera
2nd camera front
Flash No
Main camera rear
2nd camera resolution 1 megapixels
Main camera resolution 1 megapixels
Audio
Audio connectors audio out
Speakers stereo
Microphone yes
Miscellaneous
Accessories 48W AC adapter
Battery
Battery technology Li-ion
Number of batteries supplied 1
Number of batteries supported 1
Removable battery No
Processor & memory
Clock speed 1.7 GHz
Processor manufacturer Intel
Processor model Core i5-3317U
Solid-state drive
Interface SATA III
Capacity 128 GB
Expand

Prices

Price
Price USD 999

Topics: Microsoft Surface, Laptops, Reviews, Tablets, Windows 8

About

Charles has been in tech publishing since the late 1980s, starting with Reed's Practical Computing, then moving to Ziff-Davis to help launch the UK version of PC Magazine in 1992. ZDNet came looking for a Reviews Editor in 2000, and he's been here ever since.

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Talkback

124 comments
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  • Try Harder MS

    3.0

    Jack of all trades yet master of none.

    Needs to $500 to succeed.
    Alan Smithie
    • Try harder, Intel (not Microsoft)...

      8.0

      Jack of all trades, master of many.

      But ultimately the biggest issues with it (battery life, thickness and weight) are in the hands of Intel and not Microsoft.
      wp7mango
      • Amen

        1.0

        A truly portable device that I will carry EVERYWHERE has to have huge battery life, be lightweight, and be thin. This device is/has none of the above. If I wanted to carry something only relatively portable to create massive amounts of content, I'd buy a real Ultrabook over this half-a$$ed version. It tries too hard to target both audiences and it is a mediocre version of both. Major fail.

        If they can double the battery life, make it thinner, and make it lighter, it MIGHT stand a chance at catching up with the iPad in popularity. As it exists now, there is no way that's going to happen.
        BillDem
    • Yeah that was my first impression

      as well. Its trying to be everything and so succeeds at nothing.
      baggins_z
  • how come it takes that long for a review ?

    6.0

    All other major tech sites have long covered this tablet.

    Regarding the tablet : Neither fish nor fowl.
    Want a REAL tablet : go Android or iOS = smaller, lighter, better battery lifetime
    Want a REAL laptop : any ultrabook will do = sturdy, works in lap, better connectivity (ethernet, more USB port, docking station, ...)

    How many users need a device that is such a compromise ? Only a few. All others either go for a tablet or laptop or both.
    EnticingHavoc
    • Agree with you

      I have been away for a while. I notice a lot of new(?) handles and a very organized pro-MS flagging campaign. MS must be desperate to try to control the narrative around the Surface Pro.

      Just watch the flagging of this post. Will the MS shills be able to resist?
      D.T.Long
      • Are you serious?

        Why is it that any opinion other than your own automatically means they're an "MS Shill"? Don't you get tired of calling people that? Has it occurred to you that perhaps there are people out there who genuinely enjoy their MS products?

        Probably not. I want a Surface Pro, yes I'm aware of the trade offs. But with it I can leave my iPad at home for my daughter and give my Ultrabook back to the company. It's a perfect devices FOR ME. And I'm not paid by MS, although I would be more than happy to take some money. Perhaps even a free Surface Pro. Since you say there are so many MS employees roaming these boards I'd be okay if one of them wants to contact me regarding such opportunities.

        And for the record, I'm a Systems Engineer at a company that isn't even a MS Partner. We specialize in Storage, Route/Switch, Compute and Virtualization. So no, I don't depend on MS for my living either.
        LiquidLearner
        • Face it, you guys are shills

          1.0

          Who in their right mind would use, or let alone defend M$’s products? A shill would, that’s for sure. Regular people wouldn’t since they make the worst junk you can buy. Would a regular person who spent money on one of their products, only to find out what a piece of crap it is, then go out and defend them after M$ just ripped them off?

          Wake up. It’s clear the only people defending MS are the shills that get paid to come here and do that.
          I Am Galactus
          • Spoken like a real impartial neutral observer

            And you truly want us to believe you purchased both an RT and Pro Surface?
            The same person who states "they make the worst junk you can buy".
            Its ok, not to like a product or company but at least be honest about it.
            No other name for you except LIAR.
            thekman58
          • I.T.

            Are you a teenager?

            Just because someone DARES to not agree with your point of view, doesn't mean they work for Microsoft.

            I can only hope, that when you get into the big boys world you will see arguing about I.T. equipment only makes you look like a total moron who doesn't work in I.T. This goes for you and D.T. long.

            My view, the surface pro is a tool that will fit in some categories, but I think I would rather have a Dell flippy screen tablet / ultrabook. I doubt it will do that well. I hope MS stick to what they are good at, software, and leave the hardware to the experts!

            And no, I don't work for Microsoft.. or Dell. I work for a non I.T. manufacturing company.
            carbine-465cb
          • I think they did a great job with the Surface Pro

            "I hope MS stick to what they are good at, software, and leave the hardware to the experts!"

            This is a much better tablet then some of those put out from hardware companies filled with experts. And iOS seems to be doing well even though it comes from a hardware company with no software experts.

            Looking at the surface, I would have to conclude that MS does indeed have hardware experts within their walls.
            William Farrel
          • I don't even know what a shill is but,

            10.0

            I'm an engineering student at UT and I actually bought the RT before exchanging it for the pro. I love the Surface Pro. Sure the battery life kinda sucks compared to the RT,(which is basically just a cool iPad). For people that need more productivity than entertainment, I think the Surface Pro works great. The pen input is super accurate with no lag whatsoever (I write all my physics and calculus notes on it). If you don't need a device with these capabilities then get a MacBook air, but otherwise it's a great laptop replacement.
            ruckon7
          • Paid Shills

            Paid MS Shill, that's ridiculous, or are you saying that because you are an Apple or Google paid shill? Get a life.
            groberts116
      • Same here.

        I flew in Sunday only to find that once I logged back in that cloggeddbottom7 looks to have made a few more "users" to help flag any non-MS hating filled or non-MS insulting posts.

        A new low, even for him.
        William Farrel
    • here is what you dont get..

      9.0

      The Surface Pro shines in the IT scenario... and ITs have a lot of employees all around the world.

      Neither android nor iOS shine in the IT scenario.
      Simon Tupper
      • True

        2.0

        but neither Android or iOS are more expensive than a fucking Mac only to offer what is essentially a medium-spec laptop
        bean520-0b405
  • Too little, too late.....

    Once again, Microsoft scrambles to try to catch up and by the time they do, AAPL will have moved on, creating a new market for the next big thing.

    Just good enough isn't good enough anymore..... sorry. This will just be an also ran in the overall market.
    techno_bob
    • crapple is now scrambling to catch-up

      10.0

      isheeps are worried they've got nothing like this
      ozinanoypi
      • POS

        2.0

        Toaster and a fridge.
        Marzell
      • Having the Surface

        3.0

        and mSheeps are worried because they do - just sayin'
        earljgray