Microsoft's Surface Pro: How much usable storage will it really have?

Microsoft's Surface Pro: How much usable storage will it really have?

Summary: Surface Pro users will have substantially less free storage on their devices, out-of-the-box than many may have expected. Big deal or business as usual?


Microsoft's Surface Pro launches on February 9. We've known many of the specs for the coming hybrid/ PC/tablets for months.


But one stat about which we hadn't received any kind of definitive information (until now) was available storage for user content on Surface Pro devices.

The Verge (citing a Microsoft spokesperson) reported on January 29 that the amount of usable storage on both the 64 GB and 128 GB models will be substantially smaller than many may expect. The 64 GB Surface Pro will have 23 GB of free storage out of the box, and the 128 model, 83 GB of free storage. The remaining storage is consumed by the Windows 8 Pro operating system, built-in apps (like People/Mail/Calendar) and the recovery partition.

I asked Microsoft to confirm the Verge's numbers, and a spokesperson said the 23 GB and 83 GB figures were correct.

Update (February 9): It turns out Microsoft misstated how much storage is available to users on both the 64 GB and 128 GB models of the Surface Pro. My colleague Ed Bott noted the real numbers are 32 GB (instead of 23 GB) for the 64 GB model and 96 GB (rather than 83 GB) for the 128 GB (and somewhat more for both models if users relocate the recovery partition.)

Now back to the original post: 

In some ways, this shouldn't be all that surprising. On the Surface RT, the OS, built-in apps and partition take up a sizeable chunk of storage on Microsoft's ARM-based devices.

Bott noted a while back that after launching the Surface RT in October, Microsoft subsequently added a disclaimer to the Surface site, noting that the amount of available storage for user content on those devices would be smaller than some expected. (The disclaimer was intended, one would assume, to head off more lawsuits like this one.)

Microsoft's Surface/Storage site revealed that the 32 GB Surface RT has approximately 16 GB of user-available storage and the 64 GB Surface RT has roughly 45 GB. (There's currently no comparable disclaimer yet for Surface Pro, as these devices don't launch until February 9.)

Here's Microsoft's breakout of how much storage is consumed by integrated components of the Surface RT:





Note that the Surface Pro will not include the Office RT bundle, as Microsoft is not making a locally-installed version of Office part of the Surface Pro package.

How does the Surface Pro storage situation stack up against roughly comparable non-Windows devices, say, like the  MacBook Air? The MacBook Air makes available 92 GB of user-available storage on a 128 GB device. The difference between the Surface Pro and the MacBook Air is the recovery partition, as MacBooks have a recover-over-Internet feature instead.

Microsoft officials have suggested that tech-savvy users could opt to delete the built-in recovery partitions on their Surface RTs and use USB recovery media in order to save more storage space.

Update: Here are a couple more links on creating recovery media: One from the Windows SuperSite and one from computer book author Andy Rathbone.

The Microsoft spokesperson I contacted about the Surface Pro storage figures added the following:

"Surface Pro has a USB 3.0 port for connectivity with almost limitless storage options, including external hard drives and USB flash drives. Surface also comes pre-loaded with SkyDrive, allowing you to store up to 7GB of content in the cloud for free. The device also includes a microSDXC card slot that lets you store up to 64GB of additional content to your device. Customers can also free up additional storage space by creating a backup bootable USB and deleting the recovery partition."

Anybody contemplating purchasing a Surface Pro put off by the amount of out-of-the-box storage you will get?

Topics: Microsoft Surface, Apple, Storage, Tablets, PCs


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • We already know

    Surface Pro runs Windows 8 and we know how much space it takes up.

    Let's do the math.

    Unformatted space: 64 GB (base 10).
    Formated space: 58 GB (base 2).
    After OS install: 38GB (20 GB Windows install)

    38GB. The rest is free for apps, page files, recovey partitions, and whatever files you prefer. The device may ship with some of these options prefigured for you. Personally I will blast half of them away and reclaim memory. If you choose not to, then you have no reason to bitch about them taking up room. Personally the freedom to is why I'm buying
    a Surface pro to begin with.
    • Don't really agree

      Page files and hibernation files are not optional and more RAM makes both bigger. The recovery partition is not really optional either unless you have a tested alternative method.

      I do not think MS is being very customer need/service focused in using an archaic recovery partition on relatively expensive SSD real estate. MS's attention to detail is often very poor. I experience that using Windows 7 on a daily basis. I find myself asking: Why on earth is it like that?

      If they want to make the "Surfaces" a success, I think they need to be a lot sharper in their execution and solutions.
      • Not correct

        You can disable hibernation completely. Type powercfg –h off in the command prompt and you can reclaim the storage occupied by hiberfil.sys.

        Next up, the page file. The minimum size page file you can set is 16MB. On my particular machine this would free up 3.4GB. Now of course this will have adverse effects on performance, but depending on how you use your machine this is nonetheless a possibility.

        Finally the recovery partition. I have no idea how large this is on the Surface RT. Usually it's around 10GB. There is no reason that this cannot be formatted and reclaimed. You can create your own recovery partition on another drive if you prefer, and there are built in tools to do this. I've done this on other Windows 8 systems, and there are no reasons this should not be possible on Windows 8.

        As far as Microsoft being customer oriented with a recovery partition, perhaps it would be a nice idea to put this in inexpensive flash memory. But I find it very hard to accept your argument that an easy to use and accessible system recovery feature is not a customer focused option. With a few clicks you can restore your entire system to a workable state. This seems like a valuable feature to me.

        So in the end, none of what you said changes the above math in my post.
        • By "Surface RT" I of course meant "Surface Pro"

          To avoid any confusion...
        • True enough, but think about what you're saying.

          You're going to disable hibernation, on an ultra portable that's already got iffy battery life? Unless you never plan on taking your Pro off the desk you've just committed yourself to endless shut-down/reboots of your device. And shrinking your page file, as you mention, is going to impact the performance of a device no one expects to be a screamer to begin with. Deleting the recovery partition is iffy as well, unless you always plan on having a USB key with install media handy, remember–this is intended to be an ultra portable device. If something goes seriously wrong when you're on travel and you didn't remember to bring along your recovery USB key, you're going to be very unhappy.

          So yeah, you can do all the things you mentioned, but you're taking a lot of chances in the name of making a device more usable.
          • Personally...

            I won't be disabling hibernate. The recovery partition is all I need to get rid of, and then I'll install a 128GB SD card for all my user files. Depending on how you use your system, decreasing the page file can have few adverse effects if it's still large enough to accommodate your work.

            Disabling hibernate has no effect on the ability of the computer to actually sleep. This is the low power state my laptop is in most, as opposted to hibernate. It gets around 2 hours battery life these days, and I don't witness any appreciable drain while in sleep. I would expect the same for the Surface Pro.

            As for a recovery partition, having it always available does not offer a benefit for me personally. If I have a failure in the field, I'll need further backups to get me up and running. If I've forgotten the recovery key while traveling, I've forgotten everything else as well. Honestly I don't know why Microsoft didn't put it on a key in the first place, but maybe they were exercising logic similar to yours.
          • hibernation.

            You really want to use hibernation on a device that boots in 5 seconds?
          • Hibernate must be enabled

            You need hibernation to be enabled to enjoy that 5 second boot time. Windows 8 achieves this by effectively hibernating the kernel session; instead of closing it on shutdown, and starting a new one on startup, Windows 8 saves it to disk and just reloads it during startup. However, it uses hiberfil.sys to do this, which is deleted when hibernation is disabled. Thus if you disable hibernation, you're also disabling the 5 second boot.
        • hibernation isn't on the menu by default

          RT doesn't do hibernation at all, Windows 8 doesn't put it on the power menu by default - so Surface users will have to choose to use it.
          • This is how Win8 works now

            The option that's really missing is shut down. Shut down now basically hibernates.
      • Really?

        MS is running a successful business for the last 30 years, they know what they are doing.
        Do you have any clue why paging and hibernation files are not optional? Surface Pro is no different from a Windows 8 laptop and potential buyers already know that.
        • Let's Give a Big Hello to the Cheerleaders

          First paragraph: an excellent point except this disrupting the laptop business is somewhat new to them. They did disrupt competitors Netscape and Novell. Disrupting erstwhile partners? That's a twist.

          Second paragraph: Those quite less expensive laptops? Hunh. I thought they differ in portability. But, I may be misinterpreting your point. Perhaps you are saying that Microsoft eschewed the assumed tablet advantage - less geek required - in favor of the seamless administrative experience. Not exactly preaching to the choir, in terms of expanding the market. More like asking the choir to turn from Hymn 15 to Hymn 75.

          I have to be honest, I'm not seeing the through line of Microsoft's story here. A few years back, they were the os underpinning the economical computers. Now the economical computers are too heavy and, voila, the Surface Pro. I may be wrong, but I don't think Microsoft is giving OEMs any break on license fees, so maybe that's where Microsoft bakes in its price protection.

          As I say, they have more MBAs than me.
        • Were you trying to make a point?

          Maybe you should re-read my post and then re-post yours. You are not making any sense, but then again I am used to that.
        • they know what they're doing

          maybe most of the time.

          As for all of the time, one word: Kin.
          • Womp, womp,..

            waah.. 2010 called... looking for people still living in the past. Shall I give them your alias?
          • another word:

            What about "Zune"
        • Re: Do you have any clue why paging and hibernation files are not optional?

          They are on Linux.

          And paging/swapping on flash storage is a BAD idea. Which is why Android doesn't do it.
      • They'd be better off getting a MacBook Air 64

        as opposed to a Surface Pro 64, right?

        You know, because the MBA's 64 is really 127, 128 when you do the math.
        William Farrel
        • Actually the MBA has a clear advantage over the Surface Pro in that respect

          I have a MacBook, and Windows 8 desktop. I can tell you that while I like Windows 8, it is incredibly wasteful when it comes to disk space. The Windows directory used about 20 GB right after the install. Since my system partition is on a small SSD, I reclaimed about 5 GB from the system partition by moving whatever I could to a different drive (Program Files directory, Paging file, etc). One month later, the Windows directory has grown to 25 GB. That's a 10 GB increase in 30 days, just because of updates (the WinSXS directory, mostly).
          Anyone purchasing a 64 GB Surface Pro is in for a very rude awakening.
        • NO!! Mary Jo is wrong!!

          If she actually looked what space is available instead of linking to a forum from 2009 she would have found a 128GB Macbook Air out of the box is 104.74 GB free.
          Arm A. Geddon