Early Surface Pro 3 users struggle with wireless networking glitches

After only one week of public sales, some early Surface Pro 3 buyers have confirmed an issue with routers using the relatively new 802.11ac standard. When will a fix be available?
Written by Ed Bott, Senior Contributing Editor

A week after the Surface Pro 3 went on sale to the public, some early buyers are grumbling about poor performance on advanced Wi-Fi networks using the 802.11ac standard.

A reader tipped me this week with an email detailing his reasons for returning the Surface Pro 3 he had just acquired, thanks to its inability to connect reliably to a recently installed 802.11ac router (aka Gigabit Ethernet, although that name is a bit misleading). He told me that a support tech had advised him the problem was related to a "defective driver" in a recent update.


That same reader shared his experiences in the replies to a Microsoft Community forum thread titled "Surface Pro 3 Slow WiFi - 72Mbps Max (driver)." Another commenter added, "So I got my [Surface Pro 3] yesterday and it was blazing fast on wifi. I did all the new updates and after doing so every web page was loading slow or timing out. I did some searching and there [are] a bunch of people with the exact same problem…"

Barb Bowman, a networking expert (and Microsoft MVP) who has worked as a Comcast Engineer, confirms the problem occurs on her new Surface Pro 3, purchased from Best Buy, with a variety of 802.11ac routers from Netgear, ASUS, and Belkin. Via email, she notes that the issue only occurs when the Surface Pro 3 is running on battery power and resuming from Instant Go (formerly Connected Standby), a sleep state that allows the system to update email and notifications from a low-power state.

On battery power, she says, the result is a "Limited connection, even after waiting 60 seconds." When the connectivity issues occur, she says, "upload speeds go to zilch." I have seen the same problem occur on my Microsoft-supplied review unit, and my ZDNet colleague Matt Miller reports via Twitter that he was bitten by the same bug.

My original correspondent tested and confirmed the bug on Linksys and D-Link routers.

The problems apparently started after a firmware and driver update Microsoft shipped on June 19, the day before the Surface Pro 3 went on sale to the public. That set of close-to-the-metal updates was intended to swat some other reliability bugs that reviewers encountered with devices from the early manufacturing run.

But it also introduced this unwanted behavior.

This sort of issue isn't unexpected in the early days of a new device. Getting firmware, operating system software, and device drivers to cooperate is a constant engineering challenge, which gets more complex when you add in a relatively new networking standard and a bunch of routers most of which are built around the same silicon.

Some users are reporting reliability improvements after completely removing the latest driver for the Marvell AVASTAR Wireless AC Network Controller, restoring the original driver, and then manually reinstalling the latest driver from a manual download. Barb Bowman confirms that this procedure provides "some relief, but is only a partial fix."

I've reported the issue to Microsoft and I'm told that report has been forwarded to engineers. I'll update this post when I hear back from them about a fix.

Meanwhile, if you're a Surface Pro 3 owner, I'm interested in hearing your networking experiences, good and bad. Feel free to use the comments form (linked from my bio here) or send details to me using this email alias: sp3-issues@realworldwindows.com.

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