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

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?
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

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?

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