There's clearly interest in a device that converges the tablet and notebook. ASUS saw some of the earliest success in this department with its Transformer line of Android tablets. Once the first Windows RT/8 designs started appearing, it became clear that everyone was aiming to deliver something that delivered the best of both worlds. Even listening to Intel's description of Haswell you can get a good idea for where part of the industry is headed: everyone is working towards delivering a platform/device that has the battery life and portability of a tablet, but with the performance and flexibility of a notebook PC. Apple has remained curiously quiet on this front, but I suspect that too will change in good time.

Last year Microsoft unexpectedly threw its hat into the ring with quite possibly the best branding decision since the Xbox. Under the Surface brand, Microsoft would produce two tablets of its own. These Surface devices would be built from the ground up to address this converged tablet/notebook space. The lesser of the two, Surface for Windows RT, would use ARM hardware and serve as a launch vehicle for Windows RT. The big brother in the family, Surface for Windows 8 Pro, would use traditional x86 hardware and come around 3 months later.

Surface RT launched less than four months ago to mixed reviews. I saw potential in the device, but it needed faster hardware and honestly Windows RT needed some sanding around the edges. Today we have the official introduction of Surface Pro. With a higher price, thicker/heavier chassis and lower battery life, could Surface Pro possibly fare any better than Surface RT did last year?

In my opinion? Surprisingly, yes. Let's get to it.

Surface Pro: Heart and Soul

The heart and soul of Microsoft’s Surface Pro is a 17W Intel Core i5-3317U (Ivy Bridge) processor. This is a two core/four thread part with Intel’s HD 4000 graphics and a 3MB L3 cache. Microsoft told me that it simply used the best hardware available when designing Surface Pro, which likely means that it didn’t get early access to any of the 7W SDP Ivy Bridge SKUs (the Intel/Microsoft relationship has seen better days, Intel isn’t super happy about the whole Windows RT thing).

The i5-3317U finds its way into Surface Pro unimpeded. In power saver mode without being plugged into the wall it’ll run both cores at 800MHz just like any other Windows notebook, but in balanced mode you’ll find the cores will start doing work at a 1.7GHz base clock and turbo all the way up to 2.6GHz (and beyond, for short periods of time). This is the same level of CPU performance you can get in most Ultrabooks, and the exact same hardware that’s used in Apple’s 11-inch MacBook Air by default. I won’t spoil the fun, but it’s considerably faster than what you’ll get in any ARM based tablet. That includes Google’s Nexus 10, Apple’s iPad 4, and of course Microsoft’s own Surface RT.

The performance advantage doesn’t stop at the CPU either. Microsoft integrated 4GB of DDR3-1600 memory (dual-channel, soldered on-board) and a full 64GB or 128GB SATA based SSD into Surface Pro. While Surface RT used a single chip eMMC solution, Surface Pro uses a 6Gbps SSD similar to what you’d find in an Ultrabook, MacBook Air or even some desktops. I’ll get to the deltas later in the review, but we’re talking a completely different league of performance here.

The usual tablet bells and whistles are all still here: WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0, ambient light sensor, accelerometer, gyroscope, compass, front and rear facing cameras. The only missing checkbox is the lack of any cellular connectivity. Both of Microsoft’s tablets remain WiFi-only at this point.

Microsoft Surface Comparison
  Surface RT Surface Pro Apple iPad 4
Dimensions 10.81 x 6.77 x 0.37" 10.81 x 6.81 x 0.53" 9.50 x 7.31 x 0.37"
Display 10.6-inch 1366 x 768 PLS 10.6-inch 1920 x 1080 PLS 9.7-inch 2048 x 1536 IPS
Weight 1.5 lbs 2.0 lbs 1.44 lbs
Processor NVIDIA Tegra 3

Core i5-3317U with HD4000 Graphics (17W Ivy Bridge)

Apple A6X

Connectivity WiFi WiFi WiFi , Optional 4G LTE
Memory 2GB 4GB 1GB
Storage 32GB or 64GB 64GB or 128GB 16GB—128GB
Battery 31.5 Wh 42.0 Wh 42.5Wh
Starting Price $499 $899 or $999 $499

Surface Pro comes with a 10.6-inch capacitive touch screen and it runs Windows 8 Pro, meaning it not only runs everything that Surface RT can run, but it also runs all of your legacy Windows applications. Look around the edge of Surface Pro and you’ll find a miniDP output and a USB port. Has the lightbulb gone off yet? Surface Pro has the same underlying hardware as a notebook PC and it has the basic connectivity you need - this is the first tablet that can truly replace your tablet, notebook and desktop if you want. No compromises, no new apps, and no waiting for Flash to die and HTML5 to take over. Surface RT was Microsoft’s first attempt at a convergence device, but Surface Pro really is the first tablet that truly attempts to replace a PC and not just augment it.

All of this of course comes at a price. The CPU from Intel alone retails for $225, that’s over half the price of a Nexus 10. Surface Pro has Ultrabook insides and it’s priced accordingly. The 64GB model retails for $899, while the 128GB model is $999. Compared to similar capacity iPads, you’re looking at a $200 premium. Although to really get full use out of Surface Pro you need either the $119 Touch Cover or $129 Type Cover, so adjust those prices accordingly.

Surface Pro Design
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  • Imaginer - Saturday, March 30, 2013 - link

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VvR_3OTxs8A# at 3 minutes in.

    That is the reason I detest bricks that have the prongs in them versus a cord.
    Reply
  • rwei - Wednesday, February 06, 2013 - link

    One item that I think would be helpful in the Win8 convertible reviews is an overview of what is out there and what is coming - and your views on them.

    Particularly with all the different solutions being implemented to "how do I make a convertible tablet/laptop?", it would be useful to let users know what their options are and will be.

    For example, I saw a picture of the Thinkpad Helix a few days ago and was overcome with happiness since that speaks to my particular use cases. Off the top of my head I can also think of:
    - XPS 2 (rotating screen)
    - Thinkpad Yoga (360 degree keyboard)
    - Vaio 12 (slider)
    - Aspire S7 (180 degree keyboard)
    - Another one (Fujitsu?) that was just really confusing...

    But then I read a disturbingly large amount of tech news. I'm pretty sure many others would find an overview like this interesting.
    Reply
  • Tams80 - Friday, February 08, 2013 - link

    There are three Fujitsu types:

    Slate: Q572
    Dock: Q702
    Convertible (swivel): T902, T732
    Reply
  • Montevale - Wednesday, February 06, 2013 - link


    So how about the PEN???
    How about letting us know if the pen is accurate?
    Is it as responsive on the edges of the screen as it is in the middle of the screen?
    What if the screen is rotated?
    What if it is used by a leftie?
    Does the cursor shift if the pen is tilted?
    Does calibration of the pen make any difference?

    Pen support is natively built into the OS in Windows and unlike the S-Pen on the android there is no need for the special app support.
    Handwritten notes in MS OneNote are actually searchable by default.
    You can annotate Word and Excel native files add drawings in Outlook to the typed emails as your own annotations and mix text and drawings together.
    For the first time a windows device is truly portable with a Pen!!!
    Reply
  • JimTC - Wednesday, February 06, 2013 - link

    Ditto! Those are the issues that are the tipping point for me. Reply
  • JimTC - Wednesday, February 06, 2013 - link

    I've been waiting with baited breath for what feels like ages for something like this - thank you, well done!

    Now - I only wish I could find as comprehensive a review on how this handles One Note so that I can really know if I can finally go truly paperless (including design notes, diagrams, calc's, meeting minutes, etc, etc.). If this machine (and software) can do it, I'll be one very happy camper!

    Thanks again! - fresh air!
    Reply
  • darwinosx - Wednesday, February 06, 2013 - link

    I disagree with Anand which is rare. I think this device is a very poor tablet and laptop and will not sell. Reply
  • althaz - Thursday, February 07, 2013 - link

    It's not a good laptop (it's better than a laptop for what I want though), but it's a brilliant portable computer and a very fast, very nice to use tablet (wouldn't say it's a good tablet for most folks, as the battery life is poor and the weight will be an issue for most).

    For me it's the best device on the market. It's a portable desktop, it's a drawing tablet, it's a powerful tablet and it's going to be fantastic for playing football manager on the train.

    I for SURE would prefer a version with half the weight, double the battery life and triple the graphics performance for under $500, but seeing as there's nothing on the market that can match the Surface Pro at anything like the same price point, I'm getting one. The closest I've tried is Samsung's Ativ, which is $300 more and has no support for a pen as well as not being as high quality.

    When this becomes literally the perfect device (at version 3 or 4 most likely), then I'll upgrade and give this bad-boy away. But until then, this is the best there is for those that DON'T WANT A LAPTOP. I've got a laptop. It's useless to me. It's too bulky to use comfortably on the train or couch and the attached keyboard is annoying when I'm using it as a moveable desktop.
    Reply
  • Lonyo - Thursday, February 07, 2013 - link

    The Samsung Ativ Pro has pen support. It comes with one which docks to the body. Which is pressure sensitive (not sure how many levels). Reply
  • ananduser - Thursday, February 07, 2013 - link

    Can I ask you an honest question ? Would you have ever been interested in the Surface otherwise(for instance with better battery life) ?
    I'm asking since I've read AppleInsider and read your posts there(and melgross'). Would you have purchased anything else other than Apple hardware and abandoned OSX ?
    Reply

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