Fans and Thermals

While Surface RT was passively cooled, Surface Pro features two integrated fans to cool the 17W Core i5-3317U. For most light use cases, those two fans will remain spun down and you can’t hear them. Do any sort of serious multitasking or start using Surface Pro as a real PC instead of a tablet and you’ll quickly hear them spin up. Fan noise is audible but not annoying - it’s very similar to the sound you’d hear out of any ultraportable with a couple of tiny fans spinning up.

In landscape mode with the Type Cover attached, Surface Pro draws in cool air from the sides and exhausts it out of the top of the device. Rotate the device into portrait mode and the fans will switch directions, drawing in cool air from the long edge and exhausting it out of the short edges. The fan direction switch is triggered in tandem with display rotation, so as soon as you see your display rotate you’ll hear the fans change direction.

The two fans do a good job keeping the CPU cool (I saw typical CPU core temperatures between 50C - 60C), but Surface Pro does get warm. I measured a max surface temperature of 41.8C while running 3DMark 11. That’s towards the top of the unit, around where the Core i5 CPU is located. On the edges I measured a max surface temperature of 36.5C. There’s no getting around the fact that Surface Pro gets warm, noticeably more so than the 4th generation iPad. It never gets uncomfortably hot however.

Despite being a tablet, the Core i5-3317U had no issues hitting its max turbo frequency of 2.6GHz. I even saw 2.75GHz for a very short period of time (remember, Intel’s Turbo Boost can exceed max TDP until the silicon gets up to temperature).

Storage and USB 3.0

Surface Pro ships with a micro SDXC slot along the edge of the device. Courtesy of Intel’s HM77 chipset, you also get a full blown 6Gbps SSD and a single USB 3.0 port - both significant upgrades over Surface RT. In my 128GB review sample, Surface Pro features a Micron C400 SSD. Microsoft is sourcing from multiple SSD vendors and claims to be shipping with optimized firmware, but I don’t know what other vendors are in the mix. Update: It looks like the C400 SSD is an mSATA drive, likely similar to the one we reviewed here a while back.

To put this in perspective, the C400 is in the same class of storage device that’s used in Apple’s MacBook Air. Although some ARM based SoCs feature SATA interfaces, pretty much all of them are paired with eMMC based NAND storage solutions that are horribly slow. The fastest sequential transfer rates I’ve managed on the 4th generation iPad are typically on the 20 - 30MB/s range, whereas the C400 in the Surface Pro is good for over 400MB/s in reads and just under 200MB/s in writes.

There’s been a lot of debate over the amount of free space available on Windows RT/8 tablets fresh out of the box. My 128GB review sample was partitioned down to 110GB with roughly 8GB used for the recovery partition. Of that 110GB, 89.5GB was free space that remained. I don’t really view this as false advertising by Microsoft (both Macs and PCs have been sold like this for decades), but you do need to know what you’re getting into here. Given the already high price of these systems and the relatively small price differential between a 64GB Surface Pro and a 128GB model, I’d recommend going for the latter. Microsoft claims something like 29GB of free space remains on the 64GB model - enough for some apps and data, but keep in mind like all solid state storage you don’t want to completely fill up your drive either (this is also true for ARM based tablets like the iPad).

USB 3.0 is equally as impressive on Surface Pro. Using a simple USB 3.0 to SATA adapter I could easily read and write at around 200MB/s. Compare this to the ~20MB/s you get on most ARM based tablets and it’s obvious that this Surface deserves its Pro moniker.

Ultimately Surface Pro’s storage subsystem is a big part of what separates it from the current crop of ARM based tablets. While it’s possible to run productivity workloads on many tablets these days, there’s truly very little that separates what you can do on Surface Pro with what what you can do on a conventional PC.

WiFi Performance

Similar to Surface RT, Surface Pro uses a 2x2 802.11n WiFi controller from Marvell. I believe this is likely the same Marvell Avastar 88W8797 WiFi solution, but connected over USB instead of SDIO.

WiFi performance is appreciably better than on Surface RT, connected to a 5GHz 802.11n network I was able to pull a maximum of 87Mbps compared to 42Mbps on Surface RT. This is competitive with what I’ve seen on other high-end tablets based on ARM architectures, although lower than what I’ve gotten out of a MacBook Air.

WiFi Performance - iPerf

WiFi range is subjectively really good on Surface Pro and a lot better than most ARM based tablets I’ve played with. I ran an iperf test on an iPad 4 and Surface Pro around 100 feet away from an AP through several walls and saw roughly an order of magnitude better performance out of the Surface Pro (8 - 10Mbps vs. 0.95 Mbps).

While peak WiFi performance out of Surface Pro is similar to a high-end tablet, worst case performance is more like a good notebook. Overall I’m pleased with the wireless stack on Surface Pro.

Surface Pro as a Windows 8 Notebook Display: Awesome if Calibrated
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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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