Surface Pro as a Tablet

If you can get over the bulk, Surface Pro is easily the fastest tablet on the market today. Apple has done a great job of making relatively slow hardware feel very fast with iOS, but Surface Pro brute forces its way to the top. Web pages load quicker than on any ARM based tablet and multitasking is just awesome on the device. This is where the power of Intel’s Core microarchitecture really comes into play.

Since the introduction of the 3rd generation iPad with Retina Display several folks have pointed out to me that UI frame rate isn’t always so smooth on the device. I personally never noticed because I found that most of the competition was even worse, so it always seemed relatively smooth to me. After playing with Surface Pro however and going back to even the 4th gen iPad all of the sudden frame rate stutters are much more noticeable. Playing around with Bing maps on Surface Pro vs. RT is like night and day. Even if you compare scrolling and zoom performance to native iOS maps on the iPad 4, Surface Pro wins out.

Scrolling in web pages, application install time, file copy time, everything is just significantly faster on Surface Pro than on any competing tablet. Oh, and it boots (from full power off) in less than 10 seconds. It’s really the combination of the great CPU performance and fast SSD that deliver the responsiveness of the Surface Pro.

We’re still lacking good cross-platform performance tests, but there are a few browser based benchmarks that I can use to highlight just how much faster Surface Pro is compared to anything ARM based on the market today:

SunSpider Javascript Benchmark 0.9.1 - Stock Browser

SunSpider is our tried and true quick js benchmark, and here we see huge scaling as we move to Intel's Core i5. Regardless of browser used you're seeing a significant improvement in performance that directly translates to faster web page load times.

Moving on we have Kraken, a seriously heavy javascript benchmark built by Mozilla. Kraken focuses on forward looking applications that are potentially too slow to run in modern browsers today. The result is much longer run times than anything we've seen thus far, and a very CPU heavy benchmark:

Mozilla Kraken Benchmark

Even when handcuffed by modern IE10 you're looking at almost twice the performance of the Nexus 10. Level the playing field with Chrome as a browser and now Surface Pro completes the test in a bit more than 1/8 of the time of the iPad 4, or 1/4 of the time of the Nexus 10.

Surface Pro manages to deliver almost 5x the performance of the iPad 4 here.

We have one last web-based benchmark: WebXPRT by Principled Technologies (PT). WebXPRT measures performance in four HTML5/js workloads:

Photo Effects: Measures the time to apply effects to a set of six photos. The filters are Sharpen, Emboss, and Glow. WebXPRT applies each filter to two photos. This test uses HTML5 Canvas 2D and JavaScript.

Face Detect: Measures the average time to check for human faces in a photo. WebXPRT runs this test on five photos and uses the average time to calculate the final result. This test uses HTML5 Canvas 2D to get access to photo data. The detection algorithm is implemented in JavaScript.

Stocks Dashboard: Measures the time to calculate financial indicators of a stock based on historical data and display the result in a dashboard. The calculations are done in JavaScript, and the calculated stocks data is displayed using HTML tables and Canvas 2D.

Offline Notes: Measures the time to store notes securely in the browser's HTML5 local storage and display recent entries. This test uses using AES for security.

We're reporting the overall score after all tests have been run:

WebXPRT - Overall Score

Next up are another set of benchmarks from PT, but unlike the WebXPRT suite these tests don't run in a browser. Once again we're looking at performance in a handful of tasks designed to stress the CPU. Here the performance advantage continues to be quite significant. While Surface RT and the other Windows RT/8 devices still feel a bit sluggish, I have no performance complaints whatsoever about Surface Pro:

TouchXPRT 2013 - Photo Slideshow

TouchXPRT 2013 - Podcast MP3 Export

TouchXPRT 2013 - Video Sharing

TouchXPRT 2013 - Photo Sharing

TouchXPRT 2013 - Photo Enhance

If I had any complaints about using Surface Pro as a tablet outside of weight, they’d be about Windows 8. There are still far too many bugs and quirks in the OS that just don’t make sense. I’ve outlined some of my issues with Windows 8 before. I think the UI works just fine for a tablet, it’s just the unfinished touches that need attention. For example, having to gesture in modern IE10 before being able to switch between tabs seems silly.


This still happens way too often in the Windows Store, no indication of what's going on just a blank screen

On the bug-front, all too often I’ll wake up the system only to have the lock screen upside down. And despite all of the extra performance under the hood, the time from when you hit the power/lock button to when something appears on the screen is just longer than on an iPad or Android tablet. We’re not talking several seconds, but it’s still noticeably longer.

The Surface Pen Surface Pro as a Windows 8 Notebook
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  • ghost03 - Monday, February 11, 2013 - link

    Most of what you say is accurate, but I disagree that this can be compared to the MacBook Air (or any ultra book for that matter.)

    A key feature of laptops is that they function on your ...lap... (or other surfaces which are not flat or angled.) Juggling the kickstand and the hinged keyboard is cumbersome at best for most non ideal use scenarios. And frankly, if I am set up with a flat table and room to work, I hope I have my 15" notebook with me.

    This is an attempt to satisfy too many interests--likely a victim of design by committee--and it is not a product that I can see many people enjoy using.
    Reply
  • utdcometsoccer - Tuesday, March 19, 2013 - link

    I've used it some and I found it was a joy to work with! Also, strangely the dual use design - tablet and laptop suits me because I don't want to carry a tablet and a laptop if I don't have to. Reply
  • rburnham - Wednesday, February 06, 2013 - link

    Agreed. Seeing it compared to ARM tablets seems unfair in the context of this article. Reply
  • GotThumbs - Thursday, February 07, 2013 - link

    Agreed. It's basically the upgrade from the Tablet PC's before the IPAD was born. I still have a Motion Tablet PC (LS800) in my office and the only reason I don't have Win8 installed on it is the screen resolution limit. The Motion Tablet PC resolution is a very small/old 800 x 600.

    I like the fact that Anand did a dual comparison between today's tablets and ultra-books for the Surface-pro. Regarding the issues on lap use, I believe the addition of a keyboard dock similar tot he transformer would allow the Surface to convert between being a tablet and ultra book when the user needed/wanted.

    All in all, I think MS has a good start. Now with newer/smaller CPU's from Intel or AMD (if they can get their die smaller) will allow MS to be even more competitive.

    At the end of the day, each consumer has to figure/know what their needs are to select the right tool for them. Tablets are great for content, but still very limited to APPs. A tablet that can run full programs for those needing that kind of flexibility stands above Android and IOS devices.
    Reply
  • AssBall - Tuesday, February 05, 2013 - link

    Possibly a little more in depth than need be for the target demographic. Reply
  • AssBall - Tuesday, February 05, 2013 - link

    On second thought though, that's exactly the kind of info that makes the target market drool. Reply
  • PsychoPif - Wednesday, February 06, 2013 - link

    It's exactly for those kind of insight that I come here. If I wanted an half assed job, I'd read the engadget review. Reply
  • Spunjji - Friday, February 08, 2013 - link

    Right on. Reply
  • mmrezaie - Friday, February 08, 2013 - link

    but I still like to know gpu comparison between this and iPad 4. Reply
  • B3an - Wednesday, February 06, 2013 - link

    Stupid comment is stupid. Go back to Engadget or the Verge. Reply

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