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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  • netmann - Thursday, February 07, 2013 - link

    Nice review Anand! It seems there is a lot of interest on this device. If you still have the unit can you please do a quick tear-down of the unit with pictures showing the cooling fans, SSD, memory, etc? Reply
  • Wolfpup - Thursday, February 07, 2013 - link

    Fantastic review!

    Random thought I've had about Surface since it was unveiled...doesn't a keyboard dock like what HP includes with their Envy x2 make more sense than these touch/type covers?

    I mean I get that some people use covers anyway, and leave them on (I don't on my iPad 2), and so you're sort of getting a keyboard always there for "free" for those people.

    But at least judging by pictures, the touch and even type covers appear to be terrible keyboards, and look really awkward. The kickstand is nifty, I guess, but HP's Envy x2 (and some others) are basically giving you a normal notebook keyboard you plug it into, and it becomes almost indistinguishable from a notebook. That gives you a better keyboard, unlimited angles to put the screen at, and also makes it easier to sit it on your lap and type, if need be.

    I haven't used either type of device yet, but from pictures it sure seems like a dock like that would be preferable to a type cover/pad?

    This really is an interesting product though...I thought Apple needed to do this 4 years ago, like in place of what the iPad turned out to be, I was hoping it would be a real OS X PC running on Atom with an optional touch interface-basically exactly what Windows 8 ended up being.

    I know these will get massively better even later this year with Haswell (or heck, Tegra 4), but I'm still so tempted both by Surface Pro and that Envy x2... (wish that used AMD's Z60 instead of Atom though). Hmm...an additional battery in a keyboard dock could double Surface Pro's battery life too...

    And yeah, to me it seems like this ought to come with a type cover. I can understand and accept the price-this is an actual PC running hardware that runs circles around an iPad that's only marginally cheaper-but somehow it just seems like these things should be including keyboards.
    Reply
  • TidalWaveOne - Thursday, February 07, 2013 - link

    "f you’re shopping for an Ultrabook today and want that tablet experience as well, Surface Pro really is the best and only choice on the market."

    There is at least one other device for that ultrabook/tablet experience... the Dell XPS 12. I have one on order... there are also more, like the Lenovo Yoga.
    Reply
  • Death666Angel - Thursday, February 07, 2013 - link

    Different designs in my opinion. The Dell has the burden of always carrying around that keyboard, which means you have a 1.5kg tablet. The CPU, RAM and storage options look pretty good on that. But it lacks a digitizer which might or might not be a huge deal for you. Same thing with the Yoga. Very big (13.3"), low-ish resolution (900p), always a keyboard attatched, no active digitizer. Again, these things might be important enough to make the devices pretty much distinct categories. Or you just want "laptop-ish, touch screen, Core CPU" then they are all comparable. :D
    The closest things to the Surface Pro in my mind are:
    - Lenovo Helix: 11.6", 1080p, keyboard dock, active digitizer, 3G
    - Samsung Ativ PC Pro: 11.6", 1080p, keyboard dock without battery, active digitizer, 3G
    With the Lenovo being my dream device, because of the battery built into the keyboard dock mostly. But the dock design is fairly cool, too. :D
    Reply
  • travelster - Thursday, February 07, 2013 - link

    Almost two years ago I picked up an ASUS EP121 10 inch Tablet. It came with an i5 processor and Windows 7. I now have Windows 8 on it. Win 7 and 8 runs extremely well, as does Word, MS Project, VMWare, RDP, and all other apps I can run on Windows desktops and laptops. I.e. The Surface Pro's grand vision of a full-service Windows tablet was old news even before long it was released!

    Glenn Rogers
    DBGallery Product Manager
    Reply
  • sn_85 - Thursday, February 07, 2013 - link

    After playing around with this at the Microsoft Store today I came away feel like it was a mixed bag. I feel the build quality is really impressive and I have no qualms about the unusual nature of it's kickstand and keyboard covers. It just feels like a wonderfully solid design that takes on a more business like approach with it's VaporMg and straight line design. Honestly I just wish it came in the form factor of the Surface RT because what a difference a half pound and 3.5mm can really make. The thick form factor and weight just make it much more cumbersome to hold and I wouldn't see myself holding this thing in one for two long at all. Before anyone calls me a weight weenie you really just have to hold it in person and compare the Pro the RT before make a statement, it's a pretty significant difference. I hope the next iteration takes on a diet and comes closer to the form factor of the Surface RT because it still retains the impressive build quality without all the thickness and weight.

    Battery of course is another area of concern. If this thing got closer to 6-7 hours like some of the longer lasting Ultrabooks it would be a real winner IMO.

    The price I feel is fine but the keyboard covers need to be included in the price. I know it's a unique design but there is no reason for MSFT to be nickel and diming here, especially in the case of the Pro. Fact is anyone looking at this device will buy either one of the Touch or Typecovers but to just spend another $120-$130 on it is excessive.

    Ultimately I think this device is what most reviews say, you can see the tremendous potential and it is impressive in it's own right. It just misses on a few key things that keep it from being a product that is universally recommended as opposed to what it is right now where you need to know what you're getting into. I feel just like Anand on this, the Surface Pro 2 is simply going to be an awesome product. One that I'd buy on launch day. That being said I still might get this Surface Pro until that time comes.
    Reply
  • sirnumbskull@gmail.com - Friday, February 08, 2013 - link

    Can you verify whether or not the Surface Pro has Widi support? Reply
  • Kornfeld - Friday, February 08, 2013 - link

    WiDi is an Intel technology that requires, among other things, supported Intel WiFi adapters. Since Surface Pro uses a Marvell WiFi adapter, it cannot possibly use WiDi.

    The real question is whether it will support Miracast which is the larger spec being adopted by the WiFi alliance. I'm not sure if that specific adapter supports Miracast. I found this press release, but I'm not sure about the part numbers: http://www.marvell.com/company/news/pressDetail.do...

    The bigger problem with Miracast right now is that there doesn't seem to be any connection software available for Windows. So, I'm sitting around with a Yoga that has a Miracast supported WiFi adapter and I have the latest Netgear device that supports WiDi and Miracast, but no application that can be used to connect to the device.
    Reply
  • toyotabedzrock - Friday, February 08, 2013 - link

    Looking at the pictures it becomes apparent that they did not pay enough attention to small details. The random 5 pin connector looks ripe for problems. And sticks out like a soar thumb.

    The display resolution is too low on both models. And there is no excuse for the small batteries.

    It seems as if the execs at these PC companies eyes are failing them if they have not noticed these things.
    Reply
  • redSn0w - Friday, February 08, 2013 - link

    Just wondering if Microsoft could have gotten better battery life by using a Core i3 or even some pentium/celeron derivative. The way i see it, the 3 main drawbacks are the price, battery life and thickness/weight of device. So, maybe using one of the aforementioned processors for the first generation product would have helped. And, they could have moved to Core i5 when Haswell started shipping.
    I seriously doubt that any power user could replace their notebook/desktop with a Surface pro unless you could dock it to a bigger screen and a proper keyboard. As for the regular users i don't think too many of them would even be interested in a product like this when an iPad works for them.
    Anyways, i'm still going to go check it out tomorrow but most likely i'll wait for the next generation product (if it's ever released).
    Reply

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