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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  • 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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