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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  • HoushaSen - Friday, February 08, 2013 - link

    Aside from the weight (1.8 lbs), the lenovo's upcoming Core hybrid tablet/ultrabook have one major advantage, which is the battery life. To be honest, 1.8lbs vs. 2.0lbs won't make a difference for me as anything over 1.5 lbs is just not comfortable to hold in one hand i.e. either way it won't work as pure tablet for me.

    So the true major benefit of getting Helix over the Surface Pro for me was the battery life. Despite both system having the identical battery capacity (42W), Lenovo claims 10 hours battery life because it has the battery equipped keyboard dock.

    If MS truly releases one for Surface Pro, and obviously for the reasonable price I think the advantage of Helix goes away (remeber helix starts at $1499).

    Plus when MS is designing this new keyboard, I hope they have also put lap friendly design for consideration as well to solve that issue.

    But since battery life has been listed as one of the major downside of this device everywhere, I think MS should simply announce the dock on its way officially to at least make most people believe there is a way to extend battery life. Anyways, this is just my opinion.
    Reply
  • Jaerba - Friday, February 08, 2013 - link

    They teased the hell out of a battery keyboard dock during their AMA, so I expect it's on its way. I just wish they'd 100% confirm it and give a date.

    Really, a keyboard dock could solve three of its major problems (battery life, multiple viewing positions and keyboard quality.) You'd really just have the text scaling issue as the one major gripe.
    Reply
  • IUU - Saturday, February 09, 2013 - link

    So you get a computing device that is 5 times to more than an order of magnitude powerful compared to arm devices and still getting half the battery life, for not quite double the price?

    Not taking into consiferation that the next generation of Intel's processors will be significantly more efficient?

    Being able to run any x86(legacy ... lol) program without relying on an "app" store?

    Being able to expand and transfer memory any way you want, even managing to run demanding desktop programs, even though a bit slower than a desktop?

    Sounds like a pretty good deal to me(compared to arm offerings), though something normal and expected in the pc world!
    Reply
  • Tams80 - Saturday, February 09, 2013 - link

    It looks good, but I think the Thinkpad Helix will probably be a better option when it's released, even though it will be more expensive. For someone like me, this would be a considerable purchase no matter what, so I'm more than prepared to pay more. The Fujitsu Q702 could be contender, but the display resolution is poor and the Sony Duo 11 is tempting, but is not a dock tablet and has limited keyboard space.

    My ideal tablet PC is a pipe dream.
    -Something like the Fujitsu T902, but being a dockable/detachable, with a swivel 'docking bracket''.
    -Ideally a dGPU - an AMD APU (with -G graphics) paired with AMD -M graphics in hybrid crossfire. The dGPU would be in the dock.
    -mSata SSD in the tablet/lid
    -HHD/SSD in dock
    -modular bay in dock
    -Anytime USB charge on at least two USB ports
    -USB 3.0 ports, one/two on tablet, at least two on dock
    -LightPeak/Thunderbolt/whatever that mess seems to be doing
    -Active digitiser - Wacom Penabled still appears to be the best
    -SD/other card reader
    -large trackpad on dock with physical buttons
    -13.3 display
    -1920x1200 display (or double that resolution)
    -ample bezel buttons
    -at least acceptable speakers
    -1080p webcam, or whatever the marketing term used now is
    -some decent microphones
    -trackpoint/whatever other companies call it?
    -ExpressCard? Is there an updated version?
    -not sure about a rear camera - rather pointless on such a device

    Yeah. That's never going to happen.
    Reply
  • topdomino - Saturday, February 09, 2013 - link

    In december, you called the Dell XPS 12 "the coolest ultrabook around" and mentioned that fliping the screen creates a tablet.
    http://www.anandtech.com/show/6510/holiday-2012-ul...

    Given that the specs on the 128 GB Surface Pro and the current base model of the Dell XPS 12 are so similar:
    Surface Pro: 1.6GHz base clock, 4 GB Ram @ 1600MHz, Intel HD 4000 graphics, 128 GB SSD, $1,128 (with Type cover);
    Dell XPS 12: 1.7GHz base clock, 4 GB Ram @ 1333MHz, Intel HD 4000 graphics, 128 GB SSD, $1,199 (comes with keyboard);

    I would have expected a direct comparison between them to be the most useful one.
    Reply
  • bogieworf - Saturday, February 09, 2013 - link

    Comes down to whether you want a PC that is more like a tablet or a laptop. That smaller dimensions of the Pro are simply more tablet like, Of the two, the XPS is probably the better bet right now.

    Because it is convertible size, it has fewer tablet like demansd made of it. For example, I never heard of the XPS 12 being slammed for battery life like the Pro because the XPS battery life is in line with most convertibles on the market. The larger size also allows for a better keyboard. It also has a wider, and more convertible like array of specs.

    The Pro is tablet size and people expect it to perform like a tablet. Unfortunately, that requires Haswell and probably a cellular option as well. Both will probably come with the Pro 2.
    Reply
  • Death666Angel - Sunday, February 10, 2013 - link

    All I read there is "cater to the stupidest among us". The XPS12 looks less like a tablet so less people will expect it to behave like a tablet as opposed to the Surface Pro? How brain damaged should we expect consumer to be?
    Actually, pretty brain damaged if I go by most reviews, which treat the Surface Pro as an iPad competitor and rank it accordingly. It boggled my mind.
    Reply
  • damianrobertjones - Saturday, February 09, 2013 - link

    How come none of them appeared in the battery life section? They actually, in some cases, destroy the competion in performance and battery life? Reply
  • Death666Angel - Sunday, February 10, 2013 - link

    How would an Atom powered anything destroy a Core i-5 powered anything (or anything that is above a Celeron really)? Battery life? Sure. But what good is 6 hours of continuous use when you have to limit what you actually can do with it vs. 3 to 4 hours of continuous use without limits? If you need the battery life and don't need the performance, the choice is clear. And vice versa. :)
    I would have liked to see a comparison with the Samsung XE700T and the Acer W700 (which is perfect except for lacking a digitizer). But I can understand that they don't have everything.
    Reply
  • lmcd - Sunday, February 10, 2013 - link

    but I'm more interested in what happens when Google puts out a better version of their Chrome mobile browser. As noted, the Nexus 10 wasn't that horribly off from the Surface Pro, and I think with some OS optimization (or replacement with a nice KDE Plasma Active setup :-) a Nexus 10 + keyboard dock of some kind would knock out the Surface Pro and RT in one shot. Reply

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