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


View All Comments

  • Netscorer - Wednesday, February 6, 2013 - link

    Anand, is it possible for you to clarify your statement that:

    Wacom’s own tablets let you switch to mouse mode, allowing you to use the pen as a mouse to place your cursor wherever you want it. Pen mode is something you may or may not be able to get used to, but it’s worth pointing out that the inflexibility is a limitation of Surface Pro’s pen implementation.

    Does this mean that included stylus can not be used to navigate Windows UI, i.e. use buttons, scrollbars, dropdown lists, etc?

    This is IMO a huge limitation that makes surface a nightmare to work with in a tablet mode if target program is not touch friendly.
  • Death666Angel - Wednesday, February 6, 2013 - link

    That paragraph has nothing to do with normal desktop mode usage. It is about using the tablet as a Wacom graphic tablet. You can use the stylus as a mouse. Reply
  • The0ne - Wednesday, February 6, 2013 - link

    The stylus could be implemented to act like a mouse with more features. For example the S-Pen on my Note2 has buttons you can press and change to do what you want it to do. I don't think this is a hardware limitation rather than is there a market for it, demand, price and application support. Reply
  • Doominated - Wednesday, February 6, 2013 - link

    After removing things like the recovery partition, hibernation file, random installed apps, etc, you can EASILY reclaim enough space of the 64GB version to get to 40 GB of usable space. Office alone is 2.3 GB preinstalled to the machine, while the almost entirely useless Hibernation file takes up 3 gigs of space. Plus you could very easily get a 64 GB mSDXC card and mount it into an NTFS library, doubling your space for ~$50.

    And I think you're forgetting that you get a pen tip stylus with the tablet. Tapping "small icons" on regular desktop pages isn't going to be much of a problem, unless you're flat out the most uncoordinated person on the planet.
  • Netscorer - Wednesday, February 6, 2013 - link

    A: Rearranging partitions is not a novice job. In fact, I would state that you need to have a pretty certain experience working around Windows 8 partitions to do what you said here.
    B: Removing hibernation partition on the Ivy Bridge-based tablet is inadvisable as you would not be able to go into deep sleep and would either have to shut down tablet every night or wake up to fully partially discharged device,.
    C: removing recovery partition means that you need to have an alternative way of rescuing Windows in case of corruption. Yes, you can create a bootable flash drive as an alternative, but this is again is not a job for novice users and can not be typically expected to be performed by a typical customer.
  • sherlockwing - Wednesday, February 6, 2013 - link

    "B: Removing hibernation partition on the Ivy Bridge-based tablet is inadvisable as you would not be able to go into deep sleep and would either have to shut down tablet every night or wake up to fully partially discharged device,."

    Easy solution: plug in the charger if you are going to leave it on over night. If you can't charge then shut it off before you sleep.
  • pmhparis - Friday, February 8, 2013 - link

    Even better solution: Glue the charger to the side of the device so that it is always charging....

    MS claims that Surface is the best of tablets wedded to the best of PCs. Removing some of the greatest advantages tablets have (their 10h use between charges, their ability to resume exactly where they were left without loosing context), exposes the falsehood is Microsofts claim.
  • oolzie - Wednesday, February 6, 2013 - link

    I disagree completely. I thought this review was about as good as you can get because it gives actual facts. He didn't avoid mentioning any of the con's, but the storage is what it is. They give you options to remedy that and they were discussed. What more do you want?

    FWIW, Mouse mode with the stylus simply changes teh movement scale. You can still tap buttons, close windows, drag stuff just like you would with a finger, but with a tighter control point.
  • remain_insane - Wednesday, February 6, 2013 - link one seems to be talking about STEAM and what it means for a tablet of this size with this hardware. I am not talking about playing demanding games, but free to play titles, indie game, FTL, dead light, these are all very playable on this hardware. Not to mention League of Legends which is arguably the most popular video/ computer game on the planet. This form factor encompasses the perfect college student life style. Note taking? Office, or hell open office? Visual studio? After that throw in some light indie gaming to kill some time and hook up to a larger display. I LOVED this review, probably the ONLY website that "gets" the surface pro, and where this product fits in. I wish the article did contain some more comparisons to Ultrabooks, including prices so people will understand that this is not just a tablet that is competing among tablets, that this is an Ultrabook in tablet form factor that can be used as such but at a cost of Ultrabook battery life. Reply
  • Netscorer - Wednesday, February 6, 2013 - link

    Steam games require keyboard/mouse to operate. Very few games are touch-friendly and those few that are have plenty of bugs because they are still built around mouse interface and not 'fat fingers' interface. Civ V is the only AAA title that has full touch support and optimization for Ivy Bridge-based ultrabooks. But given CPU usage in Civ 5 and very bad battery life in Surface Pro, you won't last the flight from Boston to New York playing it.
    For the rest of the games you'd better take out proper bluetooth keyboard and mouse combo and put Surface Pro on the desk.
    Anand mentioned that stylus, included with Surface does not support mouse tracking mode, so you can't even use it for simple flash based indie games on Surface.
    Very, very disappointing.

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