Last month I reviewed Microsoft's Surface RT tablet, and came away generally impressed. The form factor and attention to detail were both much better than expected from Microsoft. The integration of the touch/type covers into the design was very well executed in my opinion. That being said, Surface RT seemed to me like a great start but not the perfect product. I would love to see a Cortex A15 based version with some minor tweaks. We'll likely get that next year, but before then there's one more Surface tablet that we'll meet: the Surface Pro.

Surface RT is Microsoft's Windows RT (Windows on ARM) launch vehicle, while Surface Pro is based on Intel x86 hardware. Despite the funny wording in today's blog post, Surface Pro uses an Ivy Bridge based Core i5 (ULV) processor with Intel HD 4000 graphics. Contrary to what I assumed initially, Surface Pro will launch with a 17W Ivy Bridge CPU - so this is the same chip you'll find in modern Ultrabooks. Without a doubt we'll see a Haswell version sometime next year, but not at launch. I wondered if we might see Microsoft use Intel's upcoming 10W Ivy Bridge, but at this point that seems unlikely.

Surface Pro keeps the same display size, but increases tablet thickness by 43% over the RT version. Weight is also up by half a pound. Screen resolution goes up as well, at 1920 x 1080. Memory capacity also increases to 4GB, and Surface Pro comes with much more NAND on-board. With a 7-series chipset you get SATA support, so my money is on Surface Pro having a full blown SSD inside instead of something eMMC based.

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 with HD4000 Graphics (Ivy Bridge)

Apple A6X

Connectivity WiFi WiFi WiFi , Optional 4G LTE
Memory 2GB 4GB 1GB
Storage 32GB or 64GB 64GB or 128GB 16GB—64GB
Battery 31.5 Wh 42.0 Wh 42.5Wh
Starting Price $499 $899 $499

Battery capacity goes up to 42Wh, an increase of 33%, putting it about on par with the 3rd and 4th generation iPads. Charger size also goes up to 48W compared to 24W with the RT version. Update: Microsoft announced via its Surface Twitter account that the Pro version would offer roughly half the battery life of Surface RT. Without S0ix support, Surface Pro should look a lot like a standard Ultrabook when it comes to battery life. If you want the best of both worlds, Haswell will be what you'll need to wait for.

The big news is we now have pricing for Surface Pro: $899 for the 64GB model and $999 for the 128GB model, both available in January 2013. Both versions come with a Surface pen, but neither includes a touch or type cover. Microsoft's Surface Pro pricing is clearly higher than any other ARM based tablet, but I'd look at it more as an Ultrabook/MacBook Air alternative. I'll reserve final judgement for when I get my hands on a review sample, but I'm pretty interested to see how the Pro does in our tests. This could end up being one of the better Ultrabooks. I do wish Microsoft had thrown in a touch or type cover into the bundle though, that would make it a real alternative to a standard Ultrabook without having to pay for anything else. It is entirely possible that Microsoft is banking on notebook users bringing a more traditional keyboard and mouse for work though.

The other big omission is the lack of Thunderbolt support. I don't know what it is with Microsoft's crusade against Thunderbolt (the port is no longer on Acer's W700 either), but I think that's a big mistake. Surface Pro would be a great platform for Thunderbolt in my opinion.

For full specs check out the Surface Pro on Microsoft's site.

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  • Alexvrb - Sunday, December 02, 2012 - link

    Do you honestly think they're not going to account for the DPI increase? It's something you can adjust yourself if necessary, too. But I am willing to be it'll be OK at stock settings.

    "Oh man Jim, I can't believe we shipped these without checking the desktop or Office. Also we put a bunch of sharp rocks in the boxes instead of padding. Damnit! Ballmer is gonna give us the chair!"
    Reply
  • GoodBytes - Thursday, November 29, 2012 - link

    I think this is an excellent price for what we are getting.

    All ultrabook's costs similar, and have only Windows 8 minimum resolution (1366 x 768) screen, using a shitty TN panel, and no digitize pen support, and they cost the same. And it's cheaper than the Mac Book Air, and you still don't have a digitize pen.
    Reply
  • Impulses - Thursday, November 29, 2012 - link

    Umm, there's $1,000 ultrabooks in the market with 13" 1920x1080 IPS displays (better than the Air)... Larger batteries, more storage, and a real keyboard too. I don't think this comes close to making ultrabooks irrelevant but it should shake up some pricing and keep things competitive. Some Atom tablets have been priced much too high ($700) and some ultrabooks have been creeping up as well, this will be a nice counter balance. Reply
  • steven75 - Thursday, November 29, 2012 - link

    How is it cheaper than a MBA?

    The Surface Pro is $1019 for the tablet + keyboard.

    The MacBook Air 11" is $999 for the laptop (that of course includes a keyboard) and a class-leading trackpad.

    Other interesting things is they both have an i5, same size storage, and are about the same size/weight (Surface keyboard adds weight).
    Reply
  • steven75 - Thursday, November 29, 2012 - link

    And you can use the MacBook Air without a desk to stand it on. Reply
  • menting - Thursday, November 29, 2012 - link

    surface keyboard does add weight, but probably not 0.38 lb (the extra weight that MBA has over surface pro), but we'll say it's close enough

    thickness and screen size are similar.

    price, the surface pro is 20 bucks more than MBA.. considering that surface pro + keyboard is slightly lighter than MBA, we'll call this equal as well.

    what the surface pro has that MBA doesn't is the resolution and touch screen.
    Reply
  • GoodBytes - Thursday, November 29, 2012 - link

    MBA has no:
    -> Touch screen.
    -> Digitize pen support.
    -> No micro-SD card. So I expend the storage of the Surface Pro, while I can't on the MacBook Air. Sure I use a USB memory key, but I have an ugly stick coming out of the side

    Also, MBA:
    -> Not a tablet
    -> Can't run iOS App (Windows 8 runs Windows RT apps).
    -> No XBox Music
    -> I have to buy Windows. That makes the MacBook Air more expensive
    -> Apple Windows 8 Boot camp drivers are laughable at best, even the ones from Windows 7 are a joke. Purposely made sucky to provide a horrible experience with Windows so that you have the illusion that MacOS is better just in terms of general experience (more responsive, more stable, etc).

    So in the end, the MacBook Air is more expensive, and it's still not a tablet.
    Reply
  • winterspan - Thursday, November 29, 2012 - link

    Can you point to a specific problem with BootCamp drivers in Windows 7? I run Win 7 Pro x64 on my MBA, and it runs great. Haven't had any driver issues whatsoever... Reply
  • ananduser - Friday, November 30, 2012 - link

    Win does work on a mac but not as good as it could work. For starters poor AHCI/ACPI support massively impacts battery life. Using a mac as a windows only machine offers poor battery life from the start. No optimus type switching under bootcamp. Furthermore the idea that as a Windows user I have to resort to bootcamp's shoddy BIOS emulation is rather insulting. You can't strip OSX of the mac either.

    I don't understand why are you trying to sell macs to Windows users.
    Reply
  • melgross - Thursday, November 29, 2012 - link

    MBA can have up to 512GB SSD, and 8GB RAM. It has an SD card slot. Two USB2/3 ports, and Thunderbolt. And one of the best backlit keyboards in the business.

    It's much more capable.
    Reply

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