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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  • melgross - Thursday, November 29, 2012 - link

    4 to 5 hours, in theory. Reply
  • Dekker - Friday, November 30, 2012 - link

    I was afraid that it might be that low. That automatically means you will want to bring a charger (in addition to your detachable keyboard). So rather than ending up with an all-day ultra-portable fully-windows-compatible device, you will end up with an ultrabook type usage scenario.

    Also, if I look at my own line-up of devices dumbphone, ipad, 11" MBA, 12" Dell notebook and Dell desktop - I would not know where the Surface Pro would fit in. It is not an obvious improvement to anything and there are no gaps/niches that it nicely fills up.

    If I look at the three key metrics - performance, weight/size and price - I get the sense that the Surface Pro is not a breakthrough product that has the right trade-off.

    Finally, if I compare the ipad and MBA software, I would conclude that there are hardly any ipad apps that would not need an UI rewrite to make sense on the MBA (and vice versa). I'd be eager to see how the Surface Pro bridges that UI gap.
    Reply
  • The Saint - Thursday, November 29, 2012 - link

    Wow, that Thunderbolt comment was really out of left field.

    As a consumer not invested in the Apple ecosystem, is there any reason I should care about Thunderbolt? USB 3 seems completely fine for my needs.
    Reply
  • Reflex - Thursday, November 29, 2012 - link

    I love the premise of Thunderbolt, but honestly its gone nowhere and its going nowhere. The types of tasks it is best suited for just don't make sense in the mobile space, or are too niche(hey, I still want an external graphics adapter!). And for the rest, USB3 is cheaper to implement.

    I don't think MS is crusading against TB. They just don't see any reason to invest in a tech that is not going anywhere anytime soon.
    Reply
  • melgross - Thursday, November 29, 2012 - link

    Well, USB went nowhere until Apple added it to the iMac. Reply
  • Reflex - Friday, November 30, 2012 - link

    Well they seem to be failing on this one. Pretty much the only devices available a year in are external hard drives. Looks like another Firewire to me. Reply
  • andrewaggb - Friday, November 30, 2012 - link

    I'm sure it's price and the intel exclusivity problem. Can thunderbolt even be used with a tegra/arm chip? If not you will create even more confusion between rt/8 because the accessories won't be compatible. That would be a total disaster.

    And then how many consumers actually have thunderbolt gear? I'm going to guess almost none.

    I agree thunderbolt would be perfect, IF, it was currently popular, open, and widely available.

    USB isn't as flexible, but it's what almost everybody is currently using.
    Reply
  • Drgnx - Wednesday, December 05, 2012 - link

    Thunderbolt has great potential for a universal docking solution as it actual uses hardware acceleration for Audio and video where as USB docks use software emulation which puts all the load on the processor. Thunderbolt is opening to all vendors now so I hope we will see more application for it in the future. Thunderbolt would be ideal if you want to use this tablet at home with a simple docking solution and plan to do anything CPU intensive. But I admit it is niche at this time, but I look forward to further applications in the future. I have an iPad 2 right now, and an iPhone 4S, but don't plan to buy and apple computer, when it is time for a new tablet I'd want a convertible hybrid like the surface, and by then the OS, the hardware, and thunderbolt should be more mature. Even iPad and iPhone had to improve to where they are now. Reply
  • ricardoduarte - Thursday, November 29, 2012 - link

    This is almost the same price of the ultrabook convertibles, and it has no keyboard and it seems almost the same thickness.

    The only good point it has a stylus. Windows 8 RT is just annoying to use without a stylus once we are in the desktop mode (while using office, windows explorer:S, control panel, etc.).

    I think microsoft is just wasting everyone's time.
    Reply
  • wrack - Thursday, November 29, 2012 - link

    If the 128GB is $999 with Keyboard & Touch Pen then I might think about it. Reply

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