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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  • piroroadkill - Monday, February 11, 2013 - link

    How about they put all the bulk in the keyboard section, attach it permanently, and get rid of the kickstand? That way you could use it anywhere, even on your lap! Sounds much better.

    Seriously though, this is a painfully awkward gimmick, and I'd much rather have an ultraportable laptop.
    Reply
  • Patrice - Monday, February 11, 2013 - link

    I'm a prof photograph and film maker. I use my PCs with adobe production suite and other sotfwares. I have a light version on my laptop too when on a shooting but I thought that the Surface Pro, with a smaller footprint would be the perfect tool as an enhanced monitor and controler (different applications) for my cameras. My wife received an ipad 4 for Christmas and since then I tried to find a usefull application beyond what a 15 year old would do with the thing unfortunately I'm still on the quest of findings something productive (work related) beside converting my ipad into a slate (which I don't need) or a remote control for my tv or my pc.

    The surface pro looks like a good, (I do not intent to edit or do any post prod on it) idea but if I understand correctly the product has the same disease as the ipad stuff; no video input! I understand Apple's business model to brickwall the user whitin the "I"universe but MS? Why can't I use the Surface as a monitor? After all it offers more than decent quality? Why should it be limited to an AV output??? If my understanding of the product is right, that's a big no no for me, I'm still stuck with a laptop.

    The battery drama is real only when you compare the product with non-computer product like Android and the i stuff, I do not have any problem with that as I have a ton of very good batteries that will power the Surface for a long time except that I would need a 12vdc charger (lighter plug) that is not offer on MS shop.

    Why is it that when buyng a $1200 I have less technical details then buying a $10 toater? Tried to get an idea about power consumption; over the battery stuff, there is no info, idle power amps, low work load, heavy. I know it depends but would be easy to set a minimum and maximum. The point being that this piece of hardware should be used in more remote location and situation for people than needs the power and freedom of use, this is not for the kids chatting on facebook, this is for working people that needs to do the other stuff.
    Reply
  • crispbp04 - Wednesday, February 13, 2013 - link

    it has a usb3.0 port, how do you not consider that an option for av input? Reply
  • Soda-88 - Monday, February 11, 2013 - link

    Does anyone know what type of SSD is in the Surface Pro? Is it replaceable with bigger mSATA drive for example? Reply
  • Soda-88 - Monday, February 11, 2013 - link

    Nevermind, just saw this:
    Update: It looks like the C400 SSD is an mSATA drive, likely similar to the one we reviewed here a while back.
    Reply
  • Marq - Tuesday, February 12, 2013 - link

    I feel anandtech is spot on with their view of microsofts product: essentially an ultra book with tablet capabilities. If you were to take such a view you'll find the surface pro rather pleasing. It's funny the way some argue against it. They say the androids and ioses can do the same things and are worth more. A 128gb iPad @ 900usd needs an additional Bluetooth keyboard, can't take USB and is stuck at how much it's given. What's the difference? Yes it gets 9hrs of life. But it can't do photoshop; it can't do GIS applicationS it can't do serious video editing. This device and many others like it (Lenovo, Samsung etc) strides the boundary between tablets and ultra book.

    This and upcoming generations will make mobile computing true. The androids and iPads are stuck by their oses limitations and will never be able to do what this device does (and they are not meant to).

    I will seriously consider this over the MacBook Air if I didn't have one already. The life is similar but the surface pro is smaller and comes with a pen to boot.
    Reply
  • dijuremo - Tuesday, February 12, 2013 - link

    Surface Pro is easily the fastest tablet on the market today.


    The Samsung ATIV Pro 700 has been out since December of last year packing the same CPU, 4GB of ram and 128GB SSD. Claiming that the Surface Pro is easily the fastest tablet on the market just sounds as if you were paid to write this review....

    http://www.samsung.com/us/computer/tablet-pcs/XE70...
    Reply
  • JLQ - Tuesday, February 12, 2013 - link

    So far I've actually enjoyed using this device except for the fact that there are no WinTab drivers for the Wacom digitizer. That means no pressure sensitivity in many graphics applications like Photoshop and Corel Painter, which is a huge bummer for me. Lisa Gade is the only reviewer that I've seen that discusses this.

    For now, I'm waiting and seeing if WinTab drivers will be provided in the near future. Otherwise, I'm making do with ArtRage for the time being, given that it supports Microsoft's newer pen API and thus does register pressure-sensitive input. Touch controls (pan, zoom, rotate) are an added plus.
    Reply
  • Imaginer - Saturday, March 30, 2013 - link

    I agree with you. I too enjoyed light gaming, CADing, and used ArtRage. Corel Painter 12 doesn't support pressure, but finger pinch zoom and two finger rotate works. I do not understand the people saying the better option is making do with price equivalent of a ARM tablet and a laptop.

    For as I used my Kindle Fire, I wished I can view things as smoothly as my PC and work with it better in terms of input, both hardware and software. I like my Envy 14 1st generation laptop, but I have and still do an awkward disconnect with using my Intros with it. Even placing the digitizer on tip of the Envy's keyboard still is awkward for lap use as I have to remove it for keyboard use.

    Hence I am glad and have gotten a Surface Pro. I was considering the Samsung ATIV 700T, but if its keyboard dock was heavier with a second battery and maybe second removable mSATA SSD, I would have picked that instead.

    I hope some group, either one, solves the pen capability in Painter (and PhotoShop and others too).
    Reply
  • Bytre - Tuesday, February 12, 2013 - link

    My 128GB has a samsung mzmpc128hbfu-000mv. AS SSD clocks in at 471.31MB/sec read, 252.33MB/sec write on the sequential test. 89.4GB free out of the box, 110GB total capacity (as measured by c: properties). Reply

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