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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  • Scootir - Saturday, February 09, 2013 - link

    As someone who administers these types of devices for major hospital organizations I can guarantee that docs and nurses (and the administrator's who select what they get to use) would hate this device. it's poor battery life alone makes it a complete failure in this space, not to mention it's price. A clinical shift is 8 to 12 hours, not 3.something. We don't need much at all in terms of processing power - hospital electronic medical records run on Citrix farms and the Citrix receiver runs acceptably on the cheapest smartphone anyone can buy. I'm sorry, but from a healthcare perspective, iOS and Android devices make the Surface Pro look like a joke. Reply
  • jamawass - Wednesday, February 06, 2013 - link

    Are you mentioning productivity, then using facebook and light web as examples?
    Anand clearly stated in the article that the Surface pro isn't for that market but can be used as a laptop replacement so one can use real Adobe products not the kids' version on an ipad for example.
    Reply
  • JimTC - Wednesday, February 06, 2013 - link

    For consumption I'll stick with my iphone5 - i certainly am not interested in carrying around a bigger version of it.

    I'm looking for tools I can use. This one seems to be it (or at least getting there).
    Reply
  • DogmaHunter - Thursday, February 07, 2013 - link

    The "post-pc era" is marketing talk. It doesn't actually exist.

    Here's why: not a single person who has a smartphone or tablet threw out his laptop or desktop or is planning to do so.

    Tablets and smartphones do NOT replace pc's. At the very least, we are in the "pc plus era". And even that is stretching it imo.

    And tough to justify that price for media consumption?
    Here's the thing... Surface Pro is not a media consumption device. It can consume media, but so can my 4000$ desktop. Surface Pro is just a pc like any other.

    If people can justify the price they pay for a desktop, laptop or ultrabook... I see no reason they couldn't justify the price for Surface Pro.
    Reply
  • GotThumbs - Thursday, February 07, 2013 - link

    Based on your stated needs, it wouldn't make sense to purchase the Surface Pro unless you had money to burn or knew your future needs will need the power/flexibility of full program installs over Apps.

    But you could still save money and avoid Apple's Walled Garden by purchasing an Android powered tablet.

    Your choice at the end of the day,

    Best Wishes on your selection,
    Reply
  • Daeros - Tuesday, February 05, 2013 - link

    Seems a little steep for what you get... I think the Yoga 13 or MBA does better for the same amount of money, and several ultrabooks are a bit less if you don't need the "tablet" experience. Reply
  • DogmaHunter - Thursday, February 07, 2013 - link

    I bet you can't find me a single device with the same or comparable specs for much cheaper. Reply
  • Alucard291 - Tuesday, February 19, 2013 - link

    Which just means that all typical devices in this spec range cost roughly the same. So you start picking from other things, like battery life (which this piece of trash has none of) and screen quality (welp not this trash again too bad) and so on :) Reply
  • yesno - Tuesday, February 05, 2013 - link

    I appreciate the focus on performance, but what about the size, aspect ratio, and weight? The smaller size of the iPad mini, and the ability to read off it one-handed, makes it a better tablet than the iPad 4 in my usage. But it is creamed in every benchmark you could imagine.

    Whatever its performance, the Surface won't make a good tablet if its not comfortable to use as a tablet--even though this is much more subjective.
    Reply
  • LetsGo - Wednesday, February 06, 2013 - link

    Agreed, I'd love a true 8Inch portable Windows Pro machine.

    It should be under 700g if 10inch or greater this is no good.
    Reply

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