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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  • Morgifier - Tuesday, February 05, 2013 - link

    The design of the (as yet unreleased) Asus Transformer Book seems preferable, with the external keyboard providing rigidity, additional battery life and extra storage. I wonder if Microsoft have considered this?

    Although I'm yet to use Windows 8, I do like the idea of device convergence...
    Reply
  • cmikeh2 - Tuesday, February 05, 2013 - link

    I totally agree with you that Transformer Book seems a lot nicer (especially with the bundled dock) but they're sort of in two different product classes since the Transformer Book (1.9 kg) is about twice the weight of the Surface Pro. Reply
  • althaz - Wednesday, February 06, 2013 - link

    If you want something that is three-in-one (desktop replacement, tablet, notebook replacement), the Asus or the Samsung ATIV with similar specs to the Surface Pro are a much better choice.

    For me though, I never, ever want to type with this thing in my lap. I want to watch videos or play games (mostly Football Manager) while I'm on the train. I want to hook it up to a bunch of XBox controllers and a TV for playing on the multitude of old-school emulator with my buddies, I want to plug a keyboard and mouse into it to play starcraft at my mate's place and my wife wants to surf the internet and play angry birds at home.

    I have a desktop at home and at work, this is for everything else which means I don't need the dock (the touch cover would be handy for typing things up when I'm say, on an aeroplane or on a holiday though), or the added weight and price it includes.

    I can't wait to get one of these!
    Reply
  • jeffkibuule - Wednesday, February 06, 2013 - link

    The Samsung ATIV Smart PC Pro has typical Samsung tablet build quality. I wouldn't touch that thing with a 10" pole. Perhaps their Ultrabooks are of better build quality, but the ATIV isn't it. Reply
  • LetsGo - Wednesday, February 06, 2013 - link

    Nothing wrong with my Samsung 7.7 Tabs build quality.

    When they update there 8" Note to a Octo-core I will get one, a tablet should be light therefore being made out of plastic is good design.
    Reply
  • B3an - Wednesday, February 06, 2013 - link

    Does anyone know when the Transformer Book is actually going to come out? Been waiting for this for ages. Asus are taking the piss. Might just go for Surface Pro. Reply
  • PubFiction - Wednesday, February 06, 2013 - link

    IMO, the whole point of surface was to bring to market something the other OEMs were not doing. Transformer is a great form factor, but so what ASUS whom is a big MS partner is already making it why would MS step in and build another transformer when one already exists? The draw to surface is the light ultra thin keyboard. But are you going to get the best typing experience from that? No, of course not, will it be better than typeing with the softboard? Yes.

    Surface brings one major thing to the table, the ultra thin tablet / laptop combo device. It can do everything, but of course in certain situations it will not be the best device. But compared to the price of other ultra books it is very good. It sports a good CPU, touch screen, digitizer etc. Ultimately you see an over abundance of negative posts which are simply stupid because they compare apples to oranges. People compare this to a mac book air, which has no, touch screen, no tablet mode, and no digitizer. Well duh if all you want is an ultra book then this isnt for you but its ridiculous to even bother comparing a device which is so different and lacks so many features.

    What we really need is for the OEMs to fill in the gaps in product lines not try to compete with each other in products that already exists. What we are still missing is a gaming level convertible. Alienware, samsung series 7 gamer, clevo et al. Lenovo has built alot of combinations of tablets and laptops but now we need something sporting at least a 660M that can flip into a tablet and has a built in digitizer.

    My biggest complaint with this device has to be the lack of slot for the digitizer pen, the big strength of surface was the compact all in one nature where the keyboard is not a clumsy accessory but an integral part of the device. The pen should have followed that lead.
    Reply
  • PubFiction - Wednesday, February 06, 2013 - link

    Of course the other issue is non remvable battery which means if you are dropping $900+ on this it wont last more than 2 years before the battery craps out like all sealed batteries. Reply
  • Netscorer - Wednesday, February 06, 2013 - link

    most ultrabooks have non-accessible battery. Not sure what your point is. If it is important to you to be able to access memory, storage, battery and other internals, buy a regular laptop, not a tablet.
    And realistically, batteries last more then two years. The performance may become degraded after some time but I've had batteries lasting 3-5 years on all my devices and by the time they are truly dead, the device is typically obsolete and needs replacement, anyway.
    Reply
  • spencer.p - Wednesday, February 06, 2013 - link

    That's true.

    I would recommend perhaps getting a Surface Complete warranty for it (if you get it from the Microsoft Store). $99 for two years of accidental, too.
    Reply

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