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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  • Netscorer - Wednesday, February 06, 2013 - link

    Anand, is it possible for you to clarify your statement that:

    <QUOTE>
    Wacom’s own tablets let you switch to mouse mode, allowing you to use the pen as a mouse to place your cursor wherever you want it. Pen mode is something you may or may not be able to get used to, but it’s worth pointing out that the inflexibility is a limitation of Surface Pro’s pen implementation.
    </QUOTE>

    Does this mean that included stylus can not be used to navigate Windows UI, i.e. use buttons, scrollbars, dropdown lists, etc?

    This is IMO a huge limitation that makes surface a nightmare to work with in a tablet mode if target program is not touch friendly.
    Reply
  • Death666Angel - Wednesday, February 06, 2013 - link

    That paragraph has nothing to do with normal desktop mode usage. It is about using the tablet as a Wacom graphic tablet. You can use the stylus as a mouse. Reply
  • The0ne - Wednesday, February 06, 2013 - link

    The stylus could be implemented to act like a mouse with more features. For example the S-Pen on my Note2 has buttons you can press and change to do what you want it to do. I don't think this is a hardware limitation rather than is there a market for it, demand, price and application support. Reply
  • Doominated - Wednesday, February 06, 2013 - link

    After removing things like the recovery partition, hibernation file, random installed apps, etc, you can EASILY reclaim enough space of the 64GB version to get to 40 GB of usable space. Office alone is 2.3 GB preinstalled to the machine, while the almost entirely useless Hibernation file takes up 3 gigs of space. Plus you could very easily get a 64 GB mSDXC card and mount it into an NTFS library, doubling your space for ~$50.

    And I think you're forgetting that you get a pen tip stylus with the tablet. Tapping "small icons" on regular desktop pages isn't going to be much of a problem, unless you're flat out the most uncoordinated person on the planet.
    Reply
  • Netscorer - Wednesday, February 06, 2013 - link

    A: Rearranging partitions is not a novice job. In fact, I would state that you need to have a pretty certain experience working around Windows 8 partitions to do what you said here.
    B: Removing hibernation partition on the Ivy Bridge-based tablet is inadvisable as you would not be able to go into deep sleep and would either have to shut down tablet every night or wake up to fully partially discharged device,.
    C: removing recovery partition means that you need to have an alternative way of rescuing Windows in case of corruption. Yes, you can create a bootable flash drive as an alternative, but this is again is not a job for novice users and can not be typically expected to be performed by a typical customer.
    Reply
  • sherlockwing - Wednesday, February 06, 2013 - link

    "B: Removing hibernation partition on the Ivy Bridge-based tablet is inadvisable as you would not be able to go into deep sleep and would either have to shut down tablet every night or wake up to fully partially discharged device,."

    Easy solution: plug in the charger if you are going to leave it on over night. If you can't charge then shut it off before you sleep.
    Reply
  • pmhparis - Friday, February 08, 2013 - link

    Even better solution: Glue the charger to the side of the device so that it is always charging....

    MS claims that Surface is the best of tablets wedded to the best of PCs. Removing some of the greatest advantages tablets have (their 10h use between charges, their ability to resume exactly where they were left without loosing context), exposes the falsehood is Microsofts claim.
    Reply
  • oolzie - Wednesday, February 06, 2013 - link

    I disagree completely. I thought this review was about as good as you can get because it gives actual facts. He didn't avoid mentioning any of the con's, but the storage is what it is. They give you options to remedy that and they were discussed. What more do you want?

    FWIW, Mouse mode with the stylus simply changes teh movement scale. You can still tap buttons, close windows, drag stuff just like you would with a finger, but with a tighter control point.
    Reply
  • remain_insane - Wednesday, February 06, 2013 - link

    STEAM...no one seems to be talking about STEAM and what it means for a tablet of this size with this hardware. I am not talking about playing demanding games, but free to play titles, indie game, FTL, dead light, these are all very playable on this hardware. Not to mention League of Legends which is arguably the most popular video/ computer game on the planet. This form factor encompasses the perfect college student life style. Note taking? Office, or hell open office? Visual studio? After that throw in some light indie gaming to kill some time and hook up to a larger display. I LOVED this review, probably the ONLY website that "gets" the surface pro, and where this product fits in. I wish the article did contain some more comparisons to Ultrabooks, including prices so people will understand that this is not just a tablet that is competing among tablets, that this is an Ultrabook in tablet form factor that can be used as such but at a cost of Ultrabook battery life. Reply
  • Netscorer - Wednesday, February 06, 2013 - link

    Steam games require keyboard/mouse to operate. Very few games are touch-friendly and those few that are have plenty of bugs because they are still built around mouse interface and not 'fat fingers' interface. Civ V is the only AAA title that has full touch support and optimization for Ivy Bridge-based ultrabooks. But given CPU usage in Civ 5 and very bad battery life in Surface Pro, you won't last the flight from Boston to New York playing it.
    For the rest of the games you'd better take out proper bluetooth keyboard and mouse combo and put Surface Pro on the desk.
    Anand mentioned that stylus, included with Surface does not support mouse tracking mode, so you can't even use it for simple flash based indie games on Surface.
    Very, very disappointing.
    Reply

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