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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  • powerarmour - Thursday, February 7, 2013 - link

    I think you are missing the point...

    This is a Windows x86 product we are talking about here, something that we know will eat it's own disk space in temporary files and other junk.

    Android and iOS are a 'lot' more frugal when it comes to data usage.
  • finbarqs - Wednesday, February 6, 2013 - link

    I don't know what to expect... But it seems collectively, the surface has more bad reviews than good. In fact, anand wasn't even gung-ho about the device for the first half of the review. In fact, there are just the mentions of the limitation of what the surface is.

    So let's get one thing out of the way: battery life. average life I've read around the net is 3.5-4 hrs for regular usage -- which is probably worst than the yoga pad. Now i'm just thinking... doesn't the mbp have longer battery life then this? isn't the technology out there yet?

    The surface would've been a different story if it had better battery, and came out with data plan enabled -- your favorite LTE carrier. This will make people turn heads more. I was excited to get one this weekend, but I've been put off by all the negative press...
  • Netscorer - Wednesday, February 6, 2013 - link

    What did you expect from Ivy Bridge based design where battery has to be squeezed in the 10" tablet? I am actually quite surprised the battery results come in as high as being reported. 6 hours of browsing - that is very acceptable. 5 hours of video streaming is better then most ultrabooks on the market.
  • nathanddrews - Wednesday, February 6, 2013 - link

    This is a topic that I wish would get more attention. I've noticed screen tearing on nearly every Windows 7 and Windows 8 laptop when outputting to an external display, whether cloning or closing the lid. It doesn't seem to matter whether it's Intel, AMD, or NVIDIA graphics hardware or whether HDMI or VGA is used. Doesn't matter if hardware acceleration is enabled in the browser, the game, or video player, the tearing still occurs. The presence and application of Vsync doesn't seem to affect it either.

    The only consistent symptom is that it is sometimes worse than other times. I suspect that Windows desktop composition is to blame in some way, but I can't prove it.
  • dragonseer - Wednesday, February 6, 2013 - link

    I was waiting for the surface pro, but decided to get the Vaio Duo 11 instead because of a few extra connection options, such as ethernet, HDMI, and I appreciate the backlit slider keyboard... Sporting the same processor and complete with a stylus, I was a mystified by your closing statement that "If you’re shopping for an Ultrabook today and want that tablet experience as well, Surface Pro really is the best and only choice on the market." ???
  • Krysto - Wednesday, February 6, 2013 - link

    How many times did you redo your battery tests before you got those results, Anand?

    You usually get lower battery results than everyone else. But now you got some of the highest, while everyone else puts it at like 4h, at most.

    $1,000 for a device full of compromises, and thick and heavy as well is not worth it.
  • tipoo - Wednesday, February 6, 2013 - link

    I find myself wishing the Surface design team would make a proper ultrabook. It could still be a tablet with a flip back screen like the Lenovo Yoga, just make the form factor an actual ultrabook rather than a tablet with a stand. That way they could integrate a better keyboard and mouse and potentially have a bit more room for battery and cooling.
  • smalM - Wednesday, February 6, 2013 - link

    "Once again, with lower power hardware I see Microsoft being able to minimize this - but that’s a topic for Surface 2 Pro."

    And it will have to compete with the successors of iPad 4 and Nexus 10.

    "If you’re shopping for an Ultrabook today and want that tablet experience as well, Surface Pro really is the best and only choice on the market."

    That's a really small market place.
  • BSMonitor - Wednesday, February 6, 2013 - link

    Except, Ipad and Nexus can NEVER match a Microsoft tablet in one HUGELY important area for IT professionals, etc etc...

    x86 compatibility
  • Dekker - Wednesday, February 6, 2013 - link

    > x86 compatibility

    True, but that brings us to the core question: Is x86 compatibility a killer feature? I'm not convinced. Two reasons:
    1) Given that x86 software relies heavily on a keyboard and mouse, it is hard to see how the tablet form factor is going to work. Stuff like building spreadsheets and editing large documents is just torture on a tablet (I have tried and tried). I immediately grab my laptop or MBA.
    2) I use my tablet for browsing, email, casual gaming, light photo editing and internet shopping. All of these are easily done with apps, none of which require much investment in time, money or file conversion. In short, x86 is an irrelevance for many types of usage.

    While I could see some future for the PRO as a corporate tablet, the lack of LTE/3G must surely be a deal breaker for many.

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