Notebooks Guide

Microsoft Surface Pro (128GB) review

Microsoft Surface Pro - Showcasing the Vision

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Launch SRP S$1328

Overall rating 8.5/10
Design:
8.5
Features:
8.5
Performance:
8
Value:
8
Mobility:
8
THE GOOD
Extremely good build quality
Good performance (fast CPU, SSD, USB 3.0)
Supports digital pen input
Option to choose between two keyboards
Acts as the reference hybrid Win 8 device for other brands to measure against
THE BAD
Subpar battery performance
Clunky to use as a tablet
Lack of Wintab drivers for digital pen
Couple of software issues still present (Wi-Fi bug, desktop scaling issue)
Not as easy to use on the lap


Performance & Benchmarking (I)

Performance & Benchmarking (I)

Here's a quick recap: The Surface Pro uses the mobile Intel HM77 Express chipset, which integrates USB 3.0 on a single chip architecture. Like the Samsung Ativ Smart PC Pro, which is arguably its nearest rival in the Intel Core i5, Windows 8 hybrid device segment, the Surface Pro only has one USB 3.0 port. But Samsung offers a keyboard dock that comes with two USB 2.0 ports. As we know, the Touch and Type Covers have none.

The Surface Pro also features an Intel Core i5-3317U processor that runs at 1.7GHz, but with a maximum turbo frequency of 2.6GHz. This is a common 17W part used in many existing Windows 8 Ultrabooks. The Intel HD Graphics 4000 integrated graphics processor is of course no stranger to us as well.

 

6Gbps mSATA SSD

Unlike the Surface RT that uses an eMMC storage solution, the Surface Pro supports 6Gbps SSD (read: fast) in an mSATA format. While iFixit’s teardown of the tablet revealed a Micron RealSSD C400, ours came with (presumably) a Samsung PM830 OEM SSD instead; Device Manager identifies it as a Samsung MZMPC128HBFU-000MV. It’s no high-end SSD that’s for sure, but it’s still way faster than the eMMC-based flash memory storage system used by most tablets.

Like our Surface RT recommendation, we think it’s worth to top up the difference to get the higher capacity Surface Pro. That’s because the 64GB edition has approximately 30GB and the 128GB edition 89GB of storage space left for your own content; the rest of the space is taken up by the OS and bundled apps. One saving grace is that the tablets come with a microSDXC card slot for further storage expansion.

 

Fast Boot Times

The Surface Pro starts up in about eight seconds, and resumes from sleep mode in just under two seconds. The fast startup time is no doubt a result of Windows 8’s Fast Startup feature (the fast CPU and SSD help too) that saves system info to a file during shutdown, and uses that info when resuming the device, instead of doing a full system initiation. When we did a full shutdown (that is, running a ‘shutdown /s /f / t 0’ command), we got a boot time of about 12 seconds.

Another thing worth noting is that unlike the Surface RT, the Surface Pro doesn’t go into Connected Standby mode. In this mode, the device is still connected to the Internet, so even though it’s ‘sleeping’, it’s able to perform tasks like receiving notifications or downloading email. If you aren’t using the Surface Pro for a while, it’ll go to sleep just like any other notebook, and shut down its Wi-Fi connection. In a nutshell, the Ivy Bridge-based Surface Pro offers close to but not exactly the same instant on, always connected behaviors of currently shipping ARM-based tablets, like the Surface RT, iPad, and Android tablets. Connected Standby is supported by Intel’s next-generation Haswell platform (the other being the dual-core Atom Z2760, codenamed CloverTrail); without accident, we should see it on the second-generation Surface Pro.

And oh, unlike the Surface RT, you can’t wake the Surface Pro by opening your Touch or Type Cover; you’ve to press and release the power button.

 

Wireless

The Surface Pro doesn’t come with a LAN port, but has built-in support for Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n standards, in addition to Bluetooth 4.0, courtesy of a Marvell Avastar 88W8797 2x2 dual-band wireless radio chipset. And since the tablet uses a Marvell wireless adapter (Avastar 350N) and not an Intel wireless adapter, it won’t support Intel’s WiDi wireless display standard for streaming content to an HDTV.

Overall, Wi-Fi performance (both speed and range) is good, but not exceptional. What’s more important to highlight here is that the Surface Pro is also affected by the ‘Limited Connectivity’ Wi-Fi issue that has been plaguing the Surface RT since the latter’s launch, and which usually requires a reboot to resolve. The good news is that Microsoft has been pushing out firmware and driver updates regularly, and we’ve yet to see this problem crop up again on our Surface Pro since the March update.