February 13, 2013

Microsoft Surface Pro Teardown - Premium Parts, Not Enough Memory or Battery


Though we haven’t put Microsoft’s Surface Pro through any hands-on evaluations relative to its software – full Windows 8 Pro, full Office, and essentially any new Windows 8 software or literally all older Windows 7 software – we know what to expect of it based on testing Windows 8 on several Ultrabooks.

The “Pro” in Surface Pro means that the tablet runs the big brother Windows, of course, and from what we’ve been able to tell based on limited in-store experiences, it works pretty damn well as a big brother Windows machine.

We’re particularly fond of the display, which is a great size, as well as rich and vibrant in our humble opinion, and which more than holds its own when compared to our 4th gen iPad. Yes, the iPad is slick – it wins hands down as far “ultimate tablet design” is concerned, but the Surface Pro has its own undeniable aura of cool about it – as well as a few features we miss having on the iPad – microSD card memory support, full USB 3.0, pen (stylus) and pen input, and so on.

Here’s the critical thing: an iPad is an entity unto itself, a tablet experience that even today remains singular within the “post-PC” space it has defined for itself. But the Surface Pro is a tablet that is also a true enterprise-capable working laptop.

There is one caveat on that however: when we say this, we explicitly mean a Surface Pro equipped with the full Type Cover keyboard.

Let’s leave aside notions of the Surface Pro being too lightweight to replace a laptop or to compete head on with Ultrabooks. We believe the Surface Pro benefits greatly from its intimate connection to so many enterprise “Windows things” (back ends, Exchange, etc.) that it offers a compelling laptop alternative to anyone that doesn’t need a Eurocom Panther 4 Supercomputer sitting on their laps.

We’re not convinced that the basic 64 GB model makes sense for a Surface Pro; the 128 GB model, we believe, should have been Microsoft’s “basic” choice and Microsoft should have delivered it at the $899 price point, with additional increments available to at least 256 GB. In the meantime, Apple has decided to deliver a 128 GB iPad, which we’ve covered previously and toward which we believe Microsoft must act aggressively from a sales and marketing perspective.

A 128 GB iPad does suggest Apple isn’t taking the Surface Pro lightly. Apple has a lot of penetration in the enterprise at this point, but that market share hasn’t been due to Apple overtly marketing iPads as enterprise hardware. We believe that tune (or iTune perhaps) will need to change going forward.

The Teardown

Although iFixit, which provided the teardown, doesn’t provide detailed parts lists or cost of goods lists, it is usually first out of the door with taking toys apart. We won’t go through the entire teardown here – it is available, along with copious and sometimes irreverent notes, at iFixit. We love going through that sort of stuff.

If you’re less inclined to be interested in the myriad pieces, let’s start with iFixit getting beyond the Surface Pro’s display, which is heavily glued to the body and very difficult to remove or replace.

The next interesting thing for us is the Surface Pro’s Micron SSD drive, in this case the 64 GB model shown below.

As we noted above, we believe that Microsoft should have looked to deliver a more aggressive “basic” profile. We’ll add that we believe Microsoft could have accomplished a significant “seeding of the market” here with a 128 GB model priced at $899.

One major complaint from reviewers has been the lack of available4 battery power – the Surface Pro eats up power at a great rate and is not able to deliver anywhere near the 5+ hours of battery life an Ultrabook must deliver to earn the Ultrabook branding. As iFixit makes clear, this lack of battery power isn’t due to the LG-sourced battery itself, which iFixit calls the “Cadillac of batteries.”

Rather, the Surface Pro has a great deal going on to deliver on the full scale laptop experience. Microsoft is currently exploring ways to solve this, including offering a cover that also sports a large battery. The Surface Pro weighs in at two pounds – it has heft, so a battery-equipped cover isn’t ideal.

It remains to be seen how the battery issue will ultimately be resolved.

Another thing iFixit notes is that the battery, like the display, is heavily glued to the back cover. We suspect the heavy gluing kills interference in some way, though iFixit doesn’t understand why any glue, let alone a heavy use of it is needed.

What it suggests to iFixit is that for a battery replacement, Microsoft is thinking along the lines that it will replace the entire back cover.

Finally, below is the entire final disassembled Surface Pro.

What does the teardown lead iFixit to conclude? Two things: the Surface Pro is well made, and does not skimp on parts. But iFixit also notes that the tablet actually uses more than 90 total screws in its construction, apparently a rather large number. Screws are far easier to deal with than heavy applications of glue but they are time consuming to both remove and then replace.

All in all, with the number of screws, the heavily glued batteries, and the heavily glued display, iFixit gives the Surface Pro a repairability score – on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being easiest to repair - of…1. The 4th gen iPad, in contrast, received a repairability score of 2. So in truth, no contrast at all. Both are tough to repair.

Regardless, the Surface Pro is a tablet businesses will need to give strong consideration to.




Edited by Braden Becker



Related Tags

Microsoft    Apple    Tablet
Software       

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