Hardware

Surface Pro 3 teardown reveals fragile glass, redesigned interior

Microsoft's Surface Pro 3 is a solid step up from the original Pro, but this sleek laptop replacement is still very difficult to repair.

The Surface Pro 3 is thinner and lighter than last year's model. And it has a beautiful 12-inch display, new kickstand, and handy digital pen. It also has a completely redesigned interior. Unfortunately, the Pro 3 is still just as difficult to disassemble if not more so.

Given its size, weight, and hardware specifications, the Surface Pro 3 is more a convertible laptop than a tablet. The 12-inch display, stereo speakers, a microSD card slot, a full-size USB 3 port, a Mini DisplayPort, and two 5 megapixel cameras. It comes in a variety of CPU, RAM, and storage combinations and pricing starts at $799. At 1.76 pounds, it's heavier than your average tablet, but about the same as an ultrathin laptop. Like last year's Pro, the Pro 3 is well-built and feels sturdy in your hands.

Check out our full Cracking Open gallery for a complete walkthrough of the Surface Pro 3 teardown.

Unfortunately, it's just as annoying to crack open as the original Pro.

Cracking Open observations

surfacepro3teardown018.png
 Bill Detwiler/TechRepublic

  • Very difficult to open the case: The display/front panel assembly is attached to the back cover with adhesive, and the only way to open the case is to remove the panel. That means breaking out the heat gun, hair dryer or other warming device and very carefully heating the edges around the actual display.
  • Fragile front panel glass: Removing the front panel is a slow, tedious process and the glass covering the screen is extremely thin. I cracked one edge of the panel with just the slightest amount of pressure.
  • Redesigned interior: Microsoft completely redesigned the interior of the Surface Pro 3. Where the Surface Pro had two cooling fans, the new unit has one. The reworked main system board takes up significantly less space inside the case, the battery is no longer located under the board, and there aren't any mounting plates holding component in place.

surfacepro3teardown089.png
 Bill Detwiler/TechRepublic

  • Fewer, but still too many internal screws: Thankfully, Microsoft also used fewer screws inside the Pro 3 than than the earlier model, which has close to 100 screws. Unfortunately, there are still a lot of screws and they are all different sizes. As before, I recommend cataloging each screw's location as you remove it.
  • New, flat internal connectors: Several of the connectors inside the case are a kind I haven't seen before. They are held in place with screws and have a thin wafer board between the cable's connector and the motherboard. These connectors appear to be thinner than the more common "snap style" connectors.
  • Replaceable battery (sort of): The Pro's 42.2 Wh Li-ion battery isn't soldered to the motherboard and can be replaced. Unfortunately, there's so much glue holding it to the back cover, it is difficult to remove without damaging the battery. In fact, the battery is printed with the following warning "Do not separate or remove the battery from the backplate cover."

surfacepro3teardown083.png
 Bill Detwiler/TechRepublic

  • Modular components: Most internal parts, such as the cameras, speakers, power connector, and microSd card slot are separate components and can be replaced individually.
  • Fused front panel and display: Like the Surface RT and Surface Pro, the Pro 3's LCD and front glass panel are basically fused together and separating them isn't practical.

Good design and serviceability aren't mutually exclusive

When I disassembled the Surface Pro last year, I officially dubbed it THE worst device I've ever cracked open. And despite having a completely redesigned interior and few screws, the Pro 3 is still a real pain to service.

It's extremely difficult to remove the front panel, the front glass is extremely fragile, there are lots of different-size screws inside the case, and you can't really remove the battery.

Given that a well equipped Surface Pro 3 and keyboard, like our Core i5 test model, costs around $1,200, the same price as a laptop, it would make sense that the device be as repairable as a laptop. But it's not. Even on a MacBook Air, which Microsoft compares to the Pro 3 in it's marketing material, you can open the case without too much effort. (You do however need a special pentalobe screwdriver.)

I'm just disappointed that Microsoft couldn't find a way to make the Pro 3 both a solid device and one that's easily serviceable.

Hardware

Our Surface Pro 3 test unit has the following hardware:

  • 1.9 GHz Intel Core i5 i5-4300U processor
  • Samsung K4E8E304ED-EGCE 1GB LPDDR3 RAM (4 x 1GB = 4GB total)
  • SK hynix HFS128G3AMNB-2200A AD SSD (128GB)
  • Ntrig NS-P4196 DuoSense Controller Chipset
  • Winbond 25X20CL1G 2Mb Serial Flash
  • QIC1832-B98B P0BH66.00S-7 1412
  • Winbond 25Q128FVPQ 128Mb Serial Flash
  • Texas Instruments TPS51624 1/2-Phase Step-Down Driverless Controller
  • 97374M TI 441 A71T
  • Marvell Avastar 88W8897 wireless chip
  • Atmel ATMLH412 16CM B 3Y0346C
  • Texas Instruments TPS51367 12-A Integrated FET Converter
  • Texas Instruments CSD87351Q5D Synchronous Buck NexFET Power Block
  • Atmel ATUC256L3U 32-bit AVR UC3 MCU
  • ITE IT8528VG 1407-FXO SC0X1A
  • Infineon SLB 9665 trusted platform module
  • NXP CBTL06GP213six-channel multiplexer for DisplayPort, HDMI and PCI Express
  • Realtek RTS5304
  • Realtek ALC3264 Audio Codec

For more information on the Surface Pro 3, including real-world tests check out the full CNET review.

About

Bill Detwiler is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research and the host of Cracking Open, CNET and TechRepublic's popular online show. Prior to joining TechRepublic in 2000, Bill was an IT manager, database administrator, and desktop supp...

10 comments
TRgscratch
TRgscratch

I always read Bill's 'cracking open' columns and I appreciate his efforts.  I have no intention of ever trying any of this myself


But I wonder what is the attitude of the engineers who designed the thing he's tearing apart, when they read his article: anger? bemusement? confusion?

olngrumpy
olngrumpy

If legislation required disposable electronics to be marked as such, or disclosure of typical repair costs, we'd see some movement back to PC's and emergence of electronics that can be fixed.  Manufacturers trust that we marvel the looks and superfluous features and forget about repairs, etc.  Easy battery replacement is why I bought a Samsung Note 3; and it looks like I will replace the battery this fall (12 mos) as days per charge is getting shorter.

groon
groon

@adornoe "I paid $35 thousand for my SUV, and I wish that the vehicle was easily taken apart and serviceable too."

Yes, but I bet you can replace its battery! And its tires. And top up the windshield washer fluid. Wouldn't it be annoying if you couldn't replace the consumable parts of your vehicle without specialized tools, the manual dexterity of an elf, and the patience of a saint?
adornoe
adornoe

I paid $35 thousand for my SUV, and I wish that the vehicle was easily taken apart and serviceable too.

But, NO!!!, Ford had to go and make it so difficult, that only a service person can work on it. 


Let's face it folks.  The devices being made now for "computing purposes" and for media consumption, and for phoning/texting, are not being made to be serviceable by the regular folks out there.  So, why pretend that MS or Apple or Samsung or HP, or whoever, need to design them for easy servicing by John or Jane Doe.  The old days of the big desktop serviceability are gone.  Move on!

cioangel
cioangel

Let the pros break the thing apart. I want it to serve my needs. If breaking it apart demonstrates it can, I want one. Pethers is right. I appreciate all that glue inside. Sturdy enough to go where I want it to go. That being said, $1,200 or more smarts for just a disposable item. 

Mat-TASTIC
Mat-TASTIC

I understand the desire to have one of the most powerful and mobile PCs ever made be easy to disassemble. But if they had to cut a corner somewhere, I'm glad it was ease of removing the battery/too many screws/glue and not the pixel density/heat management/overall sex appeal.

pethers
pethers

I'm not sure exactly what you would need to 'service' in a tablet, other than perhaps replacing the battery. These devices are designed as disposable units. You can't have compact and light in a tablet without getting rid of some screws and adding glue.

smfrazz
smfrazz

@cioangel  I don't understand the desire to ALWAYS want to get inside these devices.  This always voids the warranty and when the device fails the warranty covers the (yes) replacement.  Apple did/does this for most of it's products as do most High-Tech electronics.

karlandre
karlandre

@pethers yeah but at $1299 and above it would be nice to be able to add more memory or upgrade the SSD drive. Just like a laptop.

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