Hardware

Difficult-to-repair Surface Pro built more like an ultrabook than a tablet

Bill Detwiler cracks open the difficult-to-repair Microsoft Surface Pro and shows you how it's built more like a laptop or ultrabook than a tablet.

When Microsoft built the Surface Pro, they packed the power of an ultrabook in the body of a tablet. Unfortunately, they also made the device nearly impossible for an end-user or even an in-house tech to service and repair. On this week's episode of Cracking Open, I take you inside the Surface Pro.

More ultrabook than tablet

From a hardware standpoint, Microsoft's Surface Pro is more like an ultrabook or convertible laptop than a tablet.

The 10.6" display, has a true 16:9 aspect ratio and a resolution of 1,920 by 1,080. It has stereo speakers, a microSD card slot, a full-size USB 3.0 port, a mini DisplayPort, and two 720p cameras. On the inside, it has a 1.7GHz Intel Core i5 CPU with HD 4000 graphics, 4GB of 1,600MHz DDR3 RAM, and a 42 Wh battery. For more information on the Surface, including for real-world tests and pricing, check out Scott Stein's full CNET review.

The Surface Pro comes in 64GB and 128GB models, and I strongly recommend getting the larger one. In a statement to CNET, Microsoft said that out of the the box, the 64GB Pro has only 23GB of available storage.

Given its laptop-like hardware, it's not surprising that the Surface Pro weighs a hefty two pounds, which is significantly more than other tablets. Like the Surface RT, the Pro is well-built and feels sturdy in your hands. Unfortunately, it's also much more difficult to disassemble and service.

Cracking Open Observations

  • Difficult, time-consuming to open: The Surface Pro's front panel/display assembly is held to the tablet's body with very strong adhesive. To open the device, you'll need to use a heat gun, hair dryer, or other method to heat the adhesive tape and release the panel. This is a slow, tedious process. It took me nearly an hour. But if you rush, you risk damaging the tablet.
  • Too many internal screws: I was glad to find that most internal components were held in place with screws. This usually makes disassembling a device easier than if parts are attached with glue. But Microsoft went a little crazy with the screws. There are dozens of them, and they range in size from Torx T2 to T5. I highly recommend cataloging the location of the screws as you remove them.
  • Replaceable battery: The Surface Pro's 42Wh 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, thats it's difficult to remove.
  • Modular components: Most internal parts, such as the headphone jack and volume button assembly, speakers, keyboard connector, power connector, and cameras are separate components and can be replaced individually.
  • Fused front panel and display: Like the Surface RT, the LCD and front glass panel are basically fused together and separating them isn't practical.

Bottom Line

After cracking open the consumer-targeted Surface RT, I hoped that Microsoft would make the more business-targeted, and nearly twice as expensive, Surface Pro easier to disassemble and service. They didn't.

In fact, they took one of worst tablet design elements (a glued on front panel) and married it with one of the worst laptop elements (an over abundance of screws) to create a device that's more difficult to crack open than even the Apple iPad.

There's no denying that Microsoft is making a bold effort to bridge the gap between tablets and laptops with this device. But as Jason Hiner wrote in his TechRepublic review, the Surface Pro "doesn't quite stand out enough at either function."

Internal Hardware

Our Surface Pro test unit had the following hardware:

  • 10.6" Color TFT active matrix LCD (LTL106HL01-001)
  • LG Escalade 7.4V, 42Wh Li-ion battery
  • Delta Electronics KDB04105HB DC Brushless fan (x2)
  • 64GB Micron RealSSD C400 mSATA
  • 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U Processor
  • Intel Mobile HM77 Express Chipset
  • Marvell Avastar 88W8797 MIMO Wi-Fi/Bluetooth/FM wireless chip
  • Winbond 25X05CL Serial Flash
  • Winbond 25Q64FV Serial Flash
  • Novatek NT96132QG46
  • Fairchild Semiconductor FDMS7608S 30V Dual N-Channel PowerTrench MOSFET
  • Micron 1,600MHz DDR3 (4Gb 3AEI2 D9PXV x8 - 4GB total)
  • Infineon SLB 9635 TT 1.2 Trusted Mobile Platform (TPM) Security Chip
  • ITE Tech IT8519G
  • Winbond 25X40CL Serial Flash
  • Atmel UC256l3U 32-bit AVR microcontroller
  • Atmel MXT1386E Touchscreen Controller
  • Atmel MXT154E Touchscreen Controllers
  • ON NCP6132A Dual Output 3 Phase & 2 Phase Controller with Single SVID Interface
  • Realtek ALC3230 Audio Codec

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...

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