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...

28 comments
VegasDon1
VegasDon1

I have successfully separated the digitizer glass from the led panel of my Microsoft Surface Pro with the use of very thin fishing string with each end firmly wrapped around a stick and my faithful heat gun. In order to separated them, you will have to tuck each  end of the fishing string beneath each opposite end of the digitizer glass, then with a saw like motion firmly pull the fishing string from top to bottom. You will need to secure the unit to a table or flat surface to prevent it from slipping. Works like a charm.

psmithers
psmithers

I for one, am glad to see tablets taken beyond the "toy" stage to one that an IT person or power-user can use. How easily you can break into it or judging it by how the internal board "looks" seems a bit harsh.

aandruli
aandruli

Joey and Larm don't get it. MS isn't in the business of throwing away money and this will cost you eventually. As time goes on, you might be "slipped" a rebuilt instead of a new, and the used value of this unit, a year from now, will be next to nothing because of this. MS never intended to throw away equipment they had to spend money on in the first place. Bad units will not just "disappear" and they will have a cost attached to them. Expect requests for warranty repair to have a high "denied" rate and have MS claim abuse so they can charge you for repairs.

jgmsys@yahoo.com
jgmsys@yahoo.com

They have no intention of allowing people to repair these things. It's not healthy to their business model, which revolves around selling as many as possible. So eliminate the ability to easily repair such items and force the market to buy new ones. They get to keep making money, and you get to keep losing it, be it through shoddy workmanship or designed obsolescence. Tablets are toys. I'd never swap my desktop out for one of these pathetic novelty items.

michael.higgins2
michael.higgins2

I am one that by Job description does do repairs on desktop, notebook, and anything else that is presented to me.

Richard Turpin
Richard Turpin

What relevance is a support techs opinion on a completed engineering design? What exactly are you trying to bring to the party?.........apart from destroying a perfectly good tablet and moaning that in your opinion it didn't fall apart as easy as you anticipated! Come on Bill surely you have better things to do than this.

heb9999
heb9999

IT shops would want to be able to repair vs. having to replace or return, especially if the device contained business or proprietary data and software. These devices should no more be considered disposable than desktops and laptops.

sbjiva
sbjiva

I was a PC Support many years ago and I can't believe people still do there own repairs in this day and age. RYOD...Repair your own Device. Besides I don't belive ease of repair was even a design consideration.

SHCA
SHCA

I'm with the other commenters. I'm a hardware engineer and my instincts are the same as yours - "let's see what makes this puppy tick". But home tinkering went out with 1960's Dodge Chargers.

cityboy3
cityboy3

Well I'm not a tech and I won't be working on this,so I will be buying one with the best warranty they have. Thanks for sharing this with us

ilcane
ilcane

Bill are you going to put it back together, and make it work ?. I would like to know.

Cayble
Cayble

Unfortunately, this is the kind of thing we get to read a lot of around here at ZDNet lately. A lot of complaints, not just about the Surface by any means, but little to no explanation of how you could improve upon things in a rational way that wouldnt skyrocket price or significantly compromise the design in some other important way. Articles like this just reek of one of two possibilities. Either the writer dosnt care enough either way to properly inform readers if the product they are looking at has better alternatives to its design and for what reasons, as in how its done better on a very similar product elsewhere, or this is as good as it gets for this kind of product and the writer is just sour grapes over the product and has their own motives for being negative. To illustrate the problem, here is how the article perhaps could have been written but wasn’t, and as a result, we don’t know much important about the actual findings of the writer: “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” And for all we know???. “Unfortunately, when trying to fit as much modern technology into a package this small there are not any better lightweight cost effective methods of sealing such a thing, so this is the best thing they could have done???.” “But Microsoft went a little crazy with the screws. There are dozens of them???” And for all we know??? “But once one really considers how the screw placements were decided, its pretty clear it was the right way to do things, and as we said, a lot better then glue..” “Unfortunately, there’s so much glue holding it (the battery)to the back cover, thats it’s difficult to remove.” And for all we know??? “But this is the way things have to be done in this tight of quarters when you want a replaceable battery, and you also want a design that’s better safe than sorry, again, well thought out???” “But as Jason Hiner wrote in his TechRepublic review, the Surface Pro “doesn’t quite stand out enough at either function.”(either a laptop or a tablet) And for all we know??? “But when you want a tablet that can actually perform much like a laptop, there is no other product on Earth that does it quite as well as a Surface pro, so despite its imperfections, for a product of its kind???its perfect as there is, and will probably be for some time.” Ummm???hold it a second, we do know the Surface Pro is the only tablet that performs like a laptop. As I said, its easy to leave things out when whats left out isn’t what you want the public to think about.

TOA-Gannzter
TOA-Gannzter

I feel like people don't use the full potential of MicroSD slots. Instead of paying the extra for the 128gb Surface Pro, why not by a good 64gb memory card on Amazon? I guessing you can then install some of your legacy apps straight to the memory card on the pro. I'm not buying a Surface Pro because I already committed to the RT and I love windows running an arm based processor with the concomitant great battery life. Now Microsoft should allow users choose install location from the market place already.

sonicsteve
sonicsteve

You've convinced me that I won't want to repair this device for people not even my own mother! I would love to see how compatible it is with running other operating systems, also how easy it would be to load up.

enderby!
enderby!

Maybe it is just less commonplace, but it really angers me to buy a device where I cannot replace the battery with a little effort once it is out of warranty. Mp3 players, phones, tablets, ereaders, it should not make a difference. So far I have only owned devices which, while not always easy, have been possible to repair at home with a little patience. $80+ to replace a worn out battery you can purchase for $3 is ridiculous. Teardowns like this do help some of us. I do not think he is trying to say don't buy one, just realize it may be dicey to do a simple repair on this when the warranty is up.

TsarNikky
TsarNikky

Like most toys, they are not designed to be repaired by the user. When broken, discard and buy another one.

olujab
olujab

Don't understand the purpose of this article apart from mislead people to think MS surface is not good enough. The bottom line is MS tablet beat any tablet in the market bar none. It can do anything all other tablets is capable of doing and has functions other tablet can not even dream of doing. I wonder how many percentage of tablet users have tried reparing or opening their tablet and how it is a point of decision on which tablet to buy. Can't remember any company in the past 8yrs i have worked for where the motherboad or component of a desktop or laptop is faulty and they wont rely on warranty and send it back. The most they do is either upgrade the memory. I am not saying once in a while you get someone in the support department that want to take aprt a device.

333239
333239

This is a series of articles where Bill compares how easy it is to open and self-repair various devices for those that are interested. He is only comparing the Surface Pro to the others he's done. He's not saying you [i]should[/i] open your device, void your warranty, worry about it, or anything like that.

Larmoyeux
Larmoyeux

I'm a reasonably technical person, but I would no more open the tablet case up than pick a fight in a cowboy bar. I don't take apart my drills either. If it breaks, I do the most logical thing and send it off to be fixed. I would not take apart my iphone, or my Dell laptop because it would void my warranty first, and second, what would an average person like me do with the darn thing open? Re-solder something? I agree with the other comments, be constructive, why focus a negative article on such an obscure reason to dislike a product.

alexisgarcia72
alexisgarcia72

Yes, I see lot of screws and a really hard to open design. But perhaps all this is need it!

alexisgarcia72
alexisgarcia72

Lot of screws, not easy to open, but.... I do not plan to repair the device, if damaged, I will use insurance or Squaretrade services. Easy. Microsoft is making the best effort. Come on! this is a "tablet" with a core i5!, is a full operating system in your hand!

bseddon
bseddon

Bill, I understand why you need to include the negative editorial but it seems to me they would carry more weight if the reviews came with "...what they could have done is...". You'd like them to use fewer screws. Why? What else should they have done without compromising some engineering or physical aspect of the device? They used too much glue. Why did the do that? What are the alternative? Anyone can take a device to pieces and bemoan what they find. It seems to me the challenging but educational thing to do is is make reasoned recommendations.

GrizzledGeezer
GrizzledGeezer

...meant to be thrown away, rather than repaired? The issue isn't so much how easily a product can be opened, but once it is, how easily the problem can be found and corrected.

Fravio
Fravio

That's why it is classified as an hybrid device

JoeyBurke
JoeyBurke

Won't this device, like all other tablets with which I'm familiar, be exchanged instead of repaired? I'm on my 3rd replaced iPad. It seems obvious from the description that MS never intended the unit to be repaired in the field.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

That Microsoft has adopted the Russian Production Model make a substandard device and make many more of them than you expect to sell and instead of repairing the ones that fail replace them. Sounds like Russia Won the Cold War to me as that is how most of the current generation of Companies work and believe that they are more profitable because of it. Col :^0

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

Where exactly did anyone imply that the Device pulled apart was destroyed? I don't know if you understand or not that it is possible to dismantle devices and reassemble them again without hurting them.

particularpart
particularpart

@HAL 9000  Same here! None of videos says how to reassemble surface pro. I am so worried doing that because the video said it was glue that they melt with dryer. Then I can I put it back? How about the little thing you separated from screen you main board? Is it a bit durable? or very easy to cracked? None of explanations help my questions. Feel like I need something more than this.

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