Microsoft

Microsoft Surface built solid, but design lacks polish

Bill Detwiler cracks open the Surface for Windows RT. Inside Microsoft's tablet, he finds easy-to-replace components, but an often-annoying hardware layout.

With its built-in kickstand, keyboard cover, and Windows 8 OS, Microsoft's Surface with Windows RT is definitely a unique tablet. But, that's just on the outside. What about on the inside? On this week's episode of Cracking Open, I take you inside the Surface for a look at the hardware that runs Microsoft's tablet.

From a hardware standpoint, there's a lot to like about the Windows RT version of the Surface. The 10.6 inch, IPS screen has a true 16:9 aspect ratio and a resolution of 1,366 x 768. It has left and right speakers, Micro-HDMI output, a full-size USB 2 port, microSD card slot, and 720p front and rear cameras.

Microsoft didn't skimp on the internals either. It has a quad-core, Nvidia Tegra 3 processor, 2GB RAM, Bluetooth 4.0, Wi-Fi, and comes in either 32GB or 64GB models. It's slightly heavier than the 3rd generation Apple iPad and Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1, but only by a few ounces.

For more information on the Surface, including real-world tests, pricing, and first impressions of Windows 8, check out Eric Franklin's full CNET review.

Overall, it's well-built and feels sturdy in your hands. And thankfully, you don't need a heat gun to crack open the case.

Full teardown gallery: Cracking Open the Microsoft Surface with Windows RT

Cracking Open Observations

  • Time-consuming, but not difficult to open: You won't need a heat gun to crack open the Surface. You will need a Torx T5 screwdriver and a lot of patience. Nineteen screws hold the kickstand and back cover in place.
  • Replaceable battery: The 7.4V 31.5Wh Li-ion battery pack isn't soldered to the motherboard, but it is glued to the back panel. Luckily, the glue isn't very strong, and I was able to pry the battery away from the cover without damaging either component.
  • Modular components: Many internal parts, such as the headphone jack/volume button assembly and speakers, are separate components and can be replaced individually.
  • Fused front panel and display: In the past, I've criticized manufacturers for fusing a device's LCD panel to the front glass. If one component breaks, you must often replace both. But having spent too much time removing tiny pieces of dust from between the two, I've changed my mind.
  • Construction annoyances: Having dissected dozens of tablets and smartphones, I've seen good designs (Galaxy Note 10.1) and a few not-so-good ones (HTC Flyer)—at least from a cracking open and repair standpoint. The Surface is better end of the spectrum, but it isn't without a few minor issues. First, the number of screws on the back cover seems a bit excessive. Second, the battery must be disconnected during the cover removal process. Third, you can't easily remove the keyboard cover connector without separating the LCD panel from the front glass. Fourth, the wire soldered to the underside of the motherboard seems like a break waiting to happen.

Bottom Line

The Surface with Windows RT is well-built but the internal design lacks refinement—see my comments on construction annoyances. And while it isn't the most-difficult-to-crack-open tablet I've worked on (that title still goes to the iPad), it's not a cakewalk either. Hopefully, the Surface with Windows Pro, which is aimed at businesses, will be more repair-friendly.

Internal Hardware

Our Surface with Windows RT test unit had the following hardware:

  • 10.6 inch Samsung LTL106AL01-002 IPS LCD panel (1,366 x 768)
  • Quad-core NVIDIA Tegra 3 T30 SoC
  • Micron 2GB DDR3 SDRAM (2QE72 D9QBJ x 4)
  • Samsung 64GB NAND Flash
  • Wolfson 8962E audio codec
  • Cypress CY8C20466A CapSense touchscreen controller
  • 720p front and rear cameras
  • Texas Instruments MSP430G2 Mixed Signal Microcontroller (M430G2402)
  • Atmel mXT1386 touchscreen controller
  • Atmel mXT154 touch controllers x3 (MXT154E)
  • Texas Instruments TPS659110 Power Management Unit with DCDC Controller
  • Linear Technology 2H 3633 B6773
  • Winbond 25Q32BV 32Mb serial flash memory
  • IDTV 103 8BVG Z1223N R18248MY BL
  • Marvell Avastar 88W8797 Integrated 2x2 WLAN/Bluetooth/FM Single-Chip SoC
  • RFMD RFFM8200 3.3V, 2.4GHz 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi Front End Module (FEM)
  • RFMD RFFM8500 3.3V, 5GHz 802.11a/n Wi-Fi Front End Module (FEM)

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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