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.
Unfortunately, it's just as annoying to crack open as the original Pro.
Cracking Open observations
- 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.
- 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."
- 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.
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.