Microsoft Surface is a series of premium 2-in-1 PC devices created and sold by Microsoft. First launched in 2012, the Surface family combines the power of a laptop with the portability of a tablet. This article will dive into the history, major devices, performance benchmarks, use cases, pros and cons, and future outlook for Microsoft’s innovative Surface lineup.
Brief History of Microsoft Surface Origins
The first Surface tablets were conceived in the late 2000s as a way for Microsoft to showcase Windows capabilities in new portable form factors. After developing the initial Surface RT and Pro models in 2011-2013, Microsoft steadily refined the hardware and positioning over successive generations.
The Surface RT offered a lightweight Windows on ARM experience, while the Surface Pro delivered full PC performance in a tablet design. Early models faced challenges with mobilizing Windows and marketing the difference between the RT and Pro lines. But Microsoft Surface established itself as a premium device brand and catalyzed the 2-in-1 category.
New models like the Surface Pro 3 in 2014 and the innovative Surface Book with a detachable GPU in 2015 further pushed the boundaries for the Surface as a laptop replacement. Under CEO Satya Nadella, Microsoft Surface has continued to highlight Microsoft’s integrated hardware and software vision. The line has expanded to target professionals, students, and creators.
Main Types of Surface Devices
There are four major product lines within the Surface family, spanning different forms and price points:
Surface Pro Tablets
The Surface Pro series are compact Windows tablets with built-in kickstands and thin detachable keyboard covers. They run the full desktop version of Windows and aim to replace traditional laptops for professionals on the go.
The Microsoft Surface Pro provides laptop-grade performance powered by Intel U-series Core processors in a thin and light tablet form factor starting around 1.7lbs. Display sizes have ranged from 12.3” up to 13” on the latest models. Storage and memory capacities have steadily increased over successive Surface Pro generations, going up to 1TB and 16GB on current devices.
Surface Laptops are Microsoft’s line of premium traditional clamshell notebooks with touchscreen displays. Designed to be slim, lightweight and portable, the Microsoft Surface Laptop directly competes with offerings from Apple, Dell, HP and other premium ultrabook makers.
The Surface Laptop highlights the best of Windows 10 and 11 in an elegant notebook package. It comes in consumer and business-focused configurations up to Intel Core i7 processors, 32GB RAM, 1TB storage, and AMD or Nvidia discrete graphics options on select models. Display sizes include 13.5” or 15” touchscreens with high pixel density.
Surface Book 2-in-1s
The Surface Book takes the 2-in-1 concept to the next level with a display that completely detaches into a tablet, while the keyboard base contains additional components like a discrete GPU. This novel “dynamic fulcrum” hinge design enables graphics and gaming performance not found in other convertible devices.
With its premium starting price, the Microsoft Surface Book is clearly targeted at creative professionals, artists, engineers, developers and other users who appreciate the flexibility of pen-based drawing and touch but also need serious processing power for intensive tasks like 3D modeling, video editing or software development. Models like the Surface Book 2 have further refined the formula.
Surface Studio All-In-One
At the high end, the imposing 28” Surface Studio is an all-in-one desktop aimed squarely at creative professionals. Its massive PixelSense touchscreen display can tilt down into “studio mode” for convenient digital drafting, designing and editing workflows.
Packing desktop-grade Intel Core X Series processors and Nvidia GeForce GTX graphics, the Surface Studio is built for performance. It replaces the traditional AIO PC concept with a beautiful modular design built around the needs of artists, photographers, designers and others. Touch, pen and Microsoft Surface Dial integration allow for incredibly natural creative work compared to using a keyboard and mouse alone.
Notable Surface Hardware Features
Several signature features define Microsoft Surface devices across the product lineup:
Premium Build and Design
Magnesium builds, sleek industrial design, precision crafted hinges and edges, and custom 3:2 aspect ratio displays give Surface products a distinctive high-end yet minimalist feel. Microsoft pays close attention to ergonomics and detail. The build quality is evident from the first touch.
High-Res Touchscreen Displays
Vivid PixelSense touchscreen displays with high pixel density and custom resolutions have been a Surface hallmark since the beginning. Display specifications continue improving with each generation. Microsoft Surface screens really make touch interactions, inking and pen usage feel fast and natural.
Ports for Connectivity
A thoughtful mix of cutting edge and legacy ports enables versatility across Surface devices. Full size USB-A, Mini DisplayPort, USB-C, Surface Connect and more allow you to connect external displays and a wide array of accessories new and old. Thunderbolt 3 and Wi-Fi 6 provide lighting fast connectivity.
Cameras and Sensors
Front and rear HD cameras, studio mics, accelerometers, gyroscopes, and ambient light sensors power video calls, photos, Windows Hello biometric face login, automatic screen rotation/orientation, and control of display brightness/color. The Surface Pen experience is further enhanced by interactivity sensors.
Surface Performance and Benchmark Results
Let’s dig into some key performance metrics and benchmarks:
CPU and RAM Configurations
Current Microsoft Surface devices offer Intel 10th, 11th or 12th generation Core i5 or i7 U-Series processors optimized for power efficiency. Some specialized models like the Surface Studio 2 use more powerful 45W H-Series chips. RAM options go up to 32GB on high end configurations. This hardware competes well with top-tier ultrabooks and MacBooks for everyday office usage.
Graphics and Gaming Abilities
Lower end Surface models rely on Intel integrated Iris Xe graphics, which is sufficient for tasks like 4K video editing, light CAD, GPU acceleration in creative apps, and some modern games at low resolution and graphics settings. The Surface Book line and Surface Studio stand apart with their discrete Nvidia GeForce and Quadro GPUs capable of serious creative workflows, VR and moderate gaming. A dedicated gaming PC or eGPU is still required for maxed out settings in intensive AAA games.
Battery Life Testing
Lab benchmarks show most Microsoft Surface devices achieve between 6 to 8 hours of active web browsing, document editing and general productivity use per full charge. Video playback or very light use extends towards the full advertised 10+ hours. Results vary heavily based on screen brightness, workload, settings, accessories connected, and other factors. Overall battery life is competitive with comparable premium ultrabooks.
Surface Use Cases and Target Markets
Due to their versatility, Microsoft Surface devices cater to several key markets:
Students and Education
Touch capabilities, pen integration for inking, and portability make Surface ideal for K-12 and college students as a digital replacement for pen and paper. The Surface Pro, Surface Go and Surface Laptop lines have proven very popular educational tools both for school provisioning and among individual students. Educators also utilize Microsoft Surface frequently.
The Surface Pro’s laptop-grade performance combined with a tablet form factor suits professionals who frequently travel or work remotely. Lawyers, executives, consultants, salespeople and other mobile workers benefit from Surface’s versatility for productivity on the go. The keyboard cover and touchscreen provide options for work versus presenting.
Creators and Designers
Higher end Surface Book models and the Surface Studio appeal to graphic designers, architects, engineers, developers, animators and other creative professionals who rely on potent GPUs and seamless pen interfaces to bring concepts to life. Surface Studio in particular revolutionizes creative workflows.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Surface
Where Surface Excels
- Sleek premium hardware quality and aesthetics
- Leading touchscreen technology enhanced by Surface Pen
- Innovative designs and versatile 2-in-1 form factors
- Tight integration between Surface hardware and Windows OS
- Serious processing power for creative and productivity workflows
Areas for Improvement
- High starting prices less affordable for budget-conscious buyers
- Limited repairability and restrictively soldered components
- Tablet ergonomics can feel unbalanced at times
- Reliability issues plagued some earlier models
- Fans get loud when gaming or under heavy loads
Competition from Other Brands
The success of Microsoft Surface has led all major PC manufacturers to offer competitive Windows 2-in-1 devices often at more affordable price points. Standouts include Dell’s XPS line, HP’s Spectre and Envy models, and Lenovo’s ThinkPad and Yoga devices. Apple remains dominant among creative pros invested in the Mac/iOS ecosystem.
The Future of Microsoft Surface
Possible Upcoming Innovations
In the near term, Microsoft Surface could see larger 14” and 15” notebook form factors, ARM-based processors for always-connected mobility, Thunderbolt 4 adoption, and design refinements like thinner bezels. Dual-screen, foldable, and cloud-focused concepts like the Surface Neo point toward radical form factors on the horizon.
Comparison to Rival Devices
Looking ahead, Surface will need to maintain its premium build quality, Windows software integration, and hardware innovations to stand out from improving rival 2-in-1 devices. Apple continues innovating quickly with its new M-series chips and mini-LED backlit displays. Qualcomm and Apple Silicon also threaten Intel’s dominance in Microsoft Surface devices.
Microsoft Surface devices continue pushing boundaries in the premium 2-in-1 computing category first sparked by the original Surface Pro. Tightly integrating boundary-pushing hardware, custom software experiences, and the power of Windows itself, the Surface line exemplifies Microsoft at its best. While pricing restraints curb mass adoption, Surface stands ready to deliver the future of mobile productivity.
What are the four main Surface product categories?
The Surface Pro detachable tablets, Surface Laptop notebooks, Surface Book convertibles, and Surface Studio AIO cover the range from portable to desktop.
How does the Surface Pro compare to the iPad Pro and MacBook Air?
It offers more versatility via keyboard cover and full Windows, but iPad Pro has better tablet ergonomics. MacBook Air provides a cheaper but less touch-friendly macOS option.
Can you game on a Surface Book?
The Surface Book is capable of running many modern games respectably thanks to its discrete Nvidia GPU, but a dedicated gaming laptop would provide better performance and value for serious players.
Is it possible to upgrade memory or storage internally on Surface models?
Unfortunately, the internal components are soldered and not designed for end user upgrades after purchase. External accessories can help expand capabilities.
What are some must-have accessories for Surface owners?
The Surface Pen for inking, Surface Arc Mouse for portability, docking stations for desktop expansion, Type Covers for tablets, and USB-C hubs are very useful add-ons tailored to Surface.