Off Topic - Microsoft Surface Pro II review

    I have to digress from my normal load test posts for a minute to talk about my new computer. I have been kicking around the idea of getting a tablet or a Surface or a slate of some type for a while, but I have held off because of my requirements for a machine. Whatever I bought, I wanted it to totally replace my current laptop (Lenovo W530) when traveling to customers. Given the power of the 530 and all of the things I do on the machine, that was a tall order. I run Visual Studio 2012 Ultimate, full SQL Server 2012, Hyper-V, Adobe Photoshop and InDesign CS5, Office 2013 (multiple Word and Excel docs open at the same time), Lync, and a few different ray-tracing applications from time to time.

    After reading all of the reviews on the new Surface Pro 2, I decided I would dive in a little further. The first thing I needed to see was the screen (no pun intended). Trying to do a lot of this work on a 1366 x 768 screen is next to impossible for me. I have too many windows and dialogs to really be effective (especially when I am developing code). I love having a full 1080p screen (which I do have on my Lenovo). I went to my local Best Buy and got my hands on one of the lower end Surface Pro 2 machines. The screen was really nice, and totally usable. Of course it did not have any of the tools I use, so how it would look in my world was still debatable.

    At the end of November I took the plunge and ordered one (8Gb RAM, 256Gb Drive)..... I was excited (I like my toys), but I was also skeptical (notice that I referred to it as a toy). I wondered if I could truly go a full week onsite with all of my work and not pull out the big boy. After a full week onsite with the customer, I had had the Lenovo turned on long enough to grab a few files I forgot to transfer over weekend. Other than that, it has not been touched. I LOVE THIS NEW MACHINE.

Item #1: The Screen

    The resolution is not an issue at all. Windows allows you to control the size of objects on the screen independent of the resolution, so even at full 1920 resolution, I can control how big or small the windows and text and buttons, etc. are. Therefore I get the full resolution for my code development and still have the controls large enough to easily use the machine.

Item #2: The Power

    I loaded SQL Server and put a 10+ Gb database on the system. I then fired up a reporting tool I am creating in Visual Studio and started running the tool in debug mode, with it making heavy queries against the SQL DB. The response times on the app were similar to the response times I am getting from my Lenovo. I have continued doing development work throughout the week this week and have had all of my other apps open and working in a typical fashion. I have not hit any snags or experienced any slowness.

Item #3: The Battery Life

    What I failed to mention in item #2 above is that I was doing all of that work with the system set to “Balanced” mode instead of “High Performance.” I was amazed that the system works fine like that. I am currently using a Bluetooth keyboard (my type cover 2 is on back order) and a Microsoft BlueTrack mouse. I also have my FitBit bracelet sync dongle plugged into the USB hub as well as an external hard drive that I plug in about half the time. With all of this, I am still going 5-6 hours before I plug in the power, which incidentally is NOT drained all the way down, so I could go longer.

Item #4: External Screen

    I had the machine in our Charlotte lab for a day last week and got to test the Miracast feature of Windows 8.1. Miracast is the feature that allows you to wirelessly project to another screen. Our lab has recently installed Netgear ptv3000 receivers on the public monitors, and I was able to connect to one without adding any software or drivers. I just brought up the charms bar, selected devices and chose to show projectors. The TV was listed. When I selected it, I got prompted to type in the code displaying on the monitor, entered it and then watched my screen show up in full 1920 resolution. VERY NICE!

The Surface connected to the overhead monitor with Miricast..

Item #5: The Power Brick

    The Surface Pro 2 comes with a small power brick (small compared to the 3 pound brick my Lenovo requires). This brick has the typical magnetic connector for the surface end, and uses an extender cable out the other end so that the brick itself does not have to fit into the outlet. The brick also comes with a USB port that is perfect for charging any USB device (like my Plantronics Bluetooth headset or my Nokia Lumia 920 Windows phone <geez, I sound like a walking advertisement>). The only downside to this setup is the magnetic connector for the power. The concept of the connector is not bad, but it is not as easy to get it aligned as I would like. However, I think I can live with that given all of the power and features this machine has.

Item #6: The Keyboard

    I got a Type-Cover II, which is backlit and has “clickable” keys. It is 10 times nicer that the Touch-Cover, especially since I am not a touch typist and need some sort of tactile feedback when I type. The keyboard is great, but (as with any thin portable keyboard) it is not terribly stiff so when I set the unit on my lap, I have to avoid resting the palms of my hands on the corners. The only real issue I have with the keyboard is the built in track-pad. While it does work, it is a bit awkward due to its size and the buttons at the bottom are finicky. That may just be me and my large fingers, but I don’t care because I use an external mouse 98% of the time. To help with using it in my lap and on airplanes, I bought a piece of 1/4" Aspen plywoord and cut a board that is 12.5” by 15.5” (I chose the size based on what would fit into my computer bag) and the Surfacer and mouse fit perfectly on it. The Type-Cover’s fuzzy back provides just the right amount of “grip” to keep the system steady on the board and the board is light enough to not add any appreciable weight to the bag.

The Surface and mouse sitting on the board on my lap.

In Conclusion:

    I have now made it through 4 weeks easily on this system, doing all of my work on it. I have had as many as 3 different instances of Visual Studio 2012 Ultimate, SQL Server, Adobe PhotoShop, Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Outlook, Microsoft Lync Adobe LightRoom and other applications all running at the same time with little noticeable difference in performance to my W530. The price tag for this machine is not slim, but given the power and the usability of this machine, I am very happy with it. I also purchased the 2 year extended warranty so that if I drop it (or the dogs decide to chew it up) I am covered. If you are a power user and are looking for the perfect mix between power and tablet, this machine is it!!!!!!