Surface Pro 3 teardown reveals fragile glass, redesigned interior

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, a new kickstand, and a 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.

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Given its size, weight, and hardware specifications, the Surface Pro 3 is more a convertible laptop than a tablet. The Pro sports a 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.

For more information on the Surface Pro 3, including real-world tests check out the full CNET review.

Unfortunately, it's just as annoying to crack open as the original Pro.

Cracking Open observations

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Bill Detwiler/TechRepublic

  • 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.

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Bill Detwiler/TechRepublic

  • Fewer, but still too many internal screws: Thankfully, Microsoft also used fewer screws inside the Pro 3 than than in 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 lithium 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."

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Bill Detwiler/TechRepublic

  • 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 fewer 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 its 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.

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About the author

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 support specialist in the social research and energy industries. He has bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Louisville, where he has also lectured on computer crime and crime prevention.

 

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