Difficult-to-repair Surface Pro built more like an ultrabook than a tablet

Bill Detwiler cracks open the difficult-to-repair Microsoft Surface Pro and shows you how it's built more like a laptop or ultrabook than a tablet.

Bill Detwiler
3 min read

Watch this: Cracking Open the Microsoft Surface Pro

When Microsoft built the Surface Pro, the designers packed the power of an ultrabook in the body of a tablet. Unfortunately, they also made the device nearly impossible for a typical consumer or even an in-house tech to service and repair. On this week's episode of Cracking Open, I take you inside the Surface Pro.

Full TechRepublic teardown gallery: Cracking Open the Microsoft Surface Pro

More ultrabook than tablet
From a hardware standpoint, Microsoft's Surface Pro is more like an ultrabook or convertible laptop than a tablet.

The 10.6-inch display has a true 16:9 aspect ratio and a resolution of 1,920x1,080 pixels. It has stereo speakers, a microSD card slot, a full-size USB 3.0 port, a Mini DisplayPort, and two 720p cameras.

On the inside, it has a 1.7GHz Intel Core i5 CPU with HD 4000 graphics, 4GB of 1,600MHz DDR3 RAM, and a 42Wh battery.

Bill Detwiler/TechRepublic

For more information on the Surface, including real-world tests and pricing, check out Scott Stein's full CNET review.

The Surface Pro comes in 64GB and 128GB models, and I strongly recommend getting the larger one. In a statement to CNET, Microsoft said that out of the box, the 64GB Pro has only 23GB of available storage.

Given its laptoplike hardware, it's not surprising that the Surface Pro weighs a hefty 2 pounds, which is significantly more than other tablets. Like the Surface RT, the Pro is well-built and feels sturdy in your hands. Unfortunately, it's also much more difficult to disassemble and service.

Bill Detwiler/TechRepublic

Cracking Open observations

  • Difficult, time-consuming to open: The Surface Pro's front panel/display assembly is held to the tablet's body with very strong adhesive. To open the device, you'll need to use a heat gun, hair dryer, or other method to heat the adhesive tape and release the panel. This is a slow, tedious process. It took me nearly an hour. But if you rush, you risk damaging the tablet.

  • Too many internal screws: I was glad to find that most internal components were held in place with screws. This usually makes disassembling a device easier than if parts are attached with glue. But Microsoft went a little crazy with the screws. There are dozens of them, and they range in size from Torx T2 to T5. I highly recommend cataloging the location of the screws as you remove them.

Bill Detwiler/TechRepublic

  • Replaceable battery: The Surface Pro's 42Wh 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 that it's difficult to remove.

  • Modular components: Most internal parts, such as the headphone jack and volume button assembly, speakers, keyboard connector, power connector, and cameras, are separate components and can be replaced individually.

  • Fused front panel and display: Like the Surface RT, the LCD and front glass panel are basically fused together and separating them isn't practical.

Bill Detwiler/TechRepublic

Bottom line
After cracking open the consumer-targeted Surface RT, I hoped that Microsoft would make the more business-targeted, and nearly twice as expensive, Surface Pro easier to disassemble and service. It isn't.

In fact, Microsoft took one of worst tablet design elements (a glued-on front panel) and married it with one of the worst laptop elements (an overabundance of screws) to create a device that's more difficult to crack open than even the Apple iPad.

There's no denying that Microsoft is making a bold effort to bridge the gap between tablets and laptops with this device. But as Jason Hiner wrote in his TechRepublic review, the Surface Pro "doesn't quite stand out enough at either function."

A more detailed version of this story was first published on TechRepublic's Cracking Open.