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Microsoft Surface Pro 6 review: Racing ahead of last year's model

Microsoft's Surface Pro 6 gets even faster, but be ready to pay for must-have extras.

Dan Ackerman Editorial Director / Computers and Gaming
Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications. "Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times
Expertise I've been testing and reviewing computer and gaming hardware for over 20 years, covering every console launch since the Dreamcast and every MacBook...ever. Credentials
  • Author of the award-winning, NY Times-reviewed nonfiction book The Tetris Effect; Longtime consumer technology expert for CBS Mornings
Dan Ackerman
4 min read

The Surface Pro has proven to be a tough act to follow. Microsoft has been the two-in-one standard bearer for the past several years, as successive generations of Surface Pro became the default idea of what a Windows tablet/laptop hybrid should be. But it's also been a hard idea to move away from, and the changes in the last few versions of the Surface Pro have been almost imperceptible, in both design and performance.


Microsoft Surface Pro 6

The Good

The Surface Pro 6's jump to new quad-core processors pays off in big performance gains. The new black color option looks cool. Still the best kickstand and keyboard for Windows tablets.

The Bad

Be ready to shell out extra for the keyboard cover, stylus and even for the new matte black design. CPU and color aside, it's a very minimal upgrade over the previous version.

The Bottom Line

The latest Surface Pro tablet doesn't make any radical design changes, but the performance jump makes it viable as a mainstream performance laptop replacement.

As if to remind us that this is indeed a new model, Microsoft has ditched the last couple of years of just calling this device Surface Pro and gone back to numbered versions, naming this the Surface Pro 6 (I had honestly lost count by this point). 

Sarah Tew/CNET

That's a good thing, because at least from the outside, it would appear that not much else at all has changed about the Surface Pro aside from its low-key new matte black color option. The Surface Pro 6 still has a screen bezel that's on this thick side, unlike many modern laptops , tablets and hybrids that are shaving screen borders down. It still sits awkwardly on the knee (or lap), and it still includes only minimal ports, without even the increasingly popular USB-C.

Still the best little touches 

At the same time, it also still has the best-engineered kickstand I've found in a tablet, capable of nearly (but not quite) 180 degrees of stable articulation. It still has a 3:2 aspect ratio on its 12.3-inch high-res display, which is great for reading and working on documents, thanks to more vertical headroom than the average laptop. 

Microsoft Surface Pro 6: See this 2-in-1 from every angle

See all photos

It also still supports the best clip-on keyboard in the (short) history of clip-on Windows tablet keyboards. But yes, before you ask, the keyboard still doesn't come included in the box, and it's still a major extra expense. The Pro covers are $159 for the blue, gray or burgundy versions, but fortunately only $129 (£124, AU$199) for the black version that matches the new black color option. 

The stylus, which Microsoft calls the Surface Pen, is unchanged, although also available in black, and it's among the best drawing and sketching tools for PC users outside of a full pro-level Wacom setup (and maybe even better in some cases). That's an extra $99 (£99, AU$139), but it'll work on any product in the Surface line. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

Surface Pro 6 configurations run from $899 to $2,299, depending on RAM, storage and processor options. Starting prices are £879 in the UK and AU$1,349 in Australia. But even the most expensive one arrives with only a naked slate in the box, no keyboard or pen (despite the fact that almost all of the marketing around Surface Pro involves seeing it matched with the keyboard and often the $99 add-on stylus). Likewise, the new black color is only available on a step-up $1,199 configuration with 256GB of internal storage (£1,149 or AU$1,849). That's an extra $300 for an additional 128GB of SSD space, which feels steep. 

Surface Pro 6

Price as reviewed $1,199
Display size/resolution 12.2-inch, 2,736x1,824-pixel touch display
CPU 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-8250U
Memory 8GB DDR4 SDRAM 1,866MHz
Graphics 128MB dedicated Intel UHD Graphics 620
Storage 256GB SSD
Networking 802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.1
Operating system Windows 10 Home (64-bit)

But even though the Surface Pro 6 looks and feels mostly the same on the outside, the biggest internal change is a very important one. Both the Surface Pro and Surface Laptop have both moved to eighth-gen Intel CPUs, and from dual-core chips to quad-core ones. The result is a huge boost in processing power, especially on multicore benchmark tests. I never felt the previous Surface Pro models were lacking in speed (not including the recent budget-minded Surface Go), but the new ones can now stand toe-to-toe with any current premium laptop.

Battery life is also better by a significant margin, adding just over 90 minutes -- but keep in mind we're going from a dual-core Core i7 to a quad-core Core i5 in our test units. This isn't in the same category as the dual-battery Surface Book 2 , but at 10-plus hours, it's more than enough for a full day of work and then some.  Note that these are preliminary battery life numbers, and we're conducting additional testing.


Using the Surface Pen stylus remains a great experience. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

Add-ons add up

Unless you're determined to get a 360-degree two-in-one like the Lenovo Yoga, with a keyboard that folds back behind the screen, the Surface Pro remains the best overall design for switching between laptop and tablet experiences. Picking which hybrid style suits you depends on your primary need. The Surface is a full-time tablet and part-time laptop, while Yoga-style systems are full-time laptops and part-time tablets.

Even though the latest Surface Pro lacks much in the way of new design or feature sizzle, it's my go-to Windows tablet, and the performance jump is especially impressive. The main thing to keep in mind is what the bean-counters call TCO, or total cost of ownership. The basic black model reviewed here, with its bigger SSD and add-on keyboard and stylus goes for a cool $1,427, which is a far cry from the advertised $899 starting price.

Geekbench 4 (multicore)

Microsoft Surface Pro 6 12488Lenovo Yoga 730-13 12191Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 11983Acer Switch SW713 Black Edition 11688Microsoft Surface Pro (2017) 8845Microsoft Surface Laptop (2017) 7176
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

Cinebench R15 CPU (multicore)

Microsoft Surface Pro 6 596Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 589Lenovo Yoga 730-13 504Acer Switch SW713 Black Edition 389Microsoft Surface Pro 368Microsoft Surface Laptop 328
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

Video playback battery drain test (Streaming)

Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 671Microsoft Surface Laptop 621Microsoft Surface Pro 6 606Microsoft Surface Pro 505Lenovo Yoga 730-13 501Acer Switch SW713 Black Edition 300
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance (in minutes)

System configurations

Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-8250U; 8GB DDR4 SDRAM 1,866MHz; 128MB dedicated Intel UHD Graphics 620; 256GB
Microsoft Surface Pro 6 Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-8250U; 8GB DDR4 SDRAM 1,866MHz; 128MB dedicated Intel UHD Graphics 620; 256GB
Lenovo Yoga 730-13 Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-8250U; 8GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,400MHz; 128MB dedicated Intel UHD Graphics 620; 256GB
Microsoft Surface Pro (2017) Microsoft Windows 10 Pro (64-bit); 2.5GHz Intel Core i7-7600U; 16GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,866MHz; 128MB (dedicated) Intel Iris Plus Graphics 640; 512GB SSD
Microsoft Surface Laptop (2017) Microsoft Windows 10 Pro (64-bit); 2.5GHz Intel Core i5-7200U; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1866MHz; 128MB (dedicated) Intel HD Graphics 620; 256GB SSD
Acer Switch SW713 Black Edition Microsoft Windows 10 Pro (64-bit); 1.8GHz Intel Core i7-8550U; 16GB DDR4 1,866MHz; 2GB Nvidia GeForce MX150; 512GB SSD

Microsoft Surface Pro 6

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 9Battery 9