Surface Pro: Arm or x86? The answer is not so simple

Microsoft Surface Pro X 13 inch Tablet

Microsoft

According to the rumor maker, Microsoft is about to reveal the newest member of the Surface family. If these leaks from Redmond are correct, the new Surface Pro 9 will offer an unusual configuration option: you’ll be able to choose between an ARM-based CPU or this year’s latest x86 CPU from Intel.

This is the funny thing, though. Microsoft has already been offering this option, sort of, for the past year or so with Surface Pro 8 (Supported by 11th Generation Intel Core i7) andSurface Pro X (Using an Arm-based Microsoft SQ1 or SQ2 processor, from Qualcomm). After using both devices extensively for the past few months, I still can’t decide which one is better.

reconsidering: Surface Pro 8 with LTE: Still in Love

Although the Surface Pro 8 and Surface Pro X are remarkably similar in terms of hardware, there are a number of small design differences between them. Each device has two USB-C ports, but they are on different sides. The surface connector is in a slightly different position on each model. The compartment for quick access to the NVMe SSD (and SIM card slot on the Pro X) is located on a different side under the kickstand on each model.

The Pro X is slightly thinner than the Pro 8. It’s also lighter, at 275g compared to 313g for the Pro 8. (This is the weight without the Type Cover.)

Since both my devices have a matte black chassis, it’s really hard to tell the difference between them without a closer examination.

But in the process, there were a lot of differences.

The biggest difference: battery life

You might expect the Arm-powered Surface Pro X’s battery life to be significantly better than that of the Pro 8. But the battery life observed on these two devices, as measured by the Windows Powercfg utility, isn’t much different: If you take the Surface Pro 8 on the road, I expect the battery to last about 6 hours. If I opt for the Surface Pro X, I’ll get just over 7 hours of use.

That doesn’t seem like much of a difference, does it? Ah, but these numbers are misleading. As you can see, the Pro 8 has a fairly hefty 50,230 mWh battery, while the battery in the Pro X is noticeably smaller at 38,200 mWh. (This also helps explain the difference in weight between the two devices.)

If the Surface Pro X had the same battery as the Pro 8, it would be reasonable to expect battery life to increase by 31.5% (the difference in battery capacity). That would translate to roughly 10 hours of real-time battery life compared to 6 hours for the x86 design. If the Arm and Intel versions of the Surface Pro 9 had the same battery size, it’s reasonable to expect similar differences.

Connection: slight edge of the arm

Surface Pro X includes a cellular option (with support for physical SIM and eSIM cards) for any model for an additional $150. if you want Mobile data on Surface Pro 8You will need to purchase from Surface Store for Businessand you’ll pay an additional $250 for the privilege.

also: eSIM vs SIM: What’s the difference?

I have used the cellular modem on my Pro X extensively, with a SIM card from T-Mobile. It was problem-free and a great alternative when I was on the road without Wi-Fi.

Cheap and easy storage upgrades

Historically, the Surface Pro has been a closed device completely hostile to any kind of user repair or upgrade. With the Surface Pro 8 and Pro X, Microsoft has made storage upgrades not only possible but easy. I picked up a file 1 TB SSD (NVMe, in M.2 2230 package)For just under $200. Microsoft charges $600 more for a Surface Pro with a 1TB SSD than the 256GB model. This is a very big saving!

Earlier, I mentioned the compartment under the bolster. On both models, you can remove the cover the same way you would open a SIM slot on a mobile phone, by pushing a SIM ejection tool (or a curved paper clip) into the small slot on the cover.

With that away, you need a file Torx T3 screwdriver To remove the only screw that holds the SSD in place. Pull the old drive out, insert the new drive, close the lid again, and use a recovery drive to install a fresh copy of Windows. It was a very easy process on both devices.

Compatibility: Welcome to the gotcha

Both machines run on Windows 11 very well, and I had no trouble installing The latest version, version 22H2. The x86 compatibility layer on the Surface Pro X is surprisingly good for the most part. It runs all the productivity software I usually use, including Microsoft Office, Adobe Acrobat, and Snagit. It even runs the Windows subsystem for Linux without complaint.

But often the compatibility issue rears its ugly head, as a reminder that Arm is not x86.

For example, when I was in Portugal a few months ago, I needed to use a VPN to convince some US based website that they should show you the content I subscribe to. I wanted to use a highly rated ExpressVPN, but as I found out after an hour or two of repair and Googling, network drivers don’t work on Arm based devices, and there’s no workaround.

In fact, drivers are the Achilles heel of the arm-based Windows operating system. Most x86 applications install and run fine, but the drivers must be compiled for Arm or it won’t work. This is true for networks, file system drivers, and devices. For example, I did not find it difficult to connect Logitech K400+ Stylish Keyboard/Touchpad Combo to Pro X via bluetooth, but I couldn’t get the config utility to work to modify the touchpad scroll direction.

Oddly enough, I was unable to boot the Pro X using a recovery drive with a USB Type A to Type-C adapter. This configuration works on the Surface Pro 8, but for the Pro X, it refused to boot. To restore the operating system, I had to create a recovery drive on a USB-C flash drive.

These are all fairly minor issues, the kind of annoyance you face every couple of months. As a primary productivity device, the Arm-powered Surface Pro X is a compelling case. As a general purpose PC alternative, these annoying compatibility issues can be a deal breaker.

And one final note: The Surface Pro 8 supports Thunderbolt; Pro X does not. This limits the Pro X’s docking and extending options somewhat, but this consideration is only relevant if you plan to use it as a desktop alternative. The Surface Pro 9 is supposed to offer Thunderbolt 4 support in both configurations.

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