Microsoft Surface Pro 4: Initial thoughts and benchmarks for the (fanless) Core m3 model

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Gizmag takes a first look at the Core m3 (entry-level) version of Microsoft's Surface Pro 4(Credit: Will Shanklin/Gizmag)

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We took an early look at the Surface Book this week, but what about Microsoft's more traditional 2-in-1, the Surface Pro 4? We got our mitts on one of those too, and, before we run our full review, we have some initial thoughts on the fanless entry-level model.

Most Surface Pro 4 coverage we've seen so far has focused on the Core i5 or higher models. And that's not a bad approach. Before using this model, we recommended most Surface buyers throw down the extra Benjamin for the more powerful (US$999) Core i5 model.

But so far we're pleasantly surprised with the performance of this ($899) fanless Core m3 Surface. For starters, our Core i5 Surface Book review unit has been blowing its fan nearly non-stop (loudly), to the point where we're tempted to recommend it as a white noise machine to help you sleep at night (update: the Surface Book's heating and fan issues seemed to be tied to a third-party app). So this fanless, silent as the grave Surface Pro 4 was looking like an oasis in the middle of the desert.

But what about the big tradeoff in Core M machines, raw performance? In Geekbench 3, compared to the entry-level
"new" 12-inch MacBook (which runs a Broadwell Core M chip), this Skylake Core m3 Surface scored
26 percent faster in single core and
19 percent faster in multi-core. These results are roughly in line with the second-tier (1.2 GHz) 2015 Retina MacBook.


Here are our Core m3 Surface's best scores:

Experience tells a similar story. We edited a batch of RAW photos in Lightroom, while Photoshop was also running an open tab, and with Internet Explorer (with four open tabs) and Mailbird chugging along in the background. It wasn't as zippy as you'd get from a Core i5 or i7 machine, but it still ran surprisingly smoothly.

We can't yet test GPU acceleration in Lightroom, though, as Intel apparently needs to push a driver update before that works on Skylake GPUs. But with that setting turned off this entry-level Surface Pro 4 handles my regular workflow very well.

As for all the stuff that's the same across all Surface Pro 4 models, the new keyboard is much improved over the one that launched with the Surface Pro 3 (and SP3 owners can buy and use this new one as well). The keys feel much better, making for a much-improved typing experience, and the bigger glass trackpad is nearly perfect.

The Surface Pro 4's 5 percent bigger screen is a subtle, but still nice, improvement over last year's model, and the Pro 4's razor-sharp resolution (267 PPI) looks just as stunning here as it does on the Surface Book. The SP3 always looked terrific in laptop mode, but once you pulled it closer as a tablet, you could see pixels. No More.

Windows Hello's facial recognition login is batting 1.000, logging me in every time I sit down, within a second or two. Even better than fingerprint sensors on phones, facial recognition gives you a secure login without having to do a damn thing.

One subtle change that you may not have heard about: both sides of the Surface Pro 4 (in landscape) are now magnetized, so you can stash the Surface Pen on the left side of the Surface Pro 4 while the charging connector is plugged in on the right side. This is less an innovation and more of a fix for a design flaw in the Surface Pro 3 (which left you without a place to stash the pen while the device was charging).

We'll have much more on the Surface Pro 4 in our full review, including battery life tests and impressions. So far we're pleasantly surprised with this entry-level model: if a slightly lighter and silent PC appeals to you, and your workflow isn't significantly more intense than the one we described here, you may be better off with this model than you expected.

The Surface Pro 4 is available now, starting at $899 for this Core m3 model, plus an additional $130 for the Type Cover keyboard.

Product page: Microsoft

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