Mobile Technology

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

Microsoft Surface Pro 4: Initi...
Gizmag takes a first look at the Core m3 (entry-level) version of Microsoft's Surface Pro 4
Gizmag takes a first look at the Core m3 (entry-level) version of Microsoft's Surface Pro 4
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The Surface Pro 4 is, so far, everything we dreamed it would be
1/7
The Surface Pro 4 is, so far, everything we dreamed it would be
The keys and trackpad are all noticeably improved over the Surface Pro 3's Type Cover
2/7
The keys and trackpad are all noticeably improved over the Surface Pro 3's Type Cover
Microsoft fixed an annoying design flaw from last year's model, now letting you stash the pen on the left side of the tablet (while the charger is plugged in on the right side)
3/7
Microsoft fixed an annoying design flaw from last year's model, now letting you stash the pen on the left side of the tablet (while the charger is plugged in on the right side)
Gizmag takes a first look at the Core m3 (entry-level) version of Microsoft's Surface Pro 4
4/7
Gizmag takes a first look at the Core m3 (entry-level) version of Microsoft's Surface Pro 4
The Surface Pro 4 is just as comfortable on lap as the Surface Pro 3 was
5/7
The Surface Pro 4 is just as comfortable on lap as the Surface Pro 3 was
This Core m3 model we're reviewing is slightly lighter (by about 2 percent) compared to the higher-end models
6/7
This Core m3 model we're reviewing is slightly lighter (by about 2 percent) compared to the higher-end models
Geekbench 3 results for our Core m3 Surface Pro 4
7/7
Geekbench 3 results for our Core m3 Surface Pro 4
View gallery - 7 images

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.

The Surface Pro 4 is, so far, everything we dreamed it would be
The Surface Pro 4 is, so far, everything we dreamed it would be

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:

Geekbench 3 results for our Core m3 Surface Pro 4
Geekbench 3 results for our Core m3 Surface Pro 4

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.

The keys and trackpad are all noticeably improved over the Surface Pro 3's Type Cover
The keys and trackpad are all noticeably improved over the Surface Pro 3's Type Cover

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.

Microsoft fixed an annoying design flaw from last year's model, now letting you stash the pen on the left side of the tablet (while the charger is plugged in on the right side)
Microsoft fixed an annoying design flaw from last year's model, now letting you stash the pen on the left side of the tablet (while the charger is plugged in on the right side)

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.

This Core m3 model we're reviewing is slightly lighter (by about 2 percent) compared to the higher-end models
This Core m3 model we're reviewing is slightly lighter (by about 2 percent) compared to the higher-end models

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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3 comments
MatthewLangley
Great initial review. I've been very curious on how that base model stacks up... the m3 is looking to be quite the performer despite it's lower TDP. I was curious on how the 4GB of RAM stacks up, so far peoples impressions seem pretty good, people with 12 browser tabs open, another user who has Visual Studio and a few other apps open.. all coming in under 4GB of RAM, so that's a good sign.
I'm most interested in the battery life, what sort of gains you get out of this vs. the $100 more expensive i5.
Padaung
Wow, impressive for such a low power draw CPU. The benchmarks for this machine essentially match my 2012 Intel i5 NUC with 16gb ram and my 2015 i5 Mac Mini with 10gb ram. I'm a pro photographer and I use both of my machines daily for editing 24mp raw files in Lightroom and Photoshop. This Surface Pro 4 m3 should be a great device for on-the-go edits and presentations. I like silent devices too, my old Macbook makes one heck of a noise now!
Padaung
I do wish they offered more configuration options for the Surface Pro 4 m3 though. 8gb ram and 256gb SSD would be the sweet spot for my needs.