Microsoft's x86 Surface Gets a Price Tag, Feature Set

Microsoft's Windows RT Surface debuted with the launch of Windows 8, but the company kept its lips sealed on when the x86 version of the tablet, dubbed Surface Pro, would launch or what the price would be. The company has narrowed down the former (January) and given specific details on the latter. At launch, the Surface Pro will start at $899 for the 64GB version and $999 for the 128GB edition.

Included with the increased price tag (Windows RT Surface starts at $499) are a 10.6" 1920x1080 display, a USB 3.0 port (RT Surface uses USB 2.0), a mini Display Port capable of driving a 2560x1440 display, and a digitizer for pen-based input. The Touch / Type Covers will still be a separate accessory. According to Microsoft's Panos Panay, the general manager of Surface, "And all this in a PC that will weigh less than two pounds and be less than 14 millimeters thick." Surface Pro will also feature support for 10 points of touch, up from Surface's five. RAM is up to 4GB from 2GB, the device will use the 64-bit version of Windows, and feature a larger battery (42 Wh, up from 30).

Microsoft's technical specs for the Surface Pro list the thickness at 13.5mm and the weight as 2 lbs. TDP and power restrictions indicate that this will almost certainly be a dual-core device, with HD 4000 graphics. The 1920x1080 10.6" display will have a PPI of 207.8, which is sufficient to push it into Retina-class territory depending on viewing distance.

Surface Pro, with included digital pen

All told, it's a positive set specs, but there are a few caveats to be aware of. After using both Surface and spending time with Samsung's Ativ, I'd caution users that a 2lb tablet can feel like significantly more weight than that thanks to the 16:9 form factor. Try holding a 2lb 16:9 device in one hand, and you end up supporting a substantial amount of weight 11" from your wrist. The good news is that Surface's 10.6" screen may actually help -- larger screens push the far end of the tablet farther away from your hand, and exacerbate the problem.

The make/model of the integrated Core i5 is still a very interesting question. Nothing on Intel's current spec sheets is an automatic shoo-in for a tablet form factor. The lowest-power Ivy Bridge chips have a 17W TDP. That's plenty low for an ultra-portable, but still seems high for a tablet. Based on the way Microsoft has refrained from naming a CPU, we're betting that Intel has done some custom work on a ULV design that pushes IVB's power consumption even lower.

What's clear is that this tablet will be an unambiguous choice for users who are interested in doing Real Work. We're going to flatly recommend the 128GB version over 64GB unless you know you need very little storage; Windows 8's files, recovery partition, and hibernation/pagefile eat nearly 24GB in aggregate. That puts the base cost of a Surface Pro at $999 + $100 for the keyboard.

That may be a bit steep given the state of the economy. At $1100, Surface Pro has some very capable competition from other ultrabook designs. If you plan to be buying a system at this price point in the next few months, what do you see as being more important -- the high-resolution screen and tablet capability, or the ports and generally higher performance of a notebook in the same $1000-$1100 price range?