Surface Pro 4 Teardown Highlights Disposable Nature Of Tablet PCs

Microsoft is fond of referring to the Surface Pro as a tablet that can replace your laptop, and based on our experience with them, it's not an incorrect statement, at least from a performance and usability standpoint. But as a teardown of the Surface Pro 4 reminds us, there is in fact a difference between tablet PCs and laptops at large.

The folks at iFixIt put Microsoft's new Surface Pro 4 tablet on the operating table and carved into it like a pumpkin being prepped for Halloween. Well, eventually they did -- like the Surface Pro  3, the new model proved difficult to disassemble right from the get-go due to a liberal use of adhesive holding it together.

Surface Pro 4 Motherboard

It took some specialty tools to pry the thing open. You have to be extra careful when doing so because the Surface Pro 4 sports two cables holding the display to the body, up from a single cable in the Surface Pro 3. They're both common press-on connectors, though Microsoft took the extra step of trapping them under snap-on metal shields.

One thing the teardown revealed is a lack of cooling fan in the entry-level Core m3 model. That chip is a 4.5W part so it doesn't generate a ton of heat. The absence of a fan should help with both battery life and noise.

Surface Pro 4 Opened

In the absence of a fan are longer copper heat pipes and the introduction of a larger copper plate. Both of these upgrades should help the Surface Pro 4 avoid throttling issues that some Surface Pro 3 users noted (also note that more powerful Surface Pro 4 configurations likely still use a fan for active cooling).

After reducing the Surface Pro 4 to a pile of parts, the teardown technicians awarded it a Repairability Score of 2 out of 10. On the plus side, the SSD is replaceable and the battery isn't soldered to the motherboard. However, you'll encounter a lot of adhesive trying to get to these parts, and even just removing the display assembly is tricky (and risky) business.

Surface Pro 4 Parts

None of that is to say the Surface Pro 4 is a bad product. We've been impressed with the Surface Pro line to date, and from what we've seen so far, the Surface Pro 4 is another solid product. It just also happens to be a tablet-first, laptop-second device in terms of repair and DIY upgrades. The downside to that is once a part goes bad -- and eventually the battery will stop holding a charge -- you're looking at replacing the entire tablet rather than just the faulty part.

To be fair, this isn't unique to the Surface Pro line -- it's true of almost all tablets, and also of many ultra-thin laptops and Ultrabooks.