Surface Pro as my desktop

As mentioned in my previous blog post I have been using my Surface Pro as my exclusive desktop device & tablet for several weeks now.

In this post I’ll be explaining how the Surface Pro is being used as a desktop – to give you the understanding that I am not treating this device any differently from my previous notebook.

A list of the key software installed on my machine:
– Adobe Reader (because I don’t always want to view PDFs in full screen)
– ConnectWise Internet Client
– Fitbit Connect
– Google Chrome
– HP LaserJet printer manager & scanning software
– Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 for Outlook
– Microsoft Office Professional Plus 2013
– Microsoft Project Professional 2013
– Microsoft SQL Server 2008 Express
– Microsoft SQL Server 2012 Express
– Microsoft Visio Professional 2013
– Microsoft Visual Studio Premium 2012
– Mozilla Firefox
– Skype (desktop client)
– Windows Intune
– And a variety of other small applications

External devices:
– Dell 21″ monitor
– LG 21″ monitor
– Seagate 1TB external hard drive
– Microsoft wireless keyboard & mouse
– Microsoft LifeCam Studio camera
– Microsoft LifeChat heatset
– Fitbit USB dongle
– Plantronics Bluetooth dongle (for the headset)

The device that connects all the hardware together is the Targus ACP71 docking station which cost around $220 + shipping. The unit is amazing as it handles two external monitors, 4 USB 2.0 device ports and 2 USB 3.0 device ports. I plugged a USB hub into one of the USB 2.0 ports to save space. Unfortunately the USB 3.0 A-B cable supplied by Targus was too short for my particular desk setup so I had to spend another $10 to get a longer cable.


(My home office.) 

When going out for meetings locally I only take the Surface Pro, the Touch keyboard and stylus.

When travelling I need a bit more and will also take:
– Power pack for Surface Pro
– Mini DisplayPort to HDMI converter
– HDMI to HDMI cable

I am currently looking for a small case to carry all this around, however one benefit I’ve found so far is that I don’t have to remove the Surface Pro from my bag when going through airport security.

From time to time I do hear the relatively quiet whirring of the tiny fan inside of the Surface Pro, but that is when I have a lot of applications open and running at the same time, but a recent disadvantage has been a heat wave in Melbourne which has resulted in less-than-ideal air temperatures inside my house.

Can I run virtual machines off it? Probably – but I’ve repurposed my old notebook to act as a portable virtual machine host for when I need to put on my IT Pro hat and do deep technical demonstrations with local resources. Otherwise I just access my lab environment remotely.

Three weeks in with the Surface Pro acting as my sole device (other than my phone) – no regrets.

Does the Surface Pro handle being used as a personal tablet, work tablet, and desktop machine? Perfectly. 



    1. No lag, but the rare delayed mouse movement or key press – but not enough to actually annoy me.
      I haven’t tried playing a full HD movie or games through it, as it’s primary a business machine – I have an Xbox for those tasks. 🙂

      1. I am doing a similar thing using the Surface Pro as my desktop machine. I have the targus dock connected to two 24″ monitors. My only complaint is the mouse lag. Have you found a solution to it?

      2. I’m using a wireless keyboard and mouse, but in general I don’t really experience any lag. Only rarely from both devices when the unit is working hard (eg. Processing, or heavy disk activity).

  1. Hi,
    I would also pike to replace my high ende Notebook with either a surface pro or a Sony vaio Duo.
    Howe ins your experience with VS2012 on The surface.
    How much free space Do you have on your ssd?
    Wen you undock your surface you habe 2 Charles to disconnect (usb ans power) or dies your usb Deckung Provider surface with power?
    Tanks in advance.

    1. I’m not a developer so don’t use VS2012 to code, but do work with several so need it for debugging and testing. So far the experience has been fine.
      Currently in terms of free space I have 44.2GB out of the 110GB on the main drive (some space is lost to the recovery partition), and 56.9GB out of 58.9GB from my SSD.
      That being said I synchronise a chunk of my SkyDrive to the hard drive, so when I need to do some disk management I’ll move it over to the SSD.

      Yes – when I dock and undock my Surface I have to work with both power and USB3. The docking station can provide power to a standard notebook, but unfortunately doesn’t provide a proprietary Surface power connector. Having to work with both cables is every so slightly annoying, but realistically it takes under 5 seconds to do both so it’s not worthy of complaining. 🙂

      1. The performance is fine for a desktop machine. I run it fairly hard.
        I’m actually not a dev, but I do keep a lot of apps running at the same time.

  2. Awesome setup, well done and well thought out.

    Just to clarify, are you running 2 monitors from the Surface Pro through that docking station? In which case then, is the Surface running two monitors plus it’s own?


    1. Absolutely right, Surface Pro + 2 external monitors so 3 screens in total.
      I’ve only ever worked with 2 screens before so I haven’t figured out what goes on the Surface Pro screen except the start screen so far. 🙂

      1. Thanks for that, that’s awesome to know.

        Now to find out if will support an external touch screen!

        Not important but I haven’t found any that has tested that yet.


      2. I’d love that too. It can be challenging at times having Windows 8 and Office 2013 on the screen and having to use the mouse!

  3. im thinking of doing the same set up. When u attach an external monitor do u get issues with scaling?

    1. All 3 screens are running at 1920 x 1080. The device believes one of my screens can go all the way up to 2048 x 1152, but the others don’t so I won’t bother testing it.

  4. Hi Loryan,
    Thanks for blogging about this. Just got my surface pro and I want to take the no-compromise approach to replacing my thinkpad+dock setup as you have (dual external monitors etc). Very useful to know that someone has confirmed that this works with the Targus dock.

  5. Loryan,

    great setup.
    One additional question: What is your setup of dpi/zoom-level in Windows 8?
    I have read that the default setting is 125% – does Windows apply this to the additional external monitors as well?

    I am currently thinking about moving to the surface pro – but I would like to use a different zoom level on with the external monitor (100%) and with the tablet itself.

    Thanks & regards

      1. I setup the external monitor at full HD (1920 x 1080) and set the surface pro screen rez to 1366 x 768. I read it’s the equiv of setting the screen to 150%. That works perfect for me.

        The only bummer is when you take the external screen off, the 1366 x 768 rez doesn’t take up the whole screen and I can’t find any screen zoom on the hardware.

        shit I hope that makes sense.

        In the end I’m forever changing my screen zoom from 150% (using Surface by itself) to 100% (plugged into another monitor). It automatically remembers the rez settings wether it’s plugged in or not. So when I unplug it, it goes back to 1920 x 1080, hence I have to adjust it to 150%.

        Hope that helps.

        I heard a Windows update will come out allowing different or dynamic zoom levels depending on the screens dpi.

  6. I have a Surface Pro as my only work computer. I dock it using Plugable USB 3.0 docking station. We use Lync corporately for messaging and phone. My only issue is am experiencing some call quality issues using plantronic’s wireless headset. message comes up saying to plug the USB dongle into the computer directly instead of through a docking station. Do you have that issue with your headset?

    1. I have in general had issues with headsets that use the on-board Bluetooth so have always used a USB dongle – even before getting my Surface Pro. Apparently the on-board Bluetooth chips don’t have enough bandwidth for decent call quality.
      My daily headset these days is actually a Microsoft LifeChat LX-6000 (when I’m plugged in to my desk that is).

  7. Amazing setup, really thumbs up, but I have a question can you install programs on the external seagate hardrive and run it from it instead of using the surface limited storage ,or do u only use the external drive for the data and media ..?

    1. Thanks for the feedback. All my applications are installed locally and I’ve still got plenty of space. The external drive is purely for backups, media, and virtual machine images.

      1. Ok I c, but is it possible ..?? I was thinking of getting the 128 gb but I use of lots of programs that require high disk space for 3d modelling

      2. That’s not really a Surface question, or even a Windows 8 question – I would think you can install applications to whatever location you want unless the installer is smart enough to know it’s a removable drive.

  8. Interesting, that is pretty neat, was wondering what peoples setup was like in the wild.
    I see you like the ergonomic keyboard, I can vouch for the Microsoft sculpt one , got one recently and its pretty excellent for working on. The mouse takes a little getting used to as it forces you to have your hand in a correct position.

    The keyboard is ok for gaming. Just ok.


  9. I have very similar set up but am using the MSFT docking station. I am having huge lag issues with keyboard and mouse activity. i5 256GB.

    I am not pleased. MSFT suggests a restore, which means start over getting all the apps on the machine.

    1. Interesting. I had lag initially with my Surface Pro 1 so swapped out my wireless kit for a USB keyboard & mouse which solved it.
      I’ve since gone back to a wireless kit on my Surface Pro 3 and had a bit of lag one day but not since. Might be intermittent or an issue with your receiver?

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