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. 


Comparing the Surface RT against the Surface Pro

As I posted a few months back I have happily converted from an Apple iPad 3 (aka “new” iPad) to a Microsoft Surface RT.

I think we need to stop and focus there when reading reviews of the Surface and people comparing it against the iPad. When the Surface hit the market it was effectively a v1 competing against the iPad v4. Microsoft advocate aside it is hardly fair to compare a generation 1 device against a generation 4. That being said though Microsoft is not new to attempting to create tablets nor operating systems so it’s hard to create a true comparison.

My recent acquisition of a Surface Pro however showed that there truly is no comparison between the Surface and any of its competing operating system devices.

Why? It’s simple. Any other tablet on the market pales in comparison to the level of functionality to a full computer – be it running a Microsoft Windows or Apple OSX.

When I see an iPad in case with a keyboard attached I think it’s fantastic that the devices exist and can replicate some functionality of a full computer – but they never really are. It’s like the toys my 10-month old daughter plays with. She knows if she presses the music button that music comes out. Give her a Casio keyboard that requires turning on and she’d quickly get upset as this seemingly complex device that doesn’t play music when she hits keys (little does she know it needs to be turned on!).

This I think is the difference the Surface Pro brings to the world. Having used a Surface RT as my exclusive tablet since late October I found it to be a wonderful device – so wonderful in fact that I didn’t touch my iPad again (it has subsequently been sold). The problem was that it wasn’t a full computer. So while it was useful for meetings, presentations, travelling, working on the couch – it was never the same as using my real notebook. This became slightly frustrating as I would have to carry around both devices as IT Pros differ from normal users in that we generally need more power and functionality than an iPad can offer.

The key things I saw as an advantage of the Surface running Windows 8 over an iPad were the portability of my information (due to the Microsoft account) and the fact that Office 2013 was pre-installed and allowed me to access information store in SkyDrive, Office 365 or anywhere else.

The killer for me was that I couldn’t run Outlook nor could I install some of the desktop applications I needed.

Along came the Surface Pro – released only a few weeks ago. Unfortunately the 128GB model quickly ran out of stock, and while I feel that the 64GB device would be sufficient for the average worker who accesses cloud-based content, again for an IT Pro I need local storage space for large files or temporary content. The 64GB only comes with 23GB of free space and that was enough for fellow MVP Jethro Seghers who quickly snapped up a Surface Pro at the Microsoft Bellevue store. However I was only after the 128GB model which was out of stock – however another fellow MVP Sean McNeill found one in his Microsoft store in Denver and brought it to my waiting hands at the MVP Summit last week.

Since receiving the device I have not touched my Surface RT or my Lenovo X201 tablet. It has become my primary and ONLY device other than my phone.

Some grievances I do have with the unit:

  • A few millimetres thicker than the Surface RT
  • A few grams heavier than the Surface RT
  • Can get a tad hot
  • Battery life not as long as the Surface RT

Really the above-mentioned issues would be the same for any device that is running more processing power than a mere tablet. So while they can annoy me from time to time, I simply accept them as something I have to put up with. (First world problems.)

Notice the Surface Pro sticking out at the back?

The things that amaze me about the unit:

  • Far thinner and lighter than my previous tablet notebook (Lenovo X201)
  • Faster than the Surface RT
  • Sharper screen than the Surface RT
  • Plenty of local storage (I have put a 64GB SD card in for non-essential content I carry with me such as ISO images and VHDs)
  • The ability to flip between using my finger or stylus

The key thing here is that the Surface Pro is a full PC which also doubles as a tablet. While it’s not 100% perfect (we’d all like it to be thinner, lighter, cooler and with longer battery life) it has successfully replaced both a notebook and tablet device. I can quite easily perform the majority of my job armed with only a phone and my Surface Pro.

You cannot compare the Surface Pro to a MacBook or an iPad – it is both, and does a damn good job of it!