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Microsoft Surface Review, Part 2: Battery Life, Multi-Monitor, And More

Microsoft Surface Review, Part 2: Battery Life, Multi-Monitor, And More
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Part 2 of our Microsoft Surface coverage includes tons of battery life analysis, a look at what it takes to slow down Tegra 3 in Windows RT, a demonstration of the first tablet able to extend the Windows Desktop, and some clarification of display quality.

Last week we published our first impressions of and experiences with Microsoft's new Surface tablet in Microsoft Surface Review, Part 1: Performance And Display Quality. In that piece, we covered the platform's underlying (familiar) Tegra 3 SoC, a handful of browser-based benchmarks, and an analysis of display performance at maximum brightness.

With one more week of tinkering under our belts, we're ready to follow-up with even more data you can use as you decide whether the Surface is the tablet/notebook go-between it's being made out to be. We have a comprehensive look at battery life with the tablet at maximum brightness, and then normalized to 200 nits, a second analysis of Windows RT, a demonstration of external monitor support, initial experiences gaming on the Surface, and additional discussion of display quality.

Let's just right into our exploration of battery life!

Battery Life & Recharge Benchmarks (Background Info)

The Surface does surprisingly well in our first test, which looks at battery life during the playback of an H.264-encoded movie at 50% volume. Microsoft's tablet lasts for more than seven hours, besting a number of notable tablets, but trailing behind some of today's most popular models like the third-gen iPad and Nexus 7.

As some of you have noticed in past tablet reviews, our Web browsing benchmark is more taxing than the video playback workload. This is because most SoCs are able to offload the most intensive aspects of the decode pipeline. Moreover, we disable Wi-Fi in that test. Meanwhile, the browsing metric scripts a text-heavy site to reload every six minutes. Wi-Fi is active, and it doesn't help to have MP3 playback going at the same time.

As a result the Surface touches six hours of battery life in our second suite, topping a number of the tablets it previously lost to.

Here's the thing, though: we ran those figures with each tablet's display set to maximum brightness. Some folks are going to use their devices like this, making it an interesting comparison. However, it's not a scientific-enough measurement to stand alone because each tablet's screen is different, resulting in different maximum brightness levels.

So, we take the extra time to go back and run the same tests with each tablet fixed to the same luminance level. This is problematic in its own right, since we'd be inclined to dial up the brightness on a low-gamut display. At least both schools of thought are represented though, right?

Normalized Brightness Benchmarks

Standardized to 200 cd/m2 (or nits), the Surface lasts for 10 hours playing back H.264-encoded video content. Although that's an hour less than the Nexus 7, the delta between both devices is narrower here than it was at maximum brightness.

When we switch over to Web browsing and music playback, the Surface runs for two hours longer than it did at maximum brightness. However, it still trails the Nexus 7, third-gen iPad, and Kindle Fire HD.

Powerful graphics architectures make lightweight gaming a reality on today's tablets and smartphones. Unfortunately, it's difficult to pin down cross-platform tests because there are so few games that run on iOS, Android, and Windows RT. Riptide GP is a rare exception, which makes it possible for us to use the game to test battery life. Our measurement is pretty simple: we play back the demo loop until each device shuts down.

We've found this game to be unforgiving of Tegra 3-based tablets because it's specifically optimized for Nvidia's SoC, taxing it with additional quality enhancements. If you game on the Transformer Prime or Nexus 7, you'll see additional details like water splashes that don't show up on other tablets. Interestingly, though, the Surface outperforms the other Tegra 3-based models, even exceeding the third-gen iPad's battery life, all the while giving you better visuals.

Recharging

As the Surface delivers comparable battery life as Apple's third-gen iPad, it also impresses by enabling much speedier recharging times.

For every minute you spend browsing the Web and playing music on the iPad, you need to spend the same amount of time charging it back up. Six hours of battery life, six hours of charging.

Meanwhile, the Surface cuts that time in half. You can browse the Web at full brightness for six hours, and then spend three hours to charge back up to 100% capacity again. We're only missing one piece of this power puzzle: what impact does charging more quickly have on the Surface's battery's longevity?

Display 32 Comments.
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Top Comments
  • 20 Hide
    tedx , November 14, 2012 7:06 AM
    "Windows Internet Explorer (Not Responding)"

    Its comforting to see that not everything has changed with Windows RT.
  • 17 Hide
    apache_lives , November 14, 2012 7:41 AM
    Already have an ASUS Windows 8 RT tablet for the mrs -- she loves this thing, and from the lounge if my media center decides to play up i can use the tablet to remote desktop in

    The ASUS also claims up to 16 hours battery life for theirs (im thinking less but still amazing if its 12+).

    These things simply WORK
  • 16 Hide
    besterino , November 14, 2012 8:59 AM
    (Even though) being an hardware (PC) enthusiast I have bought the Surface (64GB, touch and type cover) for my wife and both she and I are seriously impressed.

    For her it is simply perfect: she can do with it all she would do with an ipad (she's not much of a gamer though) AND it actually replaces her desktop-PC... she's using office without macros and addins so the RT-Office is "good enough". She just plugs in an extra monitor and USB hub (for full-size keyboard and mouse), and she is all set for productivity. We did not experience any hardware limitation related issues (obviously office doesn't start as fast as it does on a x86 PC with SSD).

    Based on our experience with the Surface RT I will definitely buy a Surface Pro for myself (I need Office with macros and addins for work) and hopefully finally have a PC that works both as a productivity tool as well as entertainment gadget. Yay! And *poof*, there goes the business notebook...

    Too bad I will still need my desktop gaming rig (HD 4000 still not powerful "enough")...
Other Comments
  • 14 Hide
    mayankleoboy1 , November 14, 2012 6:10 AM
    Tegra3 is the biggest weakness in Surface. This SoC is already outdated.
    I wouldnt buy a device today which i know is going to be upgraded in a few months with atleast a better SoC, and probably a better display.
  • 11 Hide
    acku , November 14, 2012 6:54 AM
    mayankleoboy1Y U NO include the iPad4 in the benchmarks ?

    It's on our to do list :) 
  • 20 Hide
    tedx , November 14, 2012 7:06 AM
    "Windows Internet Explorer (Not Responding)"

    Its comforting to see that not everything has changed with Windows RT.
  • 17 Hide
    apache_lives , November 14, 2012 7:41 AM
    Already have an ASUS Windows 8 RT tablet for the mrs -- she loves this thing, and from the lounge if my media center decides to play up i can use the tablet to remote desktop in

    The ASUS also claims up to 16 hours battery life for theirs (im thinking less but still amazing if its 12+).

    These things simply WORK
  • 7 Hide
    kyuuketsuki , November 14, 2012 7:52 AM
    apache_livesThe ASUS also claims up to 16 hours battery life for theirs (im thinking less but still amazing if its 12+).
    I'm assuming that's with the keyboard dock.
  • 6 Hide
    apache_lives , November 14, 2012 8:57 AM
    KyuuketsukiI'm assuming that's with the keyboard dock.


    That is correct, but for documents and on the run its not a bad thing at all.
  • 16 Hide
    besterino , November 14, 2012 8:59 AM
    (Even though) being an hardware (PC) enthusiast I have bought the Surface (64GB, touch and type cover) for my wife and both she and I are seriously impressed.

    For her it is simply perfect: she can do with it all she would do with an ipad (she's not much of a gamer though) AND it actually replaces her desktop-PC... she's using office without macros and addins so the RT-Office is "good enough". She just plugs in an extra monitor and USB hub (for full-size keyboard and mouse), and she is all set for productivity. We did not experience any hardware limitation related issues (obviously office doesn't start as fast as it does on a x86 PC with SSD).

    Based on our experience with the Surface RT I will definitely buy a Surface Pro for myself (I need Office with macros and addins for work) and hopefully finally have a PC that works both as a productivity tool as well as entertainment gadget. Yay! And *poof*, there goes the business notebook...

    Too bad I will still need my desktop gaming rig (HD 4000 still not powerful "enough")...
  • 3 Hide
    monsta , November 14, 2012 9:48 AM
    The Asus Vivo Tab is much better than Microsoft's own version of surface, the display is much brighter, the keyboard dock has a battery, usb and SD card inputs. The battery life is amazing.
  • 5 Hide
    andrewcarr , November 14, 2012 10:14 AM
    I hate when I'm looking at a computer screen and from that trying to see which picture is better of another computer screen. There seems a flaw in this logic.
  • 0 Hide
    tipoo , November 14, 2012 10:33 AM
    Is the "Apple iPad" with no number in the charts the iPad 1 or the iPad 4? Can we just snub Apple to make our lives easier and keep using the numbers? :) 
  • 10 Hide
    killerclick , November 14, 2012 10:41 AM
    Keeping in mind that most of Tom's Hardware writers use Macbooks, iPhones and iPads, so they're immediately in love with any kind of walled garden.
  • 7 Hide
    darkchazz , November 14, 2012 11:04 AM
    mayankleoboy1Tegra3 is the biggest weakness in Surface. This SoC is already outdated.I wouldnt buy a device today which i know is going to be upgraded in a few months with atleast a better SoC, and probably a better display.

    I completely agree. Tegra3 is a complete joke of a chip, but nvidia has managed to fool a LOT of people with marketing (QUAD COAR CPU!!! 12 COAR GPU ZOMG SUPER FASTTT BEAST).

    I'd understand if tegra3 was included in a cheap $200 tablet(e.g. Nexus 7) to cut down the costs, but for a $500+ tablet?! that just sucks
    Ofcourse, UI may be optimized and runs great, but gaming though will suffer from low frame rates. mark my words
  • -4 Hide
    Old_Fogie_Late_Bloomer , November 14, 2012 12:56 PM
    My job has a Surface that we're testing, and I'm struck most by the size of the thing. I like devices that are on the small side...so, 768p at 11.6" and 900p at 14.0" are my preferred screen size/resolution tradeoffs for laptops...but frankly, I feel like the thing is just too small.

    I'm probably in the minority here (and that's fine), but (setting aside my dislike of Windows 8) I think I'd rather have a device in the 13.3"-14.0" range, especially given that 16:9 devices are smaller overall than 16:10 and 4:3 devices at the same diagonal measurement.
  • 15 Hide
    cknobman , November 14, 2012 12:58 PM
    We have a few Windows RT tablets floating around the office and I have to say they are very impressive.

    The only thing holding me back from a purchase right now is Tegra 3. As soon as they upgrade the SOC to something more powerful (or if Surface Pro comes in something less than equal to $800) I will be getting one. I currently have a Asus Transformer android tablet and that thing does not hold a candle to Windows RT.
  • 6 Hide
    tomfreak , November 14, 2012 1:04 PM
    darkchazzI completely agree. Tegra3 is a complete joke of a chip, but nvidia has managed to fool a LOT of people with marketing (QUAD COAR CPU!!! 12 COAR GPU ZOMG SUPER FASTTT BEAST).I'd understand if tegra3 was included in a cheap $200 tablet(e.g. Nexus 7) to cut down the costs, but for a $500+ tablet?! that just sucksOfcourse, UI may be optimized and runs great, but gaming though will suffer from low frame rates. mark my words
    Agree, even tho I dont like Apple, but their approach of sticking on using 2 high performance cores in A6 CPU is simply a better choice than Nvidia crappy quad core CPU. Software are slow on taking on multi-threading, fewer high performance core provide more reliable user experience.
  • 3 Hide
    bllue , November 14, 2012 1:22 PM
    This kinda gives me hope for the Surface Pro and the other manufacturer W8 tablets. For the most part, the most complained about things are performance and hardware - which can be fixed by having better specs (like from OEM tablets), and future patches. There will also be more apps being released. I don't know but I think the next version of the Surface (if there is one) will be highly improved in every way and be able to do everything everyone wants. I'd keep an eye on what's to come from OEMs, Surface Pro and Surface 2.
  • 0 Hide
    jabliese , November 14, 2012 1:38 PM
    Anybody able to get to the battery life analysis? Links seem broken.
  • -4 Hide
    TeraMedia , November 14, 2012 3:10 PM
    if MSFT were really on the ball, they would have done an Android end-run with Windows RT.

    When Windows 7 came out, there was an "XP Mode" feature that allowed you to install Windows XP (and other O/Ses, for that matter) as a VM, with some odd limitations but also some unusual advantages compared to the typical VMware / Virtual Box implementations. Applications installed on the guest O/S could be launched and run just as if they were installed on the host O/S. User files on the host were shared seamlessly with the guest, so that double-clicking e.g. an Excel document could launch an instance of Excel in the guest, and load the file, and the window would look like it was running in the host.

    Apply this to Android running as a guest O/S under Windows RT, and what do you get? All of a sudden, Google Play, Google Apps, etc. become accessible. If the host/guest integration is done in such a way that the GPU is accessible to the guest, then you even get full gaming of all Android games. On your Surface. Seamlessly. MSFT could even go so far as to declare Apple's refusal to license iOS as a separate product to be anti-competitive, and push for the DoJ to force Apple to allow the installation of iOS as a guest OS on Windows RT.

    I mean, why not? Yes, the HW and in particular the CPU and GPU architectures probably need to be modified to support this, but the concepts for how to do that have already been figured out. If MSFT wants to truly own the tablet space, this would seem to be the most profound way to get there.
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