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Microsoft Takes First Steps Towards Better Repairs with New Study

The Surface Laptop Studio and Surface Laptop
(Image credit: Microsoft)

Microsoft released a report on Friday investigating the waste and greenhouse gas emissions in its current repair process as it works towards potential self-repair. The move comes as part of an agreement that took place with an investor group last fall to study and facilitate independent repair. Grist first reported on the study.

The study (PDF download) was put together by UK consulting firm Oakdene Hollins, using Microsoft's data regarding its repair operations. It compared two older devices: the Surface Pro 6 and Surface Book 3 that were refurbished in factories in China to the newer Surface Pro 8 and Surface Laptop Studio, repaired at authorized service providers, or ASPs.

Some of the benefits of more localized repairs are eye-popping. Specifically, the report claims it can reduce the average waste by up to 92% and average greenhouse gas emissions by up to 89%.

Partial benefits come from a repair-friendly design. The Surface Pro 8 has an SSD door, and much less waste was generated repairing storage on that tablet than the older Surface Pro 6. On the Surface Laptop Studio, repairs to the battery and trackpad generated less refuse and emissions.

Oakdene Hollins also looked into transportation. Hauling devices by air to Chinese factories for refurbishment isn't great. The study suggests almost any number of customers driving to repair facilities (where one might even be available) could negate greenhouse gas reduction. Its writers recommend mail-in services to more local repair sites, with the suggestion of one in Mexico to service the whole of the United States.

One item that wasn't mentioned: self-repair. The report's authors noted that the report is based on Microsoft's data and "represents only a partial view of possible repair scenarios as the data only includes data from repair operations under its direct control."

"Microsoft has a longstanding commitment to environmental sustainability," a Microsoft spokesperson told Tom's Hardware in a statement. "We also have a longstanding commitment to building high-quality, innovative, and safe devices that customers love. We have been taking steps for years to improve device repairability and to expand the available choices for device repair."

The spokesperson also said Microsoft intends to continue investing in sustainability and repairability, including changes to product design and expanding device repair options. 

Microsoft is looking into more options to put in place by the end of 2022, including increasing the number of repair locations near customers and expanding the number of organizations authorized to repair the company's devices. It's also planning a small pilot program to enable independent shops to repair some devices by 2022.

Last fall, Microsoft reached an agreement with As You Sow, a nonprofit investor group focused on environmental advocacy. The group retracted an investor resolution when Microsoft agreed to investigate independent repair of devices. This report was due on May 1, with more action coming "by the end of 2022," the original release said.

Microsoft has made some slow progress towards repairability in its devices. It has added SSD access doors to an increasing amount of its notebooks and tablets. Microsoft released a teardown video of the Surface Laptop SE, a low-cost device for education markets, showing how easy it is to replace parts.  

This week, Apple launched its Self-Service Repair program in the United States. It allows customers to buy parts and download manuals to repair the iPhone 12 and 13, with parts for M1 Macs set to show up "later this year." Other companies, like Valve and Google, have made agreements with iFixit to make parts available through an online storefront.

Andrew E. Freedman is a senior editor at Tom's Hardware focusing on laptops, desktops and gaming. He also keeps up with the latest news. A lover of all things gaming and tech, his previous work has shown up in Tom's Guide, Laptop Mag, Kotaku, PCMag and Complex, among others. Follow him on Twitter: @FreedmanAE

  • BillyBuerger
    We had a Surface Pro (1 or 2 maybe) where the SSD died on it. Perfectly usable except for that. It immediately became trash. Well, I'm sure someone could have fixed it. I tried myself but it was my first time trying to take off a glued on glass screen and I failed miserably. Got the damaged SSD out but a lot of good that did with a destroyed screen. I'm glad to see they're just now finally starting to take repairability into account. But these are things they could have done from the start if they didn't want to be able to charge people $200 for what should be a $50 upgrade of an SSD.
    Reply
  • Co BIY
    When Dell diagnosed a bad motherboard on my laptop an few years back (two hours with tech support in India) they were willing to send me a new mother board to install myself. I told them I was capable of simple repairs and had already sent them pictures of the MB.

    Got me back running much quicker than sending the machine to a repair depot.
    Reply