Returning the Surface Pro 3

The Surface Pro 3 was announced on May 20th, released to the world on June 20th, and I’m writing this on July 20th.  The significance of the date coincides with Microsoft’s 30 day return policy.  I just boxed up the third generation Pro device and took it back to the Microsoft Store.  Somewhat unwillingly but necessary in my case.

Let me explain.

I purchased the Surface Pro 2 in February of 2014.  I had the dock and used it as a “desktop replacement.”  That’s an important term in my case so keep that in mind.  I then took my desktop Core i7 behemoth PC and converted it into a Server 2012 R2 Server running Server Essentials.  That replaced a Windows Home Server 2011 box running on a Core i3.  That Core i3 is now my secondary desktop machine.  What I’m trying to say is that I was completely committed to the Surface Pro 2 as a “desktop replacement.”

Fast forward to May 20th or shortly thereafter when the Surface Pro 3 review unit shows up.  I configured it much like I would any other Windows 8 PC and got busy with it.  I used it mostly on the kitchen table, bar area, Pool, living room, etc.  It made it’s way around the house and I used it almost extensively.  What I didn’t do was pull the SP2 out of the way and use the SP3 in it’s place as a, yes you guessed it, a “desktop replacement.”  I had it sitting beside it charging.  I would use it during a podcast and then drag it around the house.  In the evening I would return to my Surface Pro 2 and charge up the SP3.  I was convinced that the Surface Pro 3 was the right device to replace my trusty Pro 2.

My Surface Pro 2 has compiled many a podcast, tons of video, and performed more Google+ Hangouts than I can count.  During my review period the Surface Pro 3 did none of that.  None, zero, zilch.  I reviewed it as a tablet and a laptop replacement.  In that sense it passed.  I recommended it.

A week prior to release day reviewers start mentioning different issues .  Wifi issues and power issues.  On June 19th Microsoft issues a firmware fix just in time for new Surface buyers to install once they set up their new tablet.  This fixed the power issue that myself and many others had.

Here is the crazy thing.  The way I was using the review unit was completely 180 degrees out of phase of all the problems that were popping up for the tablet.  When there were power issues I was only on the charger.  When the wifi connection issues popped up I had already dedicated the SP3 as a “desktop replacement” so it was on Ethernet.  I also didn’t see any transfer speed issues.  Naturally, i was hooked up to CAT5.

I yanked the SP3 out of the desk situation and started using it downstairs. Boom, wifi issues. It was hard not to notice them.  Speed issues, and oh the connection issues.  Maddening connection issues.  If I closed the SP3 up and came back to it an hour or so later it wouldn’t connect to wireless properly.  The dreaded “limited connection” notification.  I would have to reboot the device.

We are now well into July and Microsoft issues a firmware update to every Surface device they have put out to date.  This includes the Surface Pro 3 and promised to fix the power issues and address wifi speed issues.  It did, sorta.  Power issues disappeared but wifi issues were still abound.  Microsoft issued a small statement saying they would address the wifi issues next week with another firmware update.  I found this to be a little odd and somewhat concerning for the product but at least my power issue was gone and the wifi seemed better.

On July 16 Microsoft released the wifi fix they referred to in the previous update.

Now, instead of having to reboot the device to fix the limited connection i merely had to cycle wifi off and back on.  Then I could connect back to the wireless access point and get full connectivity.  Better, but not so much.

There were so many updates and issues it’s hard for me to keep it all straight.  I think I got it all in there but honestly, these issues are not why I returned the Surface Pro 3.  Even though these issues should not be happening I do believe Microsoft will finally hit the right combination of drivers and updates to put an end to these problems.

UPDATE: On July 21st a blog called The Windows Club posted a fix for all this wifi nonsense.  A pretty easy fix too.  What we don’t know yet is what will this do to the SP3 battery life.  If it’s minimal and this truly is the fix why wouldn’t something have come out quicker?  Why would the forums be lit up with troubleshooting and complaints? Why didn’t the Surface Team let their MVP’s know of the fix so it could be published?  Something stinks here.

The Real Reason

I have a completely different set of issues with the Surface Pro 3 that is the major reason for me returning it.  It was podcast night and I fired up a Google+ Hangout and everything was going smooth.  I was talking with my cohost for a few minutes prior to going live.  Just as I always did on the Surface Pro 2.  I noticed the fan noise from the SP3 but I didn’t think much about it because Hangouts on the SP2 always kicked the fans into overdrive.  Chrome and Hangouts are just horrible on resources but it’s what I use. I won’t justify it and I know some will point to that as the issue. So be it.

My cohost told me my video was starting to get choppy.  A few seconds later he can’t hear me and my connection drops.  Compounding the issue, my ISP has routing issues starting at that very moment so it was easy to blame the ISP.

The next week the entire scenario repeats itself except the internet service was rock solid.  I   switched to a different PC and got the podcast recorded and published.  It was an audio mess  but it got done.  I started researching the issue at this point and found two things.  The Power Options can’t be changed much and the Surface Pro 3 has a different thermal ceiling than the Pro 2 does. I found a way to modify the power options by enabling Hyper-V so you can get a performance battery plan but that didn’t do anything to change the way Surface Pro 3 manages heat.  The thermal ceiling on this device is a temperature at which it starts reducing the CPU multiplier thereby reducing the CPU speed.  At this point I started monitoring temperatures and the CPU with a few small software programs.

You can get short bursts of CPU but when it gets hot it will start reducing speed in order to help the fan cool the CPU down.  No matter how much you need or request you are not going to get it.  Prolonged high CPU stress does not mix well with Surface Pro 3.  Hangout video in HD, mixing audio, crunching video, etc.  All the things that I do and did do on the Pro 2 without issue. Waiting for the Core i7 won’t help either.  I assume it will ramp up in temperature even faster.

The next podcast week I used Google+ Hangouts although I switched from Chrome to IE in order to pull it off.  There were moments of video issue but it hung in there.  Fans blaring and multiplier bouncing up and down like crazy.  It was sluggish to work with and was begging for a reboot to freshen it up.

As good as the Surface Pro 3 is at replacing a laptop it simply doesn’t replace a desktop.  Not for me it doesn’t. I started weighing my options and had a sleepless weekend toiling about it.  I sold the Surface Pro 2 in order to get the 3 so that’s not an option.  My desktop PC is now a server and I really don’t need a $1500 laptop at the moment.  That’s a lot of cash to spill and still have to come up with a solution to do heavy lifting.

My only option was to return it and wait for Microsoft to address the issues.  The CPU and temperature issue may never be improved for my situation though.  It is what it is.  It’s a fantastically thin device with a freaking core Intel processor in it.  Soon to have an i7 in it.  It’s an amazing device and I enjoyed it very much.  However, it may never be an option for me.  I am not willing to hang onto that much of an investment in hopes of it improving enough for me.  Maybe I got a bad one or it was just slightly worse than others.  I don’t know.  I do know there is a lot of chatter out there about this very issue.

July 20th, exactly 30 days after purchase I returned it in order to get my $1500 and change back.  The staff never asked me what was wrong.  They never took a chance to gather information about the return.  They never opened the box.  One guy looked at me and muttered, “didn’t work for you eh?”  A phrase that I am guessing he has said to many a “Surface returner.”  I was surprised, as I had my story ready.  They handed me the receipt and I played XBox One with my son.  I actually had a good time.

I still recommend Surface Pro 3.

I feel like I owe my readers and listeners an apology as I have been recommending Surface Pro 3 from day one.  I still recommend it although not as a “desktop replacement.”  I should have caught this however.  My apologies.   There will also be the “don’t use Google” crowd.  As much as Chrome is a resource hog I still use it for a few things.

I knew I had to tell you as there was no point in hiding it.  I’m brutally honest when it comes to this stuff.  I use what I want to use and I use what works for me.  Regardless of what brand or company it comes from.  I will probably catch hell for this but I have to tell you.  It’s the right thing to do.

I do hope that it can be improved.  When I finally made the decision and started copying files over to my server, slowly copying files via wifi  mind you,  the fan kicked on and I watched the multiplier reduce the CPU speed.  I knew I had made the right decision at that point.

David McCabe

Surface – MVP

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19 Responses

  1. RMansfield says:

    Dave, when you say the SP3 may be a laptop replacement, but not a desktop replacement, how exactly do you make the distinction? Assuming that all these initial bugs for the SP3 were fixed, how is it not a desktop replacement when your SP2 was?

    Also, we’re all interested in knowing what phone you’re using now that you sold your Icon 🙂

  2. SurfaceGeek says:

    Re-read . The devil is in the details. You can’t perform sustained high CPU tasks without it stepping the multiplier down. Desktop=intense tasks. Laptop=mail, browse, documents.

  3. SurfaceGeek says:

    In fact, the anandtech review of the i3 finds this to be true. Even stating the Pro 2 outperforms it in tasks. My fault for not testing the 3 on heavy lifting. I honestly may be better suited for the i3 as my laptop.

  4. scottbakertemp says:

    The only way I would recommend a surface pro to anyone is if they need a device to take notes that involve diagrams or something – and if they need to use a full blown PC while standing up.

    The surface is too big to use as a tablet – and the keyboard is to small to use as a laptop.

  5. Issues like this is why I am waiting for SP4. I will combine that with my SP2 and be set for a while.
    Sent from my Lumia Icon via Tapatalk

  6. pfinter says:

    Good review Dave! I was in MicroCenter the other day and starting to think about replacing a laptop with the SP3. But, I can wait until MS exorcises the demons out of the SP3. 
     
    So, will you replace the SP3 with another SP2?

  7. SurfaceGeek says:

    I hope I’m not talking anyone out of the SP3 because I do truly believe it’s a good laptop replacement.  The wifi demons will get worked out. I have complete faith in that.  I’m thinking i might have had a bad machine but I think there are thermal properties of the SP3 that don’t mesh well with how I need to use a Surface.  I may invest in another desktop and look at the Core i3.  Who knows. I’m open to anything right now.  I do miss it though.  I miss it as a laptop and carry around device.

  8. RMansfield says:

    In fact, the anandtech review of the i3 finds this to be true. Even stating the Pro 2 outperforms it in tasks. My fault for not testing the 3 on heavy lifting. I honestly may be better suited for the i3 as my laptop.

    Amazing to me that they would shortcut the SP3 in this manner. Thanks for the clarification.

  9. kylejwx says:

    There are all kinds of devices used to cool down desktop computers and I am wondering if any of them could be retooled to work with a tablet like the SP3.  What would happen if you just stuck an ice pack on the back of the Surface while using it for demanding projects?  Not saying it is a great solution, but someone has to try it. :)  External
     
     41LvFNzpIBL._SP160,160,0,T_.jpg

  10. callihan44 says:

    Im glad I didn’t sell my SP2 and get the sp3, Ive been reading about these same issues on different forums. Right now the sp2 is my main computer as I am away from home a lot so my desktop is at home not being used at all. The surface pro 2 is easier to transport than a small laptop and has been a workhorse for me. I used to carry a Lenovo x230 lappy and an ipad mini, the sp2 replaced both devices. I hope sp4 takes care of the heat issues and other things that plague the sp3.

  11. pfinter says:

    I hope I’m not talking anyone out of the SP3 because I do truly believe it’s a good laptop replacement.  The wifi demons will get worked out. I have complete faith in that.  I’m thinking i might have had a bad machine but I think there are thermal properties of the SP3 that don’t mesh well with how I need to use a Surface.  I may invest in another desktop and look at the Core i3.  Who knows. I’m open to anything right now.  I do miss it though.  I miss it as a laptop and carry around device.

     
    I only meant that I would wait until some of these issues are resolved (i.e. wifi) The machine seems pretty cool otherwise. I don’t stream and wouldn’t use and abuse the SP3 like you Dave.  :lol:

  12. SurfaceGeek says:

    When it rains, it pours! I think the power supply just blew up in my Core i3 “replacement” desktop.  I’m down to a phone and server!

  13. dskow says:

    I have noticed the upper right rear corner gets hot when a virus scanner is running.  Some kind of travel friendly heat sink for that corner may help slowdown hitting the thermal threshold.

  14. dskow says:

    Is there a thermal benchmark test?

  15. SurfaceGeek says:

    That is where everyone is feeling the heat.
     
    I used these tools:
     
    External
     
    This will tell you what your CPU is doing.
     
    External
     
    This will tell you what your temps are. 
     
    If you guys want to standardize on a test like geekbench and put your temps and numbers in a thread that would be cool.

  16. SurfaceGeek says:

    Man I hate to link out of my forum to another!
     
    External
     
    I posted here. Thought you might like to read. Comment here!
     

     
     

    Wow, this forum is big! Puts SurfaceGeeks.net forums to shame! Thanks for the link and the mention be77solo. 
    I’m not here to stir the pot but rather to say that Microsoft does hear you. Trust me. They read and listen. If they do miss something, MVP’s like myself and Frank let them know about it. I don’t think you will find a finer MVP than Frank. Both an advocate for Microsoft and you the SP3 owner. 

    They are actively reaching out as we speak. They want to know how you use the device and how you are coming up to the thermal ceiling. What are you using, what did you install, what did you change? Every little detail helps. The Surface Team has an extensive testing facility but as you have heard before, they can’t catch it all. My SP2 setup alone stunned most of the team! I don’t think they were ready for how I abused that poor little Surface Pro 2!

    I’m confident that there is compromise somewhere in the SP3. If it were up to me I would let the fan spin as fast as it can go. I need it as a “desktop replacement” as I stated in the Surface Geeks Podcast. That’s not a good solution for a portable device however. Afterall, this is touted as a Laptop and Table replacement. That is job 1. Having said that Microsoft wants us all to be happy so they are looking at all the scenarios we are putting the SP3 through.

    If it were me, i would refrain from software that unlocks the CPU or changes its properties. I don’t like telling you to wait but I would just say have an ounce of patience because they are heads down on this. I have chatted with Engineering team members and they hear you. And yes, sometimes it take an MVP to return the very device he specializes in!

    I’ll add this forum to my TapaTalk and if you have questions or comments please PM me or visitSurfaceGeeks.net. I’m supposed to be on vacation!

  17. Aftershock says:

    That is where everyone is feeling the heat.
     
    I used these tools:
     
    External
     
    This will tell you what your CPU is doing.
     
    External
     
    This will tell you what your temps are. 
     
    If you guys want to standardize on a test like geekbench and put your temps and numbers in a thread that would be cool.

     
    It may seem like an unnecessary solution but how about ensuring the SP3 never hits the 80 degree limit and starts to throttle in the first place? Its not ideal but it should lead to move “balanced” performance.. Check this out External it relatred to SP2 but the principle is the sme for SP3..  Undervolting and  limiting the turbo boost may be a quick and dirty fix to your problems, rather than dropping down to the i3 🙂

  18. SurfaceGeek says:

    I personally do not recommend those tools.  I stated it in the piece and in the podcast.  I wouldn’t change anything in fear of burning up your machine or losing data.

  19. Aftershock says:

    I personally do not recommend those tools.  I stated it in the piece and in the podcast.  I wouldn’t change anything in fear of burning up your machine or losing data.

     
    I do understand why people would be cautious about using those tools and rightfully so..  Myself I’m a little less risk adverse.  I would be personally happy to limit the cpu boost so that it hopefully never reaches the throttle point, without reducing the cpu voltage and risk losing any data.   Having said all that I was in the market for a SP3, but for the time being I’m going to pick up a SP2 until they iron these issues out.  Just a nice bonus that I can pick up the previous model so reasonably now 🙂