I was not expecting Surface Pro X to be this fast. Plus some tips.

Discussion in 'Microsoft' started by Billy Cantor, Dec 2, 2019.

  1. Billy Cantor

    Billy Cantor Notebook Consultant

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    I got my new Surface Pro X a few hours ago.

    Summary
    I was not expecting Surface Pro X to be this fast. It is a snappy little beast. The reviews (which presumably used x86-emulated software) were not so positive so I was prepared to be underwhelmed.

    Now I wish I would have gone for the 512GB version. Perhaps I'll grab one of the 1TB BG4s when they make it to market. I didn't think I'd be able to use this machine for much, but now I find myself loading Visual Studio Code onto it.

    The luck of the draw in regards to which SSD I got is probably helping my machine's performance. The BG4s are quite zippy for a postage-stamp-sized SSD.

    Specs
    Microsoft SQ1 processor
    16GB ("15.9GB") RAM
    256GB Toshiba BG4 SSD

    Geekbench 5 scores
    These appear to be shockingly close to Surface Pro 6 w/ Core-i5 and Surface Book 2 scores. GB5 is run in ARM64 mode (although it sees the processor as an emulated "Intel Pentium II/III").

    Single-core: 721
    Multi-core: 2790

    This machine basically has a 4-thread processor ("BIG") plus the 4-thread helpers ("LITTLE"). It's funny to look at the Task Manager because half of the logical processors show lots of usage and the other half show very little.

    Windows 10 Home vs Windows 10 Pro (and notes on re-installing)
    I bought the consumer machine off the shelf (not the "for Business" model which comes preinstalled with Pro). I was frustrated that the initial install did _not_ let me use a local account. It forced me to either login to a Microsoft account or provide a phone number to link my computer to.

    Once I got through the Windows 10 Home setup process, however, I was able to switch to a Local Account (through the Users settings). Kind of ugly, but it worked.

    I was also able to create a recovery disk (and tested that I could boot to it, including booting directly to it after changing the BIOS boot order to try the USB disk first). I am relieved that this Surface behaves similar to any other surface in that regard, and I am optimistic that I would be able to "recover" to a new drive if I upgraded the SSD.

    I also did a "reset" after upgrading the machine to Windows 10 Pro and the installation process gave me the option to log into an enterprise account and also the option to use a Local Account. I'm back in happy territory.

    I did find it interesting that Windows 10 Home on ARM basically includes BitLocker or something really similar: the SSD is automatically encrypted by default and after installing Windows 10 Pro the BitLocker app said that BitLocker was already enabled.

    The Home edition also supports Windows Subsystem for Linux. So at this point, other than some extra options during installation and the ability to join an enterprise network...I'm not sure what features Windows 10 Pro adds on this machine. Since the full Hyper-V experience isn't supported yet (i.e. just the core parts needed for WSL2 are present), I don't know of anything I want to do that I can only do with Pro and that I couldn't do with Home...as I am not joined to a corporate network.

    Warranty
    There are two extended warranties available for Surface Pro X. You can buy the 2-year Microsoft Complete warranty for $149 when you buy the computer (or afterwards, if you call Microsoft within 30-45 days). Or you can buy the 3-year Microsoft Complete for Business warranty for $249.

    I bought the $249 warranty. It even covers a battery replacement in year 2 or 3 if the battery dies. And the phone rep told me that there's a $0 deductible on the business warranty plans and expedited service (and maybe even a loaner unit if the repair is going to take a while).

    Final thoughts
    I really like this machine. Way more than I thought I would. It may become my main Windows laptop. Coming from an HP ZBook Studio G3 (Xeon, 3.5 years old) maybe I'm not used to a jet-speed Windows laptop, but frankly the new Surface Pro X feels like it's not too much of a step down in performance from my mobile workstation. I know that it's not as fast of course, and as a power user I know I'm probably going to run into some software that won't run on ARM64 or x86 emulation soon...but at the moment I'm pretty darn happy.

    I even picked up a T-Mobile SIM. They have a $10/mo prepaid option which only gives you 1GB or so a month of 4G data, but I think it gives unlimited 2G+ speeds after that. Lots of postpaid options are available for $20/mo. with much larger buckets of bandwidth.

    Overall this whole experience reminds me of the days a decade ago when Intel 64 processors were new. I got on that 64-bit Windows train when a lot of apps and drivers wouldn't run on 64-bit Windows.

    I expect Microsoft to add basic Intel 64 emulation in the next year or two. That would enable some Intel 64-bit apps that don't rely on recent processor features. But I am not sure if that will even matter much in the end, as I expect that a lot of developers of mainstream apps (i.e. apps which aren't partially written in x86 assembly code like Photoshop and graphics libraries) will simply recompile for ARM64.

    Billy
     
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