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.
Surface - MVP