surface-rt The Microsoft Surface RT was released on October 26, 2012. The machine came with 32GB and 64GB versions. The 64GB version is being reviewed.

The Surface RT sold poorly due to the non x86 CPU and poor performance. MSFT reported that losing $990 million following a price cut. Many were not accustomed to having Windows on ARM processors. The ARM architecture is widely used with Apple hardware as well as Samsung. Google’s Android OS runs on the ARM CPU as well.

The Marvell AVASTAT wireless-n logic povides excellent connectivity using dual antennas. The machine works well with 50 megabit internet service. Unfortunately there is a bug on Windows update that disables the Wi-Fi, to fix it, removed the device and rescan for hardware changes.

CPU Tegra 3 X4 running at 1.30 GHz
RAM 2048MB RAM DDR3L-RS 1333 MHz
SSD 64GB Samsung MCG8GA flash memory
LCD 10″ diagonal HD WVA IPS multitouch-enabled (1366 x 768)
SLOT microSD (SDXC 2TB maximum)
CAMERA 5MP back-facing camera, 3.5MP front-facing camera
LAN Wireless a/b/g/n with Bluetooth 4.0
PORTS 1 USB 2.0 & Headphone output/Microphone input combo
BATTERY 31.5Ah lithium-ion 11.1Wh
SENSORS Accelerometer, Gyroscope, Compass

Surface runs Windows RT, which is preloaded with Windows Mail, Calendar, Contacts, Sports, News, Travel, Finance, Camera, Weather, Reader, SkyDrive, Store, Photos, Skype, Maps, Games, Messaging, Bing, Desktop, and Xbox Music and Xbox Video Windows Store applications, and supports Microsoft Office Home and Student 2013 RT, which includes Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and OneNote within the Desktop application.

Remote Desktop is included with Windows RT so its possible to use Azure and other cloud services easily. OneDrive can be provisioned with 1TB for the most demanding image collections.

Windows RT only allows installing Windows Store applications. Windows RT is compiled entirely for the ARM instruction set architecture. There are many games in the store that will run with Windows RT. Cloud services like Google and Office 365 are now dominant.

May of these machines have had been in our shop for service. The reason is that people assumed that it was like other personal computers and they did not realize that the machine has a Tegra CPU and not the usual Intel or AMD processor. For example, trying to install Google Chrome, which is not compatible with Windows RT will render the machine unbootable. Google has never released a version of Chrome for the Surface RT or Surface 2 tablets.

The NVIDIA Tegra 3 processor is made at 40nm and it was chosen to deliver the longest operating time on battery which was better than existing Intel Atom processors etc. The Tegra 3 has a 2MB L2 cache which is needed to perk up performance.

Tegra 3 showing long battery life

The Tegra 3 is actually a complete system on a chip. The CPU, GPU and many other functions are all integrated. 12 CUDA cores in the SoC give mobile devices lots of graphics capability for 3D gaming. The graphics also improve the Windows Aero and the modern WIndows 8 app experience which depends on the GPU to deliver needed scaling etc.

The Surface RT CPU is the Cortex-A9 which is 32-bit the the tablet has been provisioned with the maximum possible memory. The CPU features the ARM NEON 64-bit and 128-bit SIMD instructions which are similar to the SSE registers in AMD/Intel processors.

Tegra 3 SOC

Games on the Surface RT are limited to those in the Windows Store but the tablet can play some action games easily. Check the store as new games are released almost daily.

This machine is best off using OneDrive as there only USB port. There is a MicroSD card slot which can add more storage for images or music etc. Machine has Bluetooth which is a better choice than USB for mice, this leaves the USB port free. in 2016 we note that 128GB and 256GB microSD cards are widely available. Windows can be configured to move libraries and apps to a new location.

Given the capacity of OneDrive, using a local offline copy can become unwieldy unless a high capacity microSD card is installed.

Microsoft does offer a keyboard which connects to the machine via a connector on the bottom but tablets make for a poor laptop replacement. We find this tablet is better off using the touch screen and using a laptop for typing to be a better choice.

The 24W brick is not very heavy to carry in a backpack. With the tablet in a keyboard case, they pack up easily.


The Surface RT doe not have a SIM card slot or hardware capability for cellular mobile use. The machine is designed for Wi-Fi use only. Wi-Fi is plentiful and it’s not a serious problem. The rival iPad does have a cellular capable version.


Unfortunately, Windows 8 RT users are not going to be able to use the new Universal Windows Apps. Microsoft has been pushing Windows 10 but they are not providing a mobile version of the Surface RT or Surface 2 tablets.

Given that Windows 8 is still i mainstream support it’s disappointing that MSFT has chosen to abandon the tablets so quickly.


The volume buttons are sensitive to damage. The problem is caused by the screw carving a slot into the plastic which is much to soft. This is common in the whole industry. Epoxy is hard and can be used to fix a damaged button, but it does take 24-48 hours before its reaches maximum hardness.

The USB port had also been reported as easily damaged. This requires a new header to be soldered to the board. This is uncommon.

To open the machine, remove 2 screw holding the stand. The pry off the rear camera which will reveal torx screws. The machine can then be disassembled for repair. Spudgers are needed to pry the machine open carefully.