How do you reinvent the PC for the tablet era?
Microsoft, not surprisingly, has been spending a lot of time mulling over that question in recent years. Its touch-centric new operating system, Windows 8, is largely devoted to answering it. And for the first time ever, the company decided to show us exactly what it thinks a modern PC/tablet hybrid should be by designing and selling its own Windows computer, Surface.
Except it didn’t come up with one Surface — it built two of them. The first version, Surface Windows RT, shipped in October, simultaneously with Windows 8. Technically speaking, however, it isn’t a Windows 8 machine: It uses a power-efficient ARM processor and a special version of Windows called Windows RT which only runs new programs designed for the touch-friendly “modern” interface, not all the apps written for conventional PCs. Starting at $499, it’s the closest thing Microsoft has to a direct iPad competitor.
And then there’s Surface Windows 8 Pro, which goes on sale at the Microsoft Store, Best Buy, Microsoft.com and elsewhere on Feb. 9. (That’s Microsoft’s full official name for it; I hope the company won’t be irked if I refer to it as “Surface Pro,” like everyone else is already doing.) It has much in common with Surface RT: Hold one Surface in each hand, and the only hint that they’re not the same device is the Pro version’s additional bulk — it’s .53″ thick and weighs 2 lbs., versus Surface RT’s .37″ and 1.5 lbs.
Both versions have an elegant vapor magnesium case and kickstand that props it up for vertical use, and both work with the same whisper-thin Touch Cover, which includes a keyboard that’s nearly flat yet reasonably comfy. Both have 10.6″ screens, though the Pro’s version, at 1920-by-1080 resolution, packs additional pixels.
But Surface Pro, unlike Surface RT, is a real PC. As its name indicates, it comes with Windows 8 Pro, Microsoft’s top-of-the-line operating system. It sports a powerful Intel Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM, either 64GB or 128GB of solid-state storage and a Mini DisplayPort port; you could hook it up to a keyboard, mouse and external display, run any program you throw at it, use it with any Windows-compatible hardware add-on and generally forget that you’re sitting in front of anything but a brand-new conventional PC.