Home how to How to Turn Your Surface Pro 4 Into A Desktop PC

How to Turn Your Surface Pro 4 Into A Desktop PC

Microsoft calls its Surface Pro 4 and devices like it Windows 2-in-1s. The idea is that purchasing a Surface Pro 4 or any of the devices that resembles it means you don’t have to purchase both a notebook and a tablet. Since Microsoft announced its first tablet that can be a notebook, all we’ve heard about are those types of 2-in-1s. We’ve all ignored another benefit of purchasing a Surface Pro 4.

The Surface Pro 4 doesn’t just make a great  tablet and notebook. It also makes a pretty great Windows 10 desktop PC. As a Surface Pro 3 and Surface Pro 4 user, I’ve spent some time with the form factor at my desk. The way I see it, there are couple of different scenarios to get Surface Pro 4 users the best desktop experience.

surface pro 3 docking station

Pick The Right Surface Pro 4

Desktops are powerful, bulky beasts. They’re big because transporting them isn’t really that much of a concern. The Surface Pro 4 is a mobile powerhouse, a machine that was designed to be portable. At first, one might assume that it wouldn’t be that great at doing the things that desktops do: playing video games and editing video.

Surface Pro 4 Impressions (4)

Read: Which Microsoft Surface Pro 4 Should You Buy?

That’s absolutely true of the entry-level Surface Pro 4 for $899. It’s not really great at playing the latest games at all since it doesn’t have a fan and uses less powerful internals. The Surface Pro 4s with Intel Core i7 and Intel Core i5 processors are better at those activities. Any Surface Pro 4 plan that involves the device doubling as a powerful desktop Windows 10 PC starts with those two models.

The Surface Pro 4 with Intel Core i5 Processor and 4GB of RAM starts at $999. If you really want the best performance possible, investigate purchasing a Surface Pro 4 with at least 8GB of RAM. The Microsoft Store sells all versions of the Surface Pro 4, including a model with 16GB of storage.

Buy a Surface Pro 4 Dock

Once you’ve acquired a Surface Pro 4, you need a way to charge the device and connect to accessories. Microsoft makes two docks for this task, both of which have advantages and disadvantages.

The Surface Pro 3 Docking Station is a typical dock. There are no cables to connect. Instead, its two arms encapsulate the Surface Pro 4, on three sides. Built into it are three USB 3.0 ports, two USB 2.0 ports, Ethernet out and a Mini DisplayPort. The Surface Pro 4 Dock isn’t built specifically for the Surface Pro 4, which is why users need a free spacer from Microsoft to enjoy the $199 accessory.

surface pro 3 docking station back ports

The Microsoft Surface Dock is this year’s docking option for the Surface Pro 4, Surface Pro 3 and Surface Book. It too costs $199. There are two front-facing USB 3.0 ports, a power port, Gigabit Ethernet, two more USB 3.0 ports and 2 Mini DisplayPorts on its rear. With this dock, you need to physically plug in a cable, but just the one. The dock itself does the rest.

surface_dock

Other companies make compatible port replicators, but in those cases you’d need to plug your Surface Pro 4 into a charger, then have a separate USB cable running from the Surface Pro 4. Microsoft’s solutions are expensive, but simplistic.

Use A Bluetooth Keyboard and Mouse

The next thing you’ll need are the typical accessories that desktops require.

The Surface Pro 4 has two pretty loud speakers, but don’t hesitate to pick up external speakers if you feel like you need to. The Surface Pro 4 and Windows 10 support Bluetooth audio profiles. The docks and device itself all have 3.5mm headphone ports built-in. Bluetooth headphones work too, that’s what I use at my desk when playing music late at night and early in the day.

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Microsoft used to make a Bluetooth keyboard accessory for its Type Covers. It’s long since killed that device, betting that users would rather purchase separate keyboards and mice that offer better battery life and bigger keys. For the best results, go with a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse. Microsoft makes the, entry-level Wireless Keyboard 850 for Bluetooth users. I personally use the Wedge Wireless Mobile Keyboard. It’s $79.95 – not cheap – but does have a thin profile. For a mouse, I recommend the $69.95 Surface Arc Mouse because it becomes very portable when you need it to be. That being said, anything you have around the house works fine too. You can go with USB mice and keyboards, but if you do you’ll need a USB hub or a Surface Dock. Remember, the Surface Pro 4 only has a single USB port.

roledex tablet dock

 

I actually skipped the mini adapters, displays and docks in the early days. Instead, I purchased a Surface Pro Power Supply for $79.99 and a tablet stand that held up my Surface Pro 4. This method does hinder viewing angles somewhat, but it’s cost effective and keeps me from being surrounded by screens and accessories I don’t need. The stand I purchased from Amazon is long gone, but there are more available from other makers.

Disable Tablet Mode

How to Use Windows Hello in WIndows 10 (2)

Finally, remember to set your device to either ask you before switching in and out of Tablet Mode or turn off switching entirely.

Read: How to Use Tablet Mode in Windows 10

Windows 10 is able to detect physical keyboards and make the switch, but not with Bluetooth accessories. My solution to this has been to manually toggle Tablet Mode on and off when I’m done with work using the Action Center. The Action Center is always a left swipe from the right edge of your display.

Optional: Get a Monitor, Maybe With Touch

On its own, your Surface Pro 4 is a great all-in-one PC in its own right. At least, it is if you’re comfortable with using a 12-inch display. If you aren’t, consider adding a widescreen monitor to your desktop setup to get more screen real estate.

Monitor

Which display you get really does depend on your tastes as a user. Some people like to get large monitors, then hide the Surface Pro 4 somewhere in their setup because they don’t need to monitors. Others prefer to keep the Surface Pro 4 and external monitor sitting side by side. If you’re going to hide the Surface somewhere in your setup, like a desk drawer, be sure that it has plenty of ventilation. Be sure that whatever monitor you do go with has matching connections for whatever dock you use too. Stay away from any monitor that has a VGA cable. For consistency, it might be better to with a monitor that supports touch.

The Surface Pro 4 can be connected to a monitor even without a docking accessory. For this you will need a MiniDisplay Port adapter for whatever plug the display features. Microsoft makes a line of Surface Mini DisplayPort Adapters and a Wireless Display Adapter. Two monitors connect through the Surface Dock, but you can add a third running straight from the Surface pro 4’s body too.

Microsoft frequently runs specials on Surface Docks and monitors at the Microsoft Store.

Read: The Best Surface Pro 4 Deals Available

The Surface Pro 4 gained a reputation for being a great tablet and a decent notebook. I’d make the argument that it’s also a terrific Windows 10 all-in-one with the right accessories.

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19 Comments

  1. Robert Armstrong

    02/13/2016 at 11:42 am

    I understood that the pro 4 could handle 3 external monitors – 2 from the dock and 1 from the tablet. You say it is restricted to 2 monitors. Will it not handle a third monitor from the tablet’s mini DP port?

    Reply

  2. Leander

    02/29/2016 at 4:30 am

    Yeah it does, 2 monitors from the docking station.
    One from the surface it self. So 3 screens at the same time.
    I got the configuration running at this very moment. Two normal monitor’s and big presentation screen.

    Reply

    • Robert Armstrong

      02/29/2016 at 7:32 am

      Thanks. I’m going to give the SP4 i7 16gb a try with three 27″ monitors.

      Reply

    • Robert Armstrong

      03/05/2016 at 10:33 am

      I bought the SP4 with dock and cables. Win 10 shows 4 displays, but will only use three, one of which is always the tablet. So I can get two of my three externals, but not three at once.
      Surface support told me I have to use a video hub to go to three. Is this what you have done? Or is a splitter enough?

      Reply

  3. Matt Smith

    03/22/2016 at 9:55 am

    What’s the recommended settings for the larger monitor, I’ve currently got it connected to another screen and the icons are massive and there’s black banding down the sides.

    Reply

  4. Molly Hampel

    04/19/2016 at 1:26 pm

    This is a question not reply – i have a surface pro 4 with the docking station. The surface will go to sleep and when we wake it backup the external large monitor will not work. We thought it was the docking station but after trying two others it’s not. Any suggestions? Could the monitor not be compatible?

    Reply

    • Robert Armstrong

      04/19/2016 at 5:29 pm

      I now run two ASUS 27″ monitors and the Surface tablet screen. The primary display is set as one of the 27″. When my Surface wakes up, the two large monitors also come alive – usually, but not always. Very occasionally, I have to go to display settings on the tablet screen and “extend the desktop” to the two large monitors. This does not happen often.
      Sorry I can’t be more help.

      Reply

  5. Jenniferdpearman

    04/24/2016 at 6:35 am

    This is very wonderful new jobs..!Super and Easiest 0nl!nee Home opportunity for all. make 87 Dollars per hour and Make 52512 Dollars per month.All you just Need an Internet Connection and aComputer To Make Some Extra cash.
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    Reply

  6. Richard Clark Eckert

    06/19/2016 at 12:01 pm

    I am looking at idea of a multi client monitor that allows for up to four inputs that can be simulataneously displayed in four quadrants of humongous 43″ display. I am wondering if SP 4 can work with that and display 4 screens but without problems of dual monitor set up????? Ideally he SP4 would take up one quadrant, but could take up to four separate inputs or multiple windows from SP4. Why I need 4 monitors compressed in one is something to explain on a different day.

    Reply

  7. path8yoga

    07/17/2016 at 9:09 am

  8. skrivener

    10/31/2016 at 2:48 am

    I like the idea, but $1,400 + monitor are grim prices. If you don’t play fast games consider this tablet-as-a-PC setup instead

    HP ElitePad 1000 tablet (1.6GHz 4GB 64GB ssd); less than £180 on ebay (business are disposing of loads of units); add a £15 64gb micro sd

    HP’s dock gives 4 usb, sound & 2 monitor sockets (ebay £25 + a 2nd at £40 for work); Dock happily runs a 36in £100 screen while the tablet provides a 2nd handy touch screen on the side;

    £20 for wi-fi keyboard & mouse (with a 2nd £10 usb set for work). £13 for a usb plug-and-play case holds to hold the old pc’s hardrive & £14 for a little usb DVD rewriter. Mega adds 50GB of cloud storage to the system for £0

    This setup cost abt £315 ($400?) & happily replaced my home tablet / work laptop / work pc & home pc. Life’s become a lot simpler with just one device.

    Reply

  9. Carlin

    12/21/2016 at 2:45 pm

    I have an “old” Dell Inspiron 2330 which is a touchscreen computer. However, it has an HDMI ‘in’ and can alternately be used as an external monitor – is there a way to enable/utilize the touchscreen on this computer when connected to my Surface Pro 4 as an external monitor? I assume I need an additional cable outside of the HDMI – does anyone know what that cable is?
    Thanks for your help

    Reply

  10. C. Lyman

    01/21/2017 at 9:58 pm

    PC in a backpack: Surface Pro 4; Core i7, 256 GB SSD, 16 GB RAM. 2 USB hubs 1 7-port 2.0 that plugs into a port in the charging brick w/SD card reader and one 10-port 3.0 w/card reader. Accessories One 1 TB USB HDD one 1/2 TB HDD USB 2.0 ONE 512 micro SDXC in the provided card slot. 1 Rocksteady Bluetooth speaker bar and one Pawtec USB 3.0 optical CD, DVD Blu-Ray reader/burner. Looking for an externl touchsreen monitor about 20-22 In

    Other peripherals M-Audio Oxygen 49 music keyboard,M-Audio M-Track Plus two input. Mackie FX8 Pro w//USB all have USB 2.0

    And it’s all mine! With the exception of the music peripherals, it fits in a “day pack”

    Reply

  11. billy batts

    02/05/2017 at 10:21 am

    I bought a cheep little doodad for $14 that gives me 3 usb ports instead of 1 and $50-$60 for a Seagate 1tb external hard drive for my surface pro 3 and I play world of warships, war planes and the 78 games I have on steam with no problems.

    Reply

  12. Jacob

    02/10/2017 at 8:10 pm

    using the SP4’s mini display port can i connect it to an external display and use the usb ports on the back of the display? or will they not work without the dock?

    Reply

  13. Todd S.

    03/22/2017 at 6:11 pm

    “The Surface Pro 4 Dock isn’t built specifically for the Surface Pro 4, which is why users need a free spacer from Microsoft to enjoy the $199 accessory.”
    This sentence probably meant to say “The Surface Pro 3 Dock isn’t built…”

    Reply

  14. Jenelle

    04/10/2017 at 11:43 am

    I’ve connected the MSDisplayAdapter_3C miniadapter (and upgraded the firmware) but the setting(s) available for the HP (1600×900 recommended) and Samsung max out at 1280×764 (or 1280×1024, but the display is distorted). For both HP and Samsung monitors, there is a 4 to 6 inch “wasted space” black border around the viewable content. How can I get a setting to use the total real estate?

    Reply

  15. Jenelle

    04/10/2017 at 11:48 am

    The top left port is listed as being a headset jack, but I get nothing but static (no sound from anything) when I plug in my iSound speaker or my headset. Device manager doesn’t recognize anything is plugged in and all I get is static from this wired connection.

    Reply

  16. Peter Hamlin

    04/29/2017 at 5:22 am

    This is excellent!

    Recently, Win10 added a virtual touchpad — a small touchpad that appears on the Surface screen and is used as a mouse on an external monitor. It’s a fantastic solution if you use the Surface with an external non-touch monitor but don’t want to drag your mouse back and forth across the whole width of two screens.

    Great write-up! At the moment I’m deciding whether to go with a “desktop” setup like you describe, or a Surface Studio. (I’m waiting to see if the next iteration of the Studio has better internals, and also if I can save up that much money!)

    Reply

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