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Which Microsoft Surface Pro 4 Should You Buy?

Choice is the enemy of decisiveness. With notebooks, smartphones and tablets, having choice makes it easier for companies to attract different people who need different things from what’s essentially the same device. Microsoft embraced choice a little with its very first Surface Pro. The Microsoft Surface Pro 4 release brings with it a new slate of options.

Microsoft allows users to pick some of the components inside their most expensive Surface Pro 4 devices.

Surface Pro 4 Impressions (3)

Read: Surface Pro 4 Review – The Best There Is

 Let’s take a look at your options.

Which Microsoft Surface Pro 4 Should You Buy: Comparing the Hardware Models

In total there are three different base models of the Microsoft Surface Pro 4. Each comes in silver and each has the same hinge, 12.3-inch PixelSense display, body style and upgraded Surface Pen for taking notes. Their power buttons, USB port and volume buttons are all in the same places. Different Surface Pro 4 models all have the same Type Cover options available to them.

Every Surface Pro 4 uses Intel’s 6th Generation Core processors to get what Microsoft says is  better battery life and a performance boost versus what the company offered with the Surface Pro 3.

Surface Pro 4 Impressions (1)

For casual users there’s the Surface Pro 4 for $899. It includes an Intel Core m3 processor and 4GB of RAM. There’s 128GB of storage built-into the device with the option for users to add more using the USB port or a MicroSD card, just like the other devices in Microsoft’s line-up.

This model is the spiritual successor to last year’s Surface Pro 3 with Intel Core i3 processor. The difference in just a single letter has big implications. Surface Pro 3 with Intel Core i3 was a respectably fast device, but the processor still produced heat, requiring it to have a fan. The Intel Core m3 processor doesn’t produce enough heat to warrant the fan. This model uses Intel’s HD 515 integrated graphics solution.

The Intel Core i5 Surface Pro 4 starts at $999. It has 128GB of storage and 4GB of RAM. The Intel Core i5 processor is beefy, so beefy that this Surface Pro 4 model has a fan. Users can configure this model with as much as 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. Inside are Intel 520 graphics, which offer a slight boost in graphics performance.

Surface Pro 4 (3)

Finally there’s the Intel Core i7 Microsoft Surface Pro 4. The base configuration has 256GB of storage and 8GB of RAM. It can be configured with as much as 1TB of storage and 16GB of RAM.  This model has Intel Iris Graphics, making it significantly better at high-end tasks that require more than just a beefy processor and Intel’s basic graphics. It’s also capable or running more things at the same time if the buyer is willing to boost the amount of RAM that comes inside it.

Which Microsoft Surface Pro 4 Should You Buy: Your Use Cases

In trying to make sense of the different models of the Surface Pro 4 Microsoft says that the Intel Core M3 model “runs desktop software just like a laptop.” It also invites users to “stream music and shows with iTunes and Netflix.” Put a different way, this Microsoft Surface Pro 4 is for users who need a thin, light and quiet notebook PC that is as quiet and hopefully cool as their old tablet.

Surface Pro 4 Impressions (2)

Opening programs, streaming video, downloading apps and programs from the Windows Store are all things that this model excels at. Even better, it’ll make a great large-screen eBook reader. Early on, many believed that this version of the Surface Pro 4 would offer more battery life, but in practice, that is simply not the case.

The Intel Core i5 model Surface Pro 4 is for users who need a tablet, but want a notebook with some power behind it. Microsoft bills this model as great for “desktop gaming,” something that the entry-level Surface Pro 4 shouldn’t be relied on to do because it has no fan and a low standard clock speed. I disagree with that assessment completely, if it’s gaming that you want you’re better off with the high-end Core i7 Surface Pro 4 or getting Microsoft’s Surface Book.

The Intel Core i7 Surface Pro 4 is for media professionals and casual gamers. Want to use industry-specific applications like 3D modeling and wholesale video editing? It’s the Intel Core i7 Model that you want to invest in. Intel Iris 540 graphics help improve the Intel Core i7 device’s graphical prowess with games and desktop programs.

Which Microsoft Surface Pro 4 Should You Buy: Your Decision

Surface Pro 4 (1)

Choose the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 that’s geared toward the activities you’re most interested in doing with it. If you’re a gamer or heavily into editing video you don’t want the entry $899 model. On the other hand, lawyers, students, teachers and people who just want a Windows 2-in-1 couldn’t go wrong with the Intel Core M3 model.

Read: Microsoft Surface Pro 4 Impressions

The Surface Pro 4 with Intel Core i5 processor is a perfect compromise between performance and pricing. Anyone who even thinks they’re going to be playing 3D games on their Surface Pro 4 should get the Surface Pro 4 with Intel Core i7 processor. Digital media professionals and true PC gaming aficionados are better off purchasing the Surface Pro 4 with Intel Core i7 processor too.

Good luck with your Microsoft Surface Pro 4.

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8 Comments

  1. Jan

    10/17/2015 at 6:45 am

    Thanks, now I understand that I should not buy a i5 with 256SSB, that I’ve looked into. I want a silent computer i.e. no fan. So…need to find another Windows machine…or, nah I don’t want a Mac.

    Reply

  2. Mike Bowen

    11/15/2015 at 2:57 am

    You really need to proof read your article before posting it. It is littered with spelling mistakes.

    The Intel Core i7 Surface Pro 4 is (amid) at media professionals

    aficionados are better (of) purchasing the Surface Pro 4…

    Reply

    • Travis Pope

      04/14/2016 at 11:04 am

      You try to be as careful as you can, but sometimes mistakes make it into the copy. Thanks a lot for pointing out these issues.

      Reply

  3. 411monk

    12/29/2015 at 10:59 am

    Thanks for nothing. Anyone could have written that review, even without touching nor using the SP4. Benchmarks and actual testing have already shown that even the top end i7’s performance degrades when attempting to run moderate games. The integrated Iris card degrades by 4x with all the industry benchmarking utilities. Yet you are recommending the i5 for serious 3D gaming… the i5 which has a significantly less performing GPU.

    Reply

  4. Bill Abbott

    01/18/2016 at 10:58 pm

    If this is a review, it gets an “F”. There’s no suggesting the writer ever touched any model Surface, so the unattributed quotes and non-quotes (“Many speculate…”) are baseless and misleading, at best Go read some reviews to see how its done. Kitchen gadgets or home entertainment stuff, cars, cameras and phones are all good places to find useful examples.

    If this is a summary of Microsoft marketing material, have a look at Microsoft’s own summaries/comparisons of their material. See how they condense repetitive text and enumerate features that differ. (Such a summary is perfectly newsworthy, but ought to be identifiable as such).The discussion of clock speed is a text book entry on how not to write this sort of thing:

    “Many speculate [whom?] …battery life … due to its lower clock speed.” NEVER publish this kind of filler. Own the speculation or attribute it. “Many” is not acceptable when you also quote Intel and PCWorld and make assertions in your own voice. If you have quotes, just use quotes. If you have independent facts you’ve observed, you can mix them in. “Many speculate” is what’s known as “weasel words”. It doesn’t say whom, actually, and it doesn’t say what they alledgedly said either. Its worthless

    The explanation:
    “Clock speed is a measure PC makers use to quantify how fast the processors in their machines are.” isn’t true. Clock speed is not an a quantization. Its a fact Chip A uses clock speeds of x to y. Just like they use a range of voltages, consume a range of currents, generate a range of watts of heat.. nothing quantized..
    For comparison, Chip Z uses clock speeds of b to c IF both are running single threads of the same (x86) processor instructions, then the clock speeds are directly comparable and will be reflected in actual program run time. If two processors are different (ARM vs x86) then clock speeds aren’t comparable without a conversion constant which may vary depending on the task performed. Just leave out this sentence.

    “Each of these PCs can boost their clock speed if they’re cool enough”. How do they know if they”re cool enough? Is it temperature or which table they eat lunch at? How about something that says temperature sensors are used to regulate clock speed, speeding up the clock when possible.

    “PCWorld says that the processor has a 900 MHz clock speed.” sure. But you don’t quote PCWorld abiout the other clock speeds… same source? Does Intel Microsoft specify them? This is also important because you go on:
    “The Intel Core i5 Surface Pro 4 has a clock speed of 2.4-GHz making it twice as fast as the Core m3 version without Turbo Boost.”

    A curiosity. Twice as fast as 900MHz would generally imply 1.8 GHz, although processor internals might reduce performance at higher speeds so that 1.8GHz would be required to double the operation rate of the 900MHz processor. Either 2.4GHz is MORE than twice as fast, or there’s some internal difference that makes the clock speeds not directly comparable. What’s written is either misleading because its inaccurate, or not enough to describe whats really going on.

    “The Intel Core i7 Surface Pro 4 … packs the most power you can get in a Surface Pro 4 with a clock speed of 2.2-GHz.” contradicts previous paragraph, Finishing (this is the last sentence on the subject) “The Core i7 model has a slightly slower clock speed, but faster Intel Iris 540 graphics backing it up” implies that the 2.2GHz number is misleading or inaccurate, so why did you just give it?

    This is just laugh out loud bad, but probably typed by some sincere person who is trying their best, They need an editor and some help with examples of what they’re trying to write.

    Reply

    • Travis Pope

      04/14/2016 at 11:03 am

      Thanks so much for taking the time to point out where there were issues on this piece. I’m issuing some corrections on it now and really value the feedback.

      Reply

  5. Blanchemhawkins

    04/14/2016 at 8:18 pm

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  6. hemi49er

    06/22/2016 at 3:05 pm

    It would be a lot more valuable if you could provide some 3rd party benchmarks if you don’t have the capability of doing this yourself. Tell us how this works with some of the top programs, say Photoshop, current games, etc… without this, as others have commented, I’m left feeling like I wasted my time reading.

    Reply

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