Tearing apart Microsoft’s Surface invites comparisons to Apple

30 Oct 2012

In a teardown of the Surface tablet computer, iFixit discovered where Microsoft took a leaf out of Apple’s book with magnetic charging and a difficult to disassemble display, as well as the key differences between this device and its iPad – and Android – competitors.

At surface value (see what I did there?), the Microsoft laptop provides users with a 10.6-inch ClearType HD Display resolution and connectivity via a USB 2.0 port and a micro-HDMI out port along the sides, and a micro-SDXC card slot under the kickstand.

Along the edge, iFixit also spotted a magnetic connection for charging the device, something that has long been implemented by Apple with the MagSafe connector and is favoured by many as these connectors lessen the risk of damage caused by tripping over a wire or other such disasters.

A second magnetic connection on the base of the device connects the slate to the Touch Cover or Type Cover. The latter comes with chiclet-style keys whereas the former is a flat-out touch keypad – but Microsoft has also included a component to enable haptic feedback when using the Touch Cover, so the experience is not a complete departure from using a normal keyboard.

Beneath the Surface

Inside, the Surface contains a 1.4GHz quad-core Nvidia Tegra 3 processor, 2GB DDR3 SDRAM and either a 32GB or 64GB NAND flash storage drive, depending on the model. It also packs two Wi-Fi antennas, Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity, dual speakers, and an ambient light sensor.

Microsoft Surface Teardown - image via iFixit

A closer look from iFixit reveals that both the front and rear-facing cameras are practically identical, both capable of 720p video – an unusual call for Microsoft as, traditionally, the front-facing camera tends to be equipped with greater imaging performance.

Four touchscreen controllers inhabit the inner workings of the Surface, which iFixit reckons are necessary to decode inputs from both the display and the Touch Cover.

Scoring higher than Apple, lower than others

The Surface packs a 31.5Wh battery, which ranks its power between the iPad 2 (25Wh) and the iPad 3 (42.5Wh). The dual cell proved easy to remove by the iFixit team, but, while many of the Surface’s components were modular and replaceable, the difficulty in opening up the device itself lowered its overall repairability score.

Microsoft Surface teardown - image via iFixit

The score was also affected by the display, in which the LCD and glass panel are fused together and the entire thing strongly adhered to the VaporMg frame. This ups the cost of replacing a damaged display, as well as making the task quite difficult – just like the iPad. Unfortunately, the keyboard connector is also trapped beneath the LCD, meaning this component can’t be removed without first dealing with the difficult display.

All-in-all, this resulted in a 4 out of 10 repairability score for the Surface, putting it a notch above the iPad 3 at 2 out of 10 but a few steps behind its Android counterparts like the Google Nexus 7 or the Amazon Kindle Fire HD, both with a score of 7 out of 10.

All images via iFixit

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.