Posey's Tips & Tricks

Microsoft's Surface Pro X: It's Like the Surface RT, But Better

There's a lot about the Surface Pro X that's reminiscent of the ill-fated Surface RT. But despite the similarities, this might just be one of the rare cases where the sequel is better than the original.

Microsoft has been offering an ARM version of Windows 10 for a couple of years now, but now there seems to be renewed interest in running Windows 10 on an ARM device.

Maybe it's because of the release of Microsoft's Surface Pro X, or perhaps there are other underlying factors. Whatever the reason, I wanted to take the opportunity to talk about what you can realistically expect from a Windows 10 ARM device.

I have to admit that when I first began hearing about Surface Pro X, my mind instantly flashed back to the ill-fated Surface RT. The Surface RT was Microsoft's first Surface tablet, ran Windows 8 on an ARM processor and, unfortunately, was almost universally loathed by the critics.

Overall, it really wasn't a bad device (I own several of them), but there were two main things that led to the Surface RT's ultimate demise. First, the Surface RT came with an ARM version of the Windows 8 operating system. Windows 8 was, of course, the operating system in which Microsoft decided to do away with the Windows Start button, and to try to blend the normal Windows desktop with a tablet-style touch interface. What might have sounded like a good idea on paper made for an incredibly disjointed end user experience.

The second thing that brought about Surface RT's failure was the lack of applications. Because Surface RT was based on the ARM architecture, normal Windows applications were not compatible with it. Only a very limited number of apps were ever released for Surface RT. (Incidentally, the lack of applications was widely considered to be the reason why Microsoft pulled the plug on Windows Phone.)

Like Surface RT, Surface Pro X is an ARM-based Windows tablet. As I said before, though, the Surface RT really wasn't a bad device. It just suffered from a poorly thought-out user interface and a lack of applications. Thankfully, Microsoft does not seem to be repeating its past mistakes.

One of the biggest things Surface Pro X has going for it is that it runs Windows 10. Windows 8 may very well be one of the things that was responsible for Surface RT's failure.

Perhaps even more important, Surface Pro X is able to run both ARM applications and x86 applications. Of course, x86 applications cannot run natively on an ARM processor, but Microsoft has built an emulator into its Windows 10 ARM operating system, allowing it to run applications that it would not normally be able to run. I haven't had the opportunity to try running an x86 application on a Surface Pro X, but several people that I have talked to indicated that x86 applications perform nearly as well as they do when running on a native x86 device.

It's worth pointing out that Surface Pro X probably isn't going to be able to replace your primary laptop. For right now, at least, the device is incapable of running x64 applications (although that capability is rumored to be in the works). Additionally, there are plenty of other limitations. For instance, applications that customize the Windows experience won't work.

Despite all of its limitations, I think there is a solid use case for Surface Pro X. The best thing about Surface Pro X is that it boots instantly, and it is always connected through either a Wi-Fi or an LTE connection. Its battery life also tends to be far better than that of a conventional laptop.

That being the case, Surface Pro X is probably best-suited for people who need a device that they can use many times throughout the day without the hassles of waiting for Windows to boot or running out of battery.

Of course, there is a trade-off between battery life and performance. Surface Pro X is a poor choice for anyone who needs to run resource-intensive applications. It's fine for browsing the Web or editing Office documents, but you wouldn't want to use it as a gaming machine or a video editing platform. For those types of tasks, you are going to be a lot better off using a native x86 device.

About the Author

Brien Posey is a 16-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.

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