So I read the first batch of Surface Pro 9 reviews, and a theme quickly emerged as I digested the highlights. (We have our own review of Microsoft’s latest 2-in-1 device on the way.) Frankly, Windows on ARM still isn’t good enough — certainly not enough to justify the very high $1,299 price ($1,579 with keyboard and stylus) for what it is. must be one of the best laptops.
Let’s start with the overall performance. There are two versions of the Surface Pro 9: one with the SQ3 chip (Qualcomm and Microsoft) and one with the 12th gen Intel chip. According to Andrew Freedman over at Tom’s Hardware (opens in new tab)model SQ3 far behind the MacBook Air M2 in a range of tests.
In Geekbench 5, which measures overall performance, the Surface Pro 9 (SQ3) hit 1,125 in single-core and 5,849 in multi-core. Compare that to 1,932 and 8,919 for Apple laptops. They are not in the same league.
What about real world exams? In the publication’s Handbrake video transcoding test, the Surface Pro 9 (SQ3) took 12 minutes and 58 seconds (using the original ARM version), compared to the MacBook Air M2’s 7:52. To be fair, we don’t know how much faster or not the iPad Pro M2 with the same chip is, but we’re in the process of testing it.
The Surface Pro 9’s file transfer speed is also less than half that of the MacBook Air M2. So not a good start.
It’s getting worse. Via The Verge (opens in new tab), Surface Pro 9 reviewer Monica Chin ran into some problems with applications that have not been fully optimized for ARM, which causes serious lag and frustrating freezes. Check this out:
“I only have Slack open, and switching between channels will still take almost three seconds (yes, I time it on my phone). Spotify, also without anything in the background, will take 11 seconds to open, then freeze for another four seconds before i finally hit play.when i type in chrome i see it a lot significant lag, which caused all kinds of typos (because my words didn’t come out until after I wrote them).”
Add a video freezing on YouTube and Lightroom just crashes while trying to open and you will get the image.
Currently, there are Windows applications that run natively on ARM, and the number is growing. This includes the Edge browser (which I don’t want to use but whatever), Microsoft Teams (which is somehow still sluggish) and OneNote (which is described as zippy).
Other native apps include Firefox, Photoshop, VLC, Netflix, Handbrake and Zoom. But the progress is not fast enough.
And this brings me to Microsoft’s general problem. They’ve been trying to get Windows on ARM to work for almost ten years. Surface with Windows RT released back in 2012 was an unexpected effort. And since then we have seen inconsistent efforts from Microsoft, Qualcomm and the entire Windows ecosystem of partners to make this experiment possible.
When compared to Microsoft’s efforts, Apple’s approach with its own silicon – including the homegrown Rosetta 2 layer emulation – has worked flawlessly right from the start with the MacBook Air M1 and MacBook Pro M1. On a Mac, I’ve never had the kind of compatibility or performance issues that the Surface Pro 9 faced.
And there’s an army of M1 and M2 optimized apps now available, from Trello and Dropbox to Chrome and Lightroom. However, the emulation offered by Apple is superior, the average user does not notice what is real and what is not. They should not care, and that’s the point.
Based on early Surface Pro 9 reviews, there are some advantages to the version with the SQ3. This includes 5G support and a number of enhancements for video calling using the Neural Processing Unit (NPU), such as portrait background blur and Voice Focus. The SQ3 model also promises greater battery life.
Overall, though, I would have a hard time recommending someone spend this much money on a still unproven platform. And Microsoft had better work out the Windows-on-ARM kinks before it goes any further in the computing war. Because now, it’s a loss.