Surface Pro flops in repairability test, says iFixit

Worst score ever for a tablet after a tear-down, says DIYer site, matches lousy score of Apple's MacBook Pro with Retina

Popular do-it-yourself website iFixit today gave Microsoft's Surface Pro tablet the lowest-possible repair score, just 1 out of a possible 10, after spending hours getting the device open.

"The Surface Pro received a 1 out of 10 score on our repairability scale -- the worst any tablet has ever received," said Miroslav Djuric, iFixit's chief information architect, in an email Wednesday. "The display assembly is anchored down with the most adhesive we've ever seen on a small device. In fact, it took us well over an hour to figure out how to get inside -- an iFixit first."

Microsoft introduced the Surface Pro in mid-2012, but started selling it only last Saturday, Feb. 9. Within hours, the $999 128GB configuration sold out. The $899 model with 64GB of storage space, however, remains in stock on Microsoft's online store.

The Surface Pro iFixit tore apart was the latter; presumably the 128GB model differs only in the SSD's (solid-drive storage) number of gigabytes.

The tear-down experts encountered copious amounts of adhesive that fixed the display and battery to the case. "We tried every method we could think of to free the screen, including cutting the adhesive, to no avail," iFixit said in the step-by-step notes documenting the disassembly. "This Pro requires a pro method. Thankfully, we have one: We call it the 'Heat-It-Up-and-Poke-It-Till-It-Does-What-We-Want' method."

Djuric knocked the battery adhesive, too. "We don't understand the point of heavily-glued batteries. This kind of planned obsolesce is completely unnecessary," he wrote.

On the plus side, Micron's 1.8-in. RealSSD C400 solid-state drive could be easily removed and replaced with one sporting more storage, assuming the do-it-yourself managed to get inside the Surface Pro without damaging a component or sheering off a cable.

Other iFixit finds included confirmation of the Intel CPU, an Intel Core i5-3317U; a Wacom chip that drove the tablet's pen-based digitizer; and a pair of ultra-tiny fans to keep everything cool.

iFixit also applauded the battery inside the Surface Pro, pegging the LG-made 42 Wh (watt-hour) component the "Cadillac of batteries." But although the battery was rated for 7.4 volts of current -- twice as much as the 43 Wh battery inside Apple's fourth-generation iPad -- earlier testing by reviewers revealed battery lifespans as low as four hours.

Microsoft has hinted it will sell an external battery expansion pack, or a battery-powered keyboard, to alleviate the Pro's power limitations.

But the fixation with glue and what iFixit said was a "tad crazy" number of screws, pushed the repairability score of the Surface Pro to the minimum of just 1 out of 10.

Of course, some tablets have scored nearly as low: Apple's fourth-generation iPad garnered just 2 out of 10 last fall.

But Microsoft has pitched the Surface Pro as a dual threat, able to replace both an ultrabook-style PC and a tablet, positioning that makes the device's score all the more notable for matching the rating earned by Apple's Retina-equipped MacBook Pro, which iFixit last year called the "least-repairable laptop we've taken apart."

Microsoft's Surface Pro tablet turned out to be virtually non-repairable, said iFixit, which balked at the glue that held the display to the case.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

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