So I was reading the first batch of Surface Pro 9 reviews, and soon a thread popped up as I digested the highlights. (We have our own review of Microsoft’s latest 2-in-1 device on the way.) Honestly, Windows on ARM still isn’t good enough — certainly not good enough to justify the very high $1,299 price tag ($1,579 with keyboard and stylus) for what should be one of the best laptops.
Let’s start with the general performance. There are two versions of the Surface Pro 9: one with an SQ3 chip (Qualcomm and Microsoft) and one with an Intel 12th gen chip. According to Andrew Friedman at Tom’s Hardware (Opens in a new tab)The SQ3 lags behind the MacBook Air M2 in a handful of tests.
In Geekbench 5, which measures overall performance, the Surface Pro 9 (SQ3) hit 1,125 on single cores and 5,849 on multiple cores. Compare that to 1932 and 8919 for Apple laptops. They are not in the same league.
How about a real world test? On the post’s Handbrake video transcoding test, the Surface Pro 9 (SQ3) took 12 minutes 58 seconds (using the original ARM version), compared to the MacBook Air M2’s 7:52. To be fair, we don’t know how fast or not the iPad Pro M2 with a similar chip is, but we’re in the process of testing exactly that.
The Surface Pro 9’s file transfer speed was less than half that of the MacBook Air M2. So it’s not a good start.
It gets worse. More at the edge (Opens in a new tab)Surface Pro 9 reviewer Monica Chin had several issues with apps that weren’t fully optimized for ARM, resulting in serious lags and frustrating freezes. Check this out:
“I only had Slack open, and switching between channels would take about three seconds (yes, I timed that on my phone). Spotify, with nothing in the background, would take 11 seconds, then freeze for another four seconds. Before I could finally press Play When I was typing in Chrome, I often saw Important lag, which resulted in all kinds of typos (because my words didn’t appear until long after I wrote them).”
Add YouTube video freeze and Lightroom crash while trying to open and you’ll get the image.
Now, there are Windows applications that run natively on ARM, and their number is growing. These browsers include Edge (which I don’t want to use but whatever), Microsoft Teams (which was still somewhat slow) and OneNote (which is described as zippy).
Other native apps include Firefox, Photoshop, VLC, Netflix, Handbrake, and Zoom. But progress has not been fast enough.
And that brings me to the overall Microsoft problem. They’ve spent nearly a decade trying to make Windows on ARM work. The Surface with Windows RT released in 2012 was an ill-fated first attempt. And since then, we’ve seen a very inconsistent effort from Microsoft, Qualcomm, and the entire Windows system of partners to make this entire experience pay off.
When compared to Microsoft’s efforts, Apple’s approach to its proprietary silicon – including the native Rosetta 2 emulation layer – has worked flawlessly from the start with the MacBook Air M1 and MacBook Pro M1. On Macs, I’ve never had the kinds of compatibility or performance issues that the Surface Pro 9 does.
And an army of M1 and M2-enhanced apps are now available, from Trello and Dropbox to Chrome and Lightroom. However, the emulation provided by Apple is so superior that the average user does not even notice what is original and what is not. They don’t have to care, that’s the point.
Based on early reviews of the Surface Pro 9, there are some benefits to the version with the SQ3. This includes support for 5G and a host of improvements for NPU video calls, such as vertical background blur and audio focus. The SQ3 also promises significantly longer battery life.
Overall, though, I’d have a hard time recommending someone to spend that much money on a platform that hasn’t been proven yet. And Microsoft would have been better off solving Windows-on-ARM problems before they got further behind in the computing wars. Because now he loses.