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Report: Does size really matter? Surface Pro provides more storage than MacBook Air

Surface RT

If you have a few hours to spare, or an entire year if you're exceptionally slow, there's a super piece over at ZDNet that goes into the whole issue surrounding available storage on the Surface RT. Ed Bott has gone into some length to compare the Surface Pro 128GB against the MacBook Air 128GB to see just which product offers more room for consumers to wiggle.

The Surface RT and upcoming Pro Windows tablets have come under fire for not offering enough storage, but does the Apple Ultrabook offer much more? And if not, why hasn't it too come under fire? We'll not cover Bott's article in its entirely, but we'll take a look at the tl;dr version, particularly useful if you're in a hurry and can only spare a few minutes.

Check out the below chart, which illustrates the findings quite well.

Surface MacBook Storage Comparison

As one can see, the MacBook Air with 128GB of internal storage only provides 77.3 percent of the advertised space for user data. The Surface Pro with 128GB of storage offers 75.2 percent of advertised capacity for user data. There's really not enough in it for Microsoft to be criticised for zapping space from tablet owners. What's more is there's a minor system tweak on Windows that will free up 81.8 percent of the capacity without impacting performance.

Why does this report matter? It shows that storage is well on par with the competition and other hardware. 128GB is more than enough space for the average consumer, and with 90GB for user data, does anyone really need more? Xbox Music & Video, SkyDrive and Office leave a lighter footprint on the system to free up space for temporary files and more.

As mentioned above, Bott's in-depth article over on ZDNet is well worth checking out for the full run through so be sure to read up on it.

Source: ZDNet

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Reader comments

Report: Does size really matter? Surface Pro provides more storage than MacBook Air

120 Comments

Its Microsoft. Everything they do is seen as evil in the tech community. Its very unwarranted.

Very True! they could cure cancer and free the world from disease and still get criticized for it! god knows why?

In a way they sort of have freed the world from dz.  Bill Gates is using a large sum of his microsoft money to end polio, a disease that used to kill 500,000 children a year.  It is almost totally gone now and a huge thanks is due to bill gates.  Plus all his other amazing projects, he has made one of the largest positive impacts on our planet that a man can make.  He is not nearly controversial enough though...  Steve jobs 4eva!

My Microshake brings all the boys to the yard, and they're like its better than yours. Damn right its better than yours.

EVen if that were true, microSD cards are an example of solid state disk storage. Eg, they are an SSD. That said, Surface PRO uses a conventional SSD like you'll find in the Air, while the RT version uses a single-chip solution similar to what you'll find in a cell phone or tablet. That's because the RT version chipset does not include an HDD controller, like SATA.

To be precise, there'r two kinds of SSD - NAND and DRAM, NAND = the same architecture (and performance etc) as SD or any other flash memory, whereas DRAM = the ones with awesome performance and which are put inside Surface Pro/MBA

I'm sorry, I had to register just to correct this.  Other than NAND and DRAM both being made of transisters this is patently false.
DRAM is your RAM. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dynamic_random-access_memory Period.
SSD's and SD cards are made of the same stuff, NAND. They even mostly use the exact same chips.
What causes the performance difference is how those chips are configured and accessed.
SD cards, as well as the eMMCs that most tablets use have, at most, a handful of NAND chips attached to 1 or 2 data channels.
SSDs, OTOH have dozens of NAND chips connected to from 4 to 12 data channels. As well as dedicated RAM and a sub-processor. An SSD is more or less a tiny sub computer that lives in your regular sized computer.
The reason that SSDs are so much faster than SD cards is that they can access all of their NAND in parralel using many data channels.

I'm pretty sure the Air and Surface Pro use conventional NAND based SSDs too.

Ghast beat me to it. Although DRAM based SSDs exist, they are really not for the consumer market. A power failure would wipe your drive, which is a bit impractical.

The article states that the restore partition can be removed on the surface but osx does not allow you to remove it on the air. You can't remove the ef partition on either.

The issue is that the Surface gets compared to tablets when tablets beat it in a category. It then gets compared to a laptop when a spec isn't quite as good as laptops. Unfair but it is what it is.

This shouldnt be a surprise to anyone who has bought a computer in the last 20 years. It was only an issue because the apple-biased press wanted something to bash Microsoft with and hoodwink the less tech savvy into believing there was a problem in the first place. Hopefully this article by Ed Bott goes some way to restoring sanity. Though I somehow doubt it will.

There's the problem... the press won't retract their statements or change their opinions... they'll just compare it to the iCraps instead.

The OS use was always overblown. Silly media and people who don't apply comparative context.

I agree on the 4G part, actually. Even 3G would be nice. My grandma wants a tablet in the future, but she wants Internet access. Having to go the cumbersome tethering route (read: teaching my grandma tethering and getting her a data plan for it) would suck, so a Surface won't be an option for her.

You mean buying one of those personal WiFi hotspots? Another thing I considered, but it's another thing to convince my grandma to buy. Old people are inflexible with technology.

You have to buy the data plan either way. Once everything is setup, all you have to show her is where the on/off toggle for the wifi hotspot is on the phone. On wp there is an app that will allow you to pin the link to that settings screen. I'm sure your grandma a cell phone. So, get  her a wp free on contract and she will pay extra for the 4g data plan and will have a new smartphone as well. The alternative is to keep a dumb phone and pay for the minutes, buy an ipad, and buy a data plan for the ipad. The cost will be about the same either way, but my way you get a new phone.

I want one without 3/4g. I pay enough for data plans. I have a midi data card I share with all my devices. One plan instead of many plans.

Where are those people that were crying about the available spaces on the Surface now?  We need your opinion on the MacBook Air 128 too.  Oh wait it's from Apple, so it must be alright.

Battery Life: Anandtech had the Surface Pro at 5-6 hours of use and the 11-inch MacBook Air (priced around the 10.6-inch Surface Pro) at 5.5 hours, but the Surface is allegedly REALLY bad with high-res video (Engadget pegged it at 3 hours and 46 minutes, but didn't have a comparison for the 11-inch MacBook Air; the 13-inch MBA lasted over 6 hours).

Screen: The 11-inch MacBook Air is listed as having a 1366x768 display, while the 10.6-inch Surface Pro has a 1080p (1920x1080) display.

Weight: Apple lists the MBA's 11-inch model at 2.38 pounds. The Surface Pro is listed at an even 2 pounds, according to Microsoft's site. Not sure the weight of the Type Cover, but with it, the Surface Pro and MBA are probably about even.

So I'd say the battery life and weight are likely about the same, with the Surface Pro running away on the display front.

Now, my distaste for all things Apple is not hidden AT ALL, but I will say this:

I do not believe that the Surface Pro functions WELL as a tablet or ultrabook (I hate that term, by the way, so I will stick to "laptop."). As a tablet, the Surface is heavier than the competition. Yes, 2 pounds is still light and portable, I agree, but it IS heavier than the alternatives, and the cooling apparently can be audible at times.

As a laptop, it's still a little iffy. Because the cover is so light, the weight isn't well-distributed. I don't own a Surface, so I cannot attest to this, but I wouldn't trust using this on my lap, especially while lying down. It's more that the Type Cover is decent on a table or desk. The Surface is basically decent at two things, but does neither especially well.

Personally, I still see the Yoga as a superior device, as it has identical internals and a sturdier body.

Yoga 11" 699 on lenovo's site...i like the orange and the swivel screen, very neat, like how you can set it up 4 different ways

I was thinking about the yoga 13- starts out at 9.99.  It is between that and the surface pro...i think.  Was hoping someone that has a yoga can share their experience.

Also remember that the display on the Surface Pro is not only a touch screen (not an option on the MBA) but also has a pressure sensitive stylus (Wacom) for drawing.  Basically, the Surface beats the MBA senseless in every possible way.

Very true, the wacom stylus is awesome and very much underappreciated, lol, hope sales do well, not to mention there is that slick Vapor MG coating (isn't there like RT?)

I think its perception of the public.  when people look at the MBA, they think laptop, but when they see the (awesome) surface, they think tablet because of the awesome form factor.  In the general public's eye, they automatically compare that to the iPad.  Their mind can't grasp that transition and difference...those are the people we call iSheep 
But, like everything else in this world,  perception is 9/10 of the game. 

Agree on isheep, apps are the only saving grace for ios, if you are not the one doing the shearing and slaughtering you must be the sheep. Seems a pity how many good ideas go down the drain because of marketing and politics. All we can do is fight for the truth...btw I own apple products, so I know they haven't innovated...a hybrid tablet/laptop...ahead of the curve.

I believe the 13" MBA has a much bigger battery than the 11". So the video performance will probably be about equal as well.

This again shows how biased the blogosphere was against Microsoft. There's an incredible amount of FUD against everything Microsoft does. It's unbelievable what they get away with.

That was a great post on ZDnet. I think I see where the problem is. Surface Pro isn't really a tablet.  Tablets have a mobile OS and mobile hardware. The Surface Pro is in fact a keyboardless laptop.
Once you take that into consideration, you can then compare it to the appropriate hardware. Battery still sucks, but can't win them all.

The battery life isn't THAT far off from the MBA, though. Anadtech had the Surface Pro getting 5-6 hours of life, while it rated the 11-inch MBA at 5.5 hours.

As much as I dislike Apple products, lets keep it real.  The MBA is a laptop and the Surface Pro is a tablet.  On that front, the MBA has middling battery life for a modern laptop and the Surface Pro has appaling to embarrassing battery life for a tablet.

With the addition of the Surface Pro, IMO the definition of "tablet" has been broadened. While I agree with you that the lack of an attached physical keyboard does make the Surface Pro a tablet, the fact is that the Surface Pro does more than "traditional" tablets. And what, in the consensus' mind, defines a "tablet"? The iPad. The unfair position with comparing the Surface Pro as a tablet to an iPad is that the Surface Pro is running a full x86 OS while the iPad is running a less battery intensive mobile OS.
The Surface Pro is not a tablet under the definition that the iPad has created. If anything, the Surface Pro is more of a slate PC, like something Samsung made for Windows 7. I really believe the Surface Pro has stepped into uncharted territory. 

Except it cannot be compared to a tablet fairly because it has the OS and internals of a laptop with the form factor of a tablet. It's a new breed.

Its a laptop/tablet hybrid. It has battery life and storage like a laptop because those are determined by the hardware and OS - which are very much laptop on the Surface Pro.

It has the portability and form factor of a tablet because it can - that's what makes it so cool.

and last I checked 64gb sdxc were decently priced and after formatting would be about 59gb left and simple command prompt toggles the media into the same location. SP > MacBook (of any flavor IMO.

Only issue would be if the SD card slot isn't deep enough, leaving the card hanging out some.  Little dangerous to put anything important on a card that could breakoff with regular use.  Though about that with my Air until someone pointed out it would stick out.

I think most consumers are going to see the commercials and pics and think this is Microsoft's iPad. Thus the reason the memory story caught fire. Until recently I didn't really think of the Surface as a MBA or ultra book competitor.

I am a Windows guy mostly (numerous Windows computers and phones) but I also recently bought the 13in Macbook Air (got it for $999).  I think that it really comes down to personal preference.  To me, it you plan on using it mostly as a tablet, than obviously go with the Surface.  If you plan on using it more as a regular laptop, I really would recommend the Air (or equivalent ultrabook).  While the two different keyboards for the Surface tablets are nice, they simply don't compare to a true keyboard.  Also, the Surface keyboards will become cumbersome to use if you like to use it on the couch a lot like me.
I agree the space thing is B.S. when it comes to 128gb.  While more space is better, 128 has been just fine for me on the Air.  Battery does bother me a bit though.  With the tablet form factor, it should never be below 6 hours.  Part of the reason I got the 13in Air over the 11in was because of battery.  I have a great Lenovo laptop but the battery life stinks.  With portability I think most people want long better life, not just decent.

I disagree IF the tablet is actually running a full-on PC chip.  I think we will see updates down the line with the new, more power efficient Core i5s and we certainly will see Haswell later in the year which should take the battery life over 6 hours. 
 
The big step will occur whenever Intel gets to moving their SoC designs to x64. 
 
Even so, this Core i5 gets better battery life than the MacBook Air.  And neither Air has the resolution of the Surface Pro - 1920x1080.  It takes a bit more juice to support the display.  Also, the 11 inch Air does not support SD expansion (13" does).
 
Microsoft is clearly taking aim at the small MacBook Air.  A 13" Surface Pro probably would beat a MacBook Air 13" on battery life.  I'd actually be interested in MS making a convertible Surface Book.  If you think about it, the keyboard tech developed for the Touch and Type Covers could play into this.

I used my 13in in the comparison because of the price I got it for is the same as the Pro with 128gb of storage.  That said I think the biggest point I made was that the Surface is a much better choice IF you use it primarily as a tablet, otherwise an ultrabook or Air is a better choice.

I don't understand why only if you use it primarily as a tablet I find windows 8 on my desktop to be top notch. And something with touch screen removes the need for a mouse. My surface rt is perfect for both as well. To say its only better as a tablet is nonsense.

I said that because if you use it primarily as a laptop, it becomes uncomfortable to use quickly if not at a table. I had Surface RT and while it is possible to use on your lap (as a laptop), you wouldn't be able to move much as it would tip over. Classic clamshell is a lot better for non-table use (again when using as a laptop).

Right. But that doesn't justify advertising the 64 GB Surface Pro and getting 23 GB out of it. You pay less for it ofcourse but I don't think the average consumer will expect 23 GB on board. That's just wrong. This is a "tablet" running a "full OS' expecting you to install "full softwares". Good luck trying to save files after installing all your software and importing your music / videos.

Sure it does. The actual size of the HD without an OS or partitions on it is extremely close to 64 GB, that's not false advertising, nuianced, but not false.
 
The same thing would happen with the MBA 64 GB, you'd still end up with about the same because the OS size doesn't shrink with size of the HD so both would have around 23 GB free. Once you delete the recovery image off of the SP 64, you'd end up with about 30 GB free, which is fine.
 
Bottom line, AutoCad & Adobe CS are both around 10 GB a piece and neither a SP 64 or MBA 64 would be sufficient in install both and then loading music/videos.

I am so blasting this all over Yammer. It's time a few iCoworkers were put in their place.

I've multiple applications and files installed on a 128GB MacBook Air and still have 84GB left, explain that article. Atleast post correct information

Simple. It comes with 92.2 GB, you install stuff, you have 84 GB left. What's so hard to understand? Btw the 92.2 is after the preloaded apps.

I am sorry but this is an example of comparing apples to oranges clearly in an effort to deflect the legitimate criticisms from the Surface Pro's obvious limitation.  I have never bought an Apple product and never will. Nevertheless, the MBA is a laptop and Surface Pro is a tablet. So what if they have comparable storage?  They are not even remotely the same thing.  In spite of the fact that MBA is an overrated  laptop with limited storage and middling battery life (for a modern laptop), the real issue is Surface Pro is a tablet with acceptable storage and (for a tablet) embarrassing battery life. 
Compare Surface Pro to other tablets, not to a non-touchscreen laptop.  If you want to pull laptops into the mix, Surface Pro's storage is only comparable to poor and the battery life is even more of a joke.  You can get an ultra-portable laptop from Toshiba or HP, or a hybrid from Lenovo, with similar to better storage, a comparable processor, and vastly superior battery life for similar (or less) money. Once you open the door comparing Surface Pro to laptops, the question becomes even clearer.  What does Surface Pro really bring to the table besides a steep price, slightly smaller form factor, and terrible battery life? 

The fact that you compared something with a full os and an i5, merely based on its form factor tells me there's something wrong with your argument. I agree that it's isn't a fair comparison, but it isn't fair either way. Its a new breed and should be treated as such. Yes the battery life sucks, but you live and you learn.

The Surface Pro is not a tablet.  I would compare it more to an utlrabook if anything.  If you compare the Pro with other tablets like you suggest you should have come away with the fact this is not really a "tablet". 
Rethink your point and try again because you come off like a troll.  Especially your last sentence; "what does the surface pro really bring to the table besides a steep price, slightly smaller form factor, and terrible battery life?"  Steep price is subjective-try again.  If you want to compare it to an tablet like the ipad 128gb for 799 that should tell you the price is not so steep compartivly.  Compare the specs and the OS and tell me for one hundred more it is overpriced comparitvely speaking. 

The Surface Pro is a laptop OS and processor in a tablet form factor. Its not purely either. Battery life and needed storage are determined by the OS and hardware. The OS and hardware are full laptop/desktop OS. Being able to also function as a tablet is the something new MS has brought.

Based on your comment, I guess you don't have Windows 8 pro OS.  Before you are bashing the product, maybe you need to understand it first then.

Err.. read his comment again.  He meant Windows 8 Pro will run into the 'other storage' issue like WP8.

I am amazed at the.....no wait.. I am not amazed at the copious amount of poor comments.  As I grow older perhaps I become more synical but it seems the majority of the public are fatuous.

The whole article buzz just for 5 more GB on Surface Pro AFTER you deleted recovery part? Wow, that's say a lot about how badly Microsoft failed with current Surface series. Strangeley you skipped the battery life (4 for S Pro vs 10 Air hours)? 

Hon, you might want to go back and actually read the comments. All the "points" you just made were covered and broken down into the facts, the Surface Pro gets comparable battery life to the MBA 11" (5-6hr) but is a higher resolution and has touchscreen. Also, since when does any computer, laptop, or tablet actually give you the space advertised? While more would be nice, the size is fine for those who aren't downloading massive amounts of media and even then you have expandable storage, Skydrive, and other options available to you.

He won't.  His screen name BB10 fan equates to hating MS.  His screen name exposes the bias and delusion to the mass

Actually wasn't it closer to a 15 gig difference between the recovery partition and actual released version of the Pro? 7+8=15, no 5.

Surface pro is powerest tablet in the world. But soon will be Razer edge gaming tablet. Those two tablets are diamods.

I preordered my Surface pro yesterday after returning the RT which I had for a week. I must say I loved the RT and I hope the Pro has the same feel. The reason for the return was my college uses an .exe style installer for their vpn to be able to access the internet which wouldn't work on the RT. I got the email this morning that the Pro will be ready for pickup on Sat morn. Exciting times.

AFAIK, what the article was saying that storage is a non-issue. You can also delete Mac partitions I think. What it does point out is that the blogosphere was stupid to scream wolf without looking further. Kudos to Ed.

i'd like to point out that the $1000 mac book air doesnt have a microsd slot like the surface pro. so technically you are getting 192gb with the surface pro compared to 128gb of the equally priced mac book air. yes you can upgrade the mac book pro's drive size, but then you'd be paying more money for it. the surface pro is the better choice.

I would compare this tothe complaints in reviews about using the surface on your lap. I find this an odd argument as nobody levels it against the iPad yet the Surfaces flexibility is somehow a failing. Why is it you must use the Surface tablet like a laptop on your lap? Why is it you cannot us it in tablet mode or use it on your lap? I think for me this best illustrates the uphill struggle Microsoft has.

I agree. Its also a good lesson about the value of guarding your reputation. MS allowed themselves to be seen as the greedy mega-corporation everyone loved to hate (and sometimes for very good reason). Now its hard to fight that reputation once its firmly established.

WPCentral, you're missing the point.
Complaints were about the 32 GB Surface, where you only had HALF of the storage space available. That is certainly abnormal. You don't buy a 32 GB iPad and only have 16 GB left... 29 GB left is normal/expected, but half? No.

the ZDnet article has been updated to reflect that some 128SSD MBAs have more space (than the Surface). i guess it may have depended on when the MBA was purchased...  in any case they are close enough.

My question is what apps are installed on the MBA compared to the Surface ? Does the MBA have iLife, or iWork installed ?  What does the Surface come with ?