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Larger-screened Surface Pro 8 gets its biggest redesign since the Surface Pro 3

Larger-screened Surface Pro 8 gets its biggest redesign since the Surface Pro 3

 September 22, 2021 at 3:19 pm   |     Author:   |     Technology  

Microsoft has officially announced the Surface Pro 8, and the rumors were pretty much on the money. The new tablet includes a larger screen with a 120 Hz refresh rate, updated internal hardware, user-replaceable SSDs, and a pair of Thunderbolt 4 ports that replace the USB-C and USB-A ports in the previous model. It’s the most significant (and also: only) redesign that the tablet has gotten since the Surface Pro 3 back in 2014. The Surface Pro 8 is available for preorder today, and a version with a Core i5 CPU, 8GB of RAM, and 128GB of storage will set you back $1,100 (plus the cost of a $180 Surface Pro Signature Keyboard cover and the $130 Surface Slim Pen 2, or $280 if you buy both). The first preorders will begin shipping on October 5, the day Windows 11 launches.

The Surface Pro 8 adopts most of the design tweaks Microsoft first tried out in the Surface Pro X in 2019. In fact, the two tablets now share some of the same key physical specifications, including the 13-inch 2880×1920 display size and resolution and the exact same height and width. Like most laptops released in the last few years, the screen size increase comes from shrinking the display bezels rather than dramatically changing the size of the device. The Surface Pro 8’s screen does support up to a 120 Hz refresh rate for smoother scrolling, but the tablet will be configured to use the more typical 60 Hz refresh rate out of the box.

The Surface Pro 8 is about a tenth of an inch (or 2mm) thicker than the Pro X to make room for additional cooling, but the identical height and width means that the Surface Pro 8 and the Surface Pro X use the same keyboard cover, now renamed the Surface Pro Signature Keyboard. By the same token, the keyboard covers that worked with all Surface versions from 2014’s Surface Pro 3 up to the Surface Pro 7 won’t be compatible with the Surface Pro 8.

Because it uses the same keyboard, the Surface Pro 8’s keyboard cover can now be used to pair with and wirelessly charge the Surface Slim Pen or the new Surface Slim Pen 2, which supports the same 4,096 pressure levels as the old one but moves the pen’s button from the narrow side to the flat side and adds a haptic vibration motor to recreate the “feeling you get with pen on paper.” That haptic feedback feature only works on the Surface Pro 8 and Surface Laptop Studio, since it relies on their “custom Microsoft G6 processor” to work. Current Surface Pen models should continue to work with the Surface Pro 8, just as the Surface Slim Pen 2 will work with Surface devices going back to the Surface Pro 3.

Internally, Microsoft has refreshed the Surface Pro 8 with standard laptop hardware for 2021—11th-generation Intel Core i5-1135G7 and i7-1185G7 processors with Intel Iris Xe GPUs and 8GB, 16GB, or 32GB of RAM. Either of these will provide a solid boost to CPU and GPU performance compared to the Surface Pro 7’s 10th-generation CPUs. But while Microsoft has included AMD Ryzen processors in some of its other Surface devices, the Surface Pro 8 is only available with Intel chips.

There will be versions of the Surface Pro 8 for businesses that include a Core i3 option and Core i5 and i7 processors with vPro support, but most people won’t be able to buy those versions—that’s a change from the Surface Pro 7, which uses a Core i3 in its entry-level consumer configuration. The commercial version of the Surface can also be configured with Windows 10 rather than Windows 11, suggesting that manual downgrades will be possible for people who really want to do it.

The Surface Pro 8 also picks up one more handy feature from the Surface Pro X (and the business-only Surface Pro 7+ from earlier this year): user-replaceable SSDs, accessible by popping open a small access door on the back of the tablet. There are limits to this feature, though. The Surface SSD slots do use the standard M.2 interface, but they only have room for a short M.2 2230 drive (that is, 30mm long) rather than the more typical 2280 (80mm long). Microsoft also recommends that you only use Microsoft-branded SSDs, lest you risk lowered performance, though this doesn’t seem to be a hard-and-fast requirement. So you won’t be able to pop any old standard M.2 SSD into the Surface, but you at least have recourse if you buy a version with 128GB or 256GB of storage and decide you want more in a year or two.

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