Surface Pro Tablet Lack Of Storage Creates A Ripple

Microsoft’s new Surface Pro 64GB Windows 8 tablet (launching Feb 9th) will ship with ‘just’ 23GB of unused storage. This revelation has caused a rather a stir – allegations of false advertizing and claims of embarrassment for Microsoft are rife.

But are people right to be so upset that almost two thirds of the storage is unavailable to buyers? Let’s look at the actual figures to see where the storage has gone:

1. About 4.4GB is ‘lost’ because a 64GB drive only provides 59.6GB of real world storage due to the way drive manufacturers measure a GB – differently to operating systems. This has always been the case and is nothing to do with Microsoft – the drive in a ‘64GB’ iPad is also only 59.6GB according to iOS.

The difference between manufacturers and operating systems becomes more obvious the larger a drive is e.g. a 500GB drive offers only 465GB of storage in reality.

2. iPads and Android tablets use a small and simple mobile (derived) operating system whereas Surface Pro uses the full fat Windows 8 Professional – exactly the same as found on a PC. The requirements for Windows 8 include a minimum of 20GB hard disk space so it should be no surprise if the Surface uses a few GB more for touch friendly features like Palm Block (to support the Surface Pen) and for the included Office 2013 trial.

3. Although it may infringe on the high end tablet market, the Surface Pro is actually a direct competitor of Windows 8 Ultrabooks and even the MacBook Air – it is a fully fledged touchscreen laptop but in a tablet form factor. So, just like a standard Windows laptop, it therefore has to ship with a recovery partition to reset back to factory defaults if required. If it didn’t, most private buyers would have no way to reinstall Windows if they needed to.

Even though the recovery partition is heavily compressed, expect it to take up another 10GB.


These three factors account for why ‘only’ 23GB of space is left for user storage and were not difficult to predict – whether that storage is enough depends on what programs a user plans to install and how much data they want to store. If extra storage is required, the Surface Pro includes a microSDXC slot to add up to 128GB (or more, as cards become available) and a full size USB 3.0 port which could be used to add a multi Terabyte external drive.

So why all the furore over the Surface Pro’s available storage? I suspect that most people complaining will have had no intention of ever buying one but Microsoft bashing is a popular pastime! Cynics might suggest that the mainstream media are so Apple centric that they relish the chance to take a swipe at Microsoft – how else to explain why so many press stories have compared the Surface Pro 64GB to the iPad, despite the fact there is so little crossover between the two?

Note that such negative stories have also invariably compared it to the range topping 64GB iPad (c 57GB available) – despite the fact that the equivalent range topping Surface 128GB model offers a superior 83GB of available storage space. For a fairer comparison, why not compare the cheapest Surface to the cheapest iPad which offers a ‘paltry’ 14GB of user storage?

Unrealistic comparisons to pure (rather than hybrid) tablets running a mobile OS are misguided. For example, iPads do not have a full size USB port or memory card support (and can’t run Mac OS X apps) and neither does Google’s popular Nexus 7 yet they are both great tablets, despite most versions offering similar (or lower) free storage.

The Surface Pro 64GB pricetag of $899 should help ensure that it is not an impulse buy so I would expect private buyers to have done at least a little research to ensure it meets their needs. However, it is likely to be of most interest to businesses looking for a highly portable device that is much easier than an iPad to assimilate into a Microsoft centric IT ecosystem, whilst still providing the power of a laptop and the ability to run mainstream Windows apps like Outlook.

Corporate buyers would likely remove the recovery partition anyway (freeing up a lot of space) and lock Windows down as they would do with a PC – negating the prospect of employees trying to install the latest Call Of Duty and running out of space…

For private buyers, if the cheapest Surface is too small to install a 20GB game (or you really want to install Adobe CS6 etc), just buy the 128GB model instead – or an Ultrabook with a larger screen. For those who use Cloud services and memory cards for additional storage if required, the saving of $100 offered by the 64GB Surface Pro model is worthwhile – I would go as far as to say it would be a shame if there was not such an option.