Surface Pro 6

surface pro 6

Every year during back to school time (July to September), stores would have great deals on laptops and mobile devices. This year was no exception. One of the best deals I’ve seen this year is the Microsoft Surface Pro 6. Costco is currently offering a price discount plus they will include both keyboard and pen. This deal starts at $799 for the i5, 128GB version.

costco_surface_pro6_deal.jpg
Costco deal starting at $799

You would have to be a member to see this price. The higher model is also on sale for $999. I couldn’t justify the extra $200 for double the storage capacity from 128GB to 256GB plus the exclusive matte black color. I would have considered it if the storage performance was quicker. But through searching online, the performance of both for read speeds were identical. The write speeds however, is faster on the higher model. I was after the faster reads not writes though.

I have tried the Surface Pro 4 a few years ago. I love the form factor but there were some things that prevented me from keeping it. You can read about my post on the Surface Pro 4 here.

Anyway, the price made me want to check it out again. I went to a Microsoft store and checked them out. Externally, there has been no changes from the older models. All of the changes are internal. The big changes for me, are in the Intel processor. It is now using an i5-8250U chip (i7 model also available). This chip is now a quad-core processor with 8 threads running at only 15W. The base model also uses this chip and includes 8GB of RAM – unlike in the previous generations you would get a core-M with 4GB of RAM. These variants are not available for this generation. The i5 models are also fanless so you won’t hear any fans spinning.

Once again, I’m in love with the form factor. But as soon as I try to put it on my lap while in bed, the same issue occurs. What makes this form factor great is also what makes it not great – at least for my use case. That kickstand is a bit uncomfortable as it digs on my legs. The corner of the screen is now starting to be felt on my legs as well. One solution I found while using it in bed is rather than have my legs flat with the kickstand holding the device up, I raised my legs up and started to use it as the kickstand itself. I adjusted the Surface kickstand so that it’s almost 180 degrees from its normal position. This way, the kickstand is almost flat and not have to dig in to my legs. This works for some time until my legs start to get tired but it is a solution for me. This was one of the deal breakers last time I tried the Surface Pro.

I did a quick benchmark on the hard drive because I was curious to see the difference between the 256GB model. Here are my results from CrystalDiskMark.

crystal_disk_surface6_128gb.jpg
128GB benchmark result

According to the Windows Central article, their test on the 256GB drive resulted in a 1632MB/s read and 814MB/s write. If they’re both sequential speeds then the read speeds are identical while the write speeds are slightly faster on the higher model.

I have been playing with it for a few weeks now. I installed my usual software and set up my development environment. I mainly use it for web development. Using Virtualbox and Vagrant to run a virtual machine. My IDE of choice is PHPStorm. I also run MySQL Workbench to connect to a database server running on the VM or on a remote server. With this workflow, the Surface handles it with no issue. PHPStorm does load a little slow but once open, it’s fine. The VM uses 2GB of RAM and it runs headless. Everything runs exceptional. And I could do some coding while in bed.

The hardware, in my opinion, is acceptable. The resolution it runs in is perfect for its size. The battery life is no issue for me although I tend to plug in whenever I can. While running on battery, the device still performs as well as plugged in. You can feel the back side getting warm but not too much. The weight is perfect. It is very portable and the form factor is just the best of its kind. There are other devices that are similar but I think Microsoft’s version is the best out of all of them. This is the PC version of an Apple product. Microsoft made the hardware and software and is fully optimized.

I am still on the fence of whether I should keep it or return it. Don’t get me wrong, but the device is a great. The sale price makes it even greater. But for my workflow, I would prefer to have more RAM and USB-C that allows me to charge the device. This is a 15W CPU so it shouldn’t be that difficult to do plus the port itself is small. I’ve seen 13″ laptops with full-size HDMI. I would love to run Ubuntu on this and after searching the Reddit community, people are having driver issues. My previous Dell Inspiron was easy to run Linux. Dell devices are mostly supported.

I have a Dell Inspiron 7386 on the way. I found a really good deal but I think the battery life stinks on it. Hardware specs are better and it’s cheaper. But we’ll see which one I’ll keep. Stay tuned for that post.

Surface Pro 4 Review

I recently traded in my old 2011 MacBook Pro at the Microsoft Store for a gift card. I then used it to put towards a Surface Pro. Here is some background before I proceed. I am a web developer that works on PHP and some .Net stuff as well as use databases. I was primarily on the MacOS platform to do my development. I have recently switched over to Windows and for development and have almost completely converted my development workflow. Why? The recent Apple announcements made me feel that Apple and I are headed in different directions. I felt it’s time to look back at what PC can offer again.

I currently have a Dell Inspiron 7568 laptop. Here is the spec.

  • Intel Core i5-6200U
  • 8GB DDR3L-1600 ram
  • It came with 500GB HDD but I swapped it for a Samsung 840 Evo 500GB SSD for obvious reasons.
  • Intel Graphics 520
  • 15.6″ LED touch display FHD (1920×1080)

The plan was to either get a supplement device and/or replacement. This is why the Surface Pro 4 model I chose closely resembled my Dell. Here is the spec I got.

  • Intel Core i5-6300U
  • 8GB ram
  • 256GB SSD
  • Intel Graphics 520
  • 12.3″ PixelSense Display (2736×1824)

What I like

  • The display is great. PixelSense is nice. I mainly write code and hardly have use for the pen but it’s an added feature.
  • The power adapter is held with a magnet. Remember MacBook Pros used to have those? I can remember an instance or two in the last 10 years since I’ve started using MacBook Pros that the magnetic power adapter saved me from a catastrophic event. I’m glad they have this for the Surface.
  • Windows Hello is pretty cool. Being able to log in using my face is quite handy. It even works in a poorly lit room. I’m impressed.
  • The size and weight is nice as well.
  • My development workflow works with the hardware configuration I chose.

What I didn’t like

I used it in the bedroom at night and found two things that bothered me a lot.

  • When lying on the bed and having the laptop and keyboard on my lap, the kickstand is a sharp. Not sharp to the point I’ll be injured but more of discomfort. It made me realize I really need a laptop or a case with a different kickstand (additional expense).
  • The room is dark with only a night light. The screen began flickering and trying to adjust. At first I thought it might be trying to adjust to the ambient light in the room. It could also be the power saving setting since I was running on battery. I checked the settings and even turned off the automatic adjustments. At first it stopped. After 10 minutes it started flickering and adjusting again. I searched online and found many reports of this issue, even as recent as a few months ago. Not sure if it’s the same issue but it was an issue for me.
  • The device itself was $1299 and no keyboard. The keyboard is an additional $129. Kind of pricey in my opinion.

Other Thoughts

  • It has one USB3 port and a Mini DisplayPort. There might be a good chance you’ll be using a dongle. I didn’t really think of this as a like or dislike.
  • During installation of software and initial configuring I thought I’d try not to use the keyboard. I was successful and being able to do what I needed but it was very cumbersome and tedious. It is possible but it’s highly recommended to use the keyboard. Therefore, there’s a good chance you will be purchasing that keyboard.
  • From my experience with it, it will not be a replacement to my laptop. I figured if this is the case, there’s no point in getting matching specs. Save the money and get the lower spec version and do less with it. Not everyone will have the same experience. I’m sure those who use the pen and PixelSense display will have a different experience.

Conclusion

I have decided I will be returning the Surface Pro 4 after a few days of use. For what I will use it for and the current device I already own, it’s not a good fit. This is not to say the device isn’t good, but it does not fit my current workflow. I will continue to use a laptop when I’m not at home or in the office. If you are considering and price is the issue, check out the refurbished/open box deals from the Microsoft Store website. You can save a few bucks going that route… if you don’t mind the condition. Or consider the hardware spec. Maybe you don’t need all that hardware and get something lower.

If you are torn between this or the iPad Pro, in my opinion the Surface is a better choice. Depending on what you’ll do with the device, you can be more productive with the Surface. But if you’re in it for apps and games or you’re current workflow surrounds Apple’s ecosystem, then the iPad Pro could be a better choice.

Windows 10 KB3194496 Issue

On September 2016, Microsoft releases KB3194496 to Windows 10 users. The three computers I have running Windows 10 all downloaded the patch. The problem is they all fail to install after the computer reboots.

This is what happens when you restart the computer. It will rollback from the previous successful patch and restart once again. When you log into your desktop, Windows will once again download the patch. The next time you restart or power on your computer, it will try to install it again and fail. Here’s what my update log looks this past week.

Windows 10 failed update attempts
Windows 10 failed update attempts

Not everyone is having this issue but all my machines running Windows 10 have it. You can read more about it at https://www.thurrott.com/windows/windows-10/81659/microsoft-delivers-yet-another-broken-windows-10-update. I tried the suggested solution someone provided there.

  • delete folder C:WindowsSystem32TasksMicrosoftXblGameSave
  • delete registry key: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINESOFTWAREMicrosoftWindowsNTCurrentVersionScheduleTaskCacheTreeMicrosoftXblGameSave
  • Re-run the update

It worked on my laptop. I haven’t tried it on my other machines. I will update this post once I do.

It finally installed - kb3194496
It finally installed – kb3194496

I never imagined doing another registry edit. This experience has really turned me off in continuing to use Windows. There are rumors of an Apple hardware refresh announcement late October 2016. I’m leaning towards going back to Apple.