Surface Pro storage space in short supply

Microsoft's lowest-priced Windows 8 tablet offers just 23GB for software, customer content

Microsoft's low-end Surface Pro tablet, slated to start shipping Feb. 9, sports just 23GB of free storage space out of the box, Microsoft confirmed today.

The 64GB Surface Pro, which will sell for $899, uses more than 60% of its flash memory for the Windows 8 Pro operating system, a Windows recovery partition, and associated software, including a raft of what were once called "Metro" apps like Mail, SkyDrive and Xbox Music.

The $999 128GB Surface Pro will report 83GB of free space when customers first switch on the tablet, Microsoft said.

The Verge first reported the Surface Pro's available space on Tuesday, citing a Microsoft spokesperson. Microsoft confirmed those numbers to Computerworld.

The shortage of free space on the Surface Pro is reminiscent of the discovery last year after the debut of the less-expensive Surface RT tablet that its out-of-box storage readings were lower than many expected: Just 16GB on a 32GB model, 46GB on the 64GB configuration.

(The difference in free space on the 64GB Surface Pro and 64GB Surface RT -- 23GB, with the former getting the short end of the stick -- is due to the larger footprint of the Windows 8 Pro operating system compared to the relatively lightweight Windows RT.)

Add Office 2013 to a Surface Pro, as many owners will likely do -- Microsoft has pitched the Pro largely on the merit of being able to run "legacy" Windows applications, and Office is, by far, the most-used such application -- and the free space falls to the 20GB mark. According to Office 2013's system requirements, the suite demands 3GB of storage space on Windows.

The Surface Pro's available storage space is much smaller than one rival: Apple's MacBook Air notebook. Although Apple does not publicize the amount of space on a new 64GB or 128GB 11-in. MacBook Air, users on the company's support forums have come up approximations of 46GB for the former and 116GB for the latter. If accurate, it would mean a 128GB MacBook Air has 40% more available space than the top-end Surface Pro.

Both the Surface Pro and MacBook Air rely on NAND flash memory storage, and while the Air is a notebook by definition, most analysts have stressed that the Surface Pro should be compared with an "ultrabook," Intel's brand name for thin, lightweight laptops, on everything from price to functionality.

Microsoft's Surface Pro stacks up even poorer to an Apple's iPad, of course, because of the significant differences in the size and power of their respective operating systems. A 64GB iPad, which lists for $699, reports approximately 57GB free, for example. Apple's just-introduced $799 128GB iPad, which will hit stores Feb. 5, should show 121GB free, or 46% more than the similarly-configured Surface Pro, if the model with half that storage space is any guide.

But unlike the iPad -- and like the Surface RT -- the Pro also lets users store content on MicroSD memory cards, which sell for around $30 for 32GB or $60 for 64GB, or on even cheaper USB flash drives. Microsoft also provides 7GB of cloud-based storage for free through its SkyDrive service, and for subscribers to its new Office 365 software rental plans -- a total of 27GB in the cloud.

By default, Office 2013 saves its documents to SkyDrive.

Not long after Microsoft confirmed that the Surface RT was short of storage, it spelled out in detail where the rest of the space went. It's not yet done that for the Surface Pro, but in the tablet's specification sheet, it did note, "System software uses significant storage space. Available storage is subject to change based on system software updates and apps usage."

In an email reply to questions today, a Microsoft spokeswoman pointed out the Surface Pro's storage alternatives -- USB flash and hard drives, MicroSD cards -- and also said users could free up "additional storage space by creating a backup bootable USB and deleting the recovery partition."

The spokeswoman declined to specify how much space on the device that move would reclaim.

The 10.6-in. Surface Pro will go on sale at Microsoft's online and retail stores, and at Best Buy and Staples in the U.S., on Feb. 9. Microsoft's Touch Cover and Type Cover -- combination cover-keyboard add-ons -- will sell for $120 and $130, respectively.

See more news, analysis and blogs about Microsoft Surface.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at  @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is

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Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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