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Microsoft Surface Laptop: The smart person’s guide


The Surface Laptop is a low-cost, streamlined Windows PC designed to challenge the rising popularity of competing devices like MacBooks among schools and students.

You’ll find everything you need to know about Microsoft’s Surface Laptop in this “living” article, which will be updated over time.

SEE: All of TechRepublic’s smart person’s guides

Executive summary

  • What is the Surface Laptop? A $999 Apple MacBook challenger made by Microsoft and aimed at students.
  • Why does the Surface Laptop matter? For its performance and battery life, but analysts say it may lack the software needed to stand out.
  • Who does the Surface Laptop affect? The laptop is being pitched at schools and students.
  • When is the Surface Laptop available? Available to pre-order now and shipping from June 15, 2017.
  • How do I start using the Surface Laptop? Microsoft has announced a variety of new services to make it easier for schools to manage and set up the laptops.

What is the Surface Laptop?

Microsoft is pitching the $999 laptop as an Apple MacBook challenger, with better battery life and performance. The laptop is part of an attempt to dissuade schools and students from switching to other mid to high-end PCs.

The laptop uses Windows 10 S, a locked-down version of the OS that will only run apps installed from the Windows Store. The move to restrict Windows appears to be a strategy to make the OS easier to use and less prone to performance and security problems caused by downloading software from the internet. Admins will still be able to switch the version of the OS to Windows 10 Pro to install non-store apps. Every app also runs in a container to further reduce the security risk.

Microsoft is targeting fast boot times for Windows 10 S, so no more than 15 seconds for the initial log in and under five seconds for every subsequent attempt. At the launch event for the device, a Surface Laptop was also shown waking and sleeping instantly upon the lid being opened or closed.

One potential drawback to the Windows Store lock, however, is that the store is still missing many of Windows’ desktop releases.

The big draw for the Surface Laptop is the ability to use it all day on a single charge, with Microsoft’s corporate VP of devices Panos Panay claiming the laptop can manage up to 14.5 hours of video playback, more he said than “any MacBook on the market today”.

Performance is also a key factor, with Panay comparing the Surface Laptop to Apple’s products, saying the device is 50 percent faster than the MacBook Air, and that the Core i7 in the Surface Laptop is faster than the i7 in the MacBook Pro.

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Specs for the Surface Laptop

CPU: Seventh generation Intel Core i5 or i7 processor

Graphics: Intel HD 620 (i5) / Intel Iris Plus Graphics (i7)

Memory: 4GB, 8GB or 16GB RAM

Display: 2256 x 1504 resolution (201 PPI) PixelSense touch screen with Corning Gorilla Glass

Storage: Up to 512GB SSD

OS: Windows 10 S, can switch to Windows 10 Pro

Ports: USB 3.0, mini DisplayPort, 3.5mm headphone jack, Surface Connect

Battery life: Up to 14.5 hours video playback

Dimensions: 12.13″ x 8.79″ x .57″ (308.02 mm x 223.20 mm x 14.47 mm)

Weight: 2.76 lbs (1.25 kg)

Keyboard: Coated in Alcantara. Keys have 1.5mm of travel.

Exterior casing: Aluminum

Colors: Burgundy, Platinum, Cobalt Blue, Graphite Gold

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Why the Surface Laptop matters

As a new device, the extent to which the Surface Laptop will appeal to students who would otherwise have invested in a MacBook remains unproven.

While Microsoft has produced some compelling figures for battery life, seemingly without compromising performance, Ovum analyst Ronan de Renesse says Microsoft needs more than hardware to tempt new users.

“Microsoft will see success wherever its software becomes a unique differentiator versus Google and Apple alternatives but today’s announcements failed to demonstrate this,” he said.

“Office 365 is already available on Chromebooks and Apple Macs so, while making Office 365 free to teachers and students on Windows 10S is a plus, it fails to be unique.”

But locking the device to the Windows Store, with its relatively limited selection of software, may also put the Surface Laptop at a disadvantage, he said.

“Instead, the focus will be on education tools and software available on the Windows Store which will be at best similar to Apple, and most likely inferior to Google given the openness of Chromebooks cloud-based approach.”

Microsoft’s partners may instead be more successful with the range of low-cost PCs—starting at $189—running Windows 10 S, announced alongside the Surface Laptop, he said.

For Microsoft, however, the Surface Laptop is significant, according to Chris Voce, research director at Forrester, who said “this fills an important gap in their device offerings”, adding “this new device will have a significant influence” on the revenues of Microsoft’s Surface group.

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Who the Surface Laptop affects

Microsoft is primarily pitching the device at students.

During demonstrations of the device at the New York launch event, Microsoft’s Panay talked up the laptop by demonstrating how it would benefit students.

The instant sleep and wake was described as an aid when needing to rapidly take notes in lectures, and the long battery life is a necessity for keeping a machine running all day in school and at the library.

Talking about the stability and ease of use brought by Windows 10 S being locked to the Windows Store, Panay said: “It’s going to last the student from the day of their orientation to the day they walk across the stage for their graduation.”

Of course, students may equally dislike the locked-down nature of the OS, in which case the laptop is also available with Windows 10 Pro.

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Competitors to the Surface Laptop

Microsoft seem to be pitching the device against the Apple MacBooks, from the Air through to the Pro, comparing both their performance and their battery life, as seen in this slide below.


Microsoft’s battery life comparisons for the Surface Laptop and Apple’s MacBooks at the event in New York today.

Image: Microsoft

While it’s Google Chromebooks that are proving increasingly popular with students and schools, the price of the Surface Laptop positions it more as a competitor to the now defunct Chromebook Pixel, rather than the majority of low-cost Chromebooks.

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When is the Surface Laptop available?

The laptop is available to pre-order now, with prices starting at $999 for the Intel Core i5 version. It will ship from June 15, 2017.

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How to use the Surface Laptop

Schools will also be able to manage Surface Laptops via Microsoft’s Intune for Education, and IT admins will be able to install custom versions of Windows 10 S on PCs via USB using a setup wizard in Windows 10.

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