Microsoft Surface tablet gets torn apart, deemed difficult to self repair


November 5, 2012

The iFixit teardown team recently paid some attention to Microsoft's Surface tablet, and rated it quite difficult to self-repair... but not as tough as the iPad

The iFixit teardown team recently paid some attention to Microsoft's Surface tablet, and rated it quite difficult to self-repair... but not as tough as the iPad

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There was a time not so long ago when updating, upgrading, repairing or otherwise tweaking your computer system was relatively tinkerer-friendly. Those halcyon days that helped fuel my drive toward a career as a computer engineer are now all-but over, and getting to the heart of today's ultra-thin notebooks and tablets calls for equal measures of cerebral athletics, manual dexterity and plain old luck. Happily, the folks over at iFixit are demystifying much of today's consumer electronic gadgets by ripping them apart, showing exactly what they're made of, and rating them for user repairability. Microsoft's new Surface tablet was recently given the teardown treatment and found to be quite a tough nut to crack ... but not quite as challenging as the iPad.

Microsoft may be something of a latecomer to the tablet computing arena, but its Surface model puts up quite a strong challenge to the market's dominating forces (as our side-by-side comparison with the 4th-generation iPad recently showed).

Unfortunately, the relentless march of technology means that what's sparkling and new at the moment may seem a little "behind the times" in just a few short months, possibly leading to thoughts of replacement or upgrade. While the included NVIDIA Tegra 3 SoC and generous 2 GB of RAM hold the promise of perky performance and the microSD card slot should at least postpone any desire to upgrade the 32 or 64 GB of onboard storage, long-haul users might at least consider a battery replacement when the 31.5 Wh battery starts to rely on the mains adapter a little too much.

Like most other players in the tablet game, though, the absence of a handy door in the cover means that anyone with a yearning to swap out internal components or replace the battery will need to don the cat burglar garb and break into the housing. Happily, the circuit board cartographers over at iFixit have jumped in there already to help tinkerers navigate the belly of the Surface beast, noting that "Microsoft engineers clearly took a different internal design direction than what we've seen in the iPad and the Nexus/Kindles. But sadly, its overall fixability is closer to the near-impossible-to-open iPad than it is to the spudger-friendly Android tablets."

Teardown highlights include a tamper-evident label that breaks apart upon removal, a 7.4 V/31.5 Wh Samsung battery that proved easier to get at and remove than with an iPad, and a mystery speaker unit that's thought to be what's used to feed the clicking sound back to the user when the Touch Cover keyboard is used.

The spec-hungry may also be interested to note the components gracing the boards within:

  • NVIDIA 1.4 GHz Tegra 3 Processor
  • Samsung KLMBG4GE4A 32 GB NAND Flash
  • Micron 2RE22 D9QBJ 2 GB DDR3 SDRAM
  • Texas Instruments TPS659110 power management IC
  • Marvell 88W8797-BMP2 wireless MIMO SoC
  • Wolfson 8962E low power audio codec
  • Cypress Semiconductor CY8C20466A capacitive touchscreen controller
  • and a pair of Antenova A10416 Wi-Fi antennas
  • "There's a total of four touchscreen controllers inside the Surface," iFixit's dismantlers reported. "Three Atmel MXT154E devices, and an Atmel MXT1386 for good measure. We suspect that's how the Surface is able to decode both the inputs coming from the user pressing on the glass, as well as the Touch Cover accessory."

    The Surface teardown revealed a tamper-evident label that breaks apart upon removal (Photo: iFixit)

    At the close of the teardown, iFixit awarded the Surface "a below-average 4 out of 10 repairability score."

    This places Microsoft's new baby slightly ahead of all generations of the iPad (including the new iPad 4 and the iPad mini) in the iFixit rankings, which have all received scores of 2/10. By comparison, Samsung's Galaxy Tab 7-inch Android tablet was awarded 6/10, though its Galaxy Note 10.1 got a more impressive 8/10, as did Motorola's Xoom and the Kindle Fire. Amazon's Kindle Fire HD finished with a score of 7/10, the same as the Nexus 7 from Google and the BlackBerry PlayBook.

    Precisely how useful you will find this information depends greatly on the type of tablet user you are. I'd wager that the vast majority of tablet buyers would sensibly seek the assistance of a trained professional when things start to go awry, but folks looking to venture down today's risky path of self-repair/upgrade will doubtless find these teardowns a very useful resource indeed.

    Of course, they're also invaluable for gear-heads interested in finding out exactly what makes tech tick without playing (potentially costly) damage roulette with their own precious devices.

    Source: iFixit

About the Author
Paul Ridden While Paul is loath to reveal his age, he will admit to cutting his IT teeth on a TRS-80 (although he won't say which version). An obsessive fascination with computer technology blossomed from hobby into career before the desire for sunnier climes saw him wave a fond farewell to his native Blighty in favor of Bordeaux, France. He's now a dedicated newshound pursuing the latest bleeding edge tech for Gizmag. All articles by Paul Ridden

Wait a consumer electronic device is hard to self repair color me shocked. This is a report on a truly limited group of users however I did enjoy that it ranked better than Apple or for that matter most devices listed ranked better than Apple.

Spike Elex

I guess the Microsoft fanboys will still buy them.

Dennis Roberts

Frankly, who gives a rat's rectum? By this time next year they will all be on the junk pile anyway, rendered obsolete by the next pile of junk ie Surface2 or iPad 6 or whatever. Perhaps iFixit are developing a VLSI repair kit for dismantling and re assembling monolithic systems?


@nutcase. Actually. I give a rat's ass. I repair my own crap. I'm still using a gen 1 iPod and yes I don't mind replacing the battery myself at a cost of 6 bucks instead of buying a bloody new one right?

Rocky Stefano

@Rocky, you are in the tiniest of minorities if you want to repair these consumer gadgets. This is a basic trend of technology; 30 or more years ago there were plenty of "shade tree mechanics" who liked to tinker with their automobiles for the joy of it - as cars have become more electronic and computerized the number of those folks has dwindles, particularly if you eliminate those who still repair their '66 Triumphs and whatnot.

To keep the manufacturing processes simpler, the devices smaller and, yes, the churn higher, what we will see going forward are less availability of the "innards" of consumer devices to casual users. For that matter, it comes to the point where it becomes cheaper to replace a device altogether rather than swap out some internal part.

Bob Fately

I've only owned 1 Apple product, an iPod Touch. It stopped working completely after about a year and being an electronics engineer I decided to open it up before chucking it in the garbage. I found a YouTube video showing how to open them but as soon as I started prying at the allocated spot the screen cracked and that was that. I got a Li-Po battery out of it at least. Good riddance really. I never worked out how to copy MP3's from my PC to it, it's just TOO intuitive I guess. My MP3 player is 6 years old, cost less, has twice as much memory and looks like a hard drive when I plug it into my PC so I can store anything on it by simply using Explorer. They'll have to try harder to get me to switch.


"Food For Thought"

Once, "things" were made of "parts" that made up the whole. As manufacturing processes become smaller and smaller, the thing has now become and "is" the part and vice versa. Every part of our lives is now engineered to make us want something "new and shiny" so much so, that many will actually hope there device "Isn't repairable" just to get their hands on the latest version. I'm sure they will have a name for it soon, maybe "Neomania"...just a thought

Terry Penrose

This direction toward unrepairable devices and throw away technology is only good for two things. Making the general public ignorant to how devices work (which is a bad thing just in case I actually needed to say that) and filling the pockets of greedy corporations ready to grossly over charge for a product that becuase you don't know how it works you readily accept the price that is set.

Why doesn't the Government which is meant to protect the people step in and do something. Not one government in the whole world is stepping up and actually doing the right thing for the people it is meant to protect.

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