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."
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.