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October 5, 2018

Surface Pro 6 vs. Surface Pro 5

by John_A

Jeremy Kaplan/Digital Trends

Microsoft’s Surface Pro has been our favorite 2-in-1 for a few years, so when a new version arrives on our digital doorstep it’s an exciting time for us here at Digital Trends. The question remains though, how much better — if at all — is the next-generation hardware? To find out, we pitted the Surface Pro 6 vs. Surface Pro 5, comparing them on all of the most important factors of a modern convertible laptop.

Design

The Surface Pro 5 only saw minor physical alterations over its predecessor, and the Surface Pro 6 is much the same. It sports a matte black material coating that arguably gives it a more professional look, and it feels comfortable on wrists and fingers alike. The finish itself is said to be a little thicker than previous ones, leading to some weight and size shaving on the internal frame to maintain the exact same dimensions of its predecessor. Its overall weight is a few grams lighter, though it’s not noticeably so.

The layout of the two devices is much the same, with bezels that are on the thicker side — a hallmark of devices earmarked for regular tablet use — though they are a little more rounded at the corners than the 2017 Surface Pro.

Even port selection — one of the weak points of the Surface Pro 5 — hasn’t changed. Both 2-in-1s come with a single USB-A 3.0 port, a microSDXC card reader, a mini-DisplayPort, a headphone jack, and a Surface Connect port. Neither device sports a USB-C or Thunderbolt 3 connector. While that wasn’t so much of a problem with last year’s Surface Pro, the lack of it on the Surface Pro 6 is of greater concern as few modern 2-in-1s or laptops come without one.

Performance

The most important upgrade of the generational refresh of the Surface Pro is the internal hardware. Starting at $900, the Surface Pro 5 offers a base model with a seventh-generation Intel Core m3 CPU with Intel HD 615 graphics, paired with 4GB of RAM, and a 128GB SSD. There are a variety of configuration options offering more powerful Core i5 and i7 CPUs, as well as up to 16GB of memory, better onboard graphics, and lots of extra storage space. The top configuration would set you back $2,700.

Even the top offering of a Core i7-7660U CPU, however, is dual core (with four threads thanks to hyperthreading). That all changed with the Surface Pro 6, which not only has far more powerful hardware on offer, but at a far more competitive price too. Its $900 base model comes with 8GB of RAM, 128GB of storage and an eighth-generation, quad-core Core i5-8250U CPU. That’s not only much more powerful than the Core i5 models that Surface Pro 5 offered, but far, far more capable than the Core m3 CPU that the $900 Surface Pro offered.

But that’s just the start of it. There are upgrade options for an i5-8350U, or for $1,500 you can get a Core i7-8650U CPU with 256GB of storage. The top configuration comes with 16GB of RAM and a terabyte of SSD storage for $2,300.

While the new model is faster in most respects, it is slower in one area. Top-tier configurations of the Surface Pro 5 can be purchased with processors that have Intel Iris Plus 640 graphics. That’s a much more powerful graphics core than the UHD 620 found in the Core i7-8650U used in the Surface Pro 6. While the newer 2-in-1 will be a much more powerful machine when it comes to general computing, gaming and 3D rendering may be slightly better on the last-generation hardware.

There was no change in display technology between generations. Both the Surface Pro 5 and 6 sport the same 2,736 x 1,824 resolution PixelSense display.

Portability

Physical changes to the Surface Pro 6 were minimal with the new-generation hardware, so there isn’t much difference in the physical portability of the two devices. The Surface Pro 5 and 6 both measure  11.5 x 7.9 x 0.33-inches, so the new version is no more compact and should fit in all the same carry cases and sleeves. Weight is also close to identical. The Surface Pro 6 weighs 1.71 pounds with the Core i5 CPU, and 1.75 pounds with the Core i7, while the Surface Pro 5 weighs 1.73 pounds with the Core i7 and 1.7 pounds with the Core i5.

Battery life, however, has seen much improvement between generations. The Surface Pro 5 already had good battery life with Microsoft claiming as much as 13.5 hours of use on a single charge of its 45 watt-hour battery. We were told during our testing that the Surface Pro 6 is capable of up to 14.5 hours and in some internal tests Microsoft had managed to get as much as 3.5 hours of extra life from it than its predecessor.

We have to take these claims with a grain of salt for now as we haven’t had extended time to play with the new Surface Pro, but considering the new, higher-core-count CPUs involved, battery life may be dependant on usage when it comes to seeing any real improvement.

Neither device even approaches the battery life of the market-leading Surface Book 2, however.

Surface Pro 6 makes small tweaks, but it’s a big upgrade

The Surface Pro 6 is like the Surface Pro 5, only better. It has a new, optional black finish which we adored when we got our hands on it, and the hardware refresh is a welcome change. Better yet, you get the much-more-powerful mid-range hardware at the entry-level price point of the last generation, so even those buying the base $800 model will get a fantastically powerful 2-in-1.

We can find only one flaw — the reduction in graphics performance for top-tier models. Still, we think it’s a worthwhile compromise. Intel’s Iris Plus 640 is better than UHD 620, but it wasn’t quick enough to make the older Surface Pro 5 a graphics powerhouse. Leaning into better processor performance at the expensive of graphics performance is a better fit for most users.

Overall, the Surface Pro 6 is a clear upgrade. It’s faster, lasts longer on a charge, and offers more hardware for your money.

Editors’ Recommendations

  • Surface Go vs. Surface Pro
  • Surface Pro 6 vs. Surface Go
  • Microsoft Surface Pro (2017) review
  • Microsoft Surface Pro 6 vs. Surface Laptop 2
  • Surface Laptop 2 vs. MacBook Pro



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