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Microsoft Surface Pro (2017) vs. Apple iPad Pro (2017): Best Productivity Tablet

Author: Ryan Shrout
Subject: Mobile
Manufacturer: Various

Performance and Conclusions

Though not the dominant part of our evaluation today, I would be remiss if we did not include a set of benchmarks to compare the system and processor performance across the Surface Pro and the iPad Pro. Finding tests that will cross between x86/Windows and ARM/iOS does limit our options, but we have a good mix of real-world applications, synthetics, and graphics benchmarks.

TabletMark 2017

TabletMark® 2017 is a cross-platform, application based benchmark for touch-enabled devices running iOS, Android, or Windows. New for 2017, it includes updated workloads, utilizes updated SDKs and development tools, and the Windows version has been rewritten from the ground up for Windows 10 Universal Windows Platform. With TabletMark, you can compare the performance and battery life of devices based on all of the popular mobile platforms.

Features:

* Measures performance and battery life of web browsing, email, photo and video editing and sharing, and video playback* Supports iOS, Android and Windows

* Enables cross-platform device comparisons

* Includes updated workloads which utilize updated SDKs and development tool

* Supports online results submission so you can see how your device stacks up

Check out the whitepaper for more details.

Bapco details in its whitepaper the various workloads and methods that it uses for TabletMark 2017, including a web and email scenario, photo and video sharing scenario, and a video playback scenario. The applications are custom written for each platform (iOS, Windows, Android) but use each platform’s native development tools and methods to attempt to reproduce real-world application performance.

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The Microsoft Surface Pro has nearly a 2x performance lead over the iPad Pro models in this test, giving our first indication as to the performance differences with IPC and threading between the Core i5 and the Apple A10X.

WebXPRT 2015

WebXPRT 2015 uses scenarios created to mirror the tasks you do every day to compare the performance of almost any Web-enabled device. It contains six HTML5- and JavaScript-based workloads: Photo Enhancement, Organize Album, Stock Option Pricing, Local Notes, Sales Graphs, and Explore DNA Sequencing.

WebXPRT runs on a wide variety of devices and operating systems—from iPad tablets to Android phones to Windows computers. WebXPRT is available to the public and runs right from your browser.

Check out the whitepaper for more details.

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In WebXPRT, the Surface Pro is 42% faster than the iPad Pro 12.9-in to complete the tasks used in this benchmark.

Kraken JavaScript Benchmark 1.1

Kraken is a JavaScript performance benchmark created by Mozilla that measures the speed of several different test cases extracted from real-world applications and libraries.

The test cases include:

  • an implementation of the A* search algorithm
  • audio processing using Corban Brook's DSP.js library
  • image filtering routines, including code from Jacob Seidelin's Pixastic library.
  • JSON parsing, including data from Tinderboxpushlog
  • cryptographic routines from the Stanford JavaScript Crypto Library

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With close integration of the Safari web browser, the iOS layer and the Apple A10X SoC, the iPad Pro manages a 13% performance advantage over the Surface Pro.

Geekbench v4

Geekbench 4 uses a number of different tests, or workloads, to measure CPU performance. The workloads are divided into four different sections:

Crypto Crypto workloads measure the crypto instruction performance of your computer by performing cryptography tasks that make heavy use of crypto instructions. While not all software uses crypto instructions, the software that does can benefit enormously from it.

Integer Integer workloads measure the integer instruction performance of your computer by performing processor-intensive tasks that make heavy use of integer instructions. All software makes heavy use of integer instructions, meaning a high integer scores indicates good overall performance.

Floating Point Floating point workloads measure floating point performance by performing a variety of processor-intensive tasks that make heavy use of floating-point operations. While almost all software makes use of floating point instructions, floating point performance is especially important in video games, digital content creation, and high-performance computing applications.

Memory Memory workloads measure memory latency and bandwidth. Software working with large data structures (e.g., digital content creation) or with referential data structures (e.g., databases, web browsers) rely on good memory performance to keep the processor busy.

Check out the whitepaper for more details.

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In this test, we see that the single threaded performance of the Core i5-7300U processor outpaces the A10X from Apple by 4% or so. Multi-threaded performance goes to the iPad Pro hardware, taking a lead of about 15%.

3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited

Use 3DMark Ice Storm to compare basic tablets and smartphones. Ice Storm includes two Graphics tests to measure GPU performance and a Physics test to stress CPU performance. Ice Storm uses DirectX 11 feature level 9 on Windows. On Android and iOS, it uses OpenGL ES 2.0. You can compare scores across platforms.

Ice Storm Unlimited is a specialized offscreen test for making chip-to-chip comparisons of CPUs & GPUs.

Read the whitepaper for more details.

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The CPU score on 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited shows the Surface Pro is more than 2x faster than the iPad Pro hardware, though the graphics scores gives the lead to the A10X GPU implementation by 35% over Intel. The overall score of 3DMark Ice Storm, weighing both CPU and GPU input, gives the Intel Core i5-7300U a 28% advantage over the Apple A10X.

GFXBench 4.0

Bringing the popular GFXBench benchmarking suite to desktop OpenGL and OpenGL ES 3.1 plus Android Extension Pack, GFXBench 4.0 enables measuring mobile and desktop performance with advanced graphics effects and increased workloads. Car Chase is the first benchmark to test devices with game-like content utilizing Android Extension Pack features such as hardware tessellation. 

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This graphics-focused test demonstrates the advantage that Apple’s graphics implementation offers over the Intel HD Graphics 620 on the Core i5 CPU. In both the Manhattan and T-Rex workloads, the iPad Pro offers more than a 2x performance lead.

Battery Life Testing

Using our custom-built, real-world battery testing scenario that simply moves between websites and scrolls through them, we can compare the expected battery life for these competing solutions. All tests are run with screens at 180 lux and default out-of-the-box power settings.

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This is a big win for Apple here – the iPad Pro, both the 12.9-in and 10.5-in iteration, offer more than 11 hours of usable battery life in our testing. In comparison, the Surface Pro (2017) gets just over 7 hours of use, putting it at a 68% disadvantage over the best performing iPad. It’s unfortunate for the Surface Pro to be looked at through this lens here as 7+ hours in our strenuous test is very good for a Kaby Lake notebook on Windows 10.

Conclusions and Closing Thoughts

I honestly didn’t know what to expect from this comparison when deciding to go down this path comparing the new 2017 Surface Pro against the 2017 iPad Pro. Both pieces of hardware are exquisitely built and constructed with some of the best materials and industrial design that exist in the consumer electronics industry. Both Apple and Microsoft are at the top of their game currently, building hardware and software that continue to improve for large segments of the audience.

From a performance stand point, the Intel Core i5-7300U powering the Surface Pro in our comparison today proved to be the better processor for single threaded workloads. We see that in the single threaded Geekbench results but also in the sores from WebXPRT and TabletMark 2017, where real-world use scenarios are run rather than raw synthetic tests. Even 3DMark Ice Storm gives the CPU advantage to Intel for gaming purposes.

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The graphics portion of the Apple A10X is impressive, beating out the Intel HD Graphics 620 by considerable margins in both the GPU test of 3DMark and the GFXBench testing suite. Gaming on either of these platforms is going to be mixed bag, though the iOS App Store does give the iPad Pro users access to a huge library of games that are very likely to run at the best possible experience level due to the relative position of the iPad Pro SoC to the rest of the Apple iPad and iPhone product stack. For Windows 10 and the Surface Pro, you will still find quite a few games on Steam or GOG.com to run with your hardware, though I think because the Intel integrated graphics is relatively slow by PC standards, you are more likely to run into performance and scaling issues.

From just using the metric of how the computers felt during use, both were snappy and responsive. The iPad Pro might be more consistent, possibly due to the 4GB of memory limiter on the Surface Pro, but Intel and Microsoft have made significant changes to how the OS and hardware communicate, allowing for better and more immediate interfacing with the touchscreen. SpeedShift is no doubt a big part of that.

Physically both the iPad Pro and the Surface Pro are amazing hardware and I would be hard pressed to find a better solution for either platform for you to use. The quality of components like the screen, stylus, keyboard, and even the materials themselves are near peaks either direction you lean.

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Using iOS for productivity wasn’t the nightmare I thought it would be and it should only get better with the upcoming iOS 11 release this fall. It’s a more simple and more direct feeling – you are very clearly only running one application at a time. This could help with some users’ productivity as it keeps you focused on the task at hand. But from a flexibility perspective, there is no denying the Windows 10 advantage for consumers, students, and business users. For me in particular, my workflow of Microsoft Word, Dropbox, Photoshop, PCPer’s web-based GUI, and communications through Slack and others, the ability to quickly move between them, and without the worry of having to reload a webpage when revisiting it, make the Surface Pro a much more suitable option.

Giving me the choice today, I’d recommend the Surface Pro to every person that asked for my advice. (I would personally upgrade to 8GB of memory and a 256GB SSD for the added $300, just to ensure optimal performance for heavier workloads.) We will see how Apple and the iPad Pro can change that view with a new operating system and updated tool sets later this year.


July 26, 2017 | 01:37 PM - Posted by Eggrenade

Well, I guess you don't have an RX Vega in hand yet. My faint hopes of the SIGGRAPH announcement being a hard launch with reviews are even fainter.

July 26, 2017 | 04:30 PM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

LOL that's quite the conclusion to make.

July 26, 2017 | 02:32 PM - Posted by 2222 (not verified)

This is a stupid and useless comparison.

August 1, 2017 | 01:26 AM - Posted by Anonymous123 (not verified)

^ This a stupid and useless comment

November 29, 2017 | 08:30 PM - Posted by Anonymous6 (not verified)

^This is stupid comment to a smart comment.

July 26, 2017 | 03:13 PM - Posted by agello24 (not verified)

a very good review. sad that majority own iphones. most just dont "feel" like pushing any other buttons. the simpsons predicted apple would take over due to people being lazy. on the other hand the surface is more expensive since intel has their hand in this one. microsoft could have used the AMD kabini chips.

July 26, 2017 | 03:34 PM - Posted by John H (not verified)

What kind of volume are these devices selling in these days?

July 26, 2017 | 03:52 PM - Posted by W.A. Losier (not verified)

In the corporate world where there is still debate about such devices, your review is quite helpful. Like you I am starting to see a requirement pattern that seem to advantage MS. I know some don't see the point, but for any IT hobbyist or worker who has to recommend solutions, this review is worth it.

July 26, 2017 | 04:31 PM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

Thanks! This was definitely aimed at the productivity users out there, of which I think many home users would consider themselves as well.

July 26, 2017 | 11:58 PM - Posted by Brad (not verified)

"Productivity Tablet" is a bit of an oxymoron IMHO. If you are looking for a portable device to be productive you most likely wont have a table to utilize the keyboard so you will be limited to the on screen keyboard and will not be as nearly as productive as if you where using a laptop where the screen is firmly attached to the keyboard. A laptop can easily be used in moving vehicles or in your lap in a chair without without worry that you will drop the device. As media consumption devices I am sure these tablets would be great. As ultra portable productivity devices you cant over look the utility of a physical firmly attached keyboard. I think if you where to compare these devices in a "field" setting against a laptop you would find that you can be far more productive with the laptop simply due to the keyboard. The form factor of a tablet is just not as productive as a laptop. I think that businesses or "productivity users" will be disappointed with theses devices in the long run due to additional time spent typing even if you spent more money on a device like a Toughbook style laptop. For productivity and businesses time is money and I dont need to tell you that the biggest expense of any business is payroll. So your employees can do their job faster with a device that costs 3 times more then one these tablets, eventually the laptop will be cheaper for you. Especially if you have to replace screens on the tablets or the tablet completely cause of bad cases or weak keyboards. Reviews of these products should have included mimicking the use case for these and should be about usability in the way someone might actually use the product. Keep up the hard work, thank you.

July 27, 2017 | 10:56 AM - Posted by Chris S (not verified)

Brad, I disagree. The sales force of the company I work for currently uses the Surface Pro 3 extensively for work. A full laptop is generally too bulky to drag around to 5+ sales meetings a day. While in the office, they do tend to utilize a bigger device (laptop, desktop, or even the Surface with a dock). The Surface allows them to go from one device to the other pretty easily.

I ran across this article mainly because we need to add to our inventory, and I'm trying to get a feel for comparison with the iPad Pro. Our Sales VP is a huge Apple fan, and while it seems they are making strides, it may not be quite there yet.

I think I am leaning towards sticking with the Surface just based on some of the things I've read. The iPad Pro using the mobile operating system seems like it might be a bit cumbersome for switching between the numerous things our guys need on the screen.

A big thanks for the review. Extremely helpful to put some of the questions I had into a better perspective.

July 27, 2017 | 01:42 PM - Posted by Clmentoz (not verified)

Until Apple gets a tablet that can run MacOS(OSX) then Microsoft's Surface Pro has somewhat of an OS advantage, provided that Redmond does not fully deprecate WIN32/Desktop applications in some future Windows 10 update. Apple's iOS is too integrated into Apple's cloud for file movement to and from any Apple iPad at the moment.

That new iOS 11 update may change that a little, but maybe Apple can get an iPad Pro running the Full MacOS because Apple's graphics hardware is better than Intel's graphics hardware on the tablet form factor. It will be interesting to see just what any fully designed by Apple GPU/Graphics will bring to Apple's already powerful custom ARMv8A ISA running A series CPU micro-arch based systems for the future Apple SOCs. Apple's A series SOCs are already powerful enough to run MacOS. It's just a question of what amount of extra power uasge will be necessary to run the full MacOS as compared to iOS on a tablet form factor.

July 27, 2017 | 02:24 PM - Posted by EvilJedi (not verified)

It would be really nice if Apple released osx version of Ipad Pro. After windows 10 disaster I'm not interested in running windows devices for any serious work.

July 28, 2017 | 03:00 AM - Posted by Jaewaie (not verified)

Very well done review. No one has compared them yet and honestly it has helped me make a decision. I was in need of a tablet and was thinking of either the surface or the iPad. I think I'll go with the ipad pro.

July 28, 2017 | 11:27 PM - Posted by Doc Morrow (not verified)

Having been running iOS 11 for a while now, in Beta, I can tell you the mobile experience will not be the same ever again. No need for macOS. To do so puts you in the MacBook & MacBook Pro lines and more hardware. iOS 11 significantly replicates the major OS feel and functions, while keeping the things people love about tablets. Add a keyboard and "pencil" as needed and you will replace your laptop without the weight and extras having to be carried around whether you need them or not. Now, I carry the iPad everywhere, and when I need a full keyboard, I pull it out. I drive extra displays, and iCloud everything. It may still not be everything for the folks stuck to Win devices, but with 64bit program/apps on the way, the iPad Pro has arrived this fall. No, I'm not a fanboy. I also own and use Win machines, Linux boxes, and various other devices depending on needs...but the iPad Pro is now my go to portable.

November 29, 2017 | 08:29 PM - Posted by Anonymous3 (not verified)

Which browser did you use to test the Surface? Chrome or Edge?

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