Surface 9 Pro with Windows on Arm

I have had a short time with a loan Surface 9 Pro running Windows on Arm.

My review sample came without a keyboard case. I do not recommend this unless you have very specific tablet-y requirements. It is hard to use without a keyboard. This of course means it costs more than it first appears, because the cheapest keyboard is £129.99 inc VAT. Since most people I see using a Surface use it like a laptop, I do wonder about the value of the kickstand design, which harks back to the earliest Surface devices when Microsoft was taking on the iPad. That battle was lost with the failure of the tablet personality in Windows 8. Desktop Windows won; and it needs a keyboard.


That aside, it’s a lovely device, great screen, great for video conferencing thanks to the smart camera. AI makes it appear that you are looking at the camera even if you are not. Good feature or deception? I am not sure, but I err more towards deception. It is a hard one though, because when paying attention in video conference you are looking at your video of the speaker, not at the camera, which makes it appear that you are looking elsewhere even though you are not.

Lower energy use than x64, longer battery life. Perfect Windows device? It might be, except that the vast majority of Windows applications are compiled for x64 only. This means some applications might not work, and in other areas there is friction. A contact of mine bought a Surface 9 Pro with the SQ (Arm) chipset for work.  It came with Windows 11 Home on Arm. The tech specs say that “At this time, Surface Pro 9 (SQ® 3/5G) with Windows 11 Home on ARM will not install some games and CAD software, and some third-party drivers or anti-virus software. Certain features require specific hardware … find out more in the FAQ.” Where is this FAQ? It is not linked from the tech specs as far as I can tell. Maybe this is it. Windows 11 Pro not mentioned. My contact should of course have purchased Surface Pro 9 for Business. Windows Home has too many annoyances and limitations to be usable for business.

What to do? Fortunately there is a Microsoft 365 upgrade to Windows 11 Pro, which is a cost effective option. The upgrade was delivered to the Microsoft 365 portal as a license key with a link to an ISO to download. The key did not work. The ISO did not work as it was x64 only. Rumour has it that a Windows 11 Pro ARM build from UUP dump worked fine with the key, even as an in-place upgrade. Maybe Microsoft support could also sort this out. But it is friction, and I doubt it will be the last.

It seems obvious to me that if you want an Arm-based laptop with excellent performance and long battery life, a MacBook Pro is a better option. You can run Windows in a VM via VMware Fusion 13 or Parallels and it performs well. Or if you want a Windows on Arm box for test and development the Dev Kit is a good offer.

There is still a niche for the Surface 9 Pro with SQ, if you are confident that everything you need will run. It is more efficient than an x64 device, and it has 5G. It is a nicely built device even if not the best value. I think Windows on Arm will continue to improve. There is a way to go though before it is really mainstream.