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The Surface Pro 4 is finally worth buying

By Adam Z. Lein May 31, 2016, 8:57 am

I was one of the people who stood in line during a snowstorm in New York to get the original Surface Pro went it went on sale February 9, 2013. I quickly started criticizing its lack of proper Wacom WinTAB drivers that would enable pressure sensitive stylus use in professional graphics programs like Photoshop and Painter. Microsoft learned their lesson and launched the Surface Pro 2 with practically perfect stability and great hardware improvements to the battery life for example as well as full support for the stylus. The Surface Pro 3 built upon that success with a larger screen, new aspect ratio, and thinner design, but maintained a great out-of-box experience when it comes to using high-end professional software. Microsoft’s Surface team’s ability to release consistently great products was improving and with the Surface Pro 3, the sales were improving too. Great news!


Unfortunately, the Surface Pro 4 took some huge steps backwards in that regard. The Surface Pro 4 was released October 26, 2015, but it was plagued by driver problems right from the start. Microsoft used some new hardware and chipsets from Intel for this generation of the Surface Pro 4 and Intel’s drivers were not well made at all. I didn’t buy my own Surface Pro 4 until the middle of January 2016, 3 months after its release and hopefully after the driver issues may have improved. There had been 6 sets of driver updates by the time after all.

Adobe Premiere Pro's touch UI features on the Surface Pro 4, should be awesome.
Adobe Premiere Pro’s touch UI features on the Surface Pro 4, should have been awesome.

It turns out there were still massive driver issues. Adding video clips to an Adobe Premiere Pro CC 2015 project and playing them with the GPU acceleration turned on would hard crash the whole PC. I mean we’re talking the screen going completely black and nothing responding. It’s as if the whole thing just shut down and wouldn’t turn back on. Holding the power button for long enough would reboot it of course, but still… what happened to Surface Pro reliability? Adobe Illustrator CC and Adobe After Effects CC had similar GPU driver issues and errors, though not as severe as Premiere. Maybe it would be good enough to use for some light web browsing and streaming video watching? Nope! Even playing streaming video in the web browser had awful GPU display issues. Then there were the connected standby stability problems! Yikes!

How about now?

I’m happy to say that April’s huge collection of driver updates for the Surface Pro 4, and especially the Intel HD graphics driver update, has solved all of my problems. Premiere Pro CC 2015 now works beautifully with GPU acceleration so I can actually edit videos again. By the way, the new touch UI enhancements in Premiere Pro are pretty awesome on the Surface Pro 4. Illustrator CC 2015 still doesn’t have all of the GPU enhancements, but at least it doesn’t crash. Photoshop, thankfully, has been pretty good with the Surface Pro 4’s GPU from the beginning.

The month of May has seen two sets of other Surface Pro 4 driver updates and I haven’t seen any connected standby or sleep mode problems since those have been installed.

I think it’s safe to say that the Surface Pro 4 is finally worth upgrading to!

Surface Signature Type Cover
Let’s not forget about that new gorgeous Signature Type Cover.

I feel like this is the time when Microsoft really should have released the Surface Pro 4… you know, so they could give it a really great out-of-box experience like the Surface Pro 3 had instead of damaging their reputation so quickly after finally starting to be successful in the hardware business. Plus that gorgeous grey alcantara signature type cover really goes beautifully with the Surface Pro 4’s magnesium alloy metal body. I would have bought that right off the bat had it been available sooner (or had the Surface Pro 4 been held off until today when the drivers actually work).

I hope the next set of hardware that comes from the Surface team doesn’t require 7 months of driver updates before it’s worth buying. I’m not too interested in the Surface Pro 5 now that the Surface Pro 4 is finally stable and usable. If the next Surface Pro has similar driver issues when it’s released, you’re probably better off going with the Surface Pro 4, especially considering we’ve seen a few discounts on the high-end tablet lately.

Do you have a Surface Pro 4 right now or are you waiting for the next version?


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