My Week with the Surface Pro Part #2: And it was going so well…

I’m still hanging in there, resisting the urge to go back to the desktop.  The urge is more born out of the fact that staring at a 10-inch screen isn’t fun all day and I don’t have the display adapter to hook up another monitor.  However, there was another good reason to walk away that reared its ugly head today.  That was an unfortunate rhyme, and I apologize.

Internet and network access is pretty important.  While a computer of any kind can still be very useful without network access, the powers of the inner tubes are what largely power the best computers have to offer, from streaming pretty much anything to cloud-based services.

Being an ultraportable device, the Surface Pro needs a network connection a little more than most computers.  To say it might be the most important feature wouldn’t be an exaggeration.  At least a desktop bought for the same price would be a powerhouse; the price tag on the Surface Pro isn’t for its speed, but rather its versatility.  It might not be a tablet, but it needs a wireless network connection to help justify its very existence.

And that’s what makes the problems I had today all the more puzzling.  My wireless connection was dropping, repeatedly, for no explainable reason.

Power configuration issues?  Adjusted those; same thing.

Issue with moving between wireless repeaters, causing the connection to drop?  No, a disconnection often happened just sitting here.

Drivers?  Updated and verified.

The core reason for this is actually quite surprising: it’s due to a crappy wireless card.  Among what appears to be a premium device with premium innards and premium branding sits a piece of crap wireless card that compromises the whole device.  The usefulness of any portable device (phone, tablet, ultrabooktabletSurfacething) hinges on connectivity, and Microsoft went and got cheap with the wrong part.

What makes this even more unforgivable is that this was a known issue with the Surface RT tablet, the Pro’s x86-less little brother who was on the market months before.  The same wireless card (Marvell’s AVASTAR family, if you were curious) is in both models, and in both models it experiences the same issues: dropped or “limited” connectivity, inability to reconnect without rebooting, and a general malaise in connecting in the first place.

Now, it’s important to note that this issue only really affects 802.11n connections using WPA or WPA2, though that probably accounts for most wireless networks.  It’s also important to note that there is a registry fix that remedies the problem, but that fix just forces the wireless card to connect as a 802.11g network, which has less speed.  Yippee.

Microsoft addressed the acknowledged and known issue with an update in March, but that didn’t work and Surface RT and Pro users are still waiting for a solution.  And that’s ridiculous.

Bluetooth is something you can mess up.  Wireless is not.  Messing with the lifeblood of a portable device doesn’t make for a happy user.

Outside of that possibly deal-breaking issue, things have continued to go well.   I did apply the “fix” and have had no troubles since.  Here’s some other random thoughts:

– Windows 8 becomes far more comprehensible and fluid on the Surface Pro.  Makes sense that an OS that feels like a hybrid works great on a hybrid device.

– I’ve read a demand for an adjustable kickstand; seems silly considering the viewing angles on the display are quite good.

– Seriously need a dock for this.  Seems silly one wasn’t developed.

– Let’s all agree that this touch cover is the best accessory for anything ever.

– Non-business usage: gaming is surprisingly nice.  Ran Torchlight 2 at maximum settings and used the touchscreen to great delight.

More tomorrow.

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