Reports, ahem, surfaced this week from users that Microsoft had subtly changed the hardware in newly built versions of the Surface Pro 2, updating the processor and supporting chipset. This change isn't big enough to warrant much excitement—especially not from those who already own a Surface Pro 2—but it's certainly worth exploring briefly.
News of an updated Surface Pro 2 appeared first on Microsoft's support web site, where a user noted that the firm had replaced his Surface Pro 2 with a version that includes a slightly better processor and chipset.
"I returned my Surface Pro 2 because of the poor performance after the failed 12.10.13 firmware update," Guy Glennon writes in the forum post. "I recall the SP2 I returned having a i5 4200U processor. To my surprise, when I checked the System Properties in the Control Panel on my replacement SP2, the processor was upgraded to an i5 4300U @ 1.9GHz."
Microsoft has apparently confirmed the change to the Verge, though the quote in no way confirms the change noted by Guy Glennon.
"Microsoft routinely makes small changes to internal components over the lifetime of a product, based on numerous factors including supply chain partnerships, availability, and value for our customers," a Microsoft statement notes. "With any change to hardware or software, we work to ensure that the product experience remains excellent."
So assuming this is all true, what does it mean?
Almost nothing. Microsoft included the Intel i5 4200U processor with the original version of the Surface Pro 2. This is a 1.6 GHz part that can hit 2.6 GHz in "Turbo" mode, which I thought we had dispensed with in the 1990s. The new Surface Pro 2 includes an Intel i5 4300U processor, which runs at 1.9 GHz, or 2.9 GHz in Turbo. They are priced identically. And they're very similar technologically, with the same processor graphics (Intel HD Graphics 4400 at 200 MHz, though the 4300U has a slightly faster max frequency) and so on.
There is perhaps two meaningful areas of difference. Where the 4200U does not support Intel vPro technology or Intel Trusted Execution Technology (a new TPM-type technology, it looks like), the 4300U does.
And then there's the esoteric stuff. The 4300U supports the Intel Virtualization Technology for Directed I/O (VT-d), Intel TSX-NI, Intel Stable Image Platform Program (SIPP), Intel Small Business Advantage, and Intel Smart Response Technology, whatever that all is. The 4200U does not.
From a real world, it's 2014 now perspective, the differences between a Surface Pro 2 running a 4200U and one with a 4300U should be minor to non-existent. And aside from the truly compulsive, if you're in the market for a Surface Pro 2 right now I wouldn't worry about which processor you get.
Oh, you say you are truly compulsive?
Then, consider this comparison. The i5-4200U received an overall score of 6.9 out of 10, compared to the i5-4300U's core of 7.2 out of 10. Benchmark-based performance was slightly higher on the 4300U, as you'd expect. But power consumption—more important on a tablet-type device, I think, and the entire point of Intel's "U"-series chips—was literally identical. And oddly enough, the 4200U ranked higher on a "features" comparison that is lacking in explanation. But the important bit is the conclusion: "No winner declared. Too close to call."
Exactly. This is not something to worry about.