This depends a little bit on what sort of games you’re talking about – and there’s a few other factors at play too. But overall, whilst I love my Surface Pro it’s just not a good gaming machine at all. There’s a number of reasons for this.
Why Is The Surface Pro Not Good For Gaming?
Now, I’ll be honest straight out of the gate here. I have old Surface Pros. I love them. The latest I have is a Surface Pro 4, so most of this relates to my experiences with the SP4. However, the 5, 6 and 7 have similar – albeit newer – hardware. So let’s look, why is the Surface Pro good for gaming or why not.
No Dedicated GPU
The Surface Pro isn’t intended to be a gaming machine at all. Microsoft never suggested it as such. So, it comes with Intel’s integrated GPU, which is part of the ‘Core’ processor. The power of these integrated GPUs vary depending on whether you get the i3, i5 or i7 processor model, but none of them will play any heavy games.
Having said that, I play Minecraft a bit with the kids and the Surface Pro 4 makes a reasonable job of that. I’ve not tried the new ray tracing systems in the latest Minecraft editions (I’m not even sure if I can yet!) but I’m willing to bet it won’t be a good experience.
As for Flight Simulator 2020 or anything remotely demanding you’re gonna be out of luck.
Low Powered CPU
By this I mean the total power requirement of the CPU. It’s a laptop chip that’s designed to be operated on a lower power consumption to preserve battery life. Many games require a decent CPU as well as a GPU. Of course, GPU is the biggest factor, but some games require decent CPUs to keep up with network traffic, positioning logic, voice communications and general game mechanics that the GPU isn’t going to take care of. Eve Online would be one of those types of games where a reasonable processor is going to be needed just to process where all those hundreds or thousands of players are heading at what speed etc.
The Surface Pro processor is excellent for short bursts of heavy processing, such as opening web pages, opening documents and general business type use. It performs excellently – even the Surface Pro 4 processor still does a good job. I use a Surface Pro 4 as a ZoneMinder server and on 2 feeds it’s idle most of the time even with motion detection.
Which leads us nicely to;
Really Poor Heat Dissipation
And I mean really poor heat dissipation. The fan in the Surface Pro 3 and 4 is pitiful. Some models of the Surface Pro 5, 6 and 7 don’t even have fans, relying on passive cooling instead. Passive cooling and games do not mix.
This means that under a constant heavy load such as gaming, when the heat dissipation through the rear case becomes overwhelmed (which is easy) then the Surface Pro firmware will throttle (i.e. slow it down) the CPU to reduce the power required and therefore the heat produced. A slower CPU results in lower frame rate on your game, less ability to keep up with the action and a generally overall poorer experience.
The other, massive problem with Surface Pro’s heat dissipation is early failure of components. Some models are worse than others for this. And some sub-models are worse than others too. But common problems for the Surface Pro 4 for example, result in the screen flickering and becoming unusable due to heat (and manufacturing that doesn’t account for the heat).
Playing games and doing heavy processor intensive activities on a Surface Pro can quickly result in an unusable device. Or at the very least, a device that you can no longer use the screen on and have to plug it in to an external display. Pretty pointless.
Only One USB Port
This is a fairly minor issue really, since you could always plug a USB3 hub in. But a modern device with only one USB port is a bit daft really. But a lot of gamers will want different controllers, keyboards and mice plugged in at the same time making a hub pretty much necessary.
What Is The Surface Pro Good For Then?
Don’t get me wrong – the Surface Pro family are, in my humble opinion, an excellent platform for modern mobile computing. I first got into the SP world because I run websites (like this one) and one got hacked while I was away on holiday.
Try fixing a hacked website on a Google Nexus 7 and you’ll understand why I think the Surface Pro is an excellent step up. But it is indeed an excellent step up. I do all my daily work on a Surface Pro presently, and the great thing is that I can pick it up, put it in a backpack and take it with me where-ever I go. I hardly notice it’s there.
It’s light. It’s powerful. The form factor means it fits in spaces where even traditional paper work folders won’t fit. It uses minimal power and even on this old SP4 the battery still gives me a good couple of hours of reasonably heavy duty work.
It’s good for heavy duty usage once in a while – but don’t overdo it because that heat will kill it eventually. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow – but one day. But it’s a versatile work horse with a crystal sharp display that is also a touch screen enabling graphic design with a pen.
There’s lots going for the Surface Pro range. Just not games.