Why space is not an issue for Microsoft Surface Pro devices

Martin Brinkmann
Jan 30, 2013
Updated • Jan 30, 2013

So you have probably read about the controversy about Microsoft's Surface RT device space-wise, that Microsoft advertised it with 32 GB or 64 GB of space when it in fact offered less free space to users of the device (that's about 16 GB and 45 GB respectively). The very same controversy happens again with Surface Pro devices which apparently reserve a large part of the device's storage capabilities for the operating system and recovery partition. The 64 Gigabyte Surface Pro will have 23 Gigabyte of free space, the 128 Gigabyte version 83 Gigabyte of free storage.

Keep in mind that storage size is calculated in GiB on Windows (that is Gibibyte) while storage size is measured in Gigabyte (GB) by manufacturers. This means basically that Surface Pro 128 GB units report a total size of 119 GB (Windows Explorer uses GB even though it means GiB) and 64 GB units one of 59 GB.

This is still a lot by all means, especially when you look at the 64 Gigabyte version as almost 2/3 of the device's storage are used by the operating system and installed software.

It needs to be noted that hardware manufacturers always list the maximum storage capacities of their devices and not the free capacity, and while that is less for Android or iOS powered devices, it is still worth mentioning.

23 Gigabyte is not a lot of free space considering that you can install desktop programs on the Surface Pro and likely will do so. Adding Microsoft Office and a couple of other large applications plus some music could very well fill the device up to the brim already. Heck, a single modern PC game could fill up that storage space alone.

Why is it not an issue then? Because the device offers enough ports and connectors to extend the storage. The Surface Pro has a microSDXC slot which you can add Flash memory cards to. Prices start at about $1 per Gigabyte, a 64 Gigabyte microSDXC card retails for about $64, and 128 Gigabyte cards have dropped in price considerable and are now also available for around $130.

While this means another expense, it also means that Surface Pro users can increase the available storage of the tablet PC easily. And lets not forget the USB port that the devices have as well. You can connect external hard drives to that port to add Terabytes of space to the device. While this is not the most practical thing to do if you are using the Surface on the go, it is still an option that is available to you. Another option that Surface Pro users have is move some files, documents for instance, to cloud storage like SkyDrive.

Adventurous users may also copy and then delete the recovery partition of the Surface, or create a full system backup and then delete it, to free up space on the device. (via Neowin)


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  1. Deano said on February 3, 2013 at 1:29 pm

    I once thought that personal computers would keep giving us *more*, not less. But then again this isn’t really a personal computer is it? I suspect it’s a tablet first and foremost and the keyboard reassures you it can be work as well.

    I agree with anyone else who says usable space should be declared. That strikes me as a consumer-friendly move particularly as most people simply are not aware of these issues until it becomes a problem.

  2. jmjsquared said on January 31, 2013 at 9:31 pm

    Tempest in a teapot. What’s the big deal? There is no fraud, false advertising or deception going on. The storage IS as stated. Gimme a break! Move or delete the darn Recovery Partition. Who keeps it anyway? That’s what imaging/backing-up is for.

    Next there will be complaints that , while having 15 browser windows opened, playing a video while doing a little Photoshop editing at max screen brightness, the battery does not last as advertised.

    Wish there were more storage for the money? Me too. But, I wasn’t deceived or lied to. Neither were you.

    1. BobbyPhoenix said on January 31, 2013 at 9:48 pm

      Wrong. So what you are saying is you go to buy a car for your family that has four people in it. Husband, Wife, and two kids. You see an ad on TV for a new model. It’s perfect you say! It seats five people! I can take an extra person on trips with us! It even comes with some extra free stuff if I buy now! You and your family (all four of you) go to the dealer, buy the car, but it’s getting clean, so you can’t check it out yet, but you know it’s the one you want, so you do the paperwork, and give your keys to your old car to the dealer since you traded it in. The dealer throws in the extras like a car cover, different style wheels, a bra, some splash guards. You are so happy. All this stuff for no extra cost. You wait for you new car to be done. It is they say! Yay! They pull it around front, and you go with your family to take it home. WAIT!!!!! What is that? The back seats aren’t empty. No room for the kids. All the extras are taking up all the space. Who cares you say! I can just move or delete that stuff. No biggie. Who needs it anyway? Same thing!!!! Donkey

      1. jmjsquared said on January 31, 2013 at 10:11 pm

        Emotional but completely illogical analogy. Whether measured in GB’s or Gib’s, the number is an absolute and not dependent on a variable, such as : The size of a person. (In your malaprope, for example, I could get 5-or-more baby-sized people in the car.) Even following your flawed logic and inappropriate analogy where you arbitrarily introduce EXTRAS into the discussion, you did not pay-for nor did you originally look for those EXTRAS. So, if they intefere with your use of the specious “car” as intended, my point remains valid: Remove the EXTRAS and you have what was promised (at the very least, and more if you decide to use them, the extras, that is.)

  3. Morely Dotes said on January 30, 2013 at 7:33 pm

    “The device offers enough ports and connectors to extend the storage.” Thus eliminating the chief advantage of a tablet format: Easy one-box portability.

    My World of Warcraft folder occupies 22.7 GB. Aside from the pain of trying to play it on a tiny tablet screen, there’s no room left on the “64 GB” (which is really 23 GB) Surface Pro for any other software – and as soon as the first Service Pack for Win8 comes along, it would fail due to lack of space.

    The 64 GB Surface Pro is a prime example of consumer fraud. Microsoft is going to spend millions of dollars fending off lawsuits (justified or not) over their false advertising.

  4. BobbyPhoenix said on January 30, 2013 at 4:09 pm

    If it’s so easy to use a 64 GB card to increase storage then MS should give one free with the purchase of the device simply from the stand point of trying to always fool the customer. MS and ALL manufactures need to state what the usable storage is, not the total, or at the very least put them both there in large plain text. 128 GB TOTAL, 83 GB USABLE. Simple isn’t it? No more guessing when you buy something wondering “Hmm I wonder how much space I have to use? Should I get an SD card now too?”

    1. lontong said on January 30, 2013 at 5:16 pm

      Agree with this, also if they do make it as big as the rest of the text not in size someone should use a microscope to read to.

  5. fokka said on January 30, 2013 at 3:07 pm

    on topic, though:

    as with the surface rt, this is just ridiculous. i understand that there are people who just don’t need that much storage. maybe they live in the cloud, maybe they are ok with the occasional use of the sd-slot, fine, i’m happy you’re happy.

    but: selling tablets and putting 64/128gb on the box and then you see there are ~40gb “missing” to me is false, borderline fraudulent advertising. i mean the gb are in. the. f. name. of the devices. there’s the 64gb one, and then there’s the 128gb one. that’s the whole distinction!! if they call it small/medium/large/whatever they can go with as little usable storage they want, but no, it’s in the fuckin’ name!

    i also understand that this is very much common in the it-world, and no, i don’t find that ok, either. but when i buy a hdd/ssd/sd, at least i get ~90% of the storage. sure, the surface sports an os plus recovery-functionality and what not. but still, i think there should be limits to this practice, and the surface rt/pro are clearly breaking the boundaries i would call acceptable.

    and sorry to rant, i wouldn’t even call one sd-slot a satisfying solution. sure i can upgrade my storage with whatever the current sd-market provides, but hey, maybe i want to copy a few files from my video-/cam/phone to the tablet’s “extended” storage-sd? yeah.

    as always, i’m not saying all this is the worst thing ever, but i hate it when tech companies either artificially restrict their products, or like in this case put some imaginary numbers on their gear which have nothing to do with what you get as a user.

    you can release the dogs now.

    1. Felipe Veiga said on January 30, 2013 at 7:35 pm

      I couldn´t agree more with Forka. It is outrageous that the Pro version is consuming that ammount of space by the operational system. None of the other tablets use that much, and it significantly increases the tablet price as you should use and SD card along or an external hard drive.

    2. Martin Brinkmann said on January 30, 2013 at 3:14 pm

      I understand that this can be frustrating for users, especially those that buy the 64 Gigabyte version of Surface Pro. It is still a convention that hardware manufacturers list the total storage space and not the free storage space. Everyone does so and while Windows takes up a big chunk of storage, I would not necessarily call it deceiving.

      1. Deano said on February 3, 2013 at 1:33 pm

        Until a consumer feels deceived. And then it is. A simple solution would be to provide pertinent and useful technical data up-front. Manufacturers would surely be supportive of that and not have anything to hide?

      2. fokka said on January 31, 2013 at 3:04 pm

        then we have to agree to disagree. ;)

      3. Martin Brinkmann said on January 31, 2013 at 5:34 pm

        That’s fine by me, would be pretty boring if everyone would agree with my opinion.

  6. Max said on January 30, 2013 at 2:45 pm

    I also have to disagree. While SD cards are a (poor) workaround for data storage, what about softwares ? Running Windows application from an SD card must be horribly slow.

    The fact that you buy a 64Gb device and only get 23Gb of usable space is ridiculous.

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on January 30, 2013 at 3:05 pm

      You do not really need to install software on the Flash memory card, but even that is ok I guess for most applications. Sure, they may start up slower but that is likely the only effect you will notice.

      1. lontong said on January 30, 2013 at 5:14 pm

        And you’re fine with that on a $900 devices?

        Hopefully most people have better common sense.

  7. Richard said on January 30, 2013 at 2:40 pm

    I disagree. Surface and Surface Pro have to compete with iPads and Android tablets. Both of these competitors provide a far higher percentage of free space to maximum space than MS tablets do. The market believes this is an issue, therefore it is an issue.

    Microsoft will need to reduce its prices to be competitive if it doesn’t fix the space issue.

  8. fokka said on January 30, 2013 at 2:39 pm

    @martin is it me, or did you just confuse GiB and GB?

    i thought storage-producers always calculate it like this: take 1 billion bytes, call it a gigabyte (GB: base 1024) although it’s a gibibyte (GiB: base 1000).

    so of course a GB is more bytes than a GiB, but vendors deceive us in using the smaller GiB-unit so they can put a larger (and rounder) number on the box.

    what windows reports is then based on the bigger GB, so sure, not as many GB “fit” on your brand-spanking-new 4-terabyte-platter based on TiB.

    i don’t know about linux, but to my knowledge osx is the only (desktop) os using the GiB-standard.

    correct me if i’m wrong.

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on January 30, 2013 at 3:09 pm

      I’m no expert on the topic but I always thought it went like this: Most storage manufacturers define a Gigabyte as 1,000,000,000 bytes while Windows defines it as 1,073,741,824 bytes which is why drive space is reported lower in Windows.

      Just checked on Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gibibyte and it states that 1,073,741,824 is 1 GiB.

      1. fokka said on January 31, 2013 at 3:21 pm


        things are getting clearer. now the only thing left to do is forgetting everything i learned the latter half of my life and writing the new definitions on my hand.

      2. fokka said on January 31, 2013 at 3:07 pm

        ok, now i’m even more confused. i think i’ll have to look into this topic again.

      3. ilev said on January 30, 2013 at 5:47 pm


        Hard disk manufacturers paid a for deceiving customers with Hard disks size. Now it is the norm to use 1,000,000,000 bytes a 1GB.

  9. Gary Roberts said on January 30, 2013 at 10:30 am

    Actually one can carry several micro 64 gig SD cards, so storage is limitless.

    1. ilev said on January 30, 2013 at 12:13 pm

      Actually one can carry a 4KG 3TB external usb hard disk with this 10″ tablet.

      On an iOS or Android Tablets you get 90%+ of free space after OS and applications.
      On Surface RT you get 50% free space, on Surface pro 64GB you get 25% (free space is 19GB) and on Surface pro 128GB you get 60%, and that for $1000.

      If this isn’t a swindle, I don’t know what is.

  10. Gary Roberts said on January 30, 2013 at 10:28 am

    Very gratifying to understand that micro sd card can easily increase storage up to an additional 64 gigs.

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