Microsoft Surface 3 – Full review for music and media production

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I’ve been greatly underwhelmed by the sort of reviews that are out there for the new Microsoft Surface 3. It’s like everyone is content to talk about USB ports, running Office and OneNote and how it’s not a bad tablet/hybrid except for the lack of apps in the Store. Geez – doesn’t anyone out there want to see some actual software being run? The Surface 3 runs regular Windows 8.1 and so it’ll run any of the gazillions of regular desktop apps including professional music and media production software. What we need to see is how well the Surface 3 can handle intensive content creation software – will it be able to do more than surf the internet?



Well hopefully I can answer that question. I sat the Surface 3 down next to my Surface Pro 3 and ran a whole load of music software including Pro Tools, Cubase, Ableton, Reason, Maschine, Spark and I even ran Photoshop just to see how it went. I demonstrated the software working and compared the CPU usage on both devices. I also ran some plug-in benchmark tests and compared the thermal features. This is the sort of information you need to make a reasonably informed purchasing decision.

Don’t settle for rubbish reviews – have a look at a proper one:

28 thoughts on “Microsoft Surface 3 – Full review for music and media production

  1. Wonderful look at the Surface 3. Made my head rethink my next tablet/computer. Multi-timbral apps are so limited on iPad, I’ve thought of switching over to a Windows-based device for some time so I can use multiple sounds from Alchemy. Have you been able to test Alchemy on the Surface 3? If so, can you give any specifics on how well it worked? Thanks.

      1. Ah well, thanks. I’ve sort of been looking into a Pro lately. Thanks for your informative site. Very helpful.

      2. I did end up buying the SP3 i5 over the weekend. Alchemy works great with it. I hooked up two USB keyboards using an unpowered USB Hub and was able to play two instances of Alchemy. For anyone running across this thread, keep in mind, this is the Surface Pro 3 and still does not answer my original question as to using the Surface 3.

  2. I’m fascinated. have a surfacepro 3 and have just installed Easyworship 6. been using EW 2009 since september on my old machine so not yet grown into the upgrade! My first hitch is that the mdp/hdmi converter doesn’t want to show any output…. Do you have any ideas where I might begin to look for a solution?
    I’d be most grateful for some help

    1. I don’t know as such but you should start simply by getting the SP3 and the screen working – don’t worry about the software – just use the “Devices” charm and turn on the second screen or projector. If Windows can see it then EasyWorship should be able to. See how that goes.

      1. I’ve got screen – and I can duplicate the desktop but for some reason it wont show the easy worship output on the extended screen. I’ve repeated the process any number of times with no change – and then sometimes – but not always – if I switch to say ‘show 1 monitor only’ back to ‘extend this screen’ I get a result – and it works – but not for long 🙁
        I will try to get in touch with EasyWorship and see if they know the answer.

  3. Thanks a lot for your awesome reviews!! Just one question: did you use the surface 3 model with 2 or 4 GB of RAM for this test?

  4. Hello. Great video. I was a bit unconvinced it would run audio, but it does. You mentioned it changed the way you work. Yet, there aren’t many examples in the video about that, aside from not having to use a mouse and being able to move it anywhere. Can you give more insight to how it changes your workflow. Because If I were gonna spend $1000+ on a surface, I want to know its a significant difference. From a technical standpoint, buying a beefy laptop would be better. I’d also consider buying a laptop with relatively the same specs and using the extra $500 on gear. And what about when these audio programs have touch controls standard? Then it might be good to buy into the format. Thanks for the info!

    1. An interesting question. I think what i’m talking about is that when using a mouse you tend to be sat back, almost a passive observer of what’s happening on screen, whereas when using touch you tend to be leant in, more engaged with the screen and this results in doing things differently, making different choices because in some ways you are more restricted, and in other ways your are freer. If you watch the improv videos I’ve done with Stagelight, FL Studio, Reason etc i’m very much into the screen and it feels less automatic and more creative. I can’t explain it very well but for me it’s a welcome change to being slumped with a mouse – but I still use both.

      I don’t think software needs to be touch enabled – it just needs to not get in the way of touch. Cubase and Pro Tools, neither have touch and yet single touch works brilliantly with both. Sonar which is touch enabled is completely rubbish in the arrange page because you can’t touch anything. Software like StageLight and FL Studio 12 are the only ones who seem to understand what touch users might need – but funnily enough the ability to touch two controls at once is less of an issue that having more commands and actions available on screen instead of hidden in menus – that concept seems to elude most developers at the moment.

      Cheers
      Robin

  5. Great review.
    I’m looking at the latest pro3 i7 to push dj software (traktor) with mp3 controller in live PA applications. Based on your review I’m confident the pro3 i7 has the power but what sort o latency did you experience on the devices plugged in?

  6. Hey Robin. Thanks for the insight. I was wondering if you knew if it would make a big difference if I was to forgo using a external sound interface and use the sound card from the surface 3 (non pro). Have you tried using any of those programs without the external sound interface? I’m interested in using the surface three while on the go (bus, plane) and I feel it would be cumbersome to have an extra interface while on a flight. What are your thought?

    -Do

    1. Yes indeed, if you check out some of my first videos I talk a lot about using the onboard sound and ASIO4ALL (.com) to keep latency low and performance high.
      So yes – use ASIO4ALL or if you’ve upgraded to Windows 10 you should find the WDM/WASAPI drivers a bit more snappy.

  7. Hi, thanks a lot for the review, really reveals a lot especially for those who have to save money for this kind of thing.
    I would like to ask you, I need a tablet that can accomodate Cubase 6.5 running VST instruments (L.A. Scoring Strings particularly), and some occasional multitrack recording around 32 tracks.

    Is Surface 3 will be enough for the job? I won’t mind a little longer start up and loading time.

    Thanks in advance.

    1. Possibly, but it’s the strings that give me pause for thought. It’s worst at VST instruments – it can do most things to a small degree but trying to get a lot of polyphony out it’s going to struggle I think – but it’s one of those “how long is a piece of string” questions – it all depends on how complex your projects are.

  8. Thanks for a really helpful video, I had discounted the S3 due to the Atom processor, but your video gives me hope that it might be viable.
    Can you give an indication of what is contained in some of the demo songs that you showed playing successfully?
    How many audio tracks (wav files) and how many midi tracks (and were these playing external synths or soft synths?)
    Also, did you do any recording testing. How many audio tracks so you think it is capable.of recording simultaneously?
    Thanks

  9. Hello Mr Robin. Thank you for this valuable video.
    Excuse my English I speak Spanish and use google translator.
    I wanted to ask you, perhaps you can help me.
    I am interested in staffpad, I have understood that it is the best program of its kind, I mean pen notation and playback quality.
    I have to buy a tablet, but I have enough money for SP pro 3.
    You have tested staffpad on surface 3 (not pro)?
    the program works well? It has good quality playback?
    I am interested in composing mainly for piano, and perhaps accompanied by string quartet.
    Do you think surface 3 (not pro) will do well? 5 instruments simultaneously.
    I Would have to save for 5 months to buy Pro 3, and I’m anxious. Should wait to buy Pro 3? O surface 3 (not pro) is powerful enough to staffpad without quality problems in playback and introduction of notes?

    Thank you so much, would greatly appreciate if you can advise me.

    Martín Rodríguez from Argentina.

      1. Thank you very much. Surface 3 may be slower, thanks for the info.
        Yes I had already seen the video, is very good. It is much appreciated what you have shown.
        But the part of staffpad was short, I could not fully appreciate the performance of surface 3.
         I have not found on the internet a thorough review of staffpad on the surface 3

        Ask forums because I wanted first-hand information of users.
        I have already asked staffpad creators about surface 3 but it is not entirely clear answer: … “I think” … “should not be” … They recommend me pro 3 i5, and other tablets more expensive than the sp3 . I think I may wait to buy sp3, I would not want the playback is slow or little faithful to writing.
        It’s a shame because I needed mobility, and s3 seemed better for those purposes … but … seems to have to be the most expensive ….

        $$$$$$$$$$¡¡¡I need money$$$$$$$$$money money money$$$$$¡¡¡¡¡good bye Cheers!!!!!$$$$$$$$$

  10. Hi. I’m a bit lost with all the technical facts you mention. I simply want to use Pianoteq live. Only Pianoteq. Not wanting to spend excess money I wonder if a standard surface 3 would do it and how much ram I need. It would of course need a lot of polyphony but I want to have it as a dedicated machine only for my piano.

    1. Hi Peter,
      I would say no. The Surface 3 is an Atom processor based computer so it’s about as powerful as an iPad. I think it would struggle to give you lots of polyphony. But – I actually have no idea and no one will be able to tell you unless you try it. it could be awesome – who knows? You should ask Pianoteq and see what they think.

      Cheers
      Robin

  11. HELP PLEASE!
    Can you run Studio One 3 Artist on a Surface 3? The website says that the system requirements are ‘Intel Core 2 Duo or AMD® Athlon™ / X2 processor
    Intel Core i3 or AMD Athlon™ X4 or faster recommended’… What does that mean?! Any help appreciated, thank you 🙂

    1. You probably can, yes. You can see that I had other DAWs running on a Surface 3 in this video, so it can work and you can get some music done – like you can on an iPad. But it’s not going to be an awesome experience. I would recommend trying out the demo version first and see how that goes.

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