Welcome to the beginning of our Surface Pro 4 journey. I wanted to let you know what the plan is, rough out a bit of a schedule and introduce you to my first impressions of the Surface Pro 4.
I started this project because I believed the Microsoft Surface was the portable music making computer that I had been looking for. When the Surface Pro 3 came out it looked like the specs had finally caught up with what I wanted to do and so I went for it. I also started blogging about it and making videos because – well because I thought they were interesting and I love messing around and explaining this stuff. The Surface Pro 3 proved itself to be awesome and I made some cool discoveries along the way and enjoyed the challenge of working around the limitations. Now we’re moving onto the Surface Pro 4 – kindly donated by my kickstarter backers – the specs and technology are even better and I think it’s going to be an awesome music making machine. So, I’m going to get stuck into making videos about making music on the Surface Pro 4. I will try to cover as much stuff as I can from basic setup to complex software demonstrations, from performance testing to performing live.
Here’s the video version, text follow on below:
Now I should point out that I don’t work for Microsoft and I’m not in any way affiliated to them, although I’ve come to regard a few of their employees as friends, which is nice. If you’re encountering me for the first time then my 30 second biography is that after completing my degree in Music Technology in 1996 I worked at the famous Turnkey music store in London as a PC product specialist and then managed the computer music department – this was before ASIO, before VST and software synths – I saw all of that happen. In 1999 I wrote one of the first books on PC music making and followed it up with a Guitar based one a couple of years later. We were the first UK distributors of fledgling software companies like Native Instruments, GigaSampler and Unity. We saw a huge need for a Windows computer that could run music software and hardware successfully and so we designed and built the ground breaking Carillon AC-1 audio computer of which I was the technical director until 2005. I left to follow my dreams and wrote an album of meditation music. Failing to achieve any kind of income with music I returned to building computers for music and ran the UK side of Rain Recording. In 2013 I formed Molten Music Technology as a fully independent technology company to build awesome computers for music and develop online content focusing on the making of music on Windows computers. So messing around on the Surface Pro 4 fits nicely with what I do but it’s not exactly my day job. My aim is to average a video a week but sometimes I just have to build computers you know?
I’ve had the Surface Pro 4 a couple of weeks and I’ve been using it a bit generally and I’ve installed one or two things but I haven’t got into the music side very much yet – that’s next. The spec of the machine I have is the i5 6300U 2.4GHz with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of SSD space. And with the type cover cost about £1200. This is the exact same level of model as the Surface Pro 3 I bought, but with updated technology. It’s been out a while and there are plenty of general reviews out there so I’m not going to dwell on the specs.
In the hand it feels lovely – it feels like a 1200 quid device, it’s satisfyingly weighty without feeling heavy. The feel of the type cover is somehow more luxurious than the SP3 and we’ll come onto that in a minute. Looking at the two together you’d be hard pushed to notice any difference in size, but we do know that the 4 is a tiny bit thinner. The only other hardware change is the relocation of the volume control to the top which allows for the greatest thing ever – the magnetic pen! Hooray! I can’t tell you how happy that makes me.
Right let’s head indoors for a very quick tour of the Surface when it’s on (see video).
As you can see the screen bezel is slightly thinner giving you a little bit more screen space and the keyboard keys have sort of drifted apart to fill the cover a bit more. The typing experience is soooooo much better, I can’t even tell you. The trackpad is also much bigger and made of glass and feels lovely. The pen feels really good – the SP3 feels like writing on glass whereas the SP4 feels different, softer somehow. I’ve lost two buttons which I haven’t missed yet but we’ll see if that’s a good or bad thing in time. The end being a rubber is kind of awesome, and it can also trigger OneNote if you push it or if you hold it brings up Cortana.
Which brings me briefly to Windows 10 and the out of the box experience. This is the first device I’ve had that came with Windows 10 installed – rather than me doing an upgrade. And I have to say that it was all a bit shaky. The first thing it wanted to do was set up Windows Hello, which was fine and somewhat exciting but a number of times it would lock itself up trying to do it, or get into some kind of feedback loop where it needed me to login with a password to confirm something but wouldn’t let me change from Windows Hello. I had to hard reset it. Once I turned off Windows Hello things started to smooth out a bit – I’m a bit fan of the pin number login now. Windows also needed to update itself quite a bit, quite a lot actually – some things were just not working – the email app and OneNote would crash on launch and vanish – and then it needed to think about it some more and then do some more updating before these things became stable. So my advice with any new device and Windows 10 is that you need to give it a couple of days to settle down and sort itself out. It should say that in large friendly letters on the front otherwise those first couple of days are a bit frustrating and they knock your confidence in your purchase.
Other things I’ve discovered are that the fan isn’t as eager to come on – the SP3 is happily spinning it’s fan for all to hear for doing nothing whereas the SP4 has been a lot more selective. The audio output on the other hand has not and the volume is massively improved – thank the gods. I’m still finding that the headphones and speakers are treated independently – as with the SP3 – and although I understand that the audio experience on headphones and on speakers needs to be processed differently to make it sound good – it can still be a major pain the arse when some software doesn’t understand it and you have to manually switch drivers when you plug in or out your headphones.
The only real disappointment is the loss of the hardware windows button. I would use this all the time on the SP3 and I mourn its loss – very sad.
So this is where we begin. My first task is to run some performance tests on the Sp4 side by side with the SP3 to see how they compare. We’re not talking framerate benchmarks we’re talking how many plug-ins they can run in Reaper – how many Dverbs can it handle in Pro Tools and what sort of polyphony can it kick out in Cubase with Halion. I might also throw in a couple of photoshop examples. From there I’ll start running through different bits of non-touch DAW software to see how well they are behaving in a touch environment – and then do some demos on the more touch friendly music software that’s out there. I’ve got the new Surface Dock and I want to compare that with a regular USB hub – see how that goes – and I have gigs to prepare for and Windows 10 to tweak. Lots to do!
I’m super excited by it all, eager to get started – just bear with me, I’m going as fast as I can. Feel free to get in touch and ask questions in any form or method you like. And to make sure you’re notified about the next video then subscribe to the channel, follow us on Twitter and facebook – now go and make some tunes!