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Scott's Column
Microsoft Surface Pro... As a Primary Workstation

September 2, 2013
By Scott Lewis

Last month I wrote about Windows 8.1, and the minor improvements Microsoft had done. Eventually I will have to upgrade my main computer. I have been a desktop tradionalist for... well... forever.

I prefer a desktop with serious power, and easily upgradable components. However, that is getting less and less important. I have been doing less and less gaming on my desktop. In fact, I have not even played the last game I bought. It is still sitting in a pile waiting for me to install it.

It is becoming apparent that I may not need a desktop. I use the same basic software most of the time. Is it time to "give in" and go with a laptop for my next computer? If so I want an Ultrabook. A very sleek, light weight, diskless laptop that weighs under 3 pounds, and has at least a 1440x900 display.

If you will recall, I have written that Microsoft's Surface is the Ultrabook for me.

The question is then... can the Surface be my primary computer?

To be my primary computer, obviously I would need a real keyboard and mouse and an external monitor that I would dock with the Surface Pro while on my desk. The Surface Pro has a 1920 x 1080 resolution display... and supports up to 2,560 x 1,440 resolution on an external display. This is a minor dilemma. My monitor is a 30" Dell with a resolution of 2,560 x 1,600. Maybe I could sell it and get a Dell 27" monitor, that happens to have a 2,560 x 1,440 resolution.

Next up is storage. In last month's article I mentioned I want a Surface Pro with 256 GB of storage. They still only make them with 64 & 128 GB. So we have to wait until 256 SSD drives are more affordable and incorporated into the Surface Pro.

Regardless, 256 GB is still not enough for a desktop replacement. So I will also need to have one dedicated external hard drive for use with a Surface Pro.

I will need a powered USB 3.0 hub. This will provide power to the keyboard, mouse and external hard drive (we would get a USB powered external hard drive, so it could be used by itself with the Surface when I travel). The idea here is that when I get to my desk I plug the Surface Pro into the USB Hub and the monitor and we are ready to work (or play) as necessary.

Concerns

Storage... I would use an external hard drive for things like my entire photo library (as I do now with my current desktop). But what about iTunes? I have video podcasts that take up significant space. I can point iTunes to save its files to an external drive... but what happens if I run iTunes when away from that drive. Will it forget everything and require me to reconfigure it every time I return? Or will it just realize that the files are "temporarily" not available and just be nice and work again when I get back to my desk and plug in the drive. Or do I have to make a conscientious effort to never run iTunes when disconnected from the external drive.

Before making such a drastic change to my computing environment, I will need to assess what I really need a computer for. Currently here is what I do everyday with my desktop.

  • Email - I use Microsoft Live Mail which leaves my mail stored locally. Currently my mail folders are at about 2.3 GB, so this should not be a problem leaving it on a Surface Pro.
  • iTunes - Since I use iYunes daily, it concern me greatly if I won't be able to use it when I don't have all its files available all the time. Currently My iTunes folder is at 258 GB. That works out to 185 GB for podcasts, 38 GB for music and 35 GB for mobile apps (iPhone and iPad). If we can offload (safely) the 185 GB for podcasts we should be good to go.
  • Surf the web - This does not create an issue for space on a laptop or tablet.

Here is a list of what I do every week:

  • Edit my website - I do this with Microsoft Expression. The local copy of my web site is currently at 3.3 GB, so this should not be a issue storing on a Surface Pro.
  • Edit Photos - I do my photo editing in Photoshop & Lightroom. Obviously we have to deal with the size these programs take up, but that should not be too much trouble. And I keep all my photos on an external drive now. SO this would be a no-brainer, I would not edit photos unless I had the external drive, and this would almost exclusively be at my desk anyway.
  • Watch/Download Videos - I am starting to turn into a YouTube junkie. Even when I use tools like NetVideoHunter to save videos from the web... I would clearly just save these to an external hard drive for the occasion when I need to watch off-line. I don't see this as a issue for the Surface pro.

Here is what I do at least some of a every month:

  • Update Budget - I use Excel to maintain my monthly budget, and this would be simple on a Surface Pro.
  •  Balance Bank Accounts - I am still using Money 95 (4.0). I like it and it is simple, small and does all I need. Again, this would be an easy move to the Surface Pro.

Conclusion

As I see it... there is nothing stopping me from letting my next desktop be a Microsoft Surface Pro. I clearly have some space issues above... and I would hold out for a Surface Pro equipped with 256 GB of internal storage. That should handle everything except my iTunes podcasts and my photos, all of which should be easy to keep on an external hard drive for when I need them. Just as long and iTunes plays nice when I do not have the external drive with me.

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