Microsoft Surface 3 vs Surface Pro 3 For Music Apps

The Microsoft Surface & Surface Pro lines of computers got off to a rocky start, when they was introduced. And, while musicians have widely embraced the iPad, adoption of touch-screen computers has been slower. 

This video, via Molten Music Technology, takes a look at the latest versions of Microsoft’s Surface & Surface Po computers. With the Surface 3, Microsoft has ditched the ARM platform for Intel, so both devices offer the promise of full-fledged Windows application support on a multi-touch capable computer.

How do the new Surface 3 and Surface Pro 3 work with music apps? Check out the video and then let us know what you think!

Video summary:

The deepest review you will ever see of the new Microsoft Surface 3. I demonstrate it running actual software, comparing performance to the Surface Pro 3, showing you what it’s actually capable of.

You know it can run Office and use the internets but how well does it run Cubase, Pro Tools, PhotoShop, Maschine? This is the only review you’ll ever need.

33 thoughts on “Microsoft Surface 3 vs Surface Pro 3 For Music Apps

  1. For those who don’t want to wade through a half hour video, here’s a quote from his conclusion:

    “It’s not going to run the same number of plug-ins, it’s not going to run the same number of instruments. But it does very well, and the way the processor is it doesn’t clock down quite so readily so you’ll be able to run a very stable system with this… “

  2. The question is not whether I can use for surface play a plugin in a generic way.
    The test would have to be developed as follows:
    Can I use a cpu-intensive software like Pianoteq 5 or U-He Diva for a live performance with full polyphony without problems of cpu overload? And how many synth cpu-intensive can I use simultaneously in full polyphony with a software like Brainspawn Forte?

    With a test of this kind it was possible to get an idea of ??the potential of Surface. A test as that of Example is not 100% usefull.

    A hardware like Surface can not replace a Desktop Computer for hard disk recording, but it would be very useful when used as a synthesizer workstation to use high quality-plugins like Pianoteq, U-He Diva, Kontakt, Bazille, Reaktor, and so on. These plugins are CPU-intensive, but provide a high quality sound, better than many hardware-musical instruments. A combination Surface + Brainspawn Forte + HQ Plugins would be very interesting. But if I cannot understand if I can use the plug-ins with full polyphony and how many plugins I can use at the same time, i will never buy Surface.

    1. “A hardware like Surface can not replace a Desktop Computer for hard disk recording”
      Actually yes it can, Hard disk recording takes barely any CPU power and it mostly about data throughput to the hard disk, the surface has a USB 3.o port for external hard drives and more than enough CPU power.
      If you want a portable hard disk recorder a surface is an ideal candidate.

      And with regard to you CPU test producing a test that means something to you might not mean anything to someone else, I use a lot of soft synths too but never the ones you have mentioned, so your test wont mean anything to me.
      See how difficult it becomes?
      Robin did a great job of generalising but remaining informative and did a good enough plugin test to know it would be up to the job of many tasks, if you have specific needs get one from somewhere that you can return it if you dont like it or find a retailer that has a demo version they don’t mind you trying what you want to do with.

      1. I’m sorry, but if you think that the Surface is able to replace a desktop computer to make hard disk recording, I believe that you don’t have the slightest idea of ??what it means to make hard disk recording for professional use. Also you say you are using many virtual instruments, it means nothing, is not a value, a numeric data, it is a landmark. even I can use a computer and to run many virtual instruments of the older generation. but if you want to give a reference value, you have to use plugin cpu intensive (such as U-He Diva or Pianoteq 5) and see if you can make a professional use (that means full polyphony without cpu overload).

        1. The Surface Pro 3 can easily keep up with USB2’s full bandwidth, meaning that if you had all input and output channels active on something like a Focusrite 18i20 (which I picked just for an extreme example for track count), you could record and monitor all the streams at full sample rate and resolution.

          VST and other effect plugins will have an influence on this, but for *recording audio*, that is, capturing the inputs from a USB DSP device and storing them to SSD as WAV data, is well within the capabilities of these tablets.

  3. with ipad I know how many polyphony i will have with an application and if my hardware is compatible or not with an application. With Surface i must buy the. hardware, i have to buy the software and, if anything, in the end, I discover that I can use Pianoteq with only 10-note polyphony? It’s too risky.

  4. I run Ableton on my Surface Pro 2 without any problems. It doesn’t have the CPU power that my Quad I7 MacBook Pro w/ 16GB does, but it works great for most tasks.

    1. That wouldn’t make any sense. What makes the iPad so great is that the apps on it are written for the multitouch interface. desktop software is made for mouse interaction = single click.
      and that’s what makes the surface so bad, if you only want to exchange the mouse with a stylus you do not understand the problem;
      you have to use a prosthesis to use it …

      1. Which illustrates how you don’t understand the Surface.
        The surface uses the same OS as desktop computers and is fully multi touch for fingers with apps designed for the purpose.
        There are some thing fingers just cant do and for those there is the stylus, try handwriting with your finger in an ipad – no chance !
        Take Staffpad for example, the developers tried to make it for IOS but it just couldnt be done well enough by being restricted to finger input, on the surface its perfect !

        1. Handwritten notation and drawing – meh
          Somebody wake me if anything interesting is happening in windowsland

  5. Hey, that’s my video!
    Let me know if you have any questions – nothing is ever as clear in a video as you think it is – always happy to chat about it 🙂


    1. i would like to know if it’s possible to run maschine and the surface 3 without either being plugged into an electrical outlet and for how long?

    2. Hi Robin,

      Thanks so much for all you do !

      I am close to getting the SP3 i5 256 like yours…with all of the caveats and “your mileage may vary” aside, I am just trying to figure out if I can do say 12 audio tracks in Sonar X3 with Reason rewired running a few devices and a few effect sends, a few delays on a track or two.
      So while not anything huge, I just can’t seem to find anyone saying exactly how beefy of a project it can handle. Again I know there are many variables, but can i do a full song on it without having to move to a more powerful desktop?
      Ie- Can you give any example of a project you have done with how many audio/vst/plugins just for a general reference?


    3. I am thinking of buying a surface 3 but would like to know how well it would run cubase as I need it for a some what basic level and wondered if I needed one with more ram, cpu or what I just wanted your opinion on what the best devise would be weather it is a surface 3 with more ram or the pro just wanted to know which one is best. thank you

  6. I bought a Surface Pro 3 recently… wanted to buy my 3rd ipad but i needed something running lightroom and photoshop too. the ONLY thing that the surface pro 3 is not better than the macbook air is: trackpad. for pro apps, the trackpad of the air is just plain awesomeness.
    But the Surface Pro 3 has a digitizer built in! So it’s an awesome on the go creative mashine, that even runns my audio apps. Love it! They should have called it the iPad Pro! Oh wait.

  7. This was an excellent demo.

    For an Atom processor-based notebook/tablet, I thought the Surface 3 did pretty darned well. For just $500, and with a great touch screen, the S3 gives the iPad Air 2 a bit of a good run. But running Pro Tools 12 on a S3? – Maybe not the highest & best use of this little computer. However, I was impressed with the S3’s ability to run NI’s software, which is notorious for its processor gluttony.

    Considering that the Surface Pro 3 is priced up with the 256GB model MacBook Pro, I thought the SP3 still came up a bit short running DAWs and plug-ins compared to the MBP – not bad, though. But overall, if I wasn’t already fully bought-in with OS-X and iOS devices, I’d be giving both of the Surfaces strong consideration.

  8. Guys, if you can’t afford a Microsoft Surface, go Google a Teclast Air 2.

    It’s just $200 and it runs Windows 8.

    I bought mine and I’m waiting for it to arrive to test Ableton Live in it.

  9. just get a laptop and a mouse, trying to use the interface for an application thats not designed for touch screen is a nightmare. my work lap top is a Lenovo x1 carbon which has a touch screen, id sooner use a mouse than touch the screen, touch screens only work when the interface has been dumbed down to suit. you loose keyboard commands and have to double tap for right click or hold down which causes innumerable problems in a cluttered screen. unless you want to make music on the back of bus or some other transitory location don’t bother or get a korg electribe it may be heaver, but you have lots more fun.

    1. That is exactly what the pen is for. Without the pen it’s really quite tricky using your fingers to access small menus, but with the pen you have complete mouse-like control – that’s why the Surface is so cool and so much better than any other tablet. I don’t think even Microsoft realise it – they keep banging on about needing apps that use the pen when actually it’s best used on the gazillion of desktop programs already out there. For me, if it didn’t have the pen then i’d really have nothing to talk about.

      1. the only thing that has kept me from the surface is the win8 – I am waiting for a win10 release to see if it is better than win8 (the start menu I really want back after dealing with metro + 8)before I plunk down on it – which is why I got a sub $200 venue 8 pro in the mean time to kind of play with the win tablet concept.

  10. Felt like crying watching him use the Surface as a touch screen for Mouse/Keyboard based software. As much as I like running a full DAW on Windows or Mac. Nothing beats the simplistic design of apps like Figure and Gadget on the iPad (for touch based creation). What Windows 10 needs most is apps designed for touch.

  11. What I really want is a bland multitouch 32 bit vst host interface that I can use on my venue 8 – so that it can be an extra instrument live. I like the idea of usine but I don’t want to have to do all that configuration – I would like to have a shell that I can just plop knob, keyboard, pads, etc and map assignment to the vst itself w/o a full daw. something simple and ergonomic.

  12. I bought a Dell Venue 8 Pro at the start of 2014 and it runs Renoise 2.8 and Jeskola Buzz very well. They’re only about $200 now, and I’ve found it very handy in certain cases. I use a cheap bluetooth keyboard and can make tracks wherever and email the projects to myself to continue on my notebook.

    Despite this.. it’s still not as satisfying as using a notebook. The cost of Surface Pro 3 could get you a powerful notebook and a MIDI controller and a tub of ice cream to celebrate your new setup. Having used a (though small) tablet for making music, these desktop programs are still suited best for a mouse, keyboard, and large screen (not to mention the CPU and RAM power often needed). I don’t see the appeal of “take ur desktop musik everywher, m9” having tried it myself with something that’s not as powerful as my regular notebook (which I can take everwhere as well, if I want).

  13. Hi guys. First of all excuse my English, I’m from Argentina and speak Spanish. I use google translate.
    I wanted to ask you a question. The surface 3 is enough to run staffpad? it does well?
    It has a good playback with surface 3? that is the most important to me.
    Or should I buy supeficie pro 3 i 5 8gb ram?
    In short: is there any difference run staffpad in one or another machine? I lose something with the surface 3?
    thank you very much for the answers.

    PS: staffpad is the best program of its kind? To use pen on notation and playback quality?

    I appreciate the comments.

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