Doubts over reliability of Microsoft Surface hardware
Did Microsoft hide Surface failures from their own CEO?
While its hardware draws much praise – including in this month’s reviews and Labs sections – the Surface line has struggled with reliability.
MICROSOFT HAS BEEN hit by a damning verdict on the reliability of its Surface hardware – and faces questions over whether it blamed Intel for its own faults.
Consumer Reports, the US equivalent of consumer watchdog Which?, stripped Microsoft’s portables from its recommended list after a survey of more than 40,000 users found “25% of Microsoft laptops and tablets will present their owners with problems by the end of the second year”.
Microsoft dismissed the findings with a curt statement, saying: “While we respect Consumer Reports, we disagree with their findings. Microsoft’s real-world return and support rates and customer satisfaction data show we are on par if not better than other devices in the category.”
However, leaked documents suggest that Consumer Reports’ findings aren’t vastly dissimilar to Microsoft’s. The charts show that Microsoft did see a spike in faulty machines late in 2015 when the 90-day return rate hit 15% for the Surface Pro 4 and 17% for the Surface Book.
The faults spiked shortly after launch and return rates had dropped back to 6% by spring of this year, but the Consumer Reports survey would have included those machines bought shortly after launch.
Although the Consumer Reports document would have been a blow for Microsoft, especially as Surface sales have dipped in the past two quarters, the biggest damage could come to Microsoft’s reputation. “Microsoft’s goal with producing the Surface was to make this hardware a showcase for the OEMs as to what a ‘great’ device for Windows 10 would look like,” said Michael Cherry, analyst with Directions on Microsoft. “It was supposed to be a model of hardware that would expose Windows 10 features in the best circumstances.” One partner it may have to work particularly hard to appease is Intel, according to sources that spoke to respected Windows watcher Paul Thurrott. It seems there has been a below-surface rift with the chipmaker bubbling along since those early problems with the Surface Book and Surface Pro. Internally, Microsoft was blaming the fault and crashes on Intel’s Skylake hardware, according to Thurrott’s sources. In one blog post, a company engineer even explained that the problems customers were experiencing with recovering from Sleep were due to a fault with the processors, saying: “Power management is a very hard computer science problem to solve, especially with new silicon.” The report claims that senior management within Microsoft were so concerned about Intel’s complacency, and the lack of any challenge from AMD, that the company revived efforts to port Windows to ARM-based
processors – no small commitment after the unmitigated disaster of its previous effort to embrace ARM, Windows RT.
However, it’s now been suggested that the faults with the Surface hardware were nothing to do with Intel, but with Microsoft’s own software drivers.
This only came to light when Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella visited PC builder Lenovo and asked how the company was coping with theSkylake problems. According to Thurrott’s sources, Lenovo’s management were bewildered, telling Nadella they had experienced no reliability issues with Intel’s processors at all. It appears Microsoft’s CEO had been led up the garden path by his own staff.
If true, it suggests Microsoft’s engineers were so concerned about covering their backsides that they misled their own CEO. Microsoft declined to comment on the company’s internal machinations.
While the revelations might temporarily sour relations between Microsoft and Intel, the row is unlikely to distract consumers, many of whom don’t know or don’t care what components are in their laptops – especially if the hardware is Microsoft-branded.
It appears Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella had been led up the garden path by his own staff
“I think this whole issue of Intel support is a red herring,” said Cherry. “I am using Surface hardware because in the event of a problem, I want to be able to walk into a Microsoft store and say ‘this isn’t working, fix it’.
“The hardware and the software have its name on them, so I don’t care who made the processor, the disk drive, the RAM or even the pen which I never use. As far as I’m concerned, it’s all from Microsoft.”
ABOVE Sources suggest Microsoft has had a rift with Intel over faults with the Surface