In an era flooded with devices that are hard to repair, Microsoft has made some of the worst offenders. Just a few years ago, iFixit teardown engineers awarded the Surface Pro 7 one of our lowest possible scores—a 1 out of 10—the battery was glued down, making it next to impossible to replace, and the RAM, CPU, and SSD were all soldered directly to the motherboard. To be frank, we had all but written Microsoft devices off for a while; the devices simply weren’t repairable.
But change is always possible. To wit; our teardown of the new Surface Pro 9 confirms that it’s something of an evolutionary leap forward for Microsoft. And when a manufacturer as large as Microsoft takes serious steps specifically to improve repairability, it’s worth highlighting. A quick disclaimer is warranted here: We’ve been consulting with Microsoft’s hardware team, offering them teardown analysis directly. We’re pleased that it seems they’ve taken some of our advice, but this teardown was conducted independently—we purchased our own Surface and dug in, assessing its repairability strengths and weaknesses just as we would any other device.
First off, as we’ll see, the battery is no longer glued down—it’s screwed in, making it dramatically easier to replace. Microsoft has also told iFixit that it will be publishing repair guides for their devices on the company’s website, by the end of the calendar year, and supplying parts starting early 2023.
Here’s the full statement Microsoft provided to iFixit:
At Microsoft we recognize the importance of enabling device repair and this was a major focus in developing Surface Pro 9. This includes intentional features in our products’ design, as well as availability of repair instructions and spare parts.
– Repairability features in the product design built upon the replaceable components of prior generations such as the Display, SSD, and Kickstand while building out a host of additional replaceable components such as the screwed in Battery, Motherboard, Thermal Module, Surface Connect port, and more (1)
– The Surface Pro 9 service guides which include full repair instructions will be available publicly for download by the end of this calendar year on the Microsoft Support site. See Microsoft Service Guides: Download Surface Service Guides from Official Microsoft Download Center.
– We are currently working with a major US retailer to build out our authorized repair network and bring repair options closer to our customers. This will become available in early 2023.
– We are also building out capability to deliver broad availability of spare parts for Independent repairers and Consumers targeting the first half of 2023.(1) Surface Pro 9 replaceable components include: Display, Battery, Motherboard, Thermal Module with Fan, SSD, SSD Door, Kickstand, Surface Connect port, Speakers, WiFi Deck with Microphones, Front Camera, Rear Camera, Power & Volume Buttons, and the Back Cover. Availability will vary by market over time.
All great stuff, if and when it materializes. So! Prioritizing repairability, which empowers users to maintain and service their own devices, is always commendable. Releasing service manuals and spare parts are key to achieving this. Going into our teardown, these design choices became evident from the very start.
Now this first part of the disassembly process isn’t new to the Surface Pro 9 but it’s worth mentioning simply because of how user friendly the feature is. Gaining access to the SSD is as simple as lifting away a tiny magnetic flap from the body of the device. A single screw is all the hardware that stands between you and a storage upgrade. This seems like such a minor thing, and 15 years ago it would have been, but today’s sleek electronics eschew such conveniences as user-serviceable drives in a bid to produce ever smaller and thinner electronics. We’re delighted to see the Surface Pro 9 continue to make the SSD easily accessible and swappable.
Next, we heated up the screen, and embarked on what I would consider the riskiest part of any Surface disassembly. As already mentioned, previous generations of Surface devices were notoriously difficult to gain access to because of the glue used under the brittle glass display. It was here that we discovered Microsoft’s second repairability win; the edges of the glass display have some flex to prevent breakage when you’re removing the screen.
It’s still a nerve wracking process but that flexible edge, combined with a glue that can be cut fairly easily, meant that my nerves were the only casualty during this removal process. The screen came away fairly easily.
With the screen off, we now had full access to all the modular components, and they’re laid out in a fairly intuitive manner. The RAM, unlike the SSD, is soldered onto the motherboard. But, it’s worth noting that soldered RAM is commonplace in compact electronics, due to the power savings and performance boost that can be achieved by placing it in close proximity to the CPU. Just like with Apple’s M-series SoC’s, we can’t justify penalizing soldered RAM in cases where it’s accompanied by significant performance gains.
Lastly, we come to the battery, where perhaps the biggest change is evident. Gone are the days of prying at each cell and using copious amounts of isopropyl alcohol and a spudger to lever away the absurd amount of glue that kept it lodged in there. This battery is held in place with nothing more than screws, and the removal and reassembly process is just plain simple.
Without a doubt, this Surface is the most repairable we’ve seen from the product line yet, and it’s evident that the company had to undertake significant design changes to achieve these gains.
We’ve awarded the Surface Pro 9 a respectable 7 out of 10 on our repairability scale. Because the service manuals and spare parts are not currently available, the Surface is ineligible for receiving points on those grounds—this score will be revised up as soon as we gain access to the promised service manuals and spare parts. We’ll take another look at the Surface Pro 9 in mid-2023, and if Microsoft delivers the parts and manuals, we expect that score to improve.
I'd expect a 7/10 means I could give it to my mom, and she'd repair it successfully with a bit of effort, and I could do it in under 20 min?
James Hedin - Reply
@jhedin10 The score is kind of gut feel based on comparison to other devices, and for someone who is proficient in other repair and has all the right tools. A high enough score might be possible for a first-timer working with a minimal toolset, but could still be a painful 1/10 for them. (At least not a negative guaranteed-to-break-it/10, like many of the last decade's devices, though.) Someone who's done a particular replacement a dozen times might be able to crank out a 2/10 in 20 minutes.
Emily F - Reply
This is encouraging to see. I hope this marks a return to consumer-first policy in regards to device ownership and long term use.
Fred Enders - Reply
Microsoft looks "in" again. Good move. But it is increasingly obvious that we need more than the mere goodwill of manufacturers to ensure repair-ability. The pressure to cut corners (a.k.a. value engineering) remains a powerful motive. I think it's time to penalize products which are basically irreparable . It would be a charge similar to what we already pay for recycling tires at their end of life when we buy a new tire. A kind of "non-repair-ability cost recovery" . That would give an edge to manufacturers doing the right thing.
Michel Virard former Electronic P.Eng. (retired).
Michel Virard - Reply
This may be one of the greatest things Microsoft has engaged in for decades. I will happily tell people that MS is $@$* and don't buy! But this teardown proves me wrong, and if they can provide schematics to a reasonable degree of complexity, I think I will only buy MS hardware from now on.
James Martin - Reply