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Microsoft Surface tablets: thanks for the memory?

The Microsoft Surface tablet

If you buy a 32GB tablet, you’d probably expect to have around 32GB to fill with files. I certainly would. That’s why I was surprised to see Microsoft’s 32GB Surface tablet only has 16GB of free space to use out of the box.

All computers need software to work and that software takes up space, but when the software eats up 50% of the hard disk space I think manufacturers need to be more upfront with their advertising.

Buried in the FAQs on Microsoft’s website, the company explains that the 32GB model has approximately 16GB free hard disk space, with the 64GB version having only 46GB available to use.

Microsoft explains the shrinking hard drive space as follows:

Surface with Window RT (decimal system) 32GB 64GB
Total disk size as reported by Windows (binary system) 29 58
Reserved space for Windows recovery tools -5 -5
Size of hard drive reported by File Explorer 24 53
Windows RT, Microsoft Office and built-in apps -8 -8
Free space reported by File Explorer 16GB 45GB

Even if this is also printed in small writing on the tablet’s packaging, I’m not sure Microsoft is being upfront enough.

When asked how much free storage space you’d expect to get on a 32GB tablet, most people would probably look perplexed and answer ‘32GB, obviously’. They’d also expect the 32GB badge emblazoned on the front of the box to corroborate this.

To me it’s like buying 500g of minced beef and finding that 250g is packaging, or buying a pint of milk and finding that the carton is half empty (definitely not half full).

Perhaps what we need is a clearer gross and net figure for total storage and available storage. At least this way we’ll know exactly what we’re getting.

Interestingly, the 32GB Surface costs the same as the 16GB iPad. I think this could lead many to feel that in terms of storage, Microsoft’s Surface represents better value for money. The truth, however, is that the storage size on the two tablets is nearer than most people would probably think.

When buying a 32GB tablet, how much free storage space would you expect?

A little less than 32GB (taking into account pre-installed software and apps) (77%, 234 Votes)

32GB (as it says on the box) (19%, 57 Votes)

16GB (I expect it will be half the advertised size) (4%, 12 Votes)

Total Voters: 303

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Mark says:
6 November 2012

I’ve got a 32GB Surface with 4 users, 20GB of documents and 645 of my albums and it still has 11GB free. Not everything’s stored locally of course, but with the SkyDrive and Xbox Music integration you’d be hard pressed to tell.

Profile photo of rich835

The Surface comes with MS Office pre-installed. This is a monster of an app, so I’m not surprised at all by this information. I’m not sure that other Tablets come with an Office Suite pre-installed?

Perhaps if you want to reclaim the space back, then you could uninstall the Office app from the Surface, then it would be just as useless as any other tablet out there, which provides nothing more than a glorified way to play Angry Birds or surf the internet!

I’m not a great fan of tablets of any make really. For what we’re asked to pay for these things, they come with so little power compared to a laptop or a desktop, they should be really cheap by comparison, yet they’re not.

Billy In Gy says:
7 November 2012

Out of interest, how much “spare” space does the 32GB iPad and the 64GB iPad have?

Profile photo of Patrick Steen

27GB and 59GB according to the reports back from our labs. Thanks.

Profile photo of Clint Kirk

Seems like Microsoft are not telling a true story. 32 GB and 64 GB in “decimal measures” are actually 30 GB and 60 GB respectively in “binary measures”, to the nearest GB, not 29 and 58, so they’ve already sneakily “tricked us” out of a couple of GB.
(The formula is to divide by ((1024^3)/(1000^3)).)
Furthermore, I don’t understand why flash memory size is quoted in decimal measures, yet is only available in powers of two, unlike hard drives which are often given in multiples of ten e.g. 120 GB. It’s misleading.

Profile photo of malcolm r

I agree they should show the size of the hard drive and the available (free) storage space separately and as prominently – it’s sharp practice otherwise? That’s an obvious comment, I know. But how do you know how much free storage you need? I’d be hard pushed to think of a number, except the bigger the better. And with external storage so readily available (external drive, memory sticks and cards,as well as on-line – are these available to MS tablets?) then is it such an issue? A question, not a statement!

Profile photo of wavechange

The usable capacity of hard disks has always been less than the total capacity, which was particularly annoying in the days when they were very expensive. I presume that this also applies to solid state drives as well as conventional hard drives. That is annoying.

A new tablet or computer will have part of the storage capacity taken up by the operating system and possibly other useful software. That is reasonable, in my view.

Mikhail says:
8 November 2012

I will never buy any of Microsoft products.