Programmer Jeff Atwood, who runs the blog Coding Horror, has a loaded question to ask about Windows and Microsoft's new Surface Pro 2 tablet. It's also an important question: "Why does Windows have terrible battery life?" Before getting around to the why, it's worth confirming that Windows actually has terrible battery life. Does it? After all, Intel has been pushing for 10+ hour battery life from every system wearing the Ultrabook name, and Haswell chips just dramatically cut power draw compared to last year's Ivy Bridge processors. Things should be looking pretty good for Windows right now.
In the grand scheme of mobile technology, Windows battery life is terrible. Atwood's claim draws heavily on extensive testing performed by Anandtech, and that testing shows the Surface Pro 2 lagging far behind virtually every other tablet in battery life. With 6.8 hours of battery life, the only tablet it beat was the first-gen Surface Pro, which got only 4.7 hours.
In a way, comparing the Surface Pro 2 to the iPad or a Samsung tablet is unfair. It's a fully-powered x86 machine in tablet form, running much more powerful hardware than a more power efficient ARM chip. But the discrepancy remains. The iPad 4 gets nearly 10 hours of battery life. The Nexus 7 passes 12. The Nvidia Shield hits 13.5.
Even if you accept that the Surface Pro 2 is more laptop than tablet, its battery life isn't much to write home about. Then Atwood compares the Surface Pro 2 to Apple's 2013 MacBook Airs, with more data from the 11-inch and 13-inch models courtesy of Anandtech. They achieved over 11 and 14 hours of runtime, respectively.
"Let's see how the 2013 MacBook Air does, which spec-wise is about as close as we can get to the Surface Pro 2," Atwood writes. "The screen is somewhat lower resolution and not touch capable, of course, but under the hood, the i5-4200u CPU and LPDDR3 RAM are nearly the same. It's a real computer, too, using the latest Intel technology.
"The Surface Pro 2 has a 42 Wh battery, which puts it closer to the 11 inch Air in capacity. Still, over 11 hours of battery life browsing the web on WiFi? That means the Air is somehow producing nearly two times the battery efficiency of the best hardware and software combination Microsoft can muster, for what I consider to be the most common usage pattern on a computer today. That's shocking. Scandalous, even."
Anandtech wasn't alone in finding the Surface Pro 2's battery life relatively lackluster. Under heavy usage, Gizmodo found that the tablet performed little better than the first Surface Pro:
"We were able to squeeze three and a half hours of generating internet for Gizmodo dot com out of a single charge, juggling some 10-15 open Chrome tabs and pushing video out to an additional monitor. This is almost the same as we got out of the original Surface Pro, which is a little odd considering Intel's Haswell is such a battery saving monster. Likewise, the Pro 2 performed almost identically to the Pro in a 10-hour YouTube video test, giving up at just over two and a half hours, despite fairing better in situations that seem like they should be more intense."
But this makes sense. Haswell's strength lies in its idle power usage, and constantly running video, a dozen Internet tabs, and outputting to a secondary display is not going to show off battery longevity. This doesn't seem like a problem with Windows battery life. Other tests tell a different story.