6 Differences between the Surface RT and the Surface Pro - dummies

6 Differences between the Surface RT and the Surface Pro

By Andy Rathbone

Microsoft’s new Surface tablets come in two very different models: Surface with Windows RT and Surface with Windows 8 Pro. Which model of Surface is better? There’s no clear answer, because each model caters to people with different interests and priorities.

In order of importance, here’s a rundown on the differences between the two models, so you can choose the one that meets your needs.

Windows programs

The biggest difference between the Surface RT and the Surface Pro comes in how they approach traditional desktop programs such as Photoshop, iTunes, and other desktop PC staples. The Surface with Windows RT can’t run traditional desktop programs. Instead, Windows RT tablets can only run apps downloaded from the Windows Store. If you need to install a desktop program on your Windows tablet, don’t buy one running Windows RT.

The Surface with Windows Pro, by contrast, works just like a desktop PC that’s been flattened into a thin tablet. That model lets you install nearly any traditional desktop program that ran on Windows 7. Plus, the Surface Pro can run apps from the Windows Store.

Battery life

One of the biggest differences between the two Surface models involves battery life. The Surface with Windows RT can run all day without needing a recharge. If you don’t use it constantly, it might even last two days. The Surface with Windows Pro, by contrast, only lasts four or five hours between charges.

The desktop

Even though the Surface RT can’t run traditional Windows programs, both Surface models include the traditional Windows desktop. The desktop on the Windows RT Surface includes File Manager for copying or moving files to different drives and folders. And it comes with Windows Paint, Notepad, the Control Panel, and other Windows desktop staples.

Microsoft Office

You can’t install desktop programs on the Surface with Windows RT, but Microsoft pre-installed an important program for free: Microsoft’s Office Home and Student Version. That includes Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote. Those programs, combined with a battery that lasts all day, have compelled many purchasers to choose the Surface RT over the Surface Pro.

The Surface Pro, by contrast, doesn’t include Microsoft Office. However, that Surface model packs enough power to let you buy and install Microsoft Office itself. (The Surface Pro does include a trial version of Office 365, Microsoft’s online, subscription-based version of Office.)


The Surface with Windows RT weighs about a pound and a half, and it’s about a half-inch thick. Part of the reason it’s so small and light is that it doesn’t need cooling fans. The special ARM chip that powers the Surface RT never gets hot, even when you’re watching high-definition videos.

The Surface with Windows Pro weighs about two pounds, and is thicker than the Surface RT. It includes an Intel i5 chip that gives the tablet more power, but requires two cooling fans.


Because the Surface with Windows Pro works just like a desktop PC, it works with a wide variety of printers, scanners, USB TV tuners, and other peripherals.

The Surface with Windows RT, by contrast, doesn’t let you install drivers. It works with a wide variety of printers, and most portable drives, but don’t expect it to work with everything you plug into its USB port.