Surface support shrivels as battery, driver, update problems persist

A wide range of problems, from hardware to drivers to software, continue to dog Microsoft Surface owners. Is Microsoft doing enough to help?

Microsoft Surface Pro 6
Mark Hachman / IDG

As Microsoft approaches another round of Surface announcements, it’s more important than ever that you know how older versions of the hybrid tablet are faring. In short, we’re seeing continued, long-standing problems with batteries, keyboards, drivers, performance throttling – and support has grown long in the tooth, to the point of appearing nonexistent. 

There's even an issue of a Windows update that kills older Surface machines, a problem Microsoft has yet to acknowledge. Instead, it's consolidated problem reports into one giant, unanswered thread.

If you’re thinking about buying a Surface, you should know about the problems and how Microsoft has reacted.

Battery drain

Surface has had battery issues from the start. You no doubt remember the Surface Pro 3 “batterygate.” Since the solution appeared three years ago, first acknowledged, then abandoned, we’ve seen battery drain woes mount.

The fundamental problem lies in the way Surface firmware updates are distributed: they’re pushed out as part of Windows Update for Surface machines and, once installed, they can’t be rolled back. It’s a one-way street.

According to Microsoft MVP (Windows Insider, Devices for IT) and Surface forum regular Barb Bowman:

Surface Pro 4 customers have been complaining about battery drain while shut down for over a year. But recently, Microsoft released firmware updates for a bunch of devices including the Surface Pro 4, 5, 6 and Surface Laptops in early August, and they spawned a huge increase in battery drain reports

The Microsoft Answers forum is infested with complaints about battery and charging problems (12345678910, and many more). The one trait they all have in common? Microsoft hasn’t responded to any of them, except to recommend that the complainers reformat their machines. 

Bowman concludes:

Customers frustrated by the issue and the silence are exchanging their Surfaces for refurbs only to have the issue reoccur because Microsoft has not pulled the buggy firmware.

Battle of the Battery Bulge

This one’s physically dangerous. We’re seeing more and more reports of the Surface Pro 4 and original Surface Books with bulging batteries, separating out the screen.

The iFixIt site has a similar string of complaints – and some solutions.

Most important: If your battery’s bulging, stop using the computer!

Microsoft has apparently extended its coverage for bulging batteries from the standard two years to three, and offers a free replacement – although there are many complaints that not all service techs know the warranty is good for three years. If you’re beyond three years, you’ll have to pay a $599 replacement fee and you’ll receive a Surface Pro 5.

Surface 2, Surface RT patch kills IE 11

Google tells you in advance how long a new Chromebook will be supported. Microsoft releases a patch that kills older machines.

That’s what happened with the September Monthly Rollup for Windows 8.1, KB 4516067. Microsoft now acknowledges the problem:

After installing this update on a Windows 8.1 RT device, Internet Explorer 11 may not open and you may receive the error, "C:\Program Files\Internet Explorer\iexplore.exe: A certificate was explicitly revoked by its issuer."

We are working on a resolution and will provide an update in an upcoming release.

So if you have a Surface 2 (released October 2013, expires January 2023) or Surface RT (released October 2012, expires January 2023) machine, and you install the latest security update, IE turns belly up. There’s no warning, no block… and no support.

Bowman says:

While RT and Surface 2 are dead and getting security updates only, testing should have been done. And many of these RT users are tech newbies who don’t know how to and don’t WANT to futz with these devices. They bought them because they thought they’d last for years and be trouble free, like, you know, iPads.

A Surface Supportability employee has spent the time to merge a bunch of Answer forum threads (over 2,000 views) without posting a single response to afflicted customers.  

Disappearing drivers

While the battery problems may be attributable to bad drivers, there are other driver problems. For example, the Surface Book 2 GPU Driver disappears randomly on Win10 version 1903 machines. Although the bug was reported during 1903 beta tests, and again after the new version arrived, Microsoft didn’t acknowledge it until July 12, and hasn’t posted an update since. The Surface Book 2 Update History page still says:

The dGPU may occasionally disappear from device manager on Surface Book 2 with dGPU.

Microsoft has identified a compatibility issue on some Surface Book 2 devices configured with Nvidia discrete graphics processing unit (dGPU). After updating to Windows 10 May 2019 Update (version 1903), some apps or games that need to perform graphics intensive operations may close or fail to open.

To safeguard your update experience, we have applied a compatibility hold on Surface Book 2 devices with Nvidia dGPUs, preventing them from being offered the Windows 10 May 2019 Update (version 1903), until this issue is resolved.

We recommend that you do not attempt to manually update using the Update now button or the Media Creation Tool until this issue has been resolved…. We are working on a resolution and will provide an update in an upcoming release.

The Release Information Status page echoes those warnings, and says that Microsoft is still investigating.

Sound familiar? There have been no Microsoft posts, no interaction on the Answers Forum and the Feedback Hub – where the problem was reported before version 1903 was released – hasn’t had any response, either.

Surface Pro 6 and Surface Book 2 stuck at 400MHz

There have long been reports of the Surface Pro 6 and Surface Book 2 throttling their CPUs down to 0.4GHz – which slows the machines significantly. As recently as Sept. 12, Paul Caspers reported on the MS Answers forum:

When I leave my laptop for lunch break (as it is or before putting it in energy save mode) – CPU is always on 0,40 GHZ when I come back... So when I unplug the power supply from the laptop – CPU goes right up to normal speed. Sometimes this stays. Sometimes it falls back to 0.40 GHZ a minute later. Then only restart helps....

That complaint prompted this response from a Microsoft Agent:

Thank you for reaching out Surface Community. I think you are referring to the Clock speed is also called as clock rate. It is an indicator of its performance and how rapidly a CPU can process data (move individual bits). It measures how quickly a computer completes basic computations and operations. So if too many applications are running depending how much speed it needs to operate the GHz changes. If the CPU is practically at idle it will lower itself for power and heat purposes. Just make sure that the device is always completely up to date to avoid future issues.

Which misses the point entirely. It’s a well-known and well-documented problem (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6) that Microsoft hasn’t acknowledged, as best I can tell. 

Surface Book 2 and other Surfaces can’t access Wi-Fi

This is yet another Surface problem that Microsoft has studiously ignored. It seems that Surface Book 2, Win10 version 1903, and WPA3 don’t get along well. There’s a thread on the Answers forum started by kiwiant that says, in part:

I'm looking to roll out WPA3 as its supported on our routers/access points but there is an issue with Surface devices. When configured to use WPA2/WPA3 Personal (mixed) Surface devices cannot connect to the wireless network.... It doesn't appear that Windows 10 currently supports WPA3 as no mention in change logs for the April 2019 update so it should be falling back to WPA2 so other devices can connect using WPA3. 

It seems to be yet another driver issue. The driver may be Marvell’s problem, but it’s for a bone-stock Surface product, so Microsoft has inherited the mess. Again, I see no official acknowledgment of the situation, and on the Answer forum: silence.

Bottom line

Microsoft acknowledged the “flickergate” problem with Surface Pro 4 machines more than a year ago – after taking more than two years to ‘fess up. It still hasn't  acknowledged the defect(s) leading to bricked TypeCovers, although complaints continue to pile in. At this point, Microsoft isn’t answering inquiries – and it’s likely that your only solution is to spend $649 for an out-of-warranty replacement.

Every hardware manufacturer has problems, but Microsoft has shown an uncanny ability to ignore those problems.

Here’s how Bowman puts it:

I love my Surface Pro 2017 (5th generation) that has already needed to be replaced because of a failed SSD. My SP3’s battery was never fixed by the batterygate firmware and is chained to an AC outlet and is now a test machine. I now tell friends and family that as sexy and cool and wondrous as the Surface line of products is, if it is going to be your only computer, you might want to look elsewhere. While the reports on Microsoft’s Surface Forum might represent a small percentage of customers with issues, the lack of support for an expensive “flagship, leader in its class” product speaks volumes. 

Caveat Emptor.

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