Surface Book Supplies are Constrained – Part 2

This is not something you want to hear when you’ve got a fatal problem with your Surface Book…

Last time, I waxed poetically about how my three month old Surface Book turned up defective. It wasn’t a happy time over here, and I did my best to get Microsoft to cover its replacement under warranty. I was successful, but it took a bit of doing on my part; and it also uncovered an unknown and previously unannounced product constraint on the Surface Book.

There are effectively no additional units to be had (as of 10 days ago, based on the date that I’m writing this, 2017-06-12). I guess this just really bothers me. When something like this happened to me with my Surface Pro 3 a couple of years ago, product constraints weren’t an issue. I was able to get everything swapped out without issue. Now, there’s a problem getting replacement Surface Book units.

I was a bit curious about all of this, so I contacted my good friend, Mary Jo Foley, through Twitter:

I had heard about the rumor that Surface Book may be replaced, but it seemed to me to be insubstantial. I’m also not buying that the product’s supplies are being constrained NOW for a refresh later this year.

Yeah… I trust MJF completely, but I find that her not having heard anything about the current constraint to be concerning. She usually has the inside track (hence the “All About Microsoft” thing and her going so well together.

Since this whole incident went down, almost 10 days ago, things have been going pretty well over here for me and my Surface Book. However, this is not the first time that I’ve had a Surface device die on me when trying to restore the device to a previous version of Windows.

It happened twice with my Surface Pro 3, as well.

I don’t know if this speaks to a problem with the SSD, the SSD drive controller, the driver for the SSD or the controller, or just the process in general. However, to be honest, this is not something that I really want to repeat, any time soon. It’s gotten to the point where I really don’t have any trust in the Windows 10 Restore process.

I think it would have been fine if I had started everything with the Surface Book Recovery Image Image; but in truth, I don’t know for certain. It may just have been a bad controller. However, I wasn’t experiencing any issues or problems with my Surface Book that would leave me to believe I had a hardware issue. I just wanted to return to the previous build, which shouldn’t have been a problem. As soon as the device restarted for the first time, things went sideways.

If this were just an issue with the SSD (and not, as I have postulated, the drive controller), then the device should have started up from the Recovery USB stick. We should have gotten a different set of screens. Instead, all we saw was a flashing Surface Logo and the UEFI setup screens.

I think the things I find most concerning about all of this are the following:

1. No one seems to know what that drive icon with the “X” through it on the UEFI setup screen really means.
Is it a bad driver, bad drive or bad drive controller? According to the service techs at Microsoft’s Answer Desk (read the MS Genius Bar…), your guess is as good as mine… or theirs. They don’t have any documentation on it.
2. No one knows why Surface Book Supplies are currently constrained.
They also don’t know when they will get stock; or when the constraint will end. They can’t fulfill warranty replacements when someone brings in a three month old lemon and asks for an exchange, even if you’ve purchased their extended warranty (which I haven’t; but was suggested to me). I find this to be very confusing AND very concerning.
3. Microsoft tried to sell me an extended warranty for a broken unit they couldn’t replace. I’m also not pleased that the original service tech suggested that I lay down an extra $250 for an extended warranty that wouldn’t do me any good until God knows when. That didn’t – and still doesn’t – sit very well with me. It seems like the guy was trying to score points for a warranty sale that would benefit HIM instead of me.

So, at the end of the day, what am I left with?

1. A replaced Surface Book. I appreciate the Manager going the extra mile here and cannibalizing a business order to replace my defective consumer unit, but honestly, this should have been her first, go to answer. I shouldn’t have had to turn to leave and then beg her and the store staff for some other kind of solution to my replacement problem.
2. A bit of customer service concern. Again, I shouldn’t have to beg for something that should have been a very easy fix on Micrsoft’s part. They also shouldn’t have tried to sell me an extended warranty for something that I was in their store trying to have replaced. That was kinda tacky.
3. Confusion about the supply constraint. No one seems to understand why the Surface Book is currently constrained. At best all we’ve got is conjecture and rumor; and potentially upset customers who need replacement units, if needed.
4. Concern about Windows 10’s Restore Process. This isn’t the first time that I’ve had an entire unit break because I tried to use Windows’ Restore PC process. I think there’s enough here to warrant some kind of internal investigation. At this point, I can’t recommend users running Restore at all, especially on a Microsoft Surface device. I haven’t been able to run Restore without the process killing my device.

Microsoft…? Are you listening? I’d really appreciate an off line conversation, here. I’d really appreciate some answers. To be honest, I’m not completely comfortable with the results noted above, and I’d like to hear a response from someone at your office.

What about you, kids..? Has anyone here had issues with Microsoft’s Restore PC process in either Windows 8.x or Windows 10? Has it bricked your device? Have you done it on a Surface Book and then had trouble replacing it due to the supply constraint? Were you able to recover?

I’d love to hear from you on all of this. Why don’t you meet me in the discussion area below and give me your side of the story?

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Surface Book Supplies are Constrained – Part 1

This is not something you want to hear when you’ve got a fatal problem with your Surface Book…

A short while ago, I got a Surface Book. After searching for something to replace my Surface Pro 3, I have, in a sense, come home. During this journey, I have found that the old adage is true; and that you truly do get what you pay for.

So, realizing that a Surface device is really what I wanted, I sold the ASUS Transformer Mini T102HA in late January 2017. About a month later, since there is a Microsoft Store located near the office, I ran over and purchased an entry level Surface Book in mid-February 2017. When I purchased the device, the President’s Day sale was still going on, and the price was $250 cheaper.

On the whole, I’ve been fairly satisfied with the purchase and the model choice. It gets the job done, has all of the Surface features that I’m looking for, and didn’t break the bank.

Yeah… the clouds darken somewhat at this point.

So, I bumped into a problem with my Surface Book and needed to go back to a previous version of Windows. I plugged the Surface Book into its AC adapter and began the Restore Process that I detailed out in a two part columnar series here on Soft32 (Part 1, Part 2). I have done this before, and after you get through the preliminaries in making choices about what you want to keep and what you can live without, it’s really nothing more than letting the machine do its work.

So, I was very surprised after I started the restore and noticed that the device would only boot to its UEFI screen and then wouldn’t go any farther. In the upper right corner of the UEFI screen, you could see an icon that appears to look like a hard drive with some kind of “X” in the middle of it.

As the device was just about three (3) months old, I decided to take a two pronged approach here.

1. Follow the instructions noted on the support page Surface Turns on but Windows won’t Start. This included downloading a recovery image for my Surface Book, and then building and starting my Surface Book with the bootable USB drive that the process created.
2. Make an appointment at the Microsoft Store for service – just in case the above steps didn’t work.

To be very honest, the instructions in step number one, above, haven’t really failed me. Ever… until now.

In one previous case, I had to go to the Microsoft Store and THEY got the recovery image to boot, so when I tried and couldn’t get past the UEFI screen, I thought that they certainly would be able to.

I was wrong.

Even THEY couldn’t get my three month old Surface Book to boot from the USB based recovery image. From what we were able to determine that hard drive icon with the “X” through it indicates a bad drive controller. They declared the device dead in the water, and it qualified for a free replacement, being only 3 months old.

At this point, I was a bit upset, as I was looking at a three month old brick. There was nothing that the Microsoft Store could do to get the device to boot. However, it did qualify for a free replacement, and I thought I would be back up and running shortly.

Unfortunately, they told me, they didn’t have any replacement units available in the store. They also informed me that Microsoft’s Online Store also didn’t have any available. I gave them the whole “deer in the headlights” look. I had a difficult time understanding – there were no Surface Books to be had. From anywhere… I was dumbfounded.

What was worse, the only explanation that I got was that Surface Book supplies were, “constrained.” And that’s all anyone was able to tell me. They had no other information to share.

At this point, my options were few:

1. Leave the store with a non-functional device
This option had me calling the store to determine if they received any stock of the entry level Surface Book that could be set aside as a replacement for my defective unit. They weren’t especially confident that I’d be able to get anything from them any time soon. Again, Surface Book supplies were “constrained” was the only explanation they could give me.
2. Contact Microsoft Complete Advanced Replacement Program
Microsoft Complete provides additional and advanced warranty options for your Microsoft Surface device, should you need them. The service is $249USD and like Apple’s Apple Care, adds an additional 2 years of warranty coverage. They’ll also send you an advanced replacement if you’re a Microsoft Complete customer, should your device need immediate replacement.

There are a couple of problems with these options – because supplies of Surface Book are currently constrained, neither gets me a replacement any time soon. Due to the supply constraint, it’s also not known when a device would become available to replace my defective Surface Book. The Microsoft Complete option would also cost me $1750.00, plus tax ($249 for the privilege of having them charge me – and hold on my credit card, indefinitely – $1500 for a replacement device that they will send to me, again whenever they get one, requiring me to send my defective unit back to them).

After speaking to a manager and not finding any solution, I turned around to leave (effectively choosing option 1…).

I stopped about 5 steps away from the counter and turned back around. There were Surface Books – floor/ demo units – all over the store. Surely they could give me one of those…

NOPE! Those are demo units, and are not part of store inventory. (Awesome…!)

At that point, the manager came back over and I asked her about any other possible avenues. She quietly asked the tech that I was working with if there were any business orders prepped in the back with an appropriate Surface Book unit.

The tech nodded his head, excused himself and went into the back room again. A few moments later, he returned with a replacement unit. The Microsoft Store Manager cannibalized a business order to satisfy a consumer warranty replacement issue.

Shortly after the replacement was finished, I walked back to the office and began setting up my new Surface Book, a happy man.

Come back next time when I wrap everything up and attempt to look into a potential constraint cause, as well.

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Surface Truisms – You Get What you Pay For

The old adage holds true, especially when purchasing a computer…

There’s been a lot of Microsoft related news lately and I promise I will get to all of it, including the announcement about the new Surface Notebook and Windows 10 S. However, right now, I want to address something that I saw over on former co-worker Paul Thurrott’s site regarding a low priced Surface Pro competitor.

There’s been a LOT of activity when it comes to Surface in the past few weeks. Firstly there’s been a bunch of speculation and rhetoric about the lack of any kind of Surface, Surface Book or Surface Pro update in over a year. Some folks have been speculating that Microsoft would announce an update to either Surface Pro or Surface Book. Others were looking for a revival of Windows RT with some of the information that’s been shot around about Windows Cloud (now known as Windows 10 S).

Well, in light of all the hub bub, a company called CHUWI has decided to jump on the Surface bandwagon and has released a low priced Surface Pro 4 “alternative” called the CHUWI Lapbook 12.3. The price point of this little bad boy is $350 USD. It’s due to arrive sometime during May 2017.

However, don’t believe everything you see. I had a conversation with a good friend the other day – if it seems too good to be true, it is.

The CHUWI Lapbook isn’t a two in one like Surface Pro (or even Surface Book). Instead, it’s a full blown clam shell style laptop. The Lapbook, however, really doesn’t have much in common with Surface Pro or with Surface Book. As I said, it’s not a two in one, so the display doesn’t detach from the keyboard. However, it does offer a 12.3 inch PixelSense-like display with a 2736 x 1824 (or 267 dpi) display with a 3:2 aspect ratio. The aspect ratio is about as close as the device gets to being similar to the Surface Pro or the Surface Book.

Let’s be clear here, the CHUWI Lapbook is a budget classed Surface knock-off. Its powered by an Intel N3450 Apollo Lake Atom processor. It has 6GB of RAM, a 64GB SSD, integrated Intel HD Graphics, dual band Wi-Fi, and a 2MP rear camera. It also has what is suspected to be a single USB 3.0/2.0 USB port and a mini HDMI port for video out. Additional storage can be added via the device’s microSD slot.

The biggest thing you have to keep in mind here – you get what you pay for. Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book start at $799 and $1499 respectively. You aren’t going to get Intel Core i performance out of a budget Intel processor. The notebook’s design also is a traditional clam shell vs the Surface’s two in one tablet/ notebook hybrid design. It only tilts back 145°. It can’t fold all the way back. It’s clearly part of CHUWI’s PC line and not their Tablet line. However, CHUWI is taking advantage of the Surface craze as much as they can.

What you need to understand here is that there aren’t many Surface models out there, and honestly, all of them come from Microsoft. If you’re wanting a Surface device, then you really should get one. Otherwise, you aren’t going to be happy. It doesn’t matter how good your “Surface substitute” may be, if it’s not what you want, then you’re really just kidding yourself. Do yourself a favor and save your money. Buy the device you want or save up until you can. It doesn’t make sense to purchase something that is meant to be a replacement for the real thing. Substitutes for the real thing don’t do much more than disappoint you in the end, no matter how good they are in their own right…

I’m just sayin’…

However, that doesn’t mean that CHUWI’s products are a waste of time and money. That depends on you and what you’re really looking for. The company has some decent offerings if you’re ok with the performance you’re going to get from Intel’s Atom processor line. The devices they offer are nearly all covered in magnesium alloy. Many of them also have detachable keyboards, either come with or have some kind of active stylus/ pen available for them and run Windows 10.

Again, you just really need to understand what you’re buying and be happy with it. If you don’t need the power of an Intel Core i processor and want to save the money, CHUWI has some pretty compelling products.

Come back next time. I’m going to take a quick look at Microsoft’s new Surface Laptop and Windows 10 S. While I am not going to have either in hand to do a full blown review, I’m interested to dig in and see a bit more about what Microsoft thinks they’re going to solve with a Surface branded laptop as opposed to a two in one convertible/ hybrid and with Windows 10 S.

Both of these seem to be a trip down a road that Microsoft has been over before. I’m curious to know and to speculate a bit on why they seem to be repeating themselves a bit and why they seem to think that a repeat is going to fare any better now than it did before.

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