Two Weeks with the Surface Pro 4

This post was originally published on my old blog on December 13th, 2016.

Two weeks ago I purchased a Surface Pro 4 during the Black Friday sales. I’ve been interested in the device for some time but wasn’t actively looking to buy one due to the high price point but luckily a good deal came up at the time of year a lot of good deals tend to come.

For the cost of £743 from PC World, I received a Surface Pro 4 (i5, 4GB, 128GB) with the TypeCover and the Surface Pen in Red. This was already a £250 saving on the normal retail price of that bundle but combine that with selling my Lenovo Z50-70 for £250 I ended up saving £500 on the standard retail price. My only issue with the entire purchase was having to wait a day for PC World to ship my unit from a storage warehouse to my closest store which was likely caused by me ordering it online.

Unboxing and Initial Setup

Microsoft did a very good job with the packaging on the Surface Pro 4 and despite having a pair of scissors and a knife at the ready, I didn’t have to use either of them. The other good thing about the packaging was the step-by-step process by which it all opens which will make it much easier to repackage the device if needs to be returned or if I decide to sell it on in the future.

After removing the device and the accessories from the packaging I powered the device and did the initial setup which was very quick and simple. There was minimal input along the way and all I had to do was connect to my home WiFi network, sign into my Microsoft account then setup Windows Hello with a backup pin so I could quickly and easily sign into the device when using it on a day-to-day basis.

Microsoft didn’t ship any bloatware with the device which is expected but the trial of Microsoft Office was a bit of a waste as I needed to remove it in order to install my copy of 64-bit Office 2016. Luckily there is an efficient Microsoft Office 2016 removal tool provided by Microsoft themselves which did the entire removal for me.

Using the Device

The Surface Pro 4 is a very pleasant device to use on a day-to-day basis. I can get the device powered on and into the Windows desktop in under a minute even when Windows Hello decides it can’t detect my face and I have to use my PIN to sign in.

The Surface Pen and Windows Ink provides some great functionality. Being able to take a screenshot of the desktop by double tapping the button at the top of the pen is great but also having a friendly and intuitive system for drawing on top of that screenshot was a very good design choice by Microsoft. The pen functionality also works well in Office 2016, especially OneNote, which is handy as it allows me to make notes to the side, highlight or underline and even sign documents before I print them out.

Microsoft Edge, the modern replacement for Internet Explorer, is reported to integrate well with Windows Ink functionality but I’ve not actually tried it. As a user of Google Chrome on my desktop computer and Android smartphone, I’m not going to miss out on the functionality that Chrome provides me just to make using the pen easier in the web browser.

The battery life is also fantastic. I can use the device for an entire day without having to plug the charger in. While Edge is much better for the battery life than Chrome is, I counter this by keeping the Battery Saver mode on as most of the tasks I complete on my Surface Pro 4 don’t require a lot of resources to complete. I have tried playing some games on the device, Minecraft and Football Manager 2016, both of which run great but do bring the battery life down to around 2-4 hours. The device does take a few hours to charge but the USB port on the power brick means you can also charge a phone or tablet at the same time.

My only other comment on using the device is the display which is one of the best screens I have ever used. The colours and overall image quality are fantastic. I like using the HiDPI display on a day-to-day basis as it makes reading text much easier and the HiDPI scaling is pretty good as well. The only issue I’ve had with the scaling is a few installers being really small or having blurry text alongside PowerPoint not scaling down correctly when I dragged the window to an external display I had connected one time. However, these are software issues that will get fixed over time when HiDPI displays become more widespread in the market.

Accessories

Microsoft sells a range of Surface accessories online to go with their products which can be rather expensive in my opinion. I ended up buying a Bluetooth Mouse and a Small Case from Amazon for a total of £30. Both of these are great but I’ll probably buy the Surface Mouse in the future as that will fit in the front pocket my case, unlike my current mouse.

Final Thoughts

Overall I am extremely satisfied with my purchase. Not only did I get myself a great deal but now that I’ve used the device in my own workload on a day-to-day basis for two weeks, I can say that I would buy a newer model in the future even for the full retail price. I would also recommend other people to consider the Surface Pro 4 if they need a lightweight but powerful device for use on the go in an office environment.

Installing the Latest nVidia Graphics Drivers on Linux Mint 18

This was originally posted on my old blog in July 2016.

Linux Mint 18 was released yesterday featuring new and improved versions of the Cinnamon and MATE desktop environments, improvements to HiDPI support, exFAT filesystem support, improvements to the Update Manager as well as various other fixes and improvements.

Depending on your hardware configuration you may already have all the drivers you need to use your system but if you are the owner of a modern NVIDIA Graphics Card then you will need to install the driver provided by NVIDIA to make full use of the hardware as the open source driver won’t do much more provide you with a desktop environment.

The installation process is straightforward and will take approximately 10-15 minutes depending on the speed of your storage device and your internet connection. To begin, open the System Settings program and then click Software Sources from the Administration section.

After this, click the PPAs option on the left-side and then click the Add a New PPA button. In the text box, type in ppa:graphics-drivers/ppa. Then click the Ok button followed by Update the cache.

Dialog box to add the nvidia graphics driver ppa

Once this is done, close the Software Sources program and then open the Driver Manager program. This is also found in the Administration section of the System Settings. Once the driver manager is open, you will see an interface that looks like this. The options shown are entirely dependent on the hardware in your system. In the case of my system, this is what was shown.

The addition drivers program can be used to install any extra drivers for your hardware to function correctly.

As the screenshot above shows, the Driver Manager was showing me available drivers for my GTX 970, my TP-Link WiFi Card (uses a Broadcom controller) and then the microcode updates for my Intel CPU.

With the GTX 970 being a modern card, I can install the latest driver (at the time of writing) which is version 367.27. Older cards may not be supported on newer driver versions but the Driver Manager shouldn’t show you a driver version that you card isn’t supported by. You can use the nVidia GeForce website to check the driver version that is right for you but ensure that you install that driver through the Driver Manager.

Dialog box to search for drivers on the nVidia GeForce website

Once you have found the latest version, select that version in the Driver Manager and then press Apply Changes. You can also use this opportunity to install the Intel Microcode updates, if you have an Intel processor, to ensure your system runs without errors. If you would like to read more on microcode updates, the Debian Wiki has a great entry explaining what they do and why they are needed.

After the driver installation is done, which will take around 5 to 10 minutes depending on the speed of your internet connection, restart your computer and then log back into your system. There will now be a program called NVIDIA X Server Settings which can be used to make changes to your display settings. This can be found in the Administration section of the System Menu.

At this stage, everything should now be installed and you will be able to make full use of your NVIDIA Graphics Card on Linux Mint 18. From here you can install Steam and play games such as F1 2015, Civilization V or PAYDAY 2. There a few things to keep in mind, based on how the updates currently work, when looking for newer drivers in the future. These are all outlined in the bullet points below.

  • The PPA used to provide the drivers is well maintained and unless it becomes part of the main package repositories in the future, your nVidia drivers will be found here.
  • While the driver manager is only intended to show drivers that your card is supported by, you can use the GeForce website to ensure you are installing a supported version.
  • The drivers are split into branches by their version number. While this makes updating to newer versions a tad slower in the long-term, it also allows you to rollback to an older driver much faster if you have any issues.

Thanks for visiting my website. I hope that this guide has allowed you to make full use of your NVIDIA Graphics Card under Linux Mint. I recommend keeping this guide in your bookmark for future reference or for easier sharing with family and friends.