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Surfacegate: Microsoft execs 'misled Nadella', claims report

Specs, lies and Skylake

By Andrew Orlowski, 14 Aug 2017

Veteran Microsoft-watcher Paul Thurrott has made the sensational allegation that Microsoft's senior management "misled" their CEO about the cause of serious launch issues with its flagship Surface Pro 4 PC.

Microsoft defended the reliability of the Surface range after Consumer Reports withdrew its Buy recommendation last week. Microsoft said return rates have fallen, and don't resemble anything like the 25 per cent breakdown figure cited by the publication.

The launch of the Surface Pro 4 was plagued with high returns caused by thermal issues, dubbed "Surfacegate". Our SP4 review unit was swapped out after dying, and the replacement overheated.

According to a memo obtained by Thurrott, the Surface Pro 4 had a return rate of 16 per cent post-launch. The Surface Book, which also exhibited reliability issues, had a return rate of 17 per cent post-launch.

Microsoft executives put the blame on the new-to-market Intel Skylake chips, "leading to a falling out with Intel". However, Thurrott has alleged:

Microsoft, I'm told, fabricated the story about Intel being at fault. The real problem was Surface-specific custom drivers and settings that the Microsoft hardware team cooked up. The Skylake fiasco came to a head internally when Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella met with Lenovo last year and asked the firm, then the world's biggest maker of PCs, how it was dealing with the Skylake reliability issues. Lenovo was confused. No one was having any issues, he was told.

I assume this led to some interesting conversations between the members of the Microsoft senior leadership team.

Dynamite if true.

So who's to blame? Microsoft's design team, or Intel? Of course it's perfectly conceivable that both accounts are true. The Surface follows an aggressive design approach, emphasising its compact size. A larger casing permits better thermal design, leading to fewer reliability issues. It is possible, for argument's sake, that if there were any Skylake thermal issues, they were then mitigated by a more capacious design.

Either way, Microsoft has improved its internal design, being able to introduce fanless m3 and i5 KabyLake versions of the new Surface Pro – while we found when we reviewed it last week that the i7 premium model rarely revved up its fans.

The prospect that Microsoft's senior leadership team didn't tell Nadella the Whole Truth is an explosive allegation. We have asked both Intel and Microsoft for comment. ®

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