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There's been some grumbling in the press about the amount of usable storage users actually get with the Microsoft Surface or any other Windows 8 or Windows RT tablet. Now there's a lawyer trying to sue Microsoft over the matter. The complaint: that roughly half of the 32 GBs of storage that comes with the $499 32-GB Surface tablet is already used up by the operating system and applications such as Microsoft Office 2013. The $499 16-GB iPad, by comparison, leaves most of its storage (14.3 GB) free for user files.
One way to look at it is that Windows tablets have excessive overhead in operating system and application storage usage. Another way to look at it is that Microsoft didn't have to bundle applications such as Microsoft Office 2013 -- and users will use up that storage anyway if they buy Office and other applications afterward.
Then there's the even larger point that Windows tablets don't gouge users on storage expansion like the iPad or Google Nexus tablets do. To add 16 GB or 48 GB of storage to an iPad, customers must choose up front to pay an additional $100 or $200. To add 16 GB of storage to the Google Nexus 10, customers must decide up front if they want to pay an extra $100. Once these tablets are purchased, there is no practical way to add storage.
Windows tablets like the Microsoft Surface also offer additional up-front storage for $100 per 32 GBs, but customers can decline and add their own flash storage later via microSD cards for very little money. A quick search online reveals that 64 GBs of microSD storage costs as little as $60 which is a fraction of the premium Apple charges for 64 GB in an iPad. The total available internal storage in a Windows tablet is also much greater than an iPad despite the additional storage used by the Windows OS and applications and at a much lower price.
Windows tablets also permit memory expansion via USB. It's possible to hack an iPad and Google Nexus tablet to expand storage externally, but external solutions ruin the form factor of a tablet and use up the one docking port the device has. It just isn't practical to have messy cables or dongles hanging off a tablet that adds bulk and clutter. MicroSD cards add no size and practically undetectable weight to the tablet.
This might lead one to wonder why even bother paying an additional $100 for the 64 GB option in Windows tablets, but it turns out that there might be justification for it. Although it is possible to install traditional Windows applications onto a microSD card, there is a performance penalty. This isn't too big of a problem for large media files because even the HD videos only require 1 megabyte per second (MB/sec).
Modern microSD cards typically support read and write speeds in excess of 10 megabytes per second. Based on my tests, internal flash storage on a Windows 8 tablet like the Samsung ATIV 500T supports 80 MB/sec read speeds and substantially faster random access performance. The faster random access performance comes in handy for Windows swap storage performance or database performance which comes in handy for Microsoft Outlook. Here are two Chrystal Disk Mark tests I ran on the Samsung tablet using internal flash storage and microSD storage.
Internal flash storage (Samsung ATIV 500T)
MicroSD flash storage (Samsung MB-MSAGA 16 GB)
|(Click either image for a larger version.)|
If there's a scandal here it's not the overhead in Microsoft's tablets. It's Apple's greedy treatment of its customers by refusing to support microSD in its devices.