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Looking for a new desktop PC this Black Friday? Here’s why a cheap Surface Pro 6 could be a better plan

(Image credit: Future)

If you’re mulling over buying a new desktop PC, and maybe hoping to get a bit of a bargain on Black Friday or Cyber Monday – which are close on the horizon now – there’s another option that you might want to consider: purchasing a Microsoft Surface Pro 6 instead.

There are obvious caveats here, the primary one being that the viability of this option will depend on exactly what you’re intending to do with your new PC. If that’s heavy compute tasks, video rendering, or the likes of gaming, then the Surface Pro 6 won’t offer enough grunt (no matter which model you buy).

But if you just need a PC for general computing use – web surfing, a bit of image editing, working on documents, maybe a splash of casual gaming – then the entry-level Surface Pro 6 will be powerful enough to keep all that ticking over nicely.

Why are we highlighting the Surface Pro 6 specifically in this respect, as opposed to other portables? Firstly, because it’s a good choice in terms of delivering solid performance under Windows 10 with those sort of general apps.

And secondly, because it’s a sound choice of machine to match up with a dock – Microsoft’s Surface Dock is a quality option, and while it might look pricey at first glance, it’s actually okay value for what you’re getting.

Alternatively, you can go with a cheaper third-party dock which is essentially a glorified USB hub, but it will still do the job. Incidentally, this is another caveat in that to really be a desktop replacement, you will need to pair your Surface Pro 6 up with a dock to use it like a desktop PC – and obviously pay extra for the privilege (we’ll discuss this more later).

Finally, a big attraction of choosing the Surface Pro 6 as a desktop replacement at this current point in time is that it’s one of our predictions for some serious price-slashing on Black Friday. Now that the Surface Pro 7 has been introduced, the sixth incarnation is the outgoing model, and therefore likely to get some deep discounting.

Indeed, we saw some pretty good deals on it last year when the Surface Pro 6 was new. And even before Black Friday has rolled around, right now at the time of writing, the price of this hybrid has already been slashed considerably (by around 20% for the base SP6).

So we’re betting on seeing some corking deals on what is effectively as good a machine as its brand new successor (the Surface Pro 7 does have a faster processor, but the CPU in the Surface Pro 6 is plenty good enough – and the only other difference is that USB-C port).

You could, of course, choose an alternative 2-in-1 (or even a straight laptop) as a desktop replacement; if the deals dice fall right for you, that is. But as mentioned the Surface Pro 6 is likely to get some storming discounts, and besides, it makes a great all-round pick for a number of reasons, which we’ll discuss now.

There are all manner of benefits to using Microsoft’s hybrid over a traditional desktop PC

There are all manner of benefits to using Microsoft’s hybrid over a traditional desktop PC (Image credit: TechRadar)

Surface Pros

Why should you pick the Surface Pro 6 over a traditional desktop PC? Here are some good reasons to go for a deal on Microsoft’s hybrid, many of which revolve around the flexibility of the device, and how it really can be a ‘3-in-1’ – a tablet, laptop, and desktop PC.

Low power usage. The Surface Pro 6 sips tiny amounts of power. Exactly how much depends on how bright you have the display, but it’s something in the order of 5W (as Anandtech observed). How much your average desktop PC might use will obviously vary widely depending on the components inside, and what the machine is typically doing; but it’s likely to be something around 100W of power draw (possibly more, though).

So if you’re using your computer a lot every day, the savings of that much lower power consumption can mount up. A quick bit of napkin maths indicates that if you use your PC for 40 hours per week, using a Surface Pro 6 instead could save you something like $64/£50 per year (based on a UK energy calculator).

And using less electricity is a more eco-friendly way to go about your daily computing as well, which never hurts.

Silent running. A desktop PC has a fan for the CPU, and possibly several fans for the GPU, plus case fans. The combined noise of which obviously varies from machine to machine, as you can get some pretty quiet fans – but often they’ll make a bit of noise. And possibly in some cases a somewhat distracting amount of racket. Microsoft’s 2-in-1 is fanless and completely silent; serene computing, if you will.

Second monitor. This is one of the most obvious advantages of using a Surface Pro as your PC – it has a built-in display, of course. Now, we’re assuming that you’ll be using the Surface with a separate desktop monitor (via a dock). You don’t have to do so, but to be honest for (potentially) all-day computing use, the Surface Pro’s 12.3-inch screen is going to feel a little cramped. You’ll really want to pair it with a decent large-screen monitor – which you’d have to buy with a desktop PC anyway, of course (unless you already have one, in which case, the same will hold true with the SP6 anyway).

So with this setup, you’ll have a primary display, and also a secondary (touchscreen) display in the form of the Surface Pro. And therefore you can spin-off apps onto that second screen, maybe have a website on the Surface’s display which you can refer to while typing up a document on the main monitor, or other nifty tricks.

All in all, this represents a load of added flexibility which you won’t get with a traditional desktop PC (unless you’re willing to fork out for two monitors; although even then, with the Surface Pro 6, you’d have three screens – you’ll always have an extra integrated display, in other words).

Superfast startup. We still can’t quite believe how fast our Surface Pro 6 boots up. The SSD loads up Windows 10 very swiftly, and moreover, the Windows Hello facial recognition login works well and near-instantly. In short, you are almost immediately at the desktop.

Portability. This is obviously where the versatility of having a Surface Pro as your main computer shines. It’s a sunny day, and you fancy doing a bit of work on the patio, or in the conservatory? Just pick up the 2-in-1 and off you go. You can take Microsoft’s device with you when you’re travelling out and about, too, and work with it anywhere – which is obviously not something you can do with a desktop PC.

Miscellaneous other stuff. Remember that the Surface Pro 6 has a built-in mic as well as webcam, so you can use Cortana and voice search (or enlist the digital assistant’s help in other ways) straight out-of-the-box with no need for any accessories.

There are lots of little benefits from the Surface Pro 6’s included components which aren’t normally found in a traditional desktop PC, like Bluetooth for example. This allows you to wirelessly tether the Surface to your Android phone and use your mobile data on the PC for internet connectivity in a pinch, if your broadband has gone down.

Con is for… connectivity, or lack of it

Con is for… connectivity, or lack of it (Image credit: Future)

Surface Cons

We’d be foolish to suggest that there aren’t any downsides to swapping a traditional PC for a 2-in-1, because of course there are. So what are the main cons to watch out for?

Value and performance. Generally speaking, you’ll be getting less performance per dollar/pound with a Surface device compared to a traditional PC (unless there are some truly amazing Black Friday deals to be had on the Surface Pro 6).

No upgrade capability. Another major thorn is upgradability, or the total lack of it with Microsoft’s hybrid device. With a desktop PC, any component can be upgraded as-and-when, but with the Surface Pro 6, it isn’t possible to change anything. You can’t even upgrade the storage.

So of course there is a ceiling on the power of the device here. With even a modest desktop PC, you could turn it into a peppy gaming machine with a few choice upgrades. That’s obviously never going to happen with the Surface.

Crappy wired connectivity. The Surface Pro 6 is pretty pathetic when it comes to physical connectors, as you may be aware. The SP6 has just one USB port, and it’s a plain USB 3.0 affair. There’s also a Mini DisplayPort, and a 3.5mm audio jack, but that’s all, folks.

Which brings us on to….

Surface Dock

Microsoft’s Surface Dock allows for hooking up monitors and other peripherals (Image credit: Microsoft)

What’s up, dock?

We’ve already mentioned the prospect of getting a dock for the Surface Pro 6, which could be regarded as another con of sorts in terms of it being an additional expense. However, we’d highly recommend a dock as an accessory worth its weight in gold – pretty much a compulsory purchase – for those planning to use Microsoft’s convertible as their main PC.

A dock comes bristling with connectors to solve those aforementioned connectivity woes, meaning you can hook up a large-screen monitor, along with a full keyboard and mouse, all of which will make a big difference to using the device for your daily computing tasks.

A dock will also allow for attaching other peripherals besides these, such as maybe an external drive for extra storage (something you might need given that upping the SSD size on the Surface Pro 6 is a pricey endeavor – and we’re focusing on money-saving here as much as we can).

Also, a dock is an extra expense, but the good news is that you can pick up the official Surface Dock for considerably less than the retail price if you shop around online. Hint: don’t buy it from Microsoft, unless the company decides to knock some serious money off for Black Friday. That’s the other hope: that we might see some big discounts on this accessory, too, in the Black Friday sales.

At any rate, as we noted at the outset, you don’t have to buy the official Surface Dock, as there are third-party products out there which can do a similar job, but more cheaply (maybe with good deals on them, too – Plugable makes some well-liked products, for example). Get enough of a bargain, and you might find that the savings on your first year’s electricity bill using the Surface rather than a desktop PC covers the cost of the dock!

Another cost-saving point is that you might not need to buy the detachable keyboard – which Microsoft calls the Type Cover – if you’re intending to use the Surface Pro as a desktop-bound machine. Although of course, if you do take the device out and about in this case, you won’t have a keyboard – but you can still use it as a tablet. All in all, though, we reckon it’s worth buying the Type Cover for the versatility it adds in such situations. But if you’re sure you don’t need it, then don’t buy it and enjoy those extra savings…

For those who are now feeling tempted by the prospect of getting a Surface Pro 6 rather than a new desktop PC, only one thing remains – just keep your fingers crossed for some good Black Friday deals on the device! We’d be pretty surprised if there wasn’t some serious price-slashing going on with Microsoft’s last-gen 2-in-1 – because let’s face it, there were some darn good deals last year when the Surface Pro 6 was only just released, let alone an outgoing model.

Be sure to keep your eyes peeled on our Black Friday laptop deals page where we’ll keep you up-to-date with all the latest Surface bargains, and indeed other tempting notebook reductions should you decide on an alternative desktop PC replacement solution.

Darren is a freelancer writing news and features for TechRadar (and occasionally T3) across a broad range of computing topics including CPUs, GPUs, various other hardware, VPNs, antivirus and more. He has written about tech for the best part of three decades, and writes books in his spare time (his debut novel - 'I Know What You Did Last Supper' - was published by Hachette UK in 2013).