In yesterday’s post I discussed some of the issues and workaround in getting large amounts of content onto the Surface, but with Surface Pro the story is much easier – get a USB 3.0 Gigabit Ethernet adapter. Now, while Microsoft has a USB Ethernet adapter available, their website gives so few details that I would not be inclined to purchase one as a consumer.

What’s the problem? Well, there are two problems. The first is that they don’t mention if it’s USB 2.0 or USB 3.0. Does this make a difference? Definitely! Second, they don’t mention if it’s 10/100 or 10/1000/1000. Again, does this make a difference? You bet! Here’s a table of approximate throughput numbers in Megabytes per second, which is how Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 will present that information to you.

  USB 2.0 USB 3.0
Gigabit Ethernet 30 MB/s 110 MB/s
100Mb/s Ethernet 11 MB/s 11 MB/s

So what Microsoft is selling could deliver almost 100 MB/s difference in transfer speed depending on exactly what it is. Instead of theoretical speeds, these are really what you will see. Can you assume that the accessory for a device with a USB 3.0 port is a Gigabit Ethernet USB 3.0 device? No. Just look at the Acer S7, which includes a 10/100 USB ethernet adapter, hobbling the network speed of the device. Considering that the Microsoft adapter is required for PXE deployments on the network. I’ve asked someone from the local Microsoft subsidiary to get an official answer, preferably with a supporting webpage. UPDATE – It’s only 10/100, unfortunately.

While that mystery gets solved, I’ll focus on the USB device that I’ve been using, which is a SIIG USB 3.0 hub with Gigabit Ethernet built in. I’ve mentioned it previously I this post about Surface accessories, but let me give a quick summary. It expands the single USB 3.0 port from the Surface Pro to 2 USB 3.0 ports, 4 USB 2.0 ports and 1 Gigabit Ethernet port. Here’s what it looks like.


A couple of nice things about this – first of all the USB 3.0 ports are widely spaced, which is incredibly hand for some of the Windows To Go certified UFDs that I have, which are wider than most USB devices. It has external power, so you don’t have to worry about overloading the power that a single USB 3.0 port can provide. This has been incredibly useful for me when I’ve used external hard drives that are problematic unless they are plugged in to an additional USB port for power, and I can just use one of the USB 2.0 ports for that purpose. So far the maximum port usage scenario I have used is as follows…

USB 3.0 (1) plus USB 2.0 (1) – External USB 3.0 HDD plus USB power
USB 3.0 (2) – USB 3.0 Windows To Go
USB 2.0 (2) – USB Mouse
USB 2.0 (3) – USB 2.0 Flash Drive
USB 2.0 (4) – Unused

Now, back to networking benefits with Gigabit Ethernet. For general web surfing, uploading and downloading documents from SharePoint Online, and email, you aren’t going to notice much a of a difference at all. When it comes to large file copies, however, you will see a world of difference between the inbuilt WiFi and Gigabit ethernet. In the following screenshots I’ll compare SpeedTest results, and the try copying some large files across the network, and will give explanations of each.

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The USB 3.0 Gigabit adapter is just about maxing out my internet connection, so no complaints at all.

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The wireless N in the Surface Pro isn’t too far behind, but this is effectively testing against a 100MB/s internet connection, so if the inbuilt networking fell too far behind I would be concerned.

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In the above image I’m copying from a network share to the desktop on the Surface Pro, and you can see that I’m getting full gigabit Ethernet performance during the process.

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This time I’m copying using the inbuilt WiFi capabilities of the Surface Pro, and you can see that it’s only 1/10th of the speed. Not so great if you want to copy a large amount of data across.

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This result is copying the same files from a network share to a USB 3.0 drive attached to the USB 3.0 Hub. I tested this scenario because the amount of storage space on the Surface Pro is easily consumed, so copying to an external drive is a common scenario for me. I used an external SSD drive to ensure that the drive wasn’t the bottleneck during the copy process. You can see a bit more variability in the transfer speed, but it’s still performing very well.

So, what’s the take away from all this? Well, it’s no surprise, a USB 3.0 Gigabit Ethernet adapter can drastically improve the copy times across the local network. The impact on internet connectivity is going to be minimal for most people at this point in time, but as bandwidth improves, it’s more and more likely that the current generation of WiFi technologies in devices is going to become the bottleneck.