Don’t count on Microsoft’s memory estimates for Surface RT: 32GB equals ~16

Microsoft has apparently committed the cardinal business sin of both overpromising and underdelivering.

According to PCWorld, there’s less than 16GB of available memory on the 32GB Surface RT:

Don’t be fooled by the advertised 32GB of storage in Microsoft’s Surface with Windows RT tablet. The actual amount of available storage in the $500 model is closer to 16GB.

A new FAQ from Microsoft lays out exactly how much usable storage is available in this version of the Surface and where the unusable storage has gone. The Windows RT operating system, the preview version of Microsoft Office, and other built-in apps take up about 8GB of storage. Another 5GB are reserved for Windows recovery tools.

What about the last 3GB of unavailable storage? It’s not exactly gone, but Windows’ File Explorer calculates capacity using the binary system, in which 1GB equals 1,073,741,824 bytes. Advertised capacity uses the decimal system, in which 1GB equals 1 billion bytes. The difference in formatting means a lower number of gigabytes as reported in File Explorer.

In the 64GB Surface, the same amount of storage is unavailable for use, bringing the actual formatted capacity down to 46GB.

How do other tablets measure up?

In fairness, practically every computing device on the market advertises more storage than what’s actually available, due to the same combination of operating system requirements, preloaded software and differences in calculation.

Even so, the difference in advertised versus actual storage in the Surface with Windows RT is greater than what’s typical for a tablet. Apple’s 32GB iPad, for instance, comes with roughly 28GB of available storage out of the box, and the 16GB Nexus 7 has a little more than 13GB available to users.

While this isn’t big news–anyone who’s been disappointed that their 16GB smartphone has actually only about 13GB for music and photos will recognize that the operating system (OS) needs some space all its own. What’s disturbing here is that it requires so much space. (As respondent mikeschr says in the comments at the end of the story, “Well, this explains why there was no 16GB model.”)

There is a storage card option which would provide another 64GB…but that’s an additional purchase. The provided USB port is another option for additional storage–for example, to attach an external drive–but keep in mind that tablets are supposed to be portable, and unless you plan on dragging around that external drive everywhere (and many USB drives require an external AC power source), whatever you store on it will stay wherever it’s parked right now, regardless of your location.

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