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Windows 10 on the Surface 'coffee table' works surprisingly well

As I teased in my Surface 'coffee table' review, I've managed to get Windows 10 running on a 10-year-old table, with everything pretty much working as you'd expect. I bought the table with the intention of running Windows 10, and in this article I want to detail the experience of how awesome it is running Windows 10 on a table!

Retro review: Microsoft's 2008 Surface 'coffee table' in 2017

It's worth noting that getting Windows 10 running on the Surface 1.0 is more of a project rather than an actual thing you should do if you own one of these. Due to iffy drivers, touch doesn't work all that well, plus a few other issues. This is more of a proof of concept, showcasing what it would be like running Windows 10 on a table.

As a recap, here are the specifications of the Microsoft Surface table. It's 10 years old, so they're nothing spectacular.

Surface Table specifications

  • Display and vision-input technology: Rear projection DLP with cameras
  • Weight: 198 lbs. (90 kg)
  • Physical dimensions (L × W × H): 42.5 in. × 27 in. × 21 in. (108 cm × 68.6 cm × 53.3 cm)
  • CPU: Intel Core 2 Duo 2.13GHz processor
  • Graphics (GPU): ATI Radeon X1650 – 256 MB
  • Memory: 2GB DDR2
  • Storage (hard drive): 160GB hard disk drive (HDD)
  • Display size: 30 in. (76.2 cm) diagonal
  • Display resolution: 1024×768 – 4:3 aspect ratio
  • Extensions (ports): XGA (DE-15) video out, RGB analog component video out, RCA analog component audio out, 4 USB ports
  • Networking: Wi-Fi 802.11g, Bluetooth and Ethernet 10/100
  • OS: Windows Vista (32 bit)

It's worth noting that these specifications are pretty weak by 2017 standards. For example, 2GB RAM, a 160GB HDD and an Intel Core 2 Duo don't come across as "blazing fast" in my head. But you'd be surprised.

Process

Getting Windows 10 installed on the Surface table was somewhat more difficult than your usual Windows 10 installation process. Sure, getting the actual OS installed was like any other PC. I simply set up a dual-boot system and installed Windows 10 on a second partition. This way, when I turn the table on, I get the option of booting into Windows 10 or going back to the original Windows Vista installation and shell.

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Out of the box, nothing worked. No WiFi, Bluetooth, touch or sound. At most, you get a basic display driver and an Ethernet driver. So I plugged in an Ethernet driver and hit Windows Update to see if Microsoft had any drivers for me. Surprisingly, it did. I was able to get sound, WiFi and Bluetooth working straight through Windows Update, which made my life a little bit easier. Unfortunately, there was no graphics driver and certainly no touch driver.

So to get the graphics driver working, I had to extract the driver from the Windows Vista installation, this took much longer than I anticipated because none of the programs I used to extract the driver worked properly. When I tried to install the driver on Windows 10, I got an error saying certain files were missing. I eventually ended up checking the error logs and manually searching for the missing files on the Windows Vista drive. This took about 30 minutes, but eventually it worked.

Next up was getting touch working. Now since the Surface table uses a unique approach for touch, there aren't really any "drivers" for Windows. The original Surface Shell on Windows Vista worked with touch, but Windows Vista itself didn't. There's no touch driver, but there is good news. Someone much smarter than me worked on a project called Multi-Touch Vista which can get touch working on Windows 10 with the Surface table. It's amazing!

The difficult part of the process was getting the Surface-table drivers and SDK installed on Windows 10. Microsoft did a dumb thing and told the original Surface SDK installation files to refuse install if it was attempted on anything but a Windows Vista install. Luckily, a few people ventured out and installed Windows 8 on their tables prior to me trying Windows 10 on mine, and an author by the name of Rajen actually blogged about his method. I followed his guide for getting the Surface install files up and running on Windows 10, and it worked just fine.

I did it. It's amazing. Original Surface running Windows 10 with everything working. A dream. pic.twitter.com/eO9GXOXohW— Zac Bowden (@zacbowden) 5 February 2017

After I followed the steps on Rajen's blog, I was up and running and ready to go.

The Windows-10-on-Surface-table experience

So what's it like running Windows 10 on the Surface table? In short, it's quite good. You do lose out on the unique user-interface design choices made by Microsoft with the original Surface shell, but if you really want that back you can boot into it once you've installed the Surface SDK. Windows 10 itself is designed to cater to people facing the screen head on, and not from all sides of the display. As a result, the table is only really useful if you're sitting on one side.

That's okay for me, as my couch is pretty close to the table anyway and nobody else will be playing with the table on the other side. You can flip the screen in the Settings app if you need to.

Windows Store apps on the Surface table make it so much more useful. I have my Groove Music collection, I can watch Netflix, and I can even play games. I've got access to my notifications, email, I can browse the web, and I can even use Cortana, although there's no built-in mic.

The touch experience is somewhat finicky. It works, but it's not perfect. Tracking is a little laggy, and more often than not it'll take two tries to actually hit a target. That's due to the old touch technology, however. The WiFi driver is also a bit finicky sometimes. Roughly 80 percent of the time it works great, but 20 percent of the time it crashes and causes the whole system to restart.

I love being able to play music on my table with Groove while doing something else entirely in the same room. My table is fast becoming a pretty neat little media center where I store podcasts, music and even movies. I've installed Netflix and it works great. Sure, it's gimmicky, but it's also great.

You can use the Xbox app to stream your Xbox to your table. Yes, you can play Xbox One games on your Surface table thanks to the Xbox app, and it's really fun. Again, this is another gimmick rather than anything useful, though I'm sure it could be handy with multiple people when playing a game like an RTS and planning your next move.

I can even control my lights with the Hetro for Hue app, directly on my table.

You've also got the ability to run slightly newer Microsoft Surface apps that were designed for version 2.0, now that Windows 10 is running. Downloading the Windows 7 touch pack introduces some nice updated apps for the Surface table that all work great, as well.

Performance

Multitasking and using the Surface table with Windows 10 is actually rather impressive. As noted above, this isn't a new machine as it's using specs from 10 years ago, but Windows 10 works absolutely fine. In fact, I'd say it works great. Opening apps and switching between them is about as fast as I'd expect. I don't find myself waiting around for any of the normal UWP apps to load, as they're pretty lightweight and work really well. Booting up older Win32 apps can take a few seconds, but it's nothing crazy.

The real performance test is gaming. I didn't try any modern games, as they just won't run anyway. However, I did try games from the Windows Store. Angry Birds runs great, Halo Spartan Assult runs well, outside of odd graphical glitches. Minecraft is also another great Windows 10 game that runs perfectly on the table, and then I tried GTA San Andreas.

To my surprise, GTA San Andreas worked perfectly fine. It works even better when you plug in an Xbox One controller! The AMD X1650 in the Surface table is no slouch. Sure, it wouldn't put up with today's modern games, but when you consider the fact that the Surface table uses a resolution of 1024x768, the graphics card really doesn't have to push many pixels. As a result, lighter games and older games run great.

Booting the table up takes about 30 to 40 seconds once you select Windows 10 from the boot menu. Once on the desktop, it oddly takes another two minutes before touch starts working correctly. That's because the Multi-Touch Vista service needs to kick in, along with the Surface Input program and the touch driver itself. They take time, but they do eventually come on and work.

Things that don't work

Nothing "doesn't work" per se. You've still got the original Surface Shell there if you need it, which supports object tracking and a UI that's accessible no matter what side of the table you are on. But when you're using Windows 10 all of that goes away. You have to use the table from one angle for the best experience, and the Windows 10 shell and apps don't support object tracking for obvious reasons.

There's also no palm rejection, which isn't a surprise. Not that it's an issue for me, but for those who might want to lean on the screen when using it, you can't really do that unless you lean off to the side of the screen.

It's also worth noting that the Surface Shell and the Windows 10 Shell don't talk to each other at all. You can't easily enter or exit the Surface Shell and the Windows 10 Shell, and as far as I'm aware there's no way of getting normal Windows UWP apps into the Surface Shell app launcher. You can launch the Surface Shell from the Windows Start Screen, but not vice versa.

Final thoughts on Windows 10 on the Surface table

I really like the Surface table. I also like it so much more now that I've got Windows 10 on it and can use it as a media center or a hub for my home. I honestly think there's a market for these, but there's work that needs to be done. Of course, Windows 10 needs to support object tracking in apps like the Surface Shell does, and it also needs a UI that can be used from any angle. Unfortunately, none of that is going to happen anytime soon, which is why I think the Surface table project is dead and buried for the time being.

That could change in the future, but it's definitely not going to happen anytime soon. For now, the Windows 10 experience on the Surface table is good enough for one or two people at a time sitting on the same side. It's also still an amazing table, that houses objects on top of it really well, even when it's turned on. I reckon the Surface table version 2.0 that was released in 2012 would house Windows 10 much better, but since they're even more rare to come by, that's not something I've had the pleasure of trying out just yet.

Zac Bowden is a Senior Editor at Windows Central. Bringing you exclusive coverage into the world of Windows 10 on PCs, tablets, phones, and more. Also an avid collector of rare Microsoft prototype devices! Keep in touch on Twitter: @zacbowden.

86 Comments
  • ROFLMAO!
  • and its "rocks" is a bit optimistic. The HW is too old for W10. Of sure it can be used for watching movies or writing in word but nothing more. Even watching movies will be a bit sluggish depending on the resolution
  • There are people out there with Core 2 series processors still that are able to run win10 just fine and even play the latest games. Totally baseless claim.
  • I wouldn't say 2008 is "old" for Windows 10. Hell, you can run W10 on 2004 hardware.
  • I installed windows 10 on a 2005 Dell XPS Gen2 laptop and it works still pretty fast. Ditto for my old Dell ws690 workstation.  
  • It's probably more powerful than Atom.
  • Windows 10 runs faster than XP on my IBM T43 (yes pre-Lenovo) mainly due to better memory handling reducing disk activity. Fine for surfing, email etc. Graphics are slow so not great on HD video. My Atom based tablet is faster but still W10 runs on very low hardware. Biggest downside is W10's disk footprint being large uses most of the old smaller disks. (getting it to the aniversary edition was tight)
  • Can't agree. I've installed Win10 on XP-era desktops and they could even run games tolerable with recent graphics cards.
  • That's bc your xp-era desktop cant handle that graphics card of yours.
  • Windows is not Mac or Android that demands power to even display the OS as a first...
  • Congratulations... you just performed a Windows update on another PC.
  • I'd think Windows 8.1 would be a more pleasant experience than 10 on the table. You want a touch-oriented OS and there isn't a better one that 8.1
  • It doesn't have an active dev base anymore, just like the Surface Shell :D
  • If Windows 10 Tablet Mode was more like 8.1, it would be amazing.  Windows 10 is a good compromise, Windows 8.1 was too much touch, Windows 10 cut it out a little too much. MS, a 8.1 Shell for Tablet Mode could be a good offer...
  • Nice work! Fun stuff.
  • Funny how it looks like a giant iPad under a glass coffee table. I take it there's no way to upgrade the internals?
  • Correction: Funny how it looks like a giant tablet under a glass coffee table. I take it there's no way to upgrade the internals?
  • No surprise I use a 2007 laptop with similar specs running Windows 10.
    Try swapping the hdd with a 240GB ssd and try searching graphic drivers on amd site as I did with my laptop, it would work even better...
  • no chance for official support from AMD. The x1650 is based on an architecture released in 2005!!! its 12y. old now and you know how fast graphic cards evolve. It can be used for displaying the OS but nothing more. Even watching videos around FULL HD resolution could be laggy
  • It would be laggy because the X1650 doesn't render 1080p mp4 videos on the GPU, only on the CPU.
  • There are Vista level WDDM 1.0 drivers for ATI X1000 series. Those should be good enough for decent hardware acceleration in W10.
  • The last drivers that supported the X1650 were released on Windows 7 the Catalyst 10.2 release so those would be a better candidate. You can also mod the driver inf to support the GPU to install any driver really if you know what your doing, copying the PCI device ID's from one inf to another.
  • zactly, he should try upgrading the ssd, ram, gpu and wifi card if possible
  • Zac, how come you decided to go with the surface 1 vs the surface 2?
  • did you read to the end of the article?
  • http://www.ebay.com/sch/i.html?_from=R40&_trksid=p2050601.m570.l1313.TR1... I had a much easier time actually finding a surface 2 than a surface 1
  • Not on phones these days
  • Nice kind of article. Luv it. Original contents are most welcome since they're hard to find these days. Well done Windows central
  • Agree. I's almost refreshing. Thumbs up for Zac
  • Woooow... That really IS a crappy resolution, but it doesn't look that bad.
  • Loved both Surface Table articles.
  • I'd love to see someone tweak the OS to display in Windows Phone mode, when viewed in portrait orientation. Like a reverse of continuum.
  • With the new shell MS is bringing soon, it could be possible in theory as the new shell will be on both Windows 10 and Windows 10 Mobile and adaptable to all display types.
  • Love it! But can't believe the surface table is that old already 😭
  • I wish I could find one for my basement would be cool in media area.
  • Let's Zac find it and install windows 10 for you, and you purchased it off him. :)
  • That's pretty cool!
  • I love the original Surface. The object tracking is so cool. It really felt like the future when it was released.
  • I love this idea.  Turn it into the Universal Remote that I can never lose!
  • I remember playing with one of those at the Dallas office when I was there for the "Behind The Tiles" demo several years ago. Going back there for the "Bing Insiders Tour" next month. I doubt they still have it.
  • When in India?
  • Lol! I was waiting for that!
  • Someone has to do it :D
  • This could be useful for the graphics.
    https://forum.xda-developers.com/showthread.php?t=1536711
  • Oh man I am so jealous right now! I still want to build one of these, I haven't looked into it in several years, are there still open source IR touch drivers available for making a homebrew solution?
  • Looks great to me, how much do they cost now if you can find one ??
  • https://www.amazon.co.uk/Microsoft-Surface-Pixelsense-1-0-Coffee/dp/B00J...
  • Thanks... looks like it's gone now !!!
  • I'd feel like Mr. Sulu...
  • Putting the LCARS interface app on it would be pretty cool.
  • Time sure flies.  Where and how much?  
  • They should make a table like this but design it for PC sticks to plug into, make it easy to upgrade over time.
  • Nerd
  • With today's technology it would be amazing, first it wouldn't make noise with a processor like a Core-m or some Core-i which have low power need.  Second graphics would be amazing with new displays and GPUs.
  • Noise is from having projector inside.
  • I won't lie: If money wasn't an item for me, I would SO do this myself. The Surface table was an amazing item for its time, and I hope this becomes reality in 2-3 years for mirrors, TVs, and tables. Awesome article, Zac!
  • Clearly Zac's new workstation PC
  • I built a multitouch computer when that thing was just coming out. It was quite expensive too. I had an lcd display one a plexiglass touch screen using infrared LEDs and a webcam with the IR filter removed. It was pretty clunky, but I had a blast with it. Didn't cost anywhere near what that table did lol!
  • I would try w8.1 on it instead, its way better for touch operation, at least for a while
  • Is anything upgradeable in the table at all or is the hardware inaccessible?  For starters, if things were accessible then perhaps a simple RAM upgrade or clone to SSD might work wonders.  If that is simple enough perhaps even a CPU upgrade if the mobo accepts it (and thermal limitations are not an issue)?
  • OK, I really want one of these now, wonder how hard to find for cheap.   My better half would kill me if I brought one into our house though... 
  • So I decided to search eBay for "Surface Table" and was amazed by the number of people who can't spell "tablet" - lots of power adapters for Surface Pro 3 tables.
  • This is by far the coolest tech write up in a while! Makes you wish there was an updated windows 10 table available to buy
  • There are. It's from a furniture company. Check it out.
  • Our school has one that is sitting in a corner acting as a regular coffee table, I am going to take this and try to get access to the Surface table and try and install
  • Can I haz Surface Table, plz?
  • Nice, gg and wow..
  • This was a good read Zac, thanks. By the way, it's 'per se', not 'per say'.
  • Neat great job
  • If you can update the ram i can see this being a crazy hit when friends come over
  • 30" screen with 720p? And it's a coffee table, not a cheap tablet. Are you serious...... Why even waste anyone's time.
  • It was cool back and the day, and 100% crazy priced for what it is....today, it's just another old tech ready for the junk yard... The specs are just too slow to make it really usefull today, even with a SSD...
  • Did you know this came out back before w7 right
  • LOL... Intel Core 2 Duo 2.13GHz processor...that enough said it was completely outdated. Crap we just disposed Del computers with the same specs because no one wanted them. Gut the motherboard and drop in a nice x99A platform with a 6 core i7 with a GTX1080 and then let me see how she performs...
  • This came out in the vista days
  • The genius of these devices was that they were more than a table or tablet type computer. They use imaging technology to see the screen, and respond to the touch or object being placed on the screen. Although there is little 'App' support for these concepts, it is very much still in the Windows API set, as the revision to the touch and pen APIs. The APIs added in Windows 7 and still in Windows 10, technically still support 50 multi touch points at a time, image based touch to return the shape of the touch point, and other visual information from the touch points (ie things being set on the display.) The problem was the technology was far ahead of the processing and UI of the time, and it needs to come back so we move away from capacitive touch technologies to image touch technologies. Microsoft also adapted the imaging technologies for use on an LCD displays (before PixelSense) in R&D, with screen starting to 'see' touches and objects placed on or in front of them. The reason 'Image' back touch/seeing technology is superior is that Windows can recognize various touch point sizes and see things, for example when you place a sheet of paper on the screen, it can be scanned in from the screen itself or read the ISBN and pull up the book, etc. Touch is a stepping stone and we need to keep the dream of display technologies being able to recognize more than a static sized/shape touch point. Even the ZuneHD used 'approximated' pressure input on a capacitive screen by the input controller reporting the 'size' of the touch point, thus a smaller point would be a lighter touch and larger point could assume the user was pressing their finger harder on the screen.
  • The concept was put to use at a bar in China where all the bar tables were pixelsense and could be used to order your food and drinks and then scan your credit card for payment and sign on the screen for payment. I cannot find that original article but found this one referencing the idea of how it was used back in the day. Also financial advisors could use it to get a comprehensive overview of client portfolios like a magazine spread and in a way the client could see from their side. But like much of Microsoft ideas they were waaaaaaay ahead of the times http://money.cnn.com/2012/06/19/technology/microsoft-surface-table-pixel...
  • Imagine having one of these in physics and math classrooms with one note for study groups, so cool. I want a modernized one. Lenovo made a big Windows 8.1 Table top PC with like a 32inch screen that came with table leg accessories. A new surface table with a surface pen for home use, or even say as a table in the kitchen for recipes and recognition for ingredients and cooking tips would be cool
  • Here's to hoping the Surface Hub doesn't become another abandoned Surface product due to lack of attention and development from Microsoft. My company actually has one in a conference room, but my position is nowhere high enough to let me even use it. I'm not sure how often it's used since it's difficult to see into the conference room and I don't work anywhere near it. I hope companies are able to actually be productive with it because I'd hate to see the Hub line be ended if demand weakens.
  • I have the SUR40 - but it's not an ideal experience on Windows 10
    Do you have a project that you followed to get it all working?
  • We got one of those ****** things as well. God, we sure wasted a lot of money on that. Light sensitive is an understatement with it.
  • if only this could be expanded into games - an interactive board game using both real pieces - yet being abole to register and keep track of what is going on on the table - that would be awesome.  failing that you could have an image of a monopoly / ticket to ride / catan / etc on the screen - disable the touch input - and there you have a pretty sweet (but expensive) digital board game!  this has got me considering the posibiltiy of building a pc and getting it into a coffee table somehow!
     
  • Playing something like chess or monopoly with the family would be pretty fun, no more paper notes and lost tokens lol.
  • If such a device with today's tech would sell from $500 up, could it become successful? I definitely see use for it, though I suspect that Microsoft would fail selling the concept
  • that's a pretty cool experiment, kinda like the idea of a touch screen tablet/screen in a coffee table... be cool is you could get the PONG game on it! Might try to build one when the kids are older, the idea of home automation, media server and so on, built into a table in the living room is very tempting. thanks for the post, nice story and explanation of what you did to make it work AND that W10 does not need flashy hardware to work too!
  • Makes me want to buy a giant touch enabled monitor and flip it on its side. :D