I recently purchased the cheapest Surface 3, as well as a pen (the non-pro model does not come with one) and the keyboard case. Let’s review.
The cheapest Surface has 64GB of storage, 2GB of RAM, and, at its heart, an Intel atom x7, clocked at 1.6 GHZ. I have tried overclocking, and there are really no good tools for this exact model. However, the Pro models have Intel core Ix’s which are very popular, and overclockable. Even if I could overclock, however, I would not, and I will get into why later.
First the pen. Writing is great. Palm-Block, which allows you to write with your palm on the screen, works very well. Also, although it does not have the full ajustability as the Pro model does, the 3rd position, which leaves the tablet almost flat, works great for drawing (more on that in a moment) and writing. However, one major problem are the buttons. The top button, which opens Onenote is the most used. On the pro model, you can chose which version of Onenote you want to use. However, you are limited to the metro app on this version. I fixed this by writing my own AutoHotkey script, which you can download here, as well as AHK itself, which you can download here. Just run the script, which I have compiled into an executable, and you should be good to go. As I can not use AHK to open screen clip in Onenote desktop, I have double button press set to open your web browser.
Art is great on the surface, if not quite as good as devices using Wacom; you can draw pretty well. If that’s your thing, installed on the surface is an application called FreshPaint. It really seems pretty good.
Now, on to specs. The only graphics hardware is Intel integrated HD graphics, which runs off the Atom processor. This is fine for normal use, and even light gaming like Simcity and Minecraft WIndows 10 Edition. However this, coupled with the relativly weak processor and lack of RAM, means that you can’t do serious gaming, or even run full Minecraft without all settings on minimum. You can forget about major titles like GTA V and Fallout 4, especially with only 64 gigs of storage. However, retro versions of these games are fine, such as Fallout 2 and GTA Vice City. However, if you pay an extra $100, you can get the better Surface 3, with double ram, storage, etc, which should allow you a bit more freedom.
The surface relies on the case and air to cool itself. This can cause some pretty major thermal throttling. It isn’t to slow, but the surface really works far better in a cool environment then a hot one. This also means the overclocking is virtually useless.
Something the Surface really is good at, as Microsoft has extensively advertised, is transitioning between being a laptop and a tablet. Disconnect the keyboard, and enable tablet mode, which is just a swipe away in the action center, and you have a pretty good tablet, with a moderate app selection in the Windows Store.
So, what is the bare cheapest Surface good at? Well, for a student, it is great for writing, and a bit of online research. It is moderately good at art, and good at being a tablet. However, it is not a very powerful laptop. I think the best option is to pay $200 more and get double storage and RAM, as well as a SIM card slot.