Surface storage misleading? Choice files complaint


blog You may have noticed, if you’ve bought one of Microsoft’s new Surface tablets, that you haven’t actually gotten the storage you paid for. If you buy a 32GB Surface, you only get 16GB of usable space, with the rest taken up by Windows 8 RT and its associated apps. A similar situation applies with the 64GB model, where you only get 45GB of space.

Consumer watchdog Choice objects to this kind of behaviour, and has referred Microsoft to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission over the situation. Choice writes (we recommend you click here for the full article):

“According [to] Microsoft’s own website, the 32GB version has only 16GB of available hard disk space and the 64GB version has only 45GB of available hard disk space. However, this information does not appear on the actual Surface packaging, so it’s unlikely consumers will be aware of it when making their purchasing decision.”

To be honest, while Microsoft’s storage use is a little extreme in this case, we can’t say we think this is a huge deal. If you buy almost any smartphone, tablet, PC or Mac or, basically, any device which has a hard disk and some form of operating system, you’re likely to find the same situation, and many reviews state explicitly that only a certain percentage of the advertised space is actually usable. After two decades of buying computing devices en-masse, we think most people understand this. However, the Surface example is a little bit more extreme than most, so there may be a case for the ACCC to step in here. Just don’t hold your breath waiting for Microsoft to comply.

Image credit: Microsoft


  1. I can happily say there is not one Microsoft product in my home
    so I don’t care

    sorry my bias is showing ;)

      • -Hotmail/Windows Live for your kids email?
        I have my own domain and VPS, so my own mail server


        -MS Office for your Mac?
        wash your mouth out with a good burbon, I use opensuse and fedora linux, there also Apache’s OpenOffice for those poor souls forced to use windaz

        -No Windows Phones?
        ewww Android all hte way

        As to the story, always knew windaz was bloatware, but wholly $#%$^ng $##!@ that usage is ridiculous

  2. Sorry, Renai, but this *is* a big deal.

    5% of the advertised disk space being unavailable is one thing, but 50%? That’s a rort!

    Microsoft is taking the piss out of consumers with this one and good on Choice for pulling them up on it. Their defence that consumers can always check the store catalogs to see actual specs beggars belief.

    Proud to be a Choice subscriber!

    • I strongly disagree with you.

      By this own logic, you could argue that ALL storage sizes are misleading.

      SD cards, Phone storage, Hard disks once formatted.

      The logic behind Choice’s reasoning is very poor. I agree that Microsoft’s OS is very bloated for a tablet, I’m certain they’ll begin trimming it down as the service updates arrive (so far its had one update a week since launch of Windows 8), but now – its just mass panic.

      Besides, its got support for external disks via USB , external wireless storage and external SD

      • “By this own logic, you could argue that ALL storage sizes are misleading”
        They certainly are once formatted, but 50% for the OS is, it is beyond bloat.

      • “ALL storage sizes are misleading. ”

        Why yes, so they are. Until we see a comment such as “Simulated facts. Objects are smaller than we say.” on each and every box, Choice has a good case. We few Delimiter readers may be aware that sales and marketing people often can’t be trusted to even understand what they’re saying, but “everyone does it” isn’t much of an excuse.

        • @Annoying Old Fart

          The interesting thing is, if Microsoft just changed the way Windows calculated space, there wouldn’t be an issue. A GB would then be 1 Billion bytes TO WINDOWS and a 32GB disk would BE a 32GB disk, instead of a 29.8GiB (GB) one.

    • so when are choice going after EVERY laptop, netbook, phone or any other thing that runs a storage medium and software that lives on it?

      give me a break.. what a waste of time.

  3. And yet, there’s no complaint about the difference between Gigabytes (1024 MB) and Gibibytes (1000 MiB) on all hard drives? Choice is a bit hit-and-miss methinks. Could apply this logic to any machine with an OS on it, too, including game consoles…

    • “Gigabytes (1024 MB) and Gibibytes (1000 MiB)”
      You got those the wrong way around.
      The ones with the “bi”, so Gibi-, Mebi- etc are the larger ones which are powers of two, this is what most operating systems and so on use.
      Gigabytes and megabytes and all the ones we all use in general parlance are the powers of 10, which is what hard-drives use. Which is clearly labelled on any packaging etc. I have ever seen.

      • That’s a bit misleading too.

        ALL electronic storage uses Gibibytes for storage. Not just OSs- HDD, SSD, SD, RAM everything.

        We just CALL them all Gigabytes, when they’re not.

        • I don’t recall the last time I saw a hard drive that didn’t say 1GB = 1 000 000 000 bytes.

          • I’m not talking about the packaging. I’m talking about the physical usage of the storage. It is ALL Gibibytes.

            The fact that HDDs advertise it as Gigabytes is annoying, but not what I’m talking about. I was simply stating that it isn’t because of OSes that Gibibytes are used. ALL electronic storage uses Gibibytes because all electronic storage is binary. (at the moment) OSes simply state it in Gibibytes, rather than like advertising on HDDs stating it as Gigabytes.

        • MS, Apple & Google could do a lot to eliminate this confusion by deciding to refer to KB, MB & GB as kibi-bytes, mibi-bytes & gibi-bytes within their OS’s & file systems…

          • @Trevor

            Mmmm, I don’t think so. Most people I know think of Bytes in base 10 form. (those I work with don’t, obviously, as we are tech people). Getting that to change after 40 years is gonna be pretty tough….

          • Apple do. 10.7 uses the proper 10^9 for GB not 2^30 in their disk usage calculations.

          • The OS simply uses the other algorithm for calculations. And, in fact, Apple is overestimating storage space for their customers by 24MB per Gigabyte in that case.

            The information is still stored in Gibibyte form (well, Kibibyte form actually, seeing as the sectors are only KiB in size). It has to be. There’s no other way for it to be. Unless you’re suggesting Apple use something OTHER than binary computing?

          • Now I’m confusing myself.

            I remember when 10.7 came out and the reported total disk size was less than what it was under 10.6. My mind’s failing to comprehend what math is in play at this hour.

          • @Greg

            Indeed. It’ll do your head in.

            That’d be right:

            10.6 would’ve been reporting in GiB which are 1024MiB.
            10.7 would’ve been reporting in GB which are 0.09% smaller than a GiB.

            Seems counterintuitive, but, essentially, all Apple did was cut the 24 off the end of each 1000 and not report it. Hence, it appeared the drive had shrunk.

  4. Maybe I’m missing something in the tablet market, but this seems like business as usual to me. The OS is installed on the only drive, which happens to not be very big, but the same rules have applied to PCs, notebooks & even phones for, well, as long as such products have existed. Yes, Win8RT is probably bigger than it needs to be, but the fact is WinRT tablets have platform & integration features that aren’t available on other tablets, so bloatware or not, if you need a Windows tablet you don’t have a great deal of options. I don’t see Choice having a hope in hell with this (and if they get anywhere with it, that will say a lot more about the legal system pandering to the abject stupidity of consumers than it will about Microsoft).

  5. I own one. I knew it was the case. It isn’t an issue anyway (mainly only used for games at this point). And if I wanted, I could put more memory in.

  6. Just because it comes with 16GB of storage does not mean that it’s available. What is next, supposed to have 4 GB of RAM but when you boot the computer you only have 2GB?

    I paid for a Telephone line from Telstra, but when someone is already using it I have zero Telephone lines?

    • Well, if you are using a 32bit OS, and you have a GPU with 2GB of ram…. then that is exactly what happens.

  7. wow, that’s a pretty chunky OS size for a tablet…apparently, my 16Gb Nexus would actually be a 0Gb one if it had Win8 Tablet installed?

  8. I think the ACCC has a point here. Sure we are all used to getting slightly under the advertised storage space, but with an Apple or Android device, you’re talking a few GB’s at most. 50% of avaiable storage space taken up by the OS is a whole different kettle of fish that most consumers would definitely not expect.

    Windows 8 Pro is of course different to iOS or Android as its full desktop OS, but that’s Microsoft’s problem, and they should print available storage space on the box and make it clear to customers what they are actually going to have available to use.

    I know if I didn’t know much about computers, and got a 64GB device home to find that only 32GB was actually useable, that I would feel very burnt.

    • Just to add to this, how well are salespeople being trained on this fact? It’s something that every customer should be told at time of purchase so they can make an informed decision. Given storage space is a spec that everyone is aware of, it’s one of the first numbers that will be reeled off to customers by clueless salesman just looking at the box, or specs listed in their sales system.

      • In regards to salespeople, the case in Australia is that nobody is selling it yet (aren’t harvey norman supposed to be starting soon?)

        I doubt they know this anyway – but i hope microsoft have put the storage info on the box.

    • Update, make that 45GB of available storage, not 32Gb. I was thinking only 50% of storage available for the 32Gb model, not 64Gb.

      • @Grey Wind

        1 GB = 1 billion bytes

        From Microsoft, on Microsoft’s own page. That’s annoying. Because it’s NOT 32GB in Windows. It’s about 29.8GB. (because Windows measures in GiB, not GB)

        No wonder people still get confused….

        So yeah, you’ve gotta take into account that, while the “32 GB” Surface only has “16GB” available, 2 of those are from using the wrong units in the first place….

  9. I agree with Choice. It should be that it defines the storage on the box. So if it is 32gb then it should have an * which then has a statement attached saying may be less due to OS usage or something.

    A fix like that is simple, and is likely just oversight on the part of MS advertising folk.

    I agree with Choice, because these things NEED to be addressed otherwise companies get away with incorrect advertising.

  10. I know that the old magnetic disc type hard drives all vary slightly in their capacity and that no two of them are exactly alike, But they have always had rated capacities so as to make it less confusing for the customer, As for SSD’s i don’t know enough about them to comment, But what i will say is that the capacity of the drives in question is correct, The fact it has an operating system on there is irrelevant, Where did they think it would be?

    • @Letsbeopenaboutthis

      I know that the old magnetic disc type hard drives all vary slightly in their capacity and that no two of them are exactly alike

      Correct, this is a function of manufacturing. However, that’s NOT the case in terms of reporting capcacity. ALL HDD’s for many years now have been made approx. 10% over capacity to ensure bad sectors won’t affect the overall capacity reported for the lifetime of the drive. In other words, although each drive has a slightly different capacity, all REPORT exactly the same capacity ie 500GB. Even if they’re 550GB. Or 548GB.”

      As for SSD’s i don’t know enough about them to comment, But what i will say is that the capacity of the drives in question is correct, The fact it has an operating system on there is irrelevant, Where did they think it would be?

      The OS is the reason the drive actually reports less than it has available. HDD and SSD manufacturers use GB (power of 10 decimals) to report capacity. Windows calculates space in GiB (power of 2 decimals) and reports it AS GB. That is why a 120GB drive actually reports as 112GB on Windows, because of the difference in reporting. Of course, as you say, the OS itself does take up alot of the space anyway.

      Personally, I think it’s a non-issue, but I know what I’m talking about. Many of those that don’t understand feel ripped off.

      • I diddn’t comment on GB or GiB as i thought you had already done an excellent job of it, Even though what you described is the major reason for the discrepancy in total disk capacity, there are other things that contribute as well.

        On a completely empty hard disk, the operating system will reserve some amount of space for its own use. For example, the top level directory structure, even if empty, takes some space. Security information, the recycle bin, and other information is placed on the hard disk before you ever create your first file. Exactly how much will vary, depending on how the disk is formatted.

        And of course, if this is your system drive, the operating system may also place certain hidden files that can get quite large, including your swap and hibernation files. Oh and yes I agree its a non issue.

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