A pretty amazing discovery with the Windows RT tablet

The Microsoft Surface tablet I picked up on Amazon Ebay for £310 has a video out port and a USB port too. I happened to have a three or four quid mini HDMI cable lying around here which turns out to be the same as the video out on the thing.


I plugged it into the tablet and the other end into my 24-inch Asus monitor. Then for good measure removed the wireless dongle from my desktop for its Logitech wireless mouse and keyboard and stuck that into the RT tablet too.

The monitor got the signal immediately and, once I told the tablet to extend the display, got the right resolution too. So this was now a two-screen setup. The mouse and the keyboard worked immediately without any drivers. I pulled up Word and IE. They worked fine.

You wouldn’t play games on this and I didn’t check it in detail. But it seemed a very usable home office two-screen desktop to me, albeit one locked to Microsoft Office since the RT won’t let you install any other desktop apps.

Er, wow.

15 thoughts on “A pretty amazing discovery with the Windows RT tablet

  1. Er… wow. And wow again.

    The Surface RT is a remarkable piece of kit running proper grown-up applications for proper grown ups. But this is really astonishing and it makes me wonder what the Pro will be able to do.

    Of course people who actually have to work for a living are the very last market that Apple is interested in so don’t expect to be able to do anything useful like this with an iPad… ever.

    • I’m sure the other tablets can do hdmi out. But it’s the fact you’re using real Microsoft Office – and the same keyboard and mouse I use on the desktop just by switching the dongle. At a brief try I could frankly use this as my main PC when working in nothing but Office.

    • Malcolm Coad

      Ay, Justin. You can do this at the drop of a hat with an iPad using AirDisplay, iDisplay, MaxiVista or several other few-dollar apps and wi-fi. No cables nor nothing. The combinations are various: Mac and iPad, Mac and Android, PC and iPad, etc. David’s is a great option, making smart use of kit he had to hand, but it’s neither amazing nor unusual. Honestly.

      As for people who work not using Apple – been to many scientific conferences, research labs, music studios, schools, universities, audio-visual companies, lately? The newspaper I used to work for, the Guardian, is run entirely with Macs. But I guess when ideas take root, they can be darn hard to prise away…

      • You are kidding, aren’t you? This isn’t just mirroring a display. It’s extending it using the same wireless keyboard and mouse and desktop software as a full-blown Windows 8 PC. And a desktop monitor hooked into a video port (the iPad doesn’t have one without a dongle). You can type italics and bold on the keyboard (using a keyboard powered through a USB port dongle which doesn’t even exist on an iPad). I’ve used Air Display. All it does is give you extra space for the iPad screen and it’s too slow to handle video over wifi. Nothing remotely comparable to this which many people would regard as an adequate desktop computer for work.

        I’m sorry Malcolm but your habit of coming on here and saying ‘Yes but you can do this with Apple’ for every single post – with little relevance – is getting deeply tedious. Please stop. I don’t want to stifle debate here but comments really should be relevant to the post.

      • justinhp

        Yes of course you can do this on an iPad – while running a full suite of Office applications as well. And use your existing keyboard with all the function keys working. And the mouse or trackpad of your choice.

        Oh, apologies, I think I must have been dreaming then…

        Meanwhile, back on planet Earth, you’re just mirroring that display with an ipad, not extending it so I’m not sure what your point is.

        And the newspaper that I currently work at – The Telegraph – is dumping Macs and going back to good old Windows.

  2. While the RT is a pretty crippled system with respect to desktop programs, I think the way David is using it gives us a glimpse into what mainstream computing will be like in the next few years. Microsoft is pushing hard to blur the line between Mobile and Desktop with Windows 8. Something I’m sure Apple has planned but is moving to much slower.

    I’m looking forward to the day I can drop my phone into a dock or press a button and have a full featured OS running on a large screen with a real keyboard. That is probably only three to five years away.

    • I wonder if it’s that far away actually. If all you want is Office, web and mail I think the RT would work for lots of people right now. I omitted to mention it immediately spotted the networked printer here and instantly installed drivers for that. The Surface Pro’s out later this month and adds in full Windows and an i5 chip at a price. Instead of putting in a new mini Lenovo desktop here I’m starting to wonder whether I shouldn’t have waited for that, though a part of me still feels uncomfortable at not having a desktop PC at home with all the ‘important’ info on it (which is probably ridiculous given that all my important info is now on Skydrive anyway).

      • I wouldn’t give up on the desktop yet. Having a local copy is still important. On my desktop Skydrive and Dropbox sync all my files, but my mobile devices are dependent on Internet connectivity for access. I’m sure this will be the same on the “Pro” devices. Does the RT have enough local storage for all of your files?

        Also, I am of the school that if a file doesn’t exist in at least three places it isn’t backed up. 3-2-1 is my rule. Three copies, in two mediums, one offsite.

        • The RT is 64gb with an extra sd card in it which probably isn’t enough. But my desktop is 128gb ssd and that’s fine. I have an external 1tb usb drive for backups. Photos are all on Skydrive or Flickr. Also I hang on to a lot less junk than I used to! I think things are changing but I agree – I wouldn’t feel happy leaving it all to the cloud.

          RT actually copies a local file to the tablet though and will let you work on that then sync back to Skydrive when you have a connection.

  3. jnchristp

    Did I miss something about security in the cloud? I thought you had serious concerns about your work in the cloud. That’s all gone? How? I feel very unrelaxed about my stuff on other peoples computers – that’s what cloud-computing is essential, isn’t it?

    • It seems so pervasive these days I’ve got used to the idea. I’m happy with having it on Skydrive with a company like Microsoft who haven’t come out with any T&Cs that would keep me awake at night. And frankly Skydrive works so well – I can read and edit the same documents on PCs, tablets, my phone – the benefits outweigh the worries.

      • It is a matter of how secure you want your stuff to be. It is encrypted going to and from Skydrive, but is not encrypted on their servers. DropBox stores the files encrypted but they hold the keys, not you. This level of security would not meet HIPPA standards and would not be adequate for storing evidence of criminal activity. There are more secure services for people with those needs. While I don’t think I would keep my credit card or bank account numbers on it, it does not worry me to keep intellectual properties on Skydrive–yet.

  4. John Hounslow

    Interesting post and responses – thanks. I can certainly see the benefits of the Surface RT if you need, or choose, to work with Office as your main apps on a tablet. Indeed, Microsoft has ensured it (and the Pro) is the only option for doing this by not making these apps available for other mobile OSs. But if you need to do any more, it surely becomes a terribly restrictive environment, considerably poorer than that allowed by other tablets.

    Also, I’m surprised you are so dismissive of other methods of linking screens. I may be ignorant here, but I have trouble following the special advantages of the method you have discovered using the Surface. I suppose these lie in connecting the computers themselves, as you would with a fully networked set-up, rather than just adding a monitor. But if you don’t need to do this, AirDisplay offers a very flexible and seamless way of working. It may be a “mere” screen mirroring app, but it is far from passive. With it I can operate different apps or windows completely separately on both screens, with a single keyboard or both, via Bluetooth and without cables or dongles, moving easily between them with the cursor, flipping in and out other apps on the tablet as necessary, all within a single network of computer (or computers) and attached disks. I’ve found this to be flawless and very useful, and in combination with Spaces on a Mac allows considerable possibilities. I’d be interested to know how much of this your set-up allows.

    Some of this may be different with that strange hybrid beast that is the Surface Pro, I suppose – but that’s a whole different debate.

    • With the RT it’s effectively a desktop PC, not a tablet with another screen. It behaves just as a connected desktop would with two separate monitors, on my system one with a resolution of 1920×1600. You can extend or mirror them, run full Office, have different windows and apps on different screens to drag around. And video works on both screens which it didn’t with Air Display when I tried it (and found it slow and clunky to be honest). Also you can’t just disconnect a wireless mouse and keyboard from a desktop and plug them into an iPad through a USB wireless dongle since there isn’t a USB port on an iPad. Or a full keyboard with full function keys which you have with a Windows RT tablet while the iPad didn’t even support a simple italics or bold shortcut the last time I looked (hence painful instructions such as these here –

      I note the mandatory pop at Microsoft (am I going to get this kind of response every time I say something nice about a Microsoft product?) But there have been plenty of reports that say MS are producing versions of office for both Android and iOS. I’m impressed you have an opinion on the Surface Pro, a product that’s only been seen once at a trade show and isn’t even on sale yet. But this thread is becoming more about the iPad than about the original subject. And since the original post never even mentioned the iPad I think it’s time to bring it to a close.

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