It isnt easy to review Microsofts least interesting product release of the fall.
A few weeks ago, Microsoft pulled another October surprise, unveiling the big-screen, all-in-one Surface Studio. Its a stunner few of us can wait to get our hands on.
In the interim, Microsoft handed us the minimally updated Surface Book with Performance Base. At a glance, it appears just like the excellent laptop/ tablet hybrid Microsoft introduced a year ago. I lauded that one for its design, unique and unusual dynamic fulcrum hinge, excellent touchscreen( which detaches to become a clipboard-like tablet) and well-designed keyboard.
The state of the laptop race
If one were to compare Microsoft to Apple at this laptop crossroad, you might say that Apple is compressing while Microsoft is remaining static or expanding only a little bit. There is no shedding of legacy ports for the Redmond-based Windows parent. Microsofts updated Surface Book kept the SD card slot, two USB-3 ports and Display Port.
And while the Surface Book with Performance Base is virtually the same sizing as the last model 12.3 x 9.14 x 0.9 inches the new laptop is somewhat heavier than the old one. The first Surface Book weighed 3.48 pounds with a Core i7 CPU. The new Core i7 system I tested weighs 3.63 pounds. By contrast, the new 13 -inch MacBook Pro weighs 3 pounds( a half-pound lighter than the last MacBook Pro ).
One of the reasons I still carry the Surface Pro 4 instead of a Surface Book is the weight a mere 2.37 pounds. Adding heft to the Surface Book is not making it more attractive to me as a portable.
Dont misunderstand me. I still love this laptop. Its smartly designed with solid, magnesium chassis and an excellent, high-resolution( 3,000 x 2,000 ), 13.5 -inch touchscreen that is up for anything. Its big enough for multi-window run( Twitter in Chrome or Microsoft Edge and Word) and a great depicting canvas with 1,024 high levels of pressure sensitivity. I love that I can pull off the screen( theres a dedicated keyboard button ), flip it around, reattach it and use it to watch movies or as an angled drawing surface.
What the Performance Base adds, though, is something that pro users were craving: better graphics performance and longer battery life.
You see, the Surface Book has always been like one-and-a-half computers in one. The tablet/ clipboard is a standalone touch computer with the Core i7 chip and integrated Intel HD graphics. The base houses a big GPU upgrade now the Nvidia GTX 965 M and a lot more battery power. The last Surface Book boasted 12 hours of battery life. The Performance Base can, according to Microsoft, get you up to 16.
Obviously, battery life varies widely based on activity. You may get 16 hours if all you do is watch videos. But with a mix of productivity run, depicting and gaming, between 10 and 12 is far more likely. My battery life usually operated between 9 and 14 hours. I got 9 when I played Forza for a couple of hours. Also, the organizations of the system did get a little hot on the base during those gameplay sessions.
Before I dive into performance, though, theres the matter of Microsofts ever-so-subtle redesign of the base. To accommodate the more powerful GPU, Microsoft reengineered the thermals in the base. The outward expres of that is a noticeably more raised keyboard and larger-system-wide ventilate right behind it.
The original Surface Book keyboard also rose up a little bit at the back edge, nearest the hinge, but now hump is more pronounced. Fortunately, because of the dynamic fulcrum hinge design, there was always a pinky-width gap along that inside edge when you closed the laptop. Now its filled up only a bit more with the keyboard. That new keyboard angle has no impact on typing ease or quality( I remain a terrible typist on both Surface Books, and all MacBook Pros, too ).
Big screen big dreams
As I noted above, Microsoft replaced the previous NVidia GPU in the original Surface Book base with a peppier Nvidia GeForce GTX 965 M. In my Geekbench 4 tests, it got a robust 64,355 OpenCL score. The Intel HD graphics chip in the Clipboard got 18,440, which is still better than the Intel HD graphics OpenCL score I got on the original Core i5 Surface Book: 17,389.
With the Performance Base attached, the Surface Book demonstrates a capable gaming PC. I played Recore , Infinity Runner HD and Forza Motorsport 6: Apex , and for each I was impressed with the graphics, frame rates and overall answer. While all the games saw the Nvidia GPU , none of them would automatically turn the graphics levels up to their max sets. For kicks, I turned all of Forzas setting up to Ultra. The game quickly informed me that even with 2GB of video RAM I was running in low video memory mode. The frame rate fell from 28 at medium video quality to 16.5 fps.
Obviously, the Surface Book with Performance Base is still not a gaming rig, but it can do in a pinch.
This is the first Surface Book to ship with Windows 10 Anniversary Edition, which means it now has even better Pen integration, a nice update for a system where pen input is so integral. You now gain instant access to pen features through the Windows Ink icon in the undertaking tray. You can also access them by pressing the eraser button on the Surface Pen.
For Windows fans, the Surface Book remains one of the best and most interesting Windows laptops on the market. It can be a tablet( though youll hardly ever use it without the keyboard ), it can be a workhorse productivity system, it can be an amusement device( a great big screen for Netflix) and it can even be a gamers delight.
The 16 GB, Core i7 system with a terabyte of storage and Performance Base will run you $3,299, a list price that builds even the high-end MacBook Pro look like a bargain. However, a similarly configured MacBook Pro( 16 GB, 1TB storage and Core i7) will run you $2,889 and thats without discrete graphics and a full touchscreen( you get the nifty Touch Bar ).
If you already own a Surface Book, I watch little reason to upgrade to this device. But if you are in the market for a versatile, pro-level Windows portable, the Surface Book with Performance Base should be at the top of your list.
Microsoft Surface Book with Performance Base
Didnt mess with a good design Strong performance across a broad range of undertakings Good battery life Can manage real PC games
The Bottom Line
This is an excellent pro-level Windows 10 computer that is so much more than only a laptop.