The Microsoft Surface Book Reviewby Brett Howse on November 10, 2015 8:00 AM EST
When Microsoft first launched the Surface Pro, they decided to tackle a market that was pretty much untested. Sure, tablets had been around for a while already, but no one had packed a full Ultrabook inside of a tablet. True, the initial Surface Pro had some compromises made due to the hardware available at the time, but Microsoft started to build a brand with Surface, a brand that they lifted from another product line altogether. It’s taken a few generations for the hardware to catch up with that original vision, but I think it’s fair to say that the Surface Pro tablet line has solidified itself as the Windows tablet to beat. The build quality, materials, and performance, are really second to none at this time.
I’m talking about branding because it’s one of the most difficult parts of a new product lineup. Microsoft, perhaps more than most companies, has certainly had its struggles with branding over the years. Surface though, has truly been defined, and molded, and evolved, into a strong brand for the company, and it plays right at the high end. And that brings us to Surface Book. Surface Book is an extension of the Surface brand, and Microsoft now wants to try its hands at the laptop market. Their goals for Surface Book are certainly not the same as they were for the original Surface Pro, since the laptop market is already well defined, and there are already many excellent devices available. For Microsoft to throw their hat in the ring in this segment is a much different proposition than before, and to succeed, as well as to continue to evolve the Surface brand, they set out to build what they are calling “The Ultimate Laptop”.
Surface Book certainly keeps the tradition of Surface alive and well. The 13.5-inch laptop has the same 3:2 aspect ratio of the rest of the Surface line, and it is built out of magnesium with the same finish. The fit and finish is very high, and the entire device feels as premium as it should. I think the defining feature of the Surface tablet lineup is the kickstand, and with the Surface Book it is most certainly the hinge. The hinge on the Surface Book is truly unlike anything ever used on a notebook computer before, and while it may not be to everyone’s taste, it certainly draws comments. The hinge, other than a design element, brings a lot of function to the party as well, with it being a key component to keeping this laptop balanced correctly. Balance is generally not an issue with laptops, but the Surface Book has another trick up its sleeve – the display detaches. The Surface Book is hardly the first device to do this, but it is one of the few that has tried to tackle the balance problem with 2-in-1 devices where the screen detaches, and the hinge is a key component to that. Microsoft calls it a Dynamic Fulcrum Hinge, and it extends the base of the laptop slightly to give it more leverage over the display section.
The design is unique, and what is inside is unique as well, at least potentially. There are two models of the Surface Book. The first model is a typical Ultrabook inside, with an Intel Core i5-6300U processor, but the second model is the only detachable laptop which also has a discrete GPU. There are a couple of reasons this has never been done before, with the main reason being it’s very difficult to dissipate the extra heat that a GPU brings to the table. Microsoft has designed the Surface Book with a GPU which lives in the keyboard base, with the rest of the required components behind the display. This gives them two thermal zones, and by moving the GPU to the base like this, it lets the Surface Book cool the CPU and GPU independently. The extra space in the keyboard is then packed with batteries.
|Core i5||Core i5 w/GPU||Core i7 w/GPU|
|GPU||Intel HD 520||Intel +
"NVIDIA GeForce" (Approx. GT 940M) w/1GB GDDR5
|CPU||6th Generation Intel Core i5-6300U (15w)||6th Generation Intel Core i7-6600U (15w)|
|Display||13.5" IPS 3000x2000 resolution
1800:1 Contrast Ratio
100% sRGB, individually calibrated
10 point touch and Pen support
|Storage||PCIe 3.0 SSD 128 GB to 1 TB|
|I/O||USB 3.0 x 2 (In Base)
SD Card reader (In Base)
Surface Connector (In Tablet and Base)
(mm) : 232 x 312 x 13.0-22.8
(inches) : 9.14 x 12.3 x 0.51-0.90
(mm) : 220.2 x 312.3 x 7.7
(inches) : 8.67 x 12.3 x 0.30
1.515 kg / 3.34 lbs
726 g / 1.6 lbs
1.579 kg / 3.48 lbs
726 g / 1.6 lbs
|Camera||Windows Hello (Front)
8 MP Rear Facing
5 MP Front Facing
Looking at the specifications, one thing to point out is the battery capacity. Most Ultrabooks would average somewhere around 50 Wh of capacity, with a few somewhat higher and a few somewhat lower. By combining the battery in the tablet, which Microsoft calls the Clipboard, with the base, the Surface Book has an amazing 70 Wh of battery capacity. This should help out on battery life, assuming the 3000x2000 display doesn’t drag that down. The rest of the Surface Book is pretty similar to the Surface Pro 4, with PCIe NVMe storage options up to 1 TB, and touch and pen support via the PixelSense display. There are also two USB 3.0 ports in the base, along with a DisplayPort output, and the Surface Connect port which is used for charging, as well as connecting the Surface Dock. There are no ports on the Clipboard at all, with the exception of the Surface Connect port, so if you are using the Clipboard on its own, you will have to dock it to access USB. Like the Surface Pro 4, it would have been nice to see a USB Type-C port included, and the Clipboard would be a perfect spot for that.
Microsoft is calling the Surface Book “The Ultimate Laptop” and that is a pretty lofty goal for a first generation product. In this review, we will examine all aspects of the Surface Book and see how they compare to the best laptops around. Let’s start with the design.
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zeeBomb - Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - linkSurfing on my surfacebook.
dsumanik - Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - linkHey anandtech why does the reality distortion field not extend to the Microsoft surface? MacBook Pro goes north of 3k easy. Apple Watch 15k lol. Funny how we never hear how overpriced apple products are because they are so 'wonderful', but here u have a magnesium shelled beauty being compared to plastic acer ultra books.
but here's the thing, how much does an iPad + amacbook cost? Oh that's right, forgot that didn't you. Welcome back to reality.
tipoo - Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - linkThe SB with dGPU starts getting closer to 15" MBP pricing than 13". *Shrugs*.
Solandri - Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - linkA 13" MBP with i5 (no option for i7), 512 GB SSD, no dGPU is $1799
A 15" MBP with i7 (quad), 512 GB SSD, and R9 M370X GPU is $2499
So the i7 SB is actually $100 closer to 13" MBP pricing than the 15"
Interestingly, it looks like the M370X and SB's 940M-ish GPU perform about the same in benchmarks. My question though is, since MS has developed this dockable GPU in the keyboard, why not go whole hog? Why not make an optional bigger keyboard with a 980m and 8GB DDR5 (and a cooler to match) for the gaming enthusiast market? Having owned gaming-capable laptops for 10 years and buying a real gaming laptop this year (14" 970m), that type of option would really interest me. I don't need to lug the full power of the 970m everywhere I go, but it was either that or get two computers. If I were able to buy a keyboard without GPU and keyboard with hefty GPU, and just bring along whichever one I wanted that day, that would neatly solve my problem.
solipsism - Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - linkUsing "i5" and "i7" without any indication of the clock rate, TDP, or model number is erroneous. The Surface Book uses a 15W CPU while the MBP's is 35W. That make a big difference in performance. If, for some reason, you are fine with a weaker CPU and need a beefier GPU than what the 13" MBP offers, then this would be a better fit, but I doubt it would be a better fit for those that would simply buy a real Ultrabook that isn't trying to pretend it's a tablet with a 3 hour battery life. I'm sure there are some use case specifically for the Surface Book over any Ultrabook + tablet, Ultrabook convertible, or Mac notebook + tablet, but I'd wager those cases are very niche. However, I'm certain MS will sell plenty, but they will be selling based on emotion, not on the best device for the job.
Solandri - Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - linkThe top-end i5 on the 13" MBP is a i5-5287U with 28W TDP. The higher TDP is to accommodate Iris graphics. The CPU performance is actually worse than the SB's i7-6600U (3MB cache vs 4MB cache, 3.3 GHz tubo speed vs 3.4 GHz turbo). The MBP is still on Broadwell as well, while the SB is Skylake.
solipsism - Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - linkRight, because Skylake isn't available for those machines right now in the quantities Apple needs. We see it every year, the OEMs that need the lower quantities get to do the "me first," albeit this against other "me first" OEMs as they almost always do an announcement of a CPU upgrade months before the actual release.
djboxbaba - Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - linkYou might want to double check that.. 13' rMBP are actually using skylake processors. The 15' rMBP are still stuck on haswell.
"njoy incredible performance from the fifth-generation dual-core Intel Core i5 or i7 processor. Your 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display comes standard with a 2.9GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor. You can upgrade the processor up to a 3.1GHz dual-core Intel Core i7.
Intel’s fifth-generation dual-core processors house the processor, L3 cache, Intel Iris Graphics 6100, and fast 1866MHz memory controller on a single chip. " - 13' rMBP
djboxbaba - Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - linkbroadwell not haswell**
djboxbaba - Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - linkignore my comments im mixing up generations.