Missed Opportunity: Microsoft Won’t Sell Surface Performance Base Separately

Posted on November 10, 2016 by Brad Sams in Hardware with 29 Comments

surface-book-hero-base

Earlier this month, Microsoft announced a new base for the Surface Book that bumped the specs of the device north with a new GPU and more batteries. If you want to read my review of the new device, you can find that here.

With the company calling the new keyboard a “performance” base, there was hope that Microsoft would offer this peripheral on its own so that Surface Book owners could upgrade their device. That’s the dream, right? A laptop that whose GPU and batteries can easily be upgraded during its lifecycle but alas, Microsoft is not making this dream a reality.

I asked Microsoft if they intend to offer the base as a stand-alone product and they told me no, or at least, not at this time. The comment from the company is below:

“Surface Book is sold as a complete unit, and as such, the Performance Base is not sold separately.”

For those wondering, you can swap the displays on standard Surface Book to the performance base and it will work just fine, I have tried this. So, if it’s not a technical reason, why else might Microsoft be artificially limiting this from happening?

One thought is that the base is simply too expensive. If the company was offering the performance base for $700, would you buy it as an upgrade? While we don’t know the price, I suspect that this may be a factor as to why it is not being offered.

Another reason could be that the market for such an upgrade may be incredibly small, which means they could end up building extra bases that will never be sold. If that is the case, I do wonder if they could make this an online only offer, where you have to order direct from the company which would reduce the overhead and distribution of the base to make this a more feasible option.

The last option is that they could be planning for this type of an offering later on with a different base that costs less but I can’t imagine how that scenario would play out and be priced significantly less than what the performance base provides today. That being said, it looks like what you buy today, is what you will be stuck with and Microsoft isn’t ready yet to maximize the true potential of the Surface book; swappable components.

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25 Comments
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  1. 3 | Reply
    FaustXD9 Alpha Member #882 - 3 weeks ago

    Personally, I think a separate base would be true "Surface Innovation" something that separates it from the rest of the vendor community. I think of this as a evolution of the Surface Pro line with the exchangeable keyboard options and instead of a tablet with a soft keyboard, this would be a rigid keyboard implementation of this.

    As a matter of fact I would like the Surface Pro to have a solid dock like the Surface Book to include a external GPU. This allows you to "future-proof" your purchase and not have to keep updating the entire "computer" every few years if you wanted a more powerful performer.

    I also wonder if you can buy this as a replacement part at some point, i.e. you tell MS that your base went bad and need a replacement outside of warranty?  

  2. 2 | Reply
    wolters Alpha Member #390 - 3 weeks ago

    I sure wish they would let us early adopters and "hot baggers" do this...

    1. 0 | Reply
      jr.flynn Alpha Member #424 - 3 weeks ago
      In reply to wolters:

      It would help me feel better about having a 2k+ laptop that I only used as a desktop for 6 months until they mostly fixed the firmware bugs.

    2. 2 | Reply
      Waethorn Alpha Member #2235 - 3 weeks ago
      In reply to jr.flynn:

      ....Mostly.

       

    3. 0 | Reply
      pesos Alpha Member #104 - 2 weeks ago
      In reply to Waethorn:

      logged in just to point out that this post is awesome

  3. 2 | Reply
    Narg Alpha Member #420 - 3 weeks ago

    I'm not sure why they fragmented the Surface Pro 4 from the Surface Book anyway.  Why not just offer the Surface Base for the Pro 4 and call it good anyway?  Make the base work with any Surface Pro version for that matter...

    And, the "market too small" thing I never buy into.  Profit is profit, no matter how small or big.  Bottom line folks!

    1. 1 | Reply
      jr.flynn Alpha Member #424 - 3 weeks ago
      In reply to Narg:

      I made the same suggestion in response to Sergio's comment below. I also believe SB should be an added piece of hardware to a SP.

    2. 0 | Reply
      hrlngrv Alpha Member #100 - 3 weeks ago

      In reply to Narg:

      Are there any PUBLIC figures on how profitable the Surface line as a whole is? For individual Surface devices?

    3. 0 | Reply
      lvthunder Alpha Member #2039 - 3 weeks ago
      In reply to Narg:

      It wouldn't be a profit though.  If you don't sell a lot of them the startup costs will end up costing them money.

  4. 2 | Reply
    dallasnorth40 Alpha Member #437 - 3 weeks ago

    Too bad. It would have been a cool value add proposition.

  5. 0 | Reply
    dstrauss Alpha Member #640 - 3 weeks ago

    When I went back and reviewed the Surface Book reveal, Panay clearly stated each Surface Book is a unique machined device (base and Clipboard) - maybe some random swapping of Clipboards and bases may work, but as a general rule, they may not be able to guaranty compatibility, fit, and finish of random tops and bottoms.

    1. 0 | Reply
      hrlngrv Alpha Member #100 - 3 weeks ago

      In reply to dstrauss:

      They're as delicate and unique as 1960s-era British sports cars?

  6. 0 | Reply
    lvthunder Alpha Member #2039 - 3 weeks ago

    They exchange them as a single unit as well.  I had the trackpad on mine break and they replaced the base and the screen.  I kept the plug and the pen.  It might be inventory/warranty control since the serial number is on the base.

    1. 0 | Reply
      dstrauss Alpha Member #640 - 3 weeks ago
      In reply to lvthunder: The base and Clipboard have separate serial numbers. I learned that in getting my unit registered.

       

  7. 0 | Reply
    gsmith-plm Alpha Member #1599 - 2 weeks ago

    Years ago, someone (Dell?) sold an ultra thin that had no CD/DVD or ports and a limited battery.  There was a (relatively) thin base that connected under the keyboard and provided those extras.  This gave the traveler a choice of weight vs function depending on need.  That's a worthwhile model for MS to consider for the entire Surface line. 

    The Surface Pro 3/4 have a somewhat limited battery but MS has completely failed to offer an external battery.  Instead, one enterprising fellow took some existing batteries and hacked off the ends of power cables and created a cottage industry.  There are now several options, but still nothing from MS.

    That's just plain short sighted.

  8. 0 | Reply
    Nonmoi Alpha Member #1426 - 2 weeks ago

    A bigger point seems like true modularity is not included  in current generation Surface line of product's strategies.

     

    But this can be both good and bad: 

    The bad, like Brad you said, its a missing opportunity.

    The good, if modularity is included in long term strategy of Surface, then when the next gen or gen after get rid of its proprietary connector for USB-C, the switch will be less painful for Surface users, and modules will be compatible for all OEM machines with USB-C. (hopefully) If so, that will be a much better implementation of both unify port and modularity than what Apple or Google is doing. Lets not forget the next gen of Surface is expected to be drop less than half year from now.

  9. 0 | Reply
    hrlngrv Alpha Member #100 - 3 weeks ago

    A la carte components means potential savings for customers. Does MSFT want customers for whom price matters? Are they not trying to cultivate a customer base similar to Apple's for whom price is irrelevant? Would MSFT prefer 100,000 current Surface Book owners each buy a US$700 Performance Base or 75,000 of them buy a new US$2,500 Surface Book?

    Unless MSFT plans to buy 2 or 3 major PC OEMs and let the other die off or become Linux/BSD machine makers, MSFT's preferred niche is high-end MSFT fans with as much money to burn as Apple buyers. Swappable components would be inconsistent with that strategy. Indeed, it's odd Surface Dials don't imprint (like baby ducklings) with the first device with which they're used.

    The Surface line isn't meant to be economical. Potential Surface customers should aspire to buy a new Surface machine every 18 months or so. Those who can't really aren't MSFT's target customers.

  10. 0 | Reply
    Simard57 Alpha Member #631 - 3 weeks ago

    could be an opportunity for other manufacturers in the MS ecosystem... but might be a tall hill to climb?

     

    sure feels like MS is reluctantly in the hardware business.... Not committed to it.

  11. 0 | Reply
    Sergio Alpha Member #905 - 3 weeks ago

    I'm glad you finally got to ask them straight up if this was happening & that you tried it yourself, which is great so we know it's not a technical reason.

    I'm torn on this one, because while I'd love that as a geek, I don't know why would anyone buy a cheaper version of a SB and try to buy a separate base later on. It seems like a waste of resources, except if the base goes bad, which shouldn't happen, or if you need more power later on, which could be the case but I can't imagine it being common.

    The main reason why they don't do it in my opinion, is because it can turn into a nightmare for future versions. Imagine they announce a SB2, 3, etc,  and the first thing they have to say is "those bases you spent many hundreds if dollars on, will not be compatible" , or even worse, if they tried to not change a design just to maintain compatibility. That could get messy rather quickly.

    Maybe once SB matures enough to have settled on a design, ports, and such, they will make that happen.

    1. 1 | Reply
      jr.flynn Alpha Member #424 - 3 weeks ago
      In reply to Sergio:

      What if they only promise cross compatibility within the current gen? Imagine SP5 is a standalone device and that SB2 is just a SB5 with a PowerBase2. The PowerBase2 could be bought separately and at any time you turn a SP5 into a SB2. But when SP6 and SB3 are released those components only work with each other not SP5/SB2.

       

      I mean that is all just a dream but I could see how they could make it work if they wanted to.

    2. 0 | Reply
      Sergio Alpha Member #905 - 3 weeks ago
      In reply to jr.flynn:

      Definitely, that could be a way for Microsoft to do it seamlessly. But I don't think buyers would like that very much. You know how the very first thing people, sometimes myself included, always ask is "will this work with my [insert last gen item here]", so they wouldn't be very happy.

  12. 0 | Reply
    Sprtfan Alpha Member #153 - 3 weeks ago

    It sounds like a good idea, but I'd image that the cost of the base by itself would be enough that most people would be better off selling their SB and just buying the new one.  Some people might not like to go though the hassle and maybe willing to pay more for the convenience I guess.  Even then MS might be better off having a trade in/upgrade option.  

  13. 0 | Reply
    jr.flynn Alpha Member #424 - 3 weeks ago

    So since you got to try out the performance base did you get to play Gears of War 4 on it? I want to know if Panos' tweet was erroneous because he was talking about the, at the time, unreleased performance base or if he was just delusional.

    1. 2 | Reply
      Sergio Alpha Member #905 - 3 weeks ago
      In reply to jr.flynn:

      On the review by Tested, the played CoD, and it got last 60 fps consistently. On Windows Central's review they did play Gears Of War 4 and they still got solid performance.

    2. 1 | Reply
      jr.flynn Alpha Member #424 - 3 weeks ago
      In reply to Sergio:

      Brad mentioned it on the Live show too but that is good to hear.