Thinking About Surface Book 2 Specs and Configurations

Posted on October 17, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Hardware, Microsoft Surface with 38 Comments

Thinking About Surface Book 2 Specs and Configurations

I’ve been bubbling with excitement since I first saw Surface Book 2 last week. But Microsoft held many details from us for some reason, and only now do we have all the information we need to begin judging the new devices.

Let’s get a few negatives out of the way first.

Surface Book 2 doesn’t include a Surface Pen. So that’s another $100 you’ll need to spend, which is a bit irritating only in that they didn’t drop the pricing by $100 to match. Put simply, if you need a Pen, Surface Book 2 is more expensive than its predecessor ever was.

Surface Book 2 is not offered in a LTE/4G configuration. I suspect that part of the reason is that Microsoft is essentially reusing its first-generation Surface Book design for these products.

Surface Book 2 does include a USB-C port, in a small nod to the future. But that port does not include Thunderbolt 3 capabilities, so you cannot drive two 4K displays at 60 Hz. It’s only for video-out. (OK, yes, you could charge the device with this port, but you don’t want to: It’s about 1/6th the charging speed of the Surface Connect connector. Again, tied to a decision to use the first-generation Surface Book design for these products.

Finally, the misguided headphone placement is retained in Surface Book 2, meaning that the cord will often cut in front of the screen as you’re trying to work or watch videos. It should be at the bottom right, not the top right.

And because I feel I have to state this for the record, yes, Surface Book 2 is very expensive. In particular the 15-inch version, which starts at $2500. That said, consider the competition: A somewhat comparable 15-inch MacBook Pro is about the same price—$2400—and that has a much less impressive dGPU. And a quad-core (but previous generation) Dell XPS 15 is about $2200. Both of these other devices lack the detachable screen functionality, of course, and the Apple lacks (real) touch.

Beyond these complaints, the Surface Book 2 is pretty damned interesting. Is, in fact, exactly what I was hoping Microsoft would do and turn this product into a portable workstation.

The first-generation Surface Book with dGPU was no such thing: Its lackluster and unnamed NVIDIA graphics chip was a big step up from integrated graphics, but it was barely able to play modern games effectively. So Microsoft “brought the thunder” for Surface Book with Performance Base. That one featured a decent NVIDIA GeForce GTX 965M dGPU with 2 GB of RAM, and it was a big step up. No, not a gaming PC per se, but it could play modern games pretty effectively, if at lower quality levels.

For Surface Book 2, Microsoft is really bringing the thunder, finally. Yes, you can still get integrated graphics, but only on the 13-inch (really 13.5-inch) version. But those who prefer this form factor can get a high-end model with an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 dGPU and 2 GB of dedicated GDDR5 graphics memory. That’s portable gaming PC class.

But if you opt for the 15-incher, you get even better graphics: Each 15-inch model includes an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 dGPU with 6 GB of GDDR5 graphics memory. That’s just a straight-up gaming PC, folks. Point being, there’s no reason to add any qualifiers anymore: As Panos Panay told me, you can indeed play modern games in Full HD (1920 x 1080) at 60 FPS with this PC. No doubt about it.

Of course, Surface Book 2 isn’t just about graphics. Each version can be had with quad-core 8th generation Core i7 processors, which are significantly faster than their dual-core predecessors. That said, the entry-level 13.5-inch Surface Book 2 utilizes an old-school and dual-core 7th generation Core i5 processor, just like its predecessors.

Surface Book 2 offers 8 or 16 GB of RAM. I’m sort of surprised there isn’t a 32 GB option, but I suspect this is also a side-effect of Microsoft reusing its existing Surface Book designs.

Storage options are impressive, at least: You can choose between 256, 512, or 1 TB of speedy PCIe-based SSD storage, as one should expect.

Previous-generation Surface Book models offered a 3:2 aspect ratio 3000 x 2000 PixelSense display at 267 pixels per inch (PPI). So my expectation was that the new 13.5-inch version would offer the same display, and that appears to be the case. But the 15-inch version is a bit higher resolution, with a bit smaller pixel density: It offers a resolution of 3240 x 2160, or 260 PPI. Yes, still 3:2, which will help it be less awkward in tablet mode. (A bit less awkward; it’s still huge, of course.)

Microsoft rates both Surface Book 2 versions at 17 hours of battery life. If they come in at 11+ hours in the real world, I’m good.

Interestingly, there are huge differences between the dGPU Surface Book 2 model and the non-dGPU models. That is, if you get a normally-aspirated 13.5-inch version, you get a 39W power supply. But if you get a 13.5-inch version with a dGPU, or any 15-inch version, you get a 95W power supply. (Yes, both still come with a USB charging port.) That is a big difference. But Surface Book with Performance Base came with a 102W unit.

As for specific configurations, here’s what’s available.

Surface Book 2 (13.5-inch) with 7th Generation Intel Core i5, 8 GB RAM, 256 GB SSD, and integrated graphics. $1,499

Surface Book 2 (13.5-inch) with 8th Generation Intel Core i7, 8 GB RAM, 256 GB SSD, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 dGPU with 2 GB GDDR5 graphics memory. $1,999

Surface Book 2 (13.5-inch) with 8th Generation Intel Core i7, 16 GB RAM, 512 GB SSD, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 dGPU with 2 GB GDDR5 graphics memory. $2,499

Surface Book 2 (13.5-inch) with 8th Generation Intel Core i7, 16 GB RAM, 1 TB SSD, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 dGPU with 2 GB GDDR5 graphics memory. $2,999

Surface Book 2 (15-inch) with 8th Generation Intel Core i7, 8 GB RAM, 256 GB SSD, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 dGPU with 6GB GDDR5 graphics memory. $2,499

Surface Book 2 (15-inch) with 8th Generation Intel Core i7, 16 GB RAM, 512 GB SSD, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 dGPU with 6GB GDDR5 graphics memory. $2,899

Surface Book 2 (15-inch) with 8th Generation Intel Core i7, 16 GB RAM, 1 TB SSD, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 dGPU with 6GB GDDR5 graphics memory. $ 3,299

It’s a bit early to say, but were I buying the 13.5-inch version, I guess I’d lean to the second configuration, though $2000 is a bit steep, and a huge jump from the entry-level version. On the 15-inch side, I’d have a hard time with just 8 GB of RAM, so I’d be looking at $2900. Woof. Those are big prices.

But Surface Book 2 is a big machine. I hope to review it.


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Comments (38)

38 responses to “Thinking About Surface Book 2 Specs and Configurations”

  1. Chris_Kez

    So they bring the thunder, but not the Thunderbolt. /rimshot

  2. JC

    I would go with this configuration If I had the cash...

    Surface Book 2 (15-inch) with 8th Generation Intel Core i7, 8 GB RAM, 256 GB SSD, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 dGPU with 6GB GDDR5 graphics memory. $2,499

  3. MutualCore

    I will wait for the 1-month review from Paul. Will it have lightbleed, hot bag, poor battery life, crashing on detach, etc...

    Only the Shadow knows!

  4. ibmthink

    If its supposed to be a Workstation, Microsoft should use Workstation-class GPUs (Quadro).

    I had hoped for a new industrial design. The first Surface Book wasn´t a topseller and I doubt this version will be. The same principal design-issues are still around and its too bad that Microsoft didn´t implement Thunderbolt.

  5. zicoz

    Putting a 7th gen in the cheapest version is just greedy by MS.

  6. madthinus

    The 1060 should have been in both models.

  7. nbplopes

    I like the specs.

    I’m looking forward to see if it works up to the specs in real life. In the past this has not been mostly the case leading to money down the toilet due to bellow specs usability problems.

    Gaming? This thing does not have the thermal specs to endure such stress in the long run. If you do so regularly don’t be surprised if it does not switch on sometime or experience throttling mean less framerates. But hey it’s shiny.


    Still no advanced Thunderbolt-3 connectivity? At these prices? You have got to be kidding me?

    Faster than the MacBook Pro? Yeah ... only until Apple updates the MacBook with the same 8th generation processors or better (with Iris Pro graphics). That explains the paper launch ... they wanted to make a claim while it was still (somewhat) valid.

    • evox81

      In reply to TEAMSWITCHER:

      Considering the speed with which Apple typically updates their models, and I haven't seen any indication that they'll be rushing these to market, Microsoft is likely to hold that "faster" title a bit longer than you seem to think. And Iris Pro graphics? When you're talking about systems that have GTX 1050 graphics (or better), no one should be pining for Iris Pro. Iris Pro is, at best, about one quarter the performance.

    • ecumenical

      In reply to TEAMSWITCHER:

      What's the use case for Thunderbolt on these? I've read that it basically comes down to a limited number of PCIe lanes supported by the CPU, and that they couldn't add TB3 without killing the Surface Connector. In that case, I think it's reasonable to leave it compatible with everyone's docks and chargers. It's not like you need an eGPU when you have a 1050 or 1060 built in, and if you want to use a dock there's already one for the SC port. After that, you're talking extremely niche uses that actually demand a TB3 port.

      Certainly, having a mix of USB-A and USB-C makes this a much, much more useful port selection for 99.95% of the population than Apple's decision for 4 TB3 ports.

  9. jrickel96

    The Surface Book 2 is a great value. I and most of the people that work at the company I work for have to have two devices to travel - a business laptop/Surface hybrid and a gaming laptop for the higher end software we supply to clients. The total cost for the two devices is usually around $4K. The Surface Book 2 provides both, allowing travel with one fewer device while providing great battery life, pen input, etc and probably saving $600-$1000 depending on config. Also means I don't have to pack one of them in my carry on or checked bag, but can take it in my backpack.

  10. JustMe

    For me, it would be the third 13" configuration - but still too rich for my blood.

    It will be interesting to see how the 13 inch models handle heat, not to mention see how those GPUs kill the battery. How long can you game playing a modern title without having to be plugged in? Only time will tell.

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  12. edboyhan

    At this point I wonder (hope?) what might be announced in London at the end of the month? Most expect the Surface LTE. They might also talk about Windows on ARM products (there are apparently a few such devices in the wings with incredible battery life).

    I've also been curious about MS's reluctance to embrace USB-C/Thunderbolt. They have talked about the desire to maintain backwards compatibility with the Surface Connect/Surface Dock stuff.

    There is plenty of bandwidth in the Surface Connect interface. I wonder if they might announce a new Surface Dock with Thunderbolt ports on it (the thunderbolt chip would fit in a dock housing).

    I found it intriguing that the Surface Book 2 now has two Surface Connect ports: one on the base (as on the SB 1), and one on the tablet. Could one therefore attach a Surface Dock to the tablet?

    Lastly, if the focus in London is on Surface/LTE (they made a big deal about the Surface/LTE at Ignite, and the Qualcomm modem they are using), might there also be a Surface Book 2 with LTE announced there?

  13. CaedenV

    Misguided placement or not, at this point I am thankful for every device released that HAS a headphone jack!

  14. Polycrastinator

    The entry level SB is a nice configuration, at least. 8GB RAM and 256GB storage. If you don't need the dGPU (and most people don't), honestly there's no reason to go bigger.

  15. Bats

    WOW....Paul's excited? I thought he would get mad. After all, Microsoft is trying to be a hardware company and for them to sell the Surfacebook 2 for such an expensive price point,....I thought we'll get one of those open letters from Paul. LOL. See,...if Paul can't afford a Pixel 2 XL (which I know he bought), then how on earth could he afford a Surfacebook 2, starting at $1500. It makes absolutely no sense to me. The Pixel 2 XL is built by a real phone manufacturer company, whereas the Surfacebook 2 was probably built by some guy in a department in the floor below Groove's Department, that was formerly occupied by the Microsoft Band people. LOL....I am just kidding. I just like pointing out Paul's hilarious nonsense that only makes sense to him.

    Anyway...gosh this computer is expensive. I just hope that it's not plagued with the same problems previous Surfacebooks and Surface Pros had. Like I said in a previous comment, it's shocking...ABSOLUTELY SHOCKING....that the Surface Computers could have so many problems, given the fact that we are talking about Microsoft hardware and software together in a closed system, like Apple computers. Macs and Mac OS work well together. Pixels and Android work well together, with the exception of Paul's handset. As for Microsoft, Suface computers and Windows 10 should not be having any problems at all. 

    IMO, Microsoft offering 15 inch version of the Surfacebook is an excellent idea. As a matter of fact, they should offer a 17 inch, 19 inch, and even 21 inch. The reason why I say this is because, these flat surface displays can be used in conventions in place of a widescreen video monitor. If Microsoft did this, then partners will most likely do it as well. Then, again...who am I kidding? Microsoft doesn't have the ability to come up with good ideas, unless the people at Apple and Google come up with it, where they will have no choice but to copy it and release their version ten years later.

  16. Polycrastinator

    BTW, is that a new, smaller Dial, or is it the same one as before?

  17. dstrauss

    No Thunderbolt 3 is just plain wrong. These are high priced devices aimed squarely at the most sophisticated users, and it is an INSULT to not use Thunderbolt 3.As for choices like 16 vs 32 gb ssd, etc, reusing the design for the 13.5" is one thing, but with 15" there is no excuse for not adding 32gb as an option.

  18. SRLRacing

    The want is strong. The 15 inch with 16GB of RAM is just about my dream laptop. If I could get a decent price for my Performance Base Surface Book I might just upgrade.

  19. Martin Pelletier

    I would buy a Lenovo Legion y520 for less. Granted Lenovo don't have a 8th gen cpu yet in that model.

    • SRLRacing

      In reply to MartinusV2:

      They are completely different beasts. The Lenovo uses a 65W processor with a much higher base clock vs the 15w unit in the Surface Book. The Surface is rated for 17 hours of battery life while the Lenovo is rated at 4. The Surface has an extremely accurate display while the Lenovo's is built for high refresh rate gaming. Its kind of amazing that the hardware in the Surface which is essentially an ultrabook/tablet can be compared to what I have long considered to be the best line of affordable gaming laptops on the market.

  20. mklemin

    Paul - Good news! According to the Microsoft website, all 15-inch configurations come with 16GB of RAM.

    • Chris

      In reply to mklemin:

      The Australian website only has the 13.5" version listed for pre-order, so I had to look at the US website to see what you are seeing, and yes, the 15" versions only come with 16GB RAM.

      What I did notice in the tech specs, and it is a little odd, is that they have LPDDR3, but paired with a 7 series i5 or 8 series i7, both of which should be able to use DDR4. I've also noticed that the 15" version has Xbox wireless built-in, which does make the 15" SB2 good for gaming.

      Pity they are so expensive, and even more expensive over here.

  21. alexoughton

    "It’s about 1/6th the charging speed of the Surface Connect connector"

    Is there a source for this? If they're using USB-PD (which I would expect, and is completely separate from the gen-1/gen-2 discussion) then there's no reason for this.

  22. jwpear

    Paul, is the original Surface Book being sold on Amazon for $870 worth it in light of this? It seems the one on Amazon that's still available has the 6th gen i5, 8 GB RAM, and 128 GB storage. Has the reliability issues truly been addressed?

    My wife's 5 year old Dell XPS 13 with third gen i5 is dog slow and the 4 GB RAM is not upgradeable. She is constantly complaining about it. I've been looking for high quality hardware in the sub-$1000 price tag. I think she would actually like the Surface laptop better than the Surface Book, but $1300 is just too much for us. I'm hoping for a good black Friday sale on those, but I can't see them coming under $1000. I've been looking at other OEM's too. Haven't ruled out another XPS. It's been solid.

  23. skane2600

    "you cannot drive two 4K displays at 60 Hz"

    That could lose them 10 or 11 customers easy.

    • SvenJ

      In reply to skane2600: You can't drive two 4K displays at 60 the USB-C port. Can't find what you can do with the Dock's two Display Ports.

    • CaedenV

      In reply to skane2600:

      I dunno, I have 1 4K display already which I regularly dock with my old laptop, and I have my heart set on a 2nd one. 4K at 30Hz is pretty much a deal breaker, especially on a larger screen (just for the mouse refresh positioning alone!). May not be a huge deal right now, but this is going to be a problem in a few years as all monitors start moving from 768p and 1080p in favor of 1440p and 4K.

      Also curious about VR/AR/MR capabilities on such a device. The decent current gen headsets already have dual 1440p displays in them, and next gen will have dual 4k displays... This is the laptop designed for drafting and creation specialists. I would not expect this to game with dual 4K displays... but I would expect it to run the next few years of headsets for basic MR productivity workloads. This seems like a misstep.

    • BoItmanLives

      In reply to skane2600:

      Actually 4K displays are pretty damn cheap these days, so the usage scenario isn't all that unusual.

      • skane2600

        In reply to BoItmanLives:

        I suspect by the time this scenario becomes common, more than one generation of newer laptops will have been released. Usually a 4K monitor is an alternative to two lower-resolution monitors rather than part of a set.

  24. aparlette

    I'm interested to find out that there is a some charging capability in the USB-C port, even if it is slow. I'm disappointed that it isn't full Thunderbolt 3, but if I could maintain a charge during a plane flight or an emergency situation with a battery pack, then it's at least a step in the right direction.