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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