Microsoft Surface Book 2 First Impressions

Posted on November 16, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Hardware, Microsoft Surface, Windows 10 with 28 Comments

Microsoft Surface Book 2 First Impressions

Microsoft’s new Surface Book 2 takes everything that was wonderful about the original model and cranks it up to 11. This one, clearly, is for the fans.

And on that note, I’m glad Microsoft is continuing this product line. When the software giant announced Surface Laptop back in May, I briefly worried that it might back away from Surface Book in favor of that thinner and lighter device.

Instead, Microsoft went in the opposite direction: Surface Book 2 utilizes essentially the same form factor as its predecessor, adds a second, 15-inch version, and cranks up all the specs on both. The result is the new family of portable workstations and gaming PCs that I had always wanted from Surface Book.

So let’s get the obvious out of the way first: Telling the differences between this device—I’m reviewing the 13.5-inch version—and its predecessor requires a level of product familiarity that few should possess. (It’s like explaining the visual differences between a 1972 VW Beetle and a 1973 VW Beetle: They exist, trust me.)

But if you look closely enough, you’ll see a few differences.

The most obvious, and it’s not all that obvious, is that Surface Book 2 utilizes a USB-C port for video-out instead of the miniDisplayPort that graced its predecessor and most previous Surface devices. This is a baby step to the future and it is appreciated, though some may need a new dongle (or set of dongles).

By the way,there is some question about whether one might use this port for things other than video-out, like charging or expansion. I will explore that for my review, but here’s the short version: It’s not Thunderbolt 3, but the port does support video, power in/out and USB 3.1 data.

If you look at the profile of Surface Book 2 next to the original Surface Book, you can see that the venting on the display/tablet is a bit different. Microsoft is always refining how its Surface devices dispense heat, and I’ll be looking at that more closely moving forward as well.

Surface Book 2 (top) and original Surface Book (bottom)

On a related note, when you remove the display from the keyboard base, you will see that the air intake that it behind the keyboard is likewise of a different design. Here, again, is evidence of Microsoft’s subtle improvements. Note that Surface Book 2, like Surface Book with Performance Base, utilizes a slightly raised keyboard area to accommodate a dedicated (dGPU)—more on that in a moment—and that new heat dispersal system.

Surface Book 2 (top, right) and original Surface Book (bottom, left)

While the display is removed, you will also note that Surface Book 2 features redesigned latches that are bigger and taller than those in its predecessor, plus a redesigned hinge. This new design came about because of the 15-inch version’s larger and heavier display, but the benefits have been applied to the smaller Surface Book 2. Microsoft says it offers a more secure fit, and since this connection was the source of some unreliability in the first go-round, I’ll be looking at that closely too.

Original Surface Book (top, front) and Surface Book 2 (bottom, back)

If the differences on the outside of Surface Book 2 are minor and evolutionary, the differences on the inside are monumental. Gone is the terrible dual-core Skylake architecture, replaced with Intel’s excellent new quad-core 8th generation Core i7-8650U processors. (Though the Surface Book 2 base model actually uses a dual-core 7th generation Core i5 part that I will pretend does not exist.)

As important, Surface Book 2 gets a real dGPU this time. And by real, I mean “gaming PC real”. What you see will vary by model, though. Skipping the base model 13-inch version, again, all other 13-inch Surface Book 2 models get that Core i7 paired with an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 dGPU with 2 GB of dedicated GDDR5 RAM. The 15-inch versions are even more impressive, with an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 dGPU with 6 GB of memory. (All Surface Book 2 models also include Intel UHD Graphics 620 integrated graphics.)

I was hoping to provide some gaming benchmarks in time for this article, but time ran short, so I will do so in my review. But this hardware is the real deal, and it offers major improvements over that which was provided with previous Surface Book devices.

As before, Surface Book 2 can be outfitted with 8 or 16 GB of RAM—there’s still no 32 GB option—but Microsoft has dropped the 128 GB SSD, and the range now runs from 256 GB to 1 TB on storage.

Put simply, Surface Book 2 is everything that was great about the original Surface Book, but better. The weird opening remains while the lid is closed—that’s turned into a Surface Book signature, of sorts—and some might quibble about the lack of Thunderbolt 3. But this is the first Surface Book that actually lives up to Microsoft’s performance and power claims. And I’m excited, frankly, to see them get it this right.

I’ll have more soon.

 

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