Microsoft Surface Book 2 First Impressions

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.

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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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    16 November, 2017 - 9:37 am

    <p><span style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);">"…cranks it up to 11."</span></p><p><br></p><p>Without Thunderbolt 3, I cannot possible think of this device as an "11", and there is only a single USB Type-C port! Apple is equipping their basic MacBook Pro with TWO Thunderbolt 3 ports and the Touch Bar models have FOUR! Then there is the fat hinge design and the monotone coloring straight from the plastic MacBook era … at best, this device is an '8.' The Discreet GPU is nice, but is probably like all other notebooks, where the fan noise is simply intolerable for gaming.</p><p><br></p><p>I simply cannot dismiss that having two devices, a thin-and-light notebook and a Desktop PC is a much better solution. A quiet and portable mobile device, and a desktop computer for heavy lifting and gaming. When your wife want's to borrow your laptop, you still have a machine at your disposal. Or when disaster strikes, you have a backup device.</p><p><br></p><p>I have $2500 to spend on computing … I can make that money go much farther than buying a Surface Pro 2.</p>

    • Chris_Kez

      Premium Member
      16 November, 2017 - 10:42 am

      <blockquote><a href="#217043"><em>In reply to TEAMSWITCHER:</em></a></blockquote><p>"I simply cannot dismiss that having two devices, a thin-and-light notebook and a Desktop PC is a much better solution." You just need to add the words "<em>for me"</em> and your position will be unassailable. ;)</p><p><br></p>

      • BizTechSherpa

        16 November, 2017 - 3:08 pm

        <blockquote><a href="#217065"><em>In reply to Chris_Kez:</em></a></blockquote><p>Well Said! The words "for me" should be required on pretty much any post regarding a PC, Mac, or mobile device. The PC stands for "Personal Computer", let's keep it that way. </p>

    • ecumenical

      16 November, 2017 - 11:50 am

      <blockquote><a href="#217043"><em>In reply to TEAMSWITCHER:</em></a></blockquote><p><br></p><p>On the other hand, Apple's products have no standard USB ports and no card reader. For the huge majority of people, the Surface Book's port selection is vastly superior. </p><p><br></p><p>Just think about it for three seconds: what are the use cases for Thunderbolt 3? </p><ul><li>Single-port docking is already covered by the Surface Connect port. </li><li>If you're buying a thick productivity device that already has a GTX 1050/1060 in order to use an eGPU, you're doing it wrong. </li><li>A few incredibly niche high-bandwidth I/O devices that exclusively use TB3? This is very unlikely to matter to many real-world users. (Yes, I realize this is where some on-the-go video producer with an external PCIe SSD or something raises their hand. Ok, great. You don't represent many people.)</li></ul><p><br></p><p>If you're gaming you're using headphones, not crappy laptop speakers, so fan noise on the GPU during gaming is irrelevant. Of course I'll be curious to hear from Paul or other reviewers how loud the fans get when the GPU is pushed on shorter non-gaming tasks.</p><p><br></p><p>Getting two devices is a terrible solution if you need access to desktop-like capabilities anywhere other than at your desk. That's who this is aimed at. Might not make sense for you but it does for others.</p>

      • Necron

        20 November, 2017 - 8:05 am

        <blockquote><a href="#217123"><em>In reply to ecumenical:</em></a></blockquote><p>I use TB3 to connect 5k display. Don't pretend it's uncommon case. I believe many photographers out there do the same.</p><p>SD card slot isn't that much because nowadays there are a lot of card types. Most of Pro's don't use SD for their work.</p><p>For most of USB devices, it's just matter of changing cable because most of devices has it's own connection like USB B/mini/micro etc.</p>

    • Jeremy Petzold

      18 November, 2017 - 5:33 pm

      <blockquote><a href="#217043"><em>In reply to TEAMSWITCHER:</em></a></blockquote><p>If you are a heady gamer….obviously…if you need something that will game when you feel like playing civ but care more about getting work done, this will do it no problem. I need to know how well it works with docking solutions from MS.</p>

  • Bob Shutts

    16 November, 2017 - 9:50 am

    <p>HP Spectre for me, thanks.</p>

  • lecter

    Premium Member
    16 November, 2017 - 9:54 am

    <p>I honestly don't see the point of this product: </p><p><br></p><p>Who uses 13 or 15 inch tablets? </p><p>Who wouldn't want Thunderbolt on a 1-2000$+ PC in 2017? </p><p>Why play games in this weird native aspect ratio and resolution, a resolution which is in any case waaay too high to be driven even by a GTX 1050? </p><p><br></p><p><br></p>

    • lvthunder

      Premium Member
      16 November, 2017 - 10:49 am

      <blockquote><a href="#217048"><em>In reply to lecter:</em></a></blockquote><p>Me. I love using my original Surface Book. It's great for Photoshop, Lightroom, and Premiere. I use it with the pen to edit photos all the time. It's great.</p><p><br></p><p>Who has thunderbolt devices? I haven't seen many and when I do they are really expensive. Would I like to have it sure, but it isn't a deal breaker that it's not there.</p><p><br></p><p>I don't have the time to play a lot of games, but I really like the aspect ratio. It's the same as the photos I take.</p>

      • Vladimir Carli

        Premium Member
        16 November, 2017 - 12:01 pm

        <blockquote><a href="#217071"><em>In reply to lvthunder:</em></a></blockquote><p><br></p><p>the lack of TB3 makes it impossible to use this as your only computer, connecting it to an external 1080ti. It's really a big disappointment and I don't understand what are the technical reasons for not having it</p>

        • digiguy

          Premium Member
          16 November, 2017 - 7:26 pm

          <blockquote><a href="#217134"><em>In reply to Vladimir:</em></a></blockquote><p>what's the point of connecting it to a 1080ti? An external GPU? a 1080ti would be severely bottle-necked by the TB3 bandwidth and by the ULV CPU (even if quad core). From several tests it appears that the gain of TB3 1070/1080s over an internal 1060 are pretty small. So you may want to wait for TB4 for 4k gaming and there is little point in using an external GPU for laptops with a 1060 and beyond, especially with an ULV CPU…</p>

  • BeckoningEagle

    Premium Member
    16 November, 2017 - 9:57 am

    <p>The lack of Thunderbolt 3 is a disappointment for me. I like the space between keyboard and screen when closed. I've noticed in Macs and other notebooks that you need to clean the screen frequently because the keyboard leaves a small film of dirt on the screen when closed. This doesn't happen in the SB2 because the keyboard and screen never touch.</p>

    • Polycrastinator

      16 November, 2017 - 10:48 am

      <blockquote><a href="#217050"><em>In reply to BeckoningEagle:</em></a></blockquote><p>Agreed on Thunderbolt 3, simply because this system is powerful enough to be a desktop replacement, and while Surface Connect is fine, having Thunderbolt 3 and being able to run 2 4K displays off the device would have really been a nice benefit. It's a shame to have this one issue with the device.</p>

  • Corey Ditter

    Premium Member
    16 November, 2017 - 10:02 am

    <p>I played with one at Best Buy and I was astonished at how light the tablet is when you disconnect the keyboard. Impressive.</p>

  • jwpear

    Premium Member
    16 November, 2017 - 10:11 am

    <p>With the addition of a 15 inch model, I may have to try to budget in one of these next year. At these prices, it would be a long-term purchase for me. And the lack of a TB3 port is bothersome. I don't really have a huge need for it now, but if this thing needs to go 5-6 years to justify the price, seems like it should have that.</p><p><br></p><p>Paul, I'm curious about your experience with SB1. Does the display mar the base finish, or get marred, where the two pieces come in contact at the front? Looks like there is a white protective sheet of foam between the two in the last picture.</p>

    • Polycrastinator

      16 November, 2017 - 10:47 am

      <blockquote><a href="#217056"><em>In reply to jwpear:</em></a></blockquote><p>They ship it with that, but the keys don't actually come into contact with the display. I've not seen any issues on mine with the display being affected by being closed.</p>

  • planetwilson

    16 November, 2017 - 10:29 am

    <p>Pity about the positioning of the headphone jack. Right hand side at the top is about the worst place. Most headphone cables drop down from the left hand cup so the wire will be trailing across.</p><p><br></p><p>if you can use the top half in tablet mode in either vertical orientation then left hand side placement would be a lot better.</p>

    • ecumenical

      16 November, 2017 - 11:51 am

      <blockquote><a href="#217060"><em>In reply to planetwilson:</em></a></blockquote><p><br></p><p>No kidding, this seems like such an obvious small detail that they somehow got wrong again.</p>

  • MacLiam

    Premium Member
    16 November, 2017 - 10:34 am

    <p>The missing features just create expectations for next year's revision. As they say in entertainment, "Always leave the audience wanting more." Those who express concern about weak or missing features are expressing an interest in what might be, which is the first step on the way to deciding that what's available right now just might be good enough for present purposes.</p><p><br></p><p>If I didn't already have an i7 Book with Power Base, I'd be all over the new ones. I'm not sure the 15-inch version is completely necessary for my purposes, but I like the high-end performance specs whether I need them or not. Anyway, too much of anything is always enough. I have a suspicion that I will own one within the next several months, but for the moment I will suppress my inclination to be an early adopter.</p>

  • SRLRacing

    16 November, 2017 - 10:55 am

    <p>The combination of the Intel U series quad core and the 1060 is really unique in the market at the moment. I have been looking everywhere for this combination for a friend in the market and would happily recommend this (myself owning a performance base Surface Book) if it weren't so far out of their price range.</p>

  • Kevin

    16 November, 2017 - 11:02 am

    <p>Hello Paul,</p><p>I've always enjoyed your reviews.&nbsp;Will you do an analysis of Steam VR on the Surface Book 2? I have the original i7/16gb/512GB/dGPU version and I'm torn right now as to whether or not to upgrade.&nbsp;I want to try MR as a work solution with multiple RDP, Web, and Monitoring screens up for me in a VR environment (I'm a sysadmin), and I'd like to also use Steam VR for mobile gaming now that it supports MR.&nbsp;The current recommended spec for Steam VR is a N1070.&nbsp;How do you feel the 1060 and the quad core SB2 will fare for Steam VR?</p>

  • Vladimir Carli

    Premium Member
    16 November, 2017 - 11:59 am

    <p>one big question is how games look in 1080p resolution on the screen? The gpu is not viable for gaming at the native resolution</p>

  • Daishi

    Premium Member
    16 November, 2017 - 8:46 pm

    <p>Hi Paul</p><p><br></p><p>The Verge, and I believe Window Central though I haven't read their review, are reporting that the power supply that comes with the Surfacebook 2 isn't able to maintain its charge under heavy usage such as gaming. Apparently Microsoft have told them they think its a faulty charger, though this didn't convince them enough to delay publishing until it was confirmed one way or the other.</p><p><br></p><p>Would you be able to test whether this is something you see as well?</p><p><br></p><p>Cheers</p>

  • PincasX

    17 November, 2017 - 1:40 pm

    <p>I realize this is simply an esthetic thing but I really do not like that accordion hinge thing or that it doesn't close all the way. But overall a pretty solid upgrade. </p>

  • Jeremy Petzold

    18 November, 2017 - 5:31 pm

    <p>I want this device so much….I plan to save up and replace my desktop with it. </p><p><br></p><p>Paul, could you do a review of it with respect to docking to a dual monitor setup? I see bad reviews from buyers of the MS Surface dock but I think it is because of old firmware that can be updated. Need to know for sure.</p>

  • Jeremy Petzold

    18 November, 2017 - 5:41 pm

    <p> I think I have to plan for a SB 3 purchase. </p>

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    22 November, 2017 - 6:29 am

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  • Tech_Support

    23 November, 2017 - 12:38 am

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