Understanding the Expanded Surface Book Lineup

Posted on October 31, 2016 by Paul Thurrott in Microsoft Surface with 22 Comments

Understanding the Expanded Surface Book Lineup

While I was told months ago not to expect a Surface Book 2 at this month’s Windows 10 event, Microsoft has nonetheless expanded the existing product lineup with several new models. Here’s what Microsoft’s Surface Book lineup looks like today.

Surface Book, in case you missed it, is Microsoft’s detachable laptop. Each model features an Intel Core i5 or i7 processor, 8 to 16 GB of RAM, 128 GB to 1 TB of speedy SSD storage, and a 13.5-inch 3000 x 2000 (267 ppi) PixelSense Display with a 3:2 aspect ratio. That display contains the “guts” of the PC and a small battery, and it can be detached from the keyboard base and used like a giant tablet that Microsoft calls a clipboard. Some higher-end Surface Book models also feature a dedicated graphics processor (dGPU) with either 1 or 2 GB of RAM.

Surface Book debuted in October 2015 with several models, but it has expanded this product line a few times since. A model with a 1 TB SSD was added in early 2016, and this month Microsoft announced higher-end Performance Base models with a revised keyboard design and a speedier dGPU with more RAM.

So here’s what the lineup looks like today, ahead of an expected Spring 2017 release of Surface Book 2. Models are listed in order of price, with the least-expensive model first.

Surface Book i5/8 GB/128 GB

Price: $1499
Availability: October 2015
Processor 6th generation (Skylake) Intel Core i5
RAM: 8 GB
Storage: 128 GB
Dedicated GPU: No

Surface Book i5/8 GB/256 GB

Price: $1699
Availability: October 2015
Processor 6th generation (Skylake) Intel Core i5
RAM: 8 GB
Storage: 256 GB
Dedicated GPU: No

What you’re paying extra for: $200 to upgrade from a 128 GB SSD to a 256 GB SSD.

Is this a good upgrade? Yes, if you need the additional storage.

Surface Book i5/8 GB/256 GB/dGPU

Price: $1899
Availability: October 2015
Processor 6th generation (Skylake) Intel Core i5
RAM: 8 GB
Storage: 256 GB
Dedicated GPU: YES

What you’re paying extra for: $200 for an NVIDIA GeForce dGPU with 1 GB of GDDR5 memory.

Is this a good upgrade? No. The dGPU in this model provides little advantage for most productivity workers, is not suitable for video games, and will impact battery life slightly.

Surface Book i5/8 GB/512 GB

Price: $1999
Availability: October 2016 (NEW)
Processor 6th generation (Skylake) Intel Core i5
RAM: 8 GB
Storage: 512 GB
Dedicated GPU: No

What you’re paying extra for: $300 over the Surface Book i5/8 GB/256 GB model to upgrade from 256 GB to 512 GB of storage.

Is this a good upgrade? No, unless you really need that additional storage.

Surface Book i7/8 GB/256 GB/dGPU

Price: $2099
Availability: October 2015
Processor 6th generation (Skylake) Intel Core i7
RAM: 8 GB
Storage: 256 GB
Dedicated GPU: YES

What you’re paying extra for: $200 to upgrade from the i5/8 GB/256 GB/dGPU model to an Intel Core i7 processor. (Note that NVIDIA GeForce dGPU with 1 GB of GDDR5 memory is not suitable for video games.)

Is this a good upgrade? No. A RAM increase would be far more beneficial than the slight gains you will see moving from a Core i5 to a Core i7 processor.

Surface Book with Performance Base i7/8 GB/256 GB/dGPU

Price: $2399
Availability: October 2016 (NEW)
Processor 6th generation (Skylake) Intel Core i7
RAM: 8 GB
Storage: 256 GB
Dedicated GPU: YES

What you’re paying extra for: $300 for the new Performance Base, which includes the new NVIDIA GeForce GTX 965M dGPU with 2 GB of RAM.

Is this a good upgrade? Yes, assuming you need that graphical horsepower. This dGPU is allegedly suitable for video games, though I’ve not yet tested this.

Surface Book i7/16 GB/512 GB/dGPU

Price: $2699
Availability: October 2015
Processor 6th generation (Skylake) Intel Core i7
RAM: 16 GB
Storage: 512 GB
Dedicated GPU: YES

What you’re paying extra for: $600 to upgrade from the i7/8 GB/256 GB/dGPU model to 16 GB of RAM and 512 GB of storage. So you’re basically paying $300 for each of those upgrades. (This version includes the lower-end NVIDIA GeForce dGPU with 1 GB of GDDR5 memory.)

Is this a good upgrade? No. $300 is an obscene price for an additional 8 GB of RAM, as is $300 for 256 GB more storage. What I’d like to see is a Core i7/16 GB/256 GB/dGPU model for the same price as the i7/8 GB/256 GB/dGPU model. Or any version of Surace Book with 16 GB of RAM for less than $2700.

Surface Book with Performance Base i7/16 GB/512 GB/dGPU

Price: $2799
Availability: October 2016 (NEW)
Processor 6th generation (Skylake) Intel Core i7
RAM: 16 GB
Storage: 512 GB
Dedicated GPU: YES

What you’re paying extra for: $400 to upgrade the Performance Base i7/8 GB/256 GB/dGPU model to 16 GB of RAM (from 8 GB) and 512 GB of storage (from 256). This model includes the new NVIDIA GeForce GTX 965M dGPU with 2 GB of RAM.

Is this a good upgrade? Yes. Here, the RAM and storage upgrades collectively are $200 less expensive than with lower-end Surface Book models.

Surface Book i7/16 GB/1 TB/dGPU

Price: $3199
Availability: January 2016
Processor 6th generation (Skylake) Intel Core i7
RAM: 16 GB
Storage: 1 TB
Dedicated GPU: YES

What you’re paying extra for: $500 to upgrade from 512 GB of SSD storage to 1 TB. (This model includes the lesser NVIDIA GeForce dGPU with 1 GB of GDDR5 memory.)

Is this a good upgrade? No, unless you really need that storage: 1 TB of SSD is very expensive.

Surface Book with Performance Base i7/16 GB/1 TB/dGPU

Price: $3299
Availability: October 2016 (NEW)
Processor 6th generation (Skylake) Intel Core i7
RAM: 16 GB
Storage: 1 TB
Dedicated GPU: YES

What you’re paying extra for: $500 to upgrade the Performance Base i7/16 GB/512 GB/dGPU model from 512 GB of SSD storage to 1 TB. This model includes the new NVIDIA GeForce GTX 965M dGPU with 2 GB of RAM.

Is this a good upgrade? No, unless you really need that storage: 1 TB of SSD is very expensive. But this model is only $100 more than the i7/16 GB/1 TB/dGPU model, which includes the older dGPU. If you do need 1 TB of storage, this is the one to get.

A few notes.

  • The Surface Book i5/8 GB/512 GB is new to October 2016 and wasn’t previously announced, I think.
  • Surface Book needs more 16 GB RAM options, I think.
  • The performance difference between a Core i5 and i7 processor is minimal.
  • Unless your a graphics professional or someone else who really needs copious amounts of storage, you can save a lot of money by sticking to the lower-end of the range, storage-wise.

So what’s the sweet spot here?

If I were spending my own money, I would buy the base model. But if Microsoft did offer a Surface Book i5/16 GB/128 GB for $1699, the same price as the Surface Book i5/8 GB/256 GB model, that would be my choice.

That said, $1499 to $1699 is a lot of money for a Core i5 laptop. A MacBook Pro with a Core i5, 8 GB of RAM, and 256 GB of storage costs the same $1499 (though the version with the Touch Bar is $1799).

I’d be much more inclined to buy the 2016 HP Spectre x360: That PC with the same specs costs just $1049, a savings of $400. But you lose pen support, which may matter to some, and the Surface Book’s 3:2 display is superior. On the flipside, Surface Book has been unreliable.

Thankfully, we have choice. And if you are in the market for Surface Book, you suddenly have tons of choice.

 

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Comments (26)

26 responses to “Understanding the Expanded Surface Book Lineup”

  1. 2

    Randomly, it occurred to me after posting this that Microsoft should offer the Performance Base as an upgrade to existing Surface Book customers. I wonder how much such a thing would/should cost? The issue is that not everyone started with a dGPU so this makes the upgrade cost a bit unfair for those who did.

  2. 1534

    My Surface Book is an i7/16GB/512GB model. Since my avocation is digital photography and I use Adobe Lightroom/Photoshop CC extensively, this configuration is ideal for me. Using the pen for retouching directly on the screen works very well. Lightroom and Photoshop make very good use of the dGPU.

    I keep all of my data and images on OneDrive and currently use over half of my 512GB local storage. I subscribe to Office 365 and that gives me 1TB of storage on OneDrive.

    My next Surface Book will be 1TB or larger.

  3. 7636

    "On the flipside, Surface Book has been unreliable"

    Don't agree Paul. I'm using it from the start. Of course there were issues, specially the one with the sleep mode was the worst, but that is fixed and personally I don't face any other problem. 

  4. 591

    "This dGPU is allegedly suitable for video games" my son had his Surface Book when we visited a Microsoft store yesterday. He detached his screen and put it on a display Performance Base. He was able to load a game in 3k resolution and it ran well.

     

    While he did that I connected my 950xl to the x3 lap dock. That also worked without major issues. Though that dock needs more work as even with the x3 itself responds slowly when attached, unlike the desktop dock.

  5. 6844

    Comparing the price to a MBP isn't quite fair considering SurfaceBook is a 2 in 1.

  6. 7644

    I'd like to see them do a simple laptop in the yoga mold, when I tried one the other day, I was surprised it didn't fold back, the hinge suggests flexibility to me. It's a great look and MS is getting better with software support, so it would be nice if they filled in the range a bit. The Surface 4 is still very compromised as a laptop/tablet replacement.

    Perhaps simply a more robust base for the Surface Pro - one with a hinge that holds the tablet bit in place?

  7. 899

    "But you lose pen support, which may matter to some..." In my case at least replace "may" with "does." I'm not an artist. But as a product manager and part time teacher of electronics (at night ... for fun), I often need to quickly capture ideas that include sketches, equations, or even circuits. I could and sometimes still do use a pencil and paper. But more often I use a Surface Pro 3 and OneNote. The advantage of the latter approach is that my notes are automatically saved and searchable. Plus I end up with far fewer stacks of yellow legal pads in my office ... which I'll probably never get around to reviewing. So when I eventually replace my SP3 with a newer tablet/notebook, a pen and digitizer will be a requirement.

  8. 5611

    Is it me, or have they increased the height of the keyboard at the rear, making it more angled? If so, that would reduce the gap when closed, and therefore negate many reasons for changing the hinge. It's probably how they managed to fit bigger batteries.

  9. 341

    Can you get the best of both worlds with the Yoga 900S model? Is that actually a competing model here or not really?

  10. 5530

    I thought the surface book is reliable now? If I was spending my own money I would definitely buy a XPS 13 or HP spectre x360 though.

    • 7414

      In reply to FalseAgent:

      I've had the base SB since shortly after it was released, and the only problem I had was the already mentioned sleep issue.  I've been using hibernate instead for a year and it has always worked flawlessly.

      I don't have any data to back this up but it appears that most of the hardware issues I've seen reported were with the SBs that have the dedicated GPU in the base.  I went with the base SB for financial reasons but it looks like the less sophisticated machine may have been a good choice.  Or luck.  I can live with that.

  11. 5767

    Paul - is Surface Book still unreliable? 

  12. 2960

    In reply to paul-thurrott:

    I agree that there should be some form of upgrade/rebate availability for those of us who have a i7/512 Surface with the original dGPU. It would be really nice to update my OG surface device.

    On a related note, as a "normal person" upgrade ring user, my SurfaceBook just got a fairly major set of firmware updates, including specific firmware for the Surface "Base," Geforce GPU, Embedded Controller, System Aggregator, Bluetooth Radio, and Wireless AC Controller.

  13. 5842

    "Is this a good upgrade" is rather worthless. For some reason upgrade from 128GB to 256GB for $200 is good but from 256GB to 512GB for $300 is not. It just does not make sense without context. For me 256GB is not enough. I can barely fit my software and work data into 512GB SSD. So 128-256 upgrade is worthless and 256-512 is good. At the same time GPU upgrade is worthless as I am not going to play games or use software that would utilize GPU on surface.

     

  14. 6242

    It is all about the battery life for me. I have my pre-order in on a new one solely for the extra battery life.

    Has anyone noticed the keyboard seems to be inset on the new models compared to the originals?

     

     

  15. 3272

    I would wait until next year for a Surface Book with a dedicated GPU. I would imagine the Surface Book refresh next year will include a 1050 or even a 1060. They are both a huge jump over the 965m currently being offered. That's the time to splurge on a Surface Book with a dedicated GPU

  16. 5285

    I wonder why Microsoft is using a 2 year old NVIDIA gx965 series introduced in Jan 2015 when the 10 series has been out for about a year. Why not a 1060, oh I know, because they'll sell that next year or the year after.

    Here is an example of the 1060 being almost twice as many frames per second compared to the 960 from August 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hPTnXRZCRHg

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