Understanding the Expanded Surface Book Lineup

Posted on October 31, 2016 by Paul Thurrott in Microsoft Surface with 26 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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