Microsoft Surface Book with Performance Base First Impressions

Posted on January 26, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Microsoft Surface with 21 Comments

Microsoft Surface Book with Performance Base First Impressions

Surface Book with Performance Base is billed as the most powerful Surface Book yet, thanks to its pumped-up GPU. I finally have one in for review, and I’m eager to see whether this improvement justifies the added expense.

To be clear, Surface Book with Performance Base isn’t so much a new model of Surface Book as it is a range of model choices. You may recall that when Microsoft first started selling Surface Book in late 2015 that the firm offered a variety of models, some with a dedicated GPU (dGPU) and some without. Surface Book with Performance Base somewhat complicates this model matrix, as there are now three new Surface Book models with a newer, better dGPU. And Microsoft is still offering the original dGPU-based models too.

If you are truly confused by this, I have a complete rundown of the 10 Surface Book models in Understanding the Expanded Surface Book Lineup. But if you look at just the Intel Core i7-based models, what you’ll see is that there are three with the original dGPU and then three new Performance Base models with the new dGPU. Prices for the “old” models range from $2099 to $3199, while prices for the Performance Base models range from $2399 to $3299.

But here’s where things get interesting.

You would think that each Surface Book with Performance Base model is $300 more than the corresponding original model. But that is only true of the “base model”—at these rarefied price points, the term “base model” is perhaps oxymoronic—which in both cases provides 8 GB of RAM and 256 GB of fast SSD storage.

But for the two other sets of models, with 16 GB/512 GB and 16 GB/1 TB, respectively, the price difference between original dGPU and Performance Base models is only $100. This, I think puts Surface Book with Performance Based into “no-brainer” territory, assuming, that is, that you’ve already decided you want a high-end Surface Book and have resigned to spending $2700 or more on such a purchase.

You can compare these prices on the Surface Book website to see for yourself. In this image, the Performance Base models are marked “NEW.”

For my coming review, I received the highest-end model. But since all Surface Book with Performance Base models include the same improved dGPU—-an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 965M with 2 GB of dedicated RAM—any model would suffice to understand the performance differences between this and the old dGPU-based Surface Books. Certainly, the dGPU in Performance Base is a nice improvement over the dGPU in the original models, which has just 1 GB of RAM and roughly equates to an NVIDIA 940M. (Microsoft says only that this dGPU is a custom NVIDIA “Maxwell” dGPU.)

Battery life will also be a big focus here. As noted in Thinking About Surface Book with Performance Base last week, Microsoft’s claim here is that Surface Book with Performance Base provides up to 16 hours of battery life, compared to just 12 for the previous models. We shall see. Literally, as I’ll be spending about 16 hours in the air soon.

Performance Base (top) and the previous base.

The ergonomics are interesting with these new Performance Base models as well. As you can see comparing the review unit with the original dGPU-based model I’ve been using for over a year, the base is thicker in order to accompany the new dGPU’s cooling components and more battery, and as a result the keyboard is tilted up towards the back. I haven’t noticed a difference in the typing experience yet, but then it’s only been a short period of time so far.

In hand, the Surface Book with Performance Base is indeed heavier than its predecessor, as expected. This isn’t a huge deal, and I think we as an industry often get a little too excited about thin/light when going just slightly thicker/heavier can bring huge improvements to performance and battery life. Here, I think Microsoft has achieved a better balance than Apple: Surface Book with Performance Base is a power user machine, and few will dispute that.

I believe the power supply brick is bigger and beefier than the ones that shipped with previous Surface Books. And that the top half of the device (the Clipboard) is unchanged. I will verify both, but given that the bottom (base) part was changed, I’m a bit surprised we don’t see any port improvements. Even a single USB-C port would be nice.

More in the review.


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