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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Comments (21)

21 responses to “Microsoft Surface Book with Performance Base First Impressions”

  1. Avatar

    5240

    $3,299? Why the bargain basement price?

  2. Avatar

    5530

    I imagine this will absolutely take off once they put the NVidia GTX 1060 in it. Shouldn't be a problem - it's a smaller, more efficient GPU than the 960M. For now, for people that want the FPS more than the pen, they should look at the competition.

  3. Avatar

    2585

    I have a Surface Book i7 with original dGPU base.

    Curiously, the dGPU is rarely ever leveraged by the OS or the apps I run. The OS prefers using the embedded HD graphics, as verified by GPU-Z.

    I changed the default in the NVidia control panel to favor the dGPU, but then you can't easily undock the tablet as it is tied up with the base.

    Compounding the issue, it doesn't appear that monitors attached via Surface Dock EVER use the dGPU - again, validated by GPU-Z and with a noticeable performance difference in game FPS.

    So I moved the default graphics back to "Auto" (which is the HD Graphics, essentially) and I can now undock easily again.

    When is the dGPU actually leveraged by apps/OS? What governs when the dGPU is tapped? If it is tapped, can one undock the tablet from the base?

     

  4. Avatar

    5553

    Whew...going slightly positive after hours.

  5. Avatar

    5553

    Conference call is great ! Cha Ching !!! $$$

    Wait Amy Hood is on...maybe not good ?

    Wow Office growing like wildfire.

    Linked in killing off profits.

    Windows and PC growing.

    Phone declined 80%+ lol

     

  6. Avatar

    428

    I bought mine (i7 / 512 Gb / GTX 965m) back in november, I really like it. I know that I could have something more powerful for less, but I wanted a 2 in 1 device with good battery life and a dedicated GPU. In those parameters, the Surface Book is almost alone.

    2 weeks ago I also got the Surface Dock and the device replaced my old desktop PC.

    • Avatar

      1147

      In reply to tremblaymax:  More than "just to be fair", the build quality and feel of the SB is the best there is.  The gold standard as it were.  I too got the Surface dock and the SB has been my desktop and laptop and tablet for 6-8 months now.  I would not pay twice as much for my i7 512 non-enhanced base, but I am preparing to pay up to $3,500 for a SB 2 as long as it has, say, a 3.5 GHz i7 512, 16MB, an enhanced dGPU, a real 16hr battery but more importantly a bit more tablet-only battery as well. (By preparing I mean preparing my home banker for the expense without getting cut off). I am not into IT but am an inveterate note taker in WAAAYYY too many public policy and community planning board meetings.  
    • Avatar

      442

      In reply to tremblaymax:

      I know, the pricing is hard.  You can easily get a Dell gaming laptop, i7, 256 SSD, GTX960 4K touch screen for $900.  Plus easily upgrade the hard drive (even add one for 2 drives) and the memory.  But not as small or as good on battery.  Trade offs, eh?

  7. Avatar

    412

    Looking forward to your review. I guess my needs are now because the current GPU on my Surface Book has played every game I've thrown at it and has rendered video in good time. Of course, I've had to lower some of the games from their highest settings but they are still very playable. 

  8. Avatar

    10228

    Big Question: Can it do dual 4k monitors at 60hz?

    Many of us were sorely disappointed by marketing saying the Surface Book could handle dual 4k displays.. to then find out later only at 30hz.

    Strangely, you can actually "hack" a Surface Pro to do it by using both the surface conncet and displayport simultaneously. For some reason, probably due to the funky configuration of the dual gpu setup, this is *not* possible on the Surface Book in either configuration.

    Maybe the new one can? Or is that the USB-based surface connect still just too bandwidth starved?

  9. Avatar

    699

    Yay! Can't wait to see what your impressions are. Personally, I'm waiting for the alleged Surface Book 2. I have the base model Surface Book and I absolutely love it, using it right now. (After 6 months of pulling my hair out, that is. Now it works flawlessly.)

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