The Microsoft Surface Book Reviewby Brett Howse on November 10, 2015 8:00 AM EST
When Microsoft first launched the Surface Pro, they decided to tackle a market that was pretty much untested. Sure, tablets had been around for a while already, but no one had packed a full Ultrabook inside of a tablet. True, the initial Surface Pro had some compromises made due to the hardware available at the time, but Microsoft started to build a brand with Surface, a brand that they lifted from another product line altogether. It’s taken a few generations for the hardware to catch up with that original vision, but I think it’s fair to say that the Surface Pro tablet line has solidified itself as the Windows tablet to beat. The build quality, materials, and performance, are really second to none at this time.
I’m talking about branding because it’s one of the most difficult parts of a new product lineup. Microsoft, perhaps more than most companies, has certainly had its struggles with branding over the years. Surface though, has truly been defined, and molded, and evolved, into a strong brand for the company, and it plays right at the high end. And that brings us to Surface Book. Surface Book is an extension of the Surface brand, and Microsoft now wants to try its hands at the laptop market. Their goals for Surface Book are certainly not the same as they were for the original Surface Pro, since the laptop market is already well defined, and there are already many excellent devices available. For Microsoft to throw their hat in the ring in this segment is a much different proposition than before, and to succeed, as well as to continue to evolve the Surface brand, they set out to build what they are calling “The Ultimate Laptop”.
Surface Book certainly keeps the tradition of Surface alive and well. The 13.5-inch laptop has the same 3:2 aspect ratio of the rest of the Surface line, and it is built out of magnesium with the same finish. The fit and finish is very high, and the entire device feels as premium as it should. I think the defining feature of the Surface tablet lineup is the kickstand, and with the Surface Book it is most certainly the hinge. The hinge on the Surface Book is truly unlike anything ever used on a notebook computer before, and while it may not be to everyone’s taste, it certainly draws comments. The hinge, other than a design element, brings a lot of function to the party as well, with it being a key component to keeping this laptop balanced correctly. Balance is generally not an issue with laptops, but the Surface Book has another trick up its sleeve – the display detaches. The Surface Book is hardly the first device to do this, but it is one of the few that has tried to tackle the balance problem with 2-in-1 devices where the screen detaches, and the hinge is a key component to that. Microsoft calls it a Dynamic Fulcrum Hinge, and it extends the base of the laptop slightly to give it more leverage over the display section.
The design is unique, and what is inside is unique as well, at least potentially. There are two models of the Surface Book. The first model is a typical Ultrabook inside, with an Intel Core i5-6300U processor, but the second model is the only detachable laptop which also has a discrete GPU. There are a couple of reasons this has never been done before, with the main reason being it’s very difficult to dissipate the extra heat that a GPU brings to the table. Microsoft has designed the Surface Book with a GPU which lives in the keyboard base, with the rest of the required components behind the display. This gives them two thermal zones, and by moving the GPU to the base like this, it lets the Surface Book cool the CPU and GPU independently. The extra space in the keyboard is then packed with batteries.
|Core i5||Core i5 w/GPU||Core i7 w/GPU|
|GPU||Intel HD 520||Intel +
"NVIDIA GeForce" (Approx. GT 940M) w/1GB GDDR5
|CPU||6th Generation Intel Core i5-6300U (15w)||6th Generation Intel Core i7-6600U (15w)|
|Display||13.5" IPS 3000x2000 resolution
1800:1 Contrast Ratio
100% sRGB, individually calibrated
10 point touch and Pen support
|Storage||PCIe 3.0 SSD 128 GB to 1 TB|
|I/O||USB 3.0 x 2 (In Base)
SD Card reader (In Base)
Surface Connector (In Tablet and Base)
(mm) : 232 x 312 x 13.0-22.8
(inches) : 9.14 x 12.3 x 0.51-0.90
(mm) : 220.2 x 312.3 x 7.7
(inches) : 8.67 x 12.3 x 0.30
1.515 kg / 3.34 lbs
726 g / 1.6 lbs
1.579 kg / 3.48 lbs
726 g / 1.6 lbs
|Camera||Windows Hello (Front)
8 MP Rear Facing
5 MP Front Facing
Looking at the specifications, one thing to point out is the battery capacity. Most Ultrabooks would average somewhere around 50 Wh of capacity, with a few somewhat higher and a few somewhat lower. By combining the battery in the tablet, which Microsoft calls the Clipboard, with the base, the Surface Book has an amazing 70 Wh of battery capacity. This should help out on battery life, assuming the 3000x2000 display doesn’t drag that down. The rest of the Surface Book is pretty similar to the Surface Pro 4, with PCIe NVMe storage options up to 1 TB, and touch and pen support via the PixelSense display. There are also two USB 3.0 ports in the base, along with a DisplayPort output, and the Surface Connect port which is used for charging, as well as connecting the Surface Dock. There are no ports on the Clipboard at all, with the exception of the Surface Connect port, so if you are using the Clipboard on its own, you will have to dock it to access USB. Like the Surface Pro 4, it would have been nice to see a USB Type-C port included, and the Clipboard would be a perfect spot for that.
Microsoft is calling the Surface Book “The Ultimate Laptop” and that is a pretty lofty goal for a first generation product. In this review, we will examine all aspects of the Surface Book and see how they compare to the best laptops around. Let’s start with the design.
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s.yu - Sunday, November 15, 2015 - linkI want to upvote you, Anandtech should add the feature.
Vicli - Thursday, November 12, 2015 - linkWhether the surface book PCMark8 work score is improved by its dGPU?how many scores will be improved compared to w/o dGPU
eldakka - Thursday, November 12, 2015 - linkThe configuration options seem terribly limited. Why can't the SSD options be completely selectable, 128GB-1TB, independent of the amount of RAM or CPU chosen?
A 12.1" version (with suitably down-rated components as necessary for the smaller form-factor) with USB-C on the tablet would be tempting if priced right.
s.yu - Sunday, November 15, 2015 - linkI never reckoned this would bother someone. Anyone who only needs 8GB of RAM shouldn't need any more than 256GB of SSD, and anyone who needs 16GB of RAM shouldn't need less than 256GB of SSD, should be the norm.
But the real reason should be to prevent people getting 16GB/128GB and swapping out the SSD by themselves ;)
This doesn't seem possible now, but should be possible in the future with more SSD models released, also in "free" markets like China they'll be available on the web when spare parts are abundant.
BrokenCrayons - Friday, November 13, 2015 - linkThe problem with the Surface Book's top-heavy tendencies is only partly mitigated by the hinge. We have a couple at work and people who are using them say they're still pretty unstable. I think getting rid of the upper battery and removing the detachment mechanism would have gone a long way in giving the Surface Book better balance. The other problem the hinge design introduces is the gap which means that when the SB is closed, it won't have the benefit of the upper and lower halves of the system acting in a mutually supportive manner to forces accidentally applied to the top or bottom which might result in unintended bending that wouldn't have happened with a better hinge that allows the screen to rest onto the base.
I really think Microsoft would have a better product in the second generation if they move all the electronics to the base and deepen it somewhat so the motherboard and battery can all fit. They could also recess the keyboard into the base so the tops of the keys are flush. The screen could be made thinner to make up for some of the extra base thickness and the hinge could be redesigned to remove the flaw of it's big gap that not only demonstrates sloppy design, but also is unappealing to the eye. A good target for Microsoft to model their computer after would be the Latitude e6440 laptop which is a lot more capable, suffers none of the balance problems, and has a very nice keyboard, but I don't think MS would be able to offer it at a competitive price point. The existing SB cost is extremely high for the given hardware and ought to be lower given the flawed hinge and poor design decision with the raised keyboard.
s.yu - Sunday, November 15, 2015 - linkYou're absolutely right about those two issues. But since this still is a Surface, MS will have to make it part tablet no matter what, IMO.
Instability in the lap is still reported occasionally in reviews, no doubt due to the top-heavy construction, and as I said before, they should use lithium alloy like Lavie Z only in the top portion to deal with this, but some fanboys disagree. Nothing's gonna change the design of their "ultimate laptop"!
One reviewer made the strangest decision to step onto the hinge with the Book open to see if it held. I think he's just a fanboy trying to deceive people into thinking the design is flawless because no force IRL would be applied that way. If he stood on the middle of the *tablet* section, with the Book *closed*, and the tablet section/Surface connectors still didn't snap, that would answer the question.
Total Meltdowner - Friday, November 13, 2015 - linkSlowly but surely, the mutation which is a "tablet computer" is evolving back into a regular laptop. Hilarious.
chrisnyc75 - Friday, November 13, 2015 - linkGreat review! But I'd like to see it updated with results vs the new Dell XPS 15 (skylake & 960m) rather than last year's Haswell model, at least on the gaming tests if not all of them (though I think it would be an apt comparison point for all of the tests as the XPS 15 is roughly the same size/weight as the Surface Book, and prominently features 4k touch-screen as a primary feature, even if it's not actually a 2-in-1. A lot of people are still going to see the XPS 15 (not just the 13) as a direct alternative to the Surface Book)
s.yu - Sunday, November 15, 2015 - link1. I don't think it supports pen input. Short as the battery life on the clipboard is it's useful for note taking.
2.It's still noticably bigger, and...does it still have that big battery option from the old model? Otherwise the battery would be really small.
chrisnyc75 - Sunday, November 15, 2015 - linkAll good questions, and exactly why I'd like to see the XPS15 added to the comparison. Sure, the SB detaches, which can be useful, but the very existence of the Surface Book is owed to the fact that tablet sales have been in rapid decline across the market. Putting that bit aside (which I realize is missing the whole point of the Surface Book), they're almost exactly the same size & weight, both ~4k resolution, both touchscreens, & both Skylake + nvidia dgpu. As long as you're only pitting the SB against other detachable devices, it's ALWAYS going to come out on top because MS hit a home run with that part....but does anybody care? Enough to overlook a cheaper option (Surface Pro) or one with more power (XPS)? I personally would like to see the nitty-gritty comparison of the two before I decide.