Microsoft Surface Book i7
Using the same Clipboard tablet to run the show with an enhanced base housing a larger battery and stronger graphics, the new Surface Book – first introduced as the “Surface Book i7” – vastly improves on the capabilities of last year’s 2015 model. In fact, the improvements are enough to put the Surface Book neck-and-neck with the new – and, in many cases, well beyond it.
If you work in a creative digital field, you should seriously consider the Surface Book with Performance Base – maybe even before the new MacBook Pro models. However, whether you should pick up the new-and-improved Surface Book depends on how badly you need or want those improvements now versus waiting for the eventual Surface Book 2.
Price and availability
Of course, you’re going to pay up more for a more powerful Surface Book, but that doesn’t make the digits sting any less. The Surface Book with Performance Base starts – starts – at $2,399 (about £1,939, AU$3,305) with a 256GB solid-state drive and 8GB of RAM.
[Editor’s Note: the Surface Book with Performance Base won’t hit the UK until early 2017, we’re told.]
Bump up the storage and RAM to 512GB and 16GB, respectively, and the price skyrockets to $2,799, while a 1TB storage configuration tops out at a whopping $3,299. All models come with the same dual-core Intel Core i7-6600U processor used in the first models at the high end and a new (for it, at least) Nvidia GeForce GTX 965M graphics chip.
Pricing like this all but guarantees that most purchases toward this machine will be from folks in the creative industry – big or small firms alike. The average user would be delighted by such a sublime device, but could probably find something close to that experience elsewhere for far less. Like, the current Surface Book, perhaps.
Design and features
The general look about the Surface Book hasn’t changed at all in this revision, save for a slight thickening of the base that’s noticeable only with both models side-by-side. Despite this, the two models are identical in thickness at 22.8mm at their thickest point.
How is this so?
Because the clever engineers at Microsoft raised the height of the base and filled in the existing gap between the Surface Book’s two halves. The result is a keyboard deck that bubbles up to pool around the function keys and substantially taller vents. However, it’s all tapered in a way that maintains the original thickness of its sides while meshing with the returning fulcrum hinge.
Of course, this model definitely sees an increase in density, from the 3.48-pound version of last year to the 3.63-pound revision this year. You can chalk most of this up to a larger battery to compensate for the increased power needs.
Beyond these points, just about nothing else regarding the Surface Book design changes. You’re still treated to the same brushed magnesium frame encasing both the Clipboard and Performance Base.
And, the typing and tracking experiences feel largely the same as before – perhaps the keyboard travel is slightly deeper. But, if so, the change is too subtle for us to notice.
Finally, the same 3,000 x 2,000-pixel touchscreen in 3:2 aspect ratio looks as gorgeous as ever and feels just as lightning quick to respond to our touches.
The new ultimate creative’s laptop?
All of the modes and features put forth in the first Surface Book iteration work just fine, if not better here. (Removing the Clipboard from the base isn’t noticeably any faster with the new hardware inside, though.)
Microsoft’s more powerful Surface Book does everything the original could, but markedly better in some key areas to creative professionals, like photo- and-video editors and designers.
Do the new processor and GPU make the device better as a drawing device than before? Not necessarily, but the component gains will sure make demanding creation apps, like Lightroom and Illustrator from Adobe, work much more smoothly.
Not only that, but we expect the new-and-improved Surface Book to be a stronger candidate for 3D animators than before, judging from how well it performed rendering 3D graphics in our various gaming benchmarks.
The Surface Book doesn’t have to prove itself again on its merits. Drawing on the display is as much of a delight as ever, not to mention accurate, and removing or repositioning the Clipboard is still a relatively seamless affair.
A much bigger battery and improved graphics power – 20% and 131% gains, respectively! – help solidify the Surface Book with Performance Base as an incredible proposition to creators with an incredible price tag to match.
While the Performance Base’s massive power gains do plenty toward justifying the improved Surface Book’s astronomical price tag, they don’t change the number: $2,399 (about £1,939, AU$3,305) to start. Alas, let’s not look at this in a vacuum – how does its archnemesis, the MacBook Pro, stack up?
Well, to get close to this new Surface Book – spec for spec – with an Apple machine, you’d have to buy the new, “entry-level” for the same price: $2,399 (£2,349, AU$3,599). That said, this sizable sum will get you twice as much RAM from Apple and a comparable AMD Radeon Pro 450 with an equal 2GB of video memory.
You’re getting a bigger display – though less pixel-rich at only a 2,880 x 1,800 resolution – and twice as much multitasking power from the new MacBook Pro for the same price. Of course, you’re missing out on an entire tablet for the second half of the actual creating part. Oh, and that Microsoft’s latest includes a full-size SD card reader where Apple’s doesn’t hugely works in its favor for some crowds.
All said, if you’re just looking for a convertible Windows laptop or tablet and aren’t much of a creator type – more of a consumer – there are plenty of options that don’t cost over two grand. If it’s a tablet you crave, then Microsoft’s own offers much of the same touch experience for half as much cash. On the laptop side of the 2-in-1 equation, the and could serve you well for more than $1,000 less.
Ultimately, the newest Surface Book’s value depends a lot on whether you sit in the niche that it’s designed to serve. If you create digital art or design of any sort, especially with a stylus and digitizer at some point in the process, then this is a pretty remarkable deal over most combinations of mobile workstation and digital drawing surface, Apple’s latest laptops included.
The number one reason you’re buying the updated Surface Book in the first place does not disappoint in the slightest. With the quad-core processor and new, stronger graphics combined, the Surface Book with Performance Base blows its predecessor out of the water in nearly every regard, including battery life.
Take the 3DMark: Fire Strike result, for instance. That’s a 131% gain from our test of last year’s model, and about as strong as some of last year’s . Not that the Surface Book with Performance Base is about this at all, but rest easy knowing this workhorse can double as an enviable Hearthstone machine while on lunch.
What the impressive gaming benchmarks are more telling of is the laptop’s ability to render graphics for the purposes of digital animation and other creative work. The test results make it clear that the Performance Base version of the Surface Book is far better suited to meet the needs of creatives that also happen to be power users. (In the modern world of media, the two tend to intersect often.)
Now, surely this massive power boost comes at the cost of juice?