Surface Book I7 Performance Base (Hardware) Review

Surface Book I7 Performance Base (Hardware) Review

With the launch of Windows 10, Microsoft shifted away from a passive player with hardware, diving headfirst into making their own devices. This attention to delivering uniquely Windows experiences is evident in the Surface Book range of laptops. With its fall 2015 launch, the Surface Book gave us a good idea of what to expect from the flagship Windows laptop. Now with 2016 coming to an end, Microsoft has released an update to the line with the Surface Book with Performance Base. While not a true successor to the range, it still manages to be one of the most impressive laptops on the market, even if that power does come with a hefty price tag.

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The Surface Book remains one of the more inventive 2-in-1 laptops currently available, even a year after release. The unique dynamic fulcrum hinge gives the notebook a new futuristic feel. Combine that with the silver magnesium body with beautiful, sharp lines and the Surface Books look straight out of a science fiction film. It’s a stunning 13.5 device that stands a testament of how new laptops should look.

The vibrant 3000×2000 display is completely removable with the simple press of a button, revealing one of the most powerful tablets currently on the market. The 13.5-inch size makes it a great note taking machine, with the help of the included stylus pen.

The real excitement happens when you drop the screen into the dock. This base is much more than a simple keyboard – it allows the real power of this laptop to be unleashed. Packing a NVIDIA GeForce 965M with 2GB, and an extended battery that will extend the life up to 16 total hours. The base gives the system access to power performance users crave. The fact Microsoft was able to pack this all into a form factor that is only marginally heavier than last years model is impressive (3.7 lbs vs. 3.5 lbs).

The model tested was the fully loaded $3,300 rig. This computer comes packed with a high-end I7 CPU, 16GB Ram, 1TB SSD, and the aforementioned Nvidia 965M dedicated graphics chip. This notebook is no slouch, even running multiple tabs, working with Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Premier, there was no noticeable slowdown. The Surface Book hummed along taking every program we could throw at it.

Surface Book I7 Performance Base (Hardware) Review 3With all this horsepower, the Surface Book with Performance Base can run games, and in some cases, very well. It will not replace a dedicated gaming rig, or a modern gaming laptop working with the latest and greatest from the Nvidia 1000 series, but if you are a game player on the go and only have this, you should be able to enjoy even some of the most recent titles.

In our tests, we tried it all, the latest titles from Microsoft first party studios including Forza Horizon 3, Gears of War 4, along with titles such as Civilization VI, Overwatch and Diablo 3. Forza Horizon 3 was the worst of the lot, even with the graphics turned way down and running at 1080P, the Surface Book could not manage to achieve a playable framerate. Gears of War 4, on the other hand, worked surprisingly well. With native resolution running on medium setting and V-Sync off, the Surface Book managed to get a very playable framerate at around 30FPS. It did not look as good as you would see on a well-equipped gaming desktop or even the Xbox One,  but it was very playable. I even managed to get some Multiplayer in a while testing the laptop and saw no issues during high intensity gaming sessions.

Surface Book I7 Performance Base (Hardware) Review 5Civilization VI, as expected, ran as any player would hope. With all settings turned up, running at native resolution, the Surface Book showed no lag or stuttering. The game was a pleasure to play, and with the added touch screen features, was a real joy to play on with the Surface Book. The same can be said for Overwatch and Diablo 3, while both can run well on relatively modest hardware, The Surface Book with performance Base managed over 75FPS at 1920 x 1200, and Diablo 3 maintained an impressive framerate at max settings at native resolution in crowded areas.

Overall the Surface Book surpassed all my gaming expectations. It is an ultraportable 2-in-1 that any gaming enthusiast can use, and not regret. It will not replace that beefy gaming laptop anytime soon, but it also is far more portable for a long trip.

Looking at the 3DMark’s Cloud Gate benchmark we see the Surface Book with Performance Base achieve an impressive score of over 8800. In the more intensive Skydiving test, it squeaked out at over 10,000. Those numbers put it above most gaming laptops from 3-4 years ago, and even above many every day bigger laptops from 2016. There is no denying, the Surface Book with Performance Base is a beast of a machine wrapped in a very stylish package. While it won’t have any chance of running VR on either the Oculus Rift or the HTC Vive, it is hard to expect a laptop in this class to come close to the specs for VR, especially without producing significantly more heat.

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With all its features, the Surface Book would be wasted if it was not enjoyable to use. Thankfully, Microsoft managed to make one of the most comfortable laptops I have ever tested. The keyboard has the perfect level of feedback and travel to make every keystroke satisfying. The glass touchpad is also best in class. Many Windows laptops drop the ball when it comes to the touchpad, making them nearly unusable. Microsoft has managed, by some miracle, to make a touchpad that feels as good as a Mac trackpad, and that is saying something. All touch gestures work as expected, and the size works perfectly on the small form factor device.

The 16-hour battery life that Microsoft boasts, while possible, is not the norm. If you are doing any possessor intensive computing, the Surface Book with Performance Base will archive around 10 hours, and that number could drop to around five if you start any rendering in Premiere. While not the near mythic levels of battery that Microsoft advertises, you should have little issues running the Surface Book in a normal days use without a charger. If you are going on a trip, bring a charger with you, but the peace of mind knowing your laptop will last you through the day is a great feeling.

Microsoft has opted to not drop all standard USB ports and SD Card readers in favour the newer USB type C standard, and that is fine by me. It was refreshing to be able to use the Surface Book for field work and be able to use it with a range of devices without the need for dongles or adapters. All standard cables plugged into the 2 USB 3 Ports on the side, and the SD card, as always, was an invaluable tool to have when taking photos.  The magnetic charging cable was also a welcome sight. I have broken many a laptop by tripping on the charging cable, so the fact I have one less thing to worry about is a relief.

At over $3000 this is not a small investment and something that may set it out of reach of many would-be buyers. But if you have the funds to spend, the Surface Book with Performance Base is a great laptop.  It is the flagship device Microsoft needed, and it is one that any Windows fan should keep in mind this holiday season. Yes, there are cheaper laptops that can do most of what the Surface Book with Performance Base can do, but few look or feel so good doing them.

New Microsoft Surface Book i7 Announced at Windows 10 Livestream

New Microsoft Surface Book i7 Announced at Windows 10 Livestream

The Microsoft Surface Book has been raising eyebrows over the past year. Sleek, powerful and quite expensive, the laptop is essentially Microsoft’s answer to a MacBook Pro. But Microsoft is interested in diversifying their Surface Book offerings, and expanding the laptop into the gaming market. So at today’s Windows 10 livestream event, the tech giant revealed a brand new i7 Surface Book dedicated to gaming.

Read moreNew Microsoft Surface Book i7 Announced at Windows 10 Livestream

Microsoft Surface Book (Laptop) Review

Microsoft Surface Book (Laptop) Review

I remember feeling like the biggest cheese when I got my Microsoft Surface. While other people were bringing their iPad’s to school, thinking they were so great, I would walk up to them and say “Oh yeah? Well does your oversized iPhone have a keyboard and a USB port? Didn’t think so.” Then I would walk away smugly, never letting on that my Surface was a Surface RT, Microsoft’s entry into the tablet market. The existence of the Surface Pro made my unit obsolete and to this day it serves more as a paperweight than anything else, but it was a birthday gift, and one should never look a gift horse in the mouth. If only I had a Microsoft Surface Book, then I could’ve really spun some heads.

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The Surface Book feels like the logical conclusion to the tablet era: built as solid as a dedicated laptop, but allowing for the versatility that comes from a tablet. That may sound like a familiar line from my Spectre review, but this versatility is thanks in no small part to the Surface Book’s detachable screen.

Staying true to the Surface’s design, the tablet screen is not bound to the keyboard, allowing for the full freedom that tablet devices enjoy. As a tablet, the Surface Book comes in at a concise 12.3”x 8.6”x 0.3” fitting easily in almost any backpack (and I might go so far to say, any messenger bag). Even with the keyboard the Surface Book sits at a lean 12.3”x 9.1”x 0.9,” weighing only 3.3lbs.

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On its own, the screen feels durable and offers a crisp 3000×2000 resolution. It’s improved by the inclusion of the Surface Pen, which clips snuggly to the side. While Surface fans may be shocked to find the kickstand missing, the screen attaches to the keyboard on a firm swivel hinge, locking to metallic clips. Users can set the screen facing the keyboard, laptop-style, or reversed so the keyboard acts as the stand (without the worry of sliding the keys around on tables).

Disengaging the tablet can be a bit tricky at times, as the function can be hindered by certain running applications or battery life. This can make the whole affair a bit inconvenient, however, given how sturdy the magnetic clips are it’s a small trade-off for such structural integrity.

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Durability is consistent throughout the whole unit; the keyboard has a sleek, metallic feel and a rigid design. Although, if I have one complaint it comes from the very tight feeling I’ve always felt the Surface tablet keyboards have. The keys feel very squished together and often I hit “s” when looking for “a”. However, this is more an subjective criticism and not an intense design flaw.

On top of a strong exterior, the Surface Book comes with a powerful interior. The device I reviewed came equipped with an Intel Core i7-6600 dual-core processor, 16GB of RAM and 512GB of space. With its two USB 3.0 ports, I could confidently record and edit video, and, with what may be my favourite feature, sketch in Photoshop—It was a joy to take the Surface outside and draw with technological precision while surrounded by nature.

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As a tablet, the Surface Book uses an Intel HD Graphics 520 graphics card, but while docked, the Surface Book is backed by the power of a Nvidia GeForce 940M GPU with 1GB dedicated memory. While the Surface Book is by no means a gaming rig, it can handle less demanding games on reduced settings. The fact that it can handle as much as it did puts it leagues above most other tablets.

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As always I tried my favoured Enter the Gungeon, and it ran as smooth as expected. Trying to run a bit of Vermintide, I had to drop the resolution and bring some of the detailing down to average, but it ran smoothly afterwards.

Running some of the more ambitious games may be hit or miss though. With reduced settings (essentially console settings: mid to low), the Surface Book could handle The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, although it struggled to run Batman: Arkham City (but that might not be entirely the tablet’s fault).

The Surface Pro feels like a thing out of time. It has no business being as good as it is, which is essentially a boosted tablet. That being said, it also has no business being as expensive as it is; the i7 model costing $3,499.99 dollars CND, ($2699.99 USD). At such a steep price, anyone looking for a powerful laptop can find competent rigs from Alienware or Asus within the $1500-2000 mark, and anyone looking for a general-use Surface Pro can find one for $1100 (on the low end.)

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Although if money’s no object to you, then I would strongly recommend the Surface Book. For all it’s capable of doing, combined with unprecedented versatility, the Surface Book stands well above its predecessors and competitors.