We finally have the successor. After a troubled launch in late 2015 of the original Surface Book, Microsoft seemed to drag their feet when it came to updating what was one of the most interesting notebooks released in the last couple of years. The original Surface Book launched with some serious power management concerns, which were eventually sorted out, but then the company just left the model relatively untouched, except for a mid-generation update with a stronger GPU.

The wait is over though. Microsoft has released the Surface Book 2 as a worthy successor to the original, with many improvements. With the launch of the Surface Laptop earlier this year, which targets the $1000 price point, Microsoft was free to ratchet the Surface Book 2 up in performance, and price, and they’ve doubled the number of models, with both a 13.5-inch version, being the upgrade from the original, and a new 15-inch model which clearly targets the performance-starved users. For this review, Microsoft sent us the larger 15-inch model.

Both the 13.5 and 15-inch models are shipping with the latest Intel Core i7-8650U CPUs, offering four cores and eight threads, and a 4.2 GHz Turbo. RAM stays the same with either 8 or 16 GB of LPDDR3, and that’s because Intel CPUs don’t yet support LPDDR4, which is a shame. Storage is 256 GB to 1 TB of NVMe SSD. So far, we have a pretty typical notebook for late 2017. The difference with the Surface Book 2 is the GPU, which is optional on the smaller model but standard on the 15-inch version we have today. Microsoft packed as much GPU as possible into the Surface Book 2 models, with the 13.5-inch offered with an impressive GTX 1050, and the 15-inch model shipping with a GTX 1060. To put that into perspective, the 15.6-inch Dell XPS 15 offers the GTX 1050, so the smaller Surface Book 2 has as much GPU power as the Dell, which is fantastic. The larger Surface Book 2 gets the much more powerful GTX 1060, featuring twice the CUDA cores as its smaller brother, and four times the ROPs. The model numbers are similar, but the  GTX 1060 is going to offer a lot more compute.

Microsoft Surface Book 2
  13.5 No GPU 13.5 GPU 15 (Model Reviewed)
CPU Intel Core i5-7300U
Dual-Core w/Hyperthreading
2.6-3.5 GHz 3MB Cache 15W TDP
Intel Core i7-8650U
Quad-Core w/Hyperthreading
1.9-4.2 GHz 8MB Cache 15W TDP
RAM 8GB LPDDR3 8-16 GB LPDDR3 16 GB LPDDR3
GPU Intel HD 620 Intel HD 620 + NVIDIA GTX 1050 2GB Intel HD 620 + NVIDIA GTX 1060 6GB
Storage 256 GB NVMe 256GB, 512 GB, 1TB
Display 13.5" PixelSense
3000x2000 3:2 sRGB
Touch and Pen enabled
15" PixelSense
3240x2160 3:2 sRGB
Touch and Pen enabled
Networking 802.11ac 2x2:2 866Mbps max
Bluetooth 4.1
Marvell AVASTAR
Audio Stereo Speakers (front facing)
Dolby Audio Premium
Battery 23 Wh (Tablet) plus 46 Wh (Base) 23 Wh (Tablet) plus 52 Wh (Base) 23 Wh (Tablet) plus 63 Wh (Base)
Xbox Wireless No Yes
Right Side Surface Connect
USB Type-C 3.1 Gen 1 with USB Power Delivery
Headset Jack
Left Side 2 x USB 3.0 Type-ASD Card Reader
Dimensions 312 x 232 x 13-23mm
12.3 x 9.14 x 0.51-0.90 inches
343 x 251 x 15-23 mm
13.5 x 9.87 x 0.57-0.90 inches
Weight 1.53 kg
3.38 lbs
1.64 kg
3.62 lbs
1.90 kg
4.2 lbs
Cameras 8.0 MP Rear-facing camera with autofocus
5.0 MP front-facing camera with 1080p video
Windows Hello IR camera
Pricing $1499 $1999-$2999 $2499-$3200

After shunning the port for the last couple of years, Microsoft has finally added USB-C to the Surface Book 2, replacing the mini-DisplayPort. Their reasoning for not including it before was that USB-C is a confusing port, where they all look the same, but offer different capabilities, and that’s a fair point, but it also makes it more confusing that they didn’t include Thunderbolt 3 on the Surface Book 2, meaning the USB-C port on the Surface Book 2 doesn’t offer the full capabilities of the port. The company seems to have an aversion to making everyone happy. The USB-C port does offer DisplayPort output, as well as power delivery, but the lack of Thunderbolt 3 deprives the owner of the ability to output dual UHD video feeds, despite the performance of this machine, and that’s a shame.

The larger Surface Book 2 15 offers an impressive 85 Wh of battery capacity, and that’s due to the unique design of the Book, where the detachable tablet offers 23 Wh of capacity, and the base offers another 62 Wh. The device is designed to have the tablet attached most of the time, but with the ability to remove it for certain tasks.

This isn’t an Ultrabook though. The smaller 13.5-inch model starts at 3.38 lbs (1.5 kg) and goes up if you add a GPU, and the larger 15-inch model weighs in at 4.2 lbs (1.9 kg). This is a device designed to offer portable performance, and here the weight isn’t as much of an issue. It still comes in slightly lighter than an XPS 15, despite a GPU with double the CUDA cores.

The most interesting aspect to the Surface Book 2 continues to be the design though, so let’s start there.

Design
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  • binary dissonance - Friday, December 22, 2017 - link

    I wonder if the reason an external thunderbolt isn't offered is that they decided to use that to interface with the GPU in the keyboard. (Or surface connect uses enough PCIE lanes that offering thunderbolt isn't an option.) A PCIe bottleneck might limit 1060 GPU performance along with power throttling. Reply
  • Speednet - Saturday, December 23, 2017 - link

    I believe much a the reasoning is because of the connection between the tablet and the main unit. I read a while back that it uses PCI lanes that otherwise would go to the TB3 connection. Reply
  • Speednet - Saturday, December 23, 2017 - link

    I upgraded from SB1 to SB2 (15", 1TB) when they first came out, so I've had some time to live with the new model. And it is a fantastic machine! I do mainly development (coding) and graphics work, and it is just perfect for both of those activities. The 15" screen with 3:2 aspect ratio is so good that I would not even consider a standard 16:9 ratio screen at this point. It is a non-starter.

    Unlike what many people have said in reviews -- that the tablet part is "too big" -- I disagree. It is perfect for browsing the web or catching up on news feeds while lounging. On a small tablet my news reader feels cramped, but on the 15" screen I get all my sidebars and big reading area. (I use Nextgen Reader.)

    My existing Surface Dock worked perfectly with the SB2.

    I see some people go on & on about the lack of TB3, but I personally have no use for it at all. I suppose it would a great to have, just to say it's there in case I need it for some reason, but the reality is that I don't. With all the computer equipment I have, I don't think I have even a single TB3 device. It's a total non-issue.

    I was glad to see this review give the heavy gaming/battery issue just about the right amount of weight. It's something to be aware of, but is something that most people will never experience in their lifetime of ownership. The Verge, on the other hand, acted as if the sky were falling.

    Who would have guessed 10 years ago that Microsoft would be making the industry's best computer hardware?
    Reply
  • grant3 - Wednesday, December 27, 2017 - link

    My existing Surface Dock worked perfectly with the SB2.

    I see some people go on & on about the lack of TB3, but I personally have no use for it at all. I suppose it would a great to have, just to say it's there in case I need it for some reason, but the reality is that I don't. With all the computer equipment I have, I don't think I have even a single TB3 device. It's a total non-issue.


    As you said: "I have an existing dock" which doesn't apply to the rest of us unwashed masses who don't already own a surface.

    Maybe we have an existing tbolt dock we use with our Dell. Or maybe we want to get a dock which we hope to reuse with our next laptop without locking into the "Surface" ecosystem. Or maybe we just like the aesthetics of keeping a single USB cord out on the desk instead of a boxy dock.

    We're about 2.5 years into the life of tbolt-over-usb-C as an industry standard, and *STILL* Microsoft can't get its act together to offer it on their flagship product? Common now, that's just ridiculous. Totally inexcusable.
    Reply
  • damianrobertjones - Thursday, October 11, 2018 - link

    ...and still we have mega-cheap docks that suck and often break. Let alone the cable lottery from Amazon. Reply
  • Lolimaster - Sunday, December 31, 2017 - link

    You should thank AMD that made dual cores obsolete with the arrival of Ryzen. Now get a Threaripper. Reply
  • prateekprakash - Monday, December 25, 2017 - link

    Hi,
    I was wondering, could one play uhd Netflix on this device, or does it have lower res than 3840 so it would not meet the uhd specs?
    Reply
  • milkod2001 - Thursday, December 28, 2017 - link

    On such small screen you will never notice so yeah, it would play 4k videos just fine Reply
  • sonicmerlin - Monday, December 25, 2017 - link

    Why don't they just make a GPU base for the Surface Pro...? Reply
  • gentryfunk22 - Sunday, December 31, 2017 - link

    My partner just received this device as her main laptop at work. The Surface 2 replaced a MacBook Air. Her main complaint is the trackpad. It is terrible. Does not track well, the hotspots work inconsistently, and clicks are not recognized. Use as a tablet drains the battery much faster than is found in this article...in fact, during a conference call last week, she got about 90 minutes of use from full charge in tablet mode. FYI Reply

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