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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  • Frenetic Pony - Friday, December 22, 2017 - link

    I have a 120hz desktop screen and is awesome. And I've been waiting on a proper her screen for photo and video editing. Being snide and ignorant gets you nowhere. Reply
  • zogus - Tuesday, December 26, 2017 - link

    The iPad Pro's 120Hz display is really, really nice for smooth pen input. It is the first pen UI that didn't make me go back to paper and pencil after a few days.
    As for not being in the same league, no, of course it's not. I would argue that it doesn't even play in the same sport as the Surface Book.
    Reply
  • edzieba - Thursday, December 21, 2017 - link

    Damn, that GPU just flat out embarrasses my 'old' Surface Book.
    Idon'tneedanewlaptopIdon'tneedanewlaptopIdon'tneedanewlaptopIdon'tneedanewlaptop...
    Reply
  • tipoo - Thursday, December 21, 2017 - link

    That GPU embarrasses the /new/ 15" rMBP top option.

    Wish for some Nvidia options in there.
    Reply
  • bryanlarsen - Thursday, December 21, 2017 - link

    This is certainly a much better compromise than the surface. I see lots of Surfaces, but I never see anybody using them in tablet mode. I don't understand why people put up with the Surface's crappy laptop experience when they only rarely use it in tablet mode.

    The best form factor for most is the Yoga and its clones, IMO. Not a great tablet experience, but it's there, usable and useful, without any compromises on the laptop experience. Optimize for the 99%.
    Reply
  • denis.lafronde - Thursday, December 21, 2017 - link

    Well, maybe that's because you don't follow those people everywhere :P. I was using my SP3 in tablet mode at my hold job, but now I'm still using it in tablet at home, for watching videos or surfing the internet. It's much less cumbersome than others 2-in-1 when you move it around the house and don't really need a keyboard. If someone needs a laptop, just buy a laptop (or a something like the Yoga), but there is still a lot of people who want a productivity tablet with the occasional keyboards sessions. And the type cover is not THAT bad. Lots of entry level laptops have way worst keyboards. Reply
  • PeachNCream - Thursday, December 21, 2017 - link

    The reality is that Windows as an OS and the workload we expect it to perform is still keyboard-centric. People with a Windows tablet end up using some sort of keyboard for a significant portion of their time. Maybe it would make more sense to have a Surface Book or some other convertible computer, but people usually buy things with their hearts first and their minds second. They then justify the thing they bought by changing how they work or citing corner cases. That's just part of what it means to be a human. Reply
  • mkozakewich - Thursday, December 21, 2017 - link

    I like to point out that the Surface Pro is *always* in tablet mode. It's a laptop-like tablet where the keyboard is an accessory. More compromise, but it is what it is. The Surface Book, on the other hand, is a convertible laptop. You have to consciously convert it from one mode to the other. Reply
  • damianrobertjones - Friday, December 22, 2017 - link

    I typed an entire novel, 68,000 words, on a Surface Pro 3 while travelling around Europe. No issues with it sitting on my lap. Reply
  • Peskarik - Thursday, December 21, 2017 - link

    One BIG problem with all these contemporary thin machines is the built-in battery.
    First of all, the full charge capacity is always lower than the announced capacity (battery is like a human, ages right from the birth).
    Secondly, battery looses capacity over the charging cycles, especially if one does 0-100% charges.
    So, a year from purchase one does not have 85Wh anymore, most likely having lost 20% of that. And what do you do then? Replacing the battery, if even possible, is very expensive outlay (I suppose, I haven't done it yet, but only because I still use Thinkpad with fully replaceable battery).
    Reply

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