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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  • mkozakewich - Thursday, December 21, 2017 - link

    You don't need as much pressure on the pen, so I'd recommend just setting it as soft as possible and using it lightly. Most people press really hard on the screen, and that's always problematic. I remember seeing iPhone display models at mobile kiosks, and the screens would ripple under my touch because they'd sustained so much force. Reply
  • Azune - Saturday, December 23, 2017 - link

    The part of the screen that i'm writing on is perfectly fine. The edges on the screen, where i am resting my hand, are the problem. Personally i think that the screen isn't reinforced properly for long term writing, to keep the weight of the screen lower.

    I don't know how to fix that, but personally i think its isn't acceptable for a 1500$+ device to break with its intended usecase after only a few months.
    Reply
  • Da W - Thursday, December 21, 2017 - link

    Been looking at Surface Pro stats in the charts and its a very potent tablet indeed, even compared to this monster of a notebook. Reply
  • djayjp - Thursday, December 21, 2017 - link

    Beware:

    "Despite the power supply replacement, I was still able to get the Surface Book 2 to drain battery even when connected to the wall."

    https://www.google.ca/amp/s/www.theverge.com/platf...
    Reply
  • Brett Howse - Thursday, December 21, 2017 - link

    I went over this several times in the review. Reply
  • anactoraaron - Thursday, December 21, 2017 - link

    "Our review unit was equipped with a Samsung PM961...." while retail units will be equipped with an inferior toshiba ssd :P Reply
  • Brett Howse - Thursday, December 21, 2017 - link

    That was slightly different, and while component swapping happens, it was the Toshiba SSD that was a faster MLC one in some of the early units. This is a TLC drive but Samsung has gotten very good with TLC in the last couple of years. Reply
  • anactoraaron - Thursday, December 21, 2017 - link

    I would have liked to see a thermal report using something that maxed cpu usage, instead of what was presented. Your Rise of the Tomb Raider graph is great for evaluating the gpu temps and cooling performance for gaming.

    What about tasks that professionals use that max CPU usage? When the cpu on my 1st surface book was maxed (converting color checked raw images to jpg) the fan was very loud and the processor reached 96c (as reported by Intel XTU). That right there made me pack it up immediately and return it.

    If you have a decice aimed at professionals who need and will fully use the calibrated display and don't have a way to properly cool various use cases that professionals may need you have an even more niche product.

    What was most disappointing about the SB1 was that the fan even at 100% didn't seem to move any air anywhere! Cpu at 100% and 96c and I couldn't feel any air moving in or out across the entire tablet section. What was the fan doing? Just adding noise?

    If I buy a product like this, for professional use, at this price point, longevity being cut short due to exdended high temps cannot be acceptable.

    Any chance you can test the cpu cooling ability doing a demanding task for only the cpu? Preferably something that will max all cores 90-100% sustained?
    Reply
  • Brett Howse - Thursday, December 21, 2017 - link

    Hi. Yes I just ran Handbrake doing a CPU encode for 30 minutes. In best performance, the device will allow up to 20W on the CPU sustained which leads to temps around 95°C. It peaks at 100 which is the max for the chip right when the task starts since the PL allows up to 30W of power initially.

    It never goes over 100 though but if you were very concerned about that, you can leave it in Best Battery Life mode and the temp never exceeds the 60s even at a full 15W sustained load.

    Over the weekend I'll try to add a chart showing this.
    Reply
  • edgineer - Thursday, December 21, 2017 - link

    >the lack of Thunderbolt 3 deprives the owner of the ability to output dual UHD video feeds

    Wait, are you sure Thunderbolt 3 is the actual reason for that? MS' support site says only one UHD@60Hz output is possible, sure.

    But when the XPS 15's only-2-PCIe-lanes brewhaha happened, reviewers explained that the DisplayPort-alternate mode bandwidth is NOT affected by Thunderbolt 3. Only eGPU capability is changed by TB3 status, and not external display capability. Or is it not?

    The only other clues I have are that MS' support says external display capability is limited by the CPU. Intel's ARK page for the 8650u lists basically the exact DP capabilities that MS gave, except that the chip should support 3 displays, and the caveat "Please check with the system vendor to determine if your system delivers this feature." This makes me think that the limitation lies with the specific (lack of) implementation of CPU capabilities, and that having the TB3 chip installed doesn't change this.
    Reply

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