SoC, CPU & Performance

At the heart of Microsoft’s Surface 2 is a quad-core NVIDIA Tegra 4 SoC. That’s four usable ARM Cortex A15 cores running at up to 1.7GHz (1.9GHz with only a single core active), behind a shared 2MB L2 cache. You also get NVIDIA’s most powerful ultra mobile GPU to-date, a 72-core implementation of its ultra low power GeForce architecture. The combination of the two gives Microsoft a much better platform than the original Surface RT device.

The difference is immediately apparent. While Surface RT felt slow, Surface 2 feels fast enough for most light workloads. Typing in Word now typically consumes < 20% of all available cores/CPU cycles, compared to 20 – 40% on last year’s Tegra 3 based model. I can still get CPU utilization as high as 50% by pounding on as many keys as fast as possible, but that’s the exception not the rule.

If you remember back to my first Surface RT review I talked about how I could sometimes type quicker than the system would be able to process and display my text. I’m happy to say that’s no longer an issue, although I’m not sure how much of it is software vs. hardware improvements. Needless to say that for general Office work, Surface 2 is a much better device than its predecessor.

Application launch times are also a bit better compared to Surface RT at launch. Some apps still take longer to initialize than their equivalents under Android or iOS, but the improvements over the past year have been significant. Applications that used to take 5 – 7 seconds to launch now take 2 – 4 seconds. That’s compared to the < 2 seconds for most of the core apps on iOS, but it’s movement in the right direction at least. 

On the CPU side we don’t have a ton of great performance tests to let us compare platforms (not yet at least), but we do have our standard suite of js benchmarks. Since we’re dealing with Windows RT, the only browser option is Internet Explorer 11 – which is both a blessing and a curse depending on what benchmark you’re looking at.

I’ll start with SunSpider since that appears to be the best case for IE11. Here we see just how much software can influence the overall performance of these browser based benchmarks.

SunSpider 0.9.1 Benchmark

SunSpider 1.0 Benchmark

Tegra 4 running IE11 posts a better SunSpider score than even the A7 based iPhone 5s. Looking at the rest of the tests it’s very clear that SunSpider was an optimization target for Microsoft, as we don’t see this sort of performance leadership repeated anywhere else.

Mozilla Kraken Benchmark (Stock Browser)

The Kraken results look decent but clearly behind high-end Android devices running Chrome. This is a huge improvement over where Microsoft was last year with Surface RT. Surface 2 can now complete the Kraken test in roughly 1/5 of the time it took Surface 1/RT to do the same work at launch. Obviously we’re seeing the benefits of IE11 in addition to Windows RT 8.1 being better optimized for ARM architectures (as well as a faster SoC), but the new tablet is just significantly faster than its predecessor.

Browsermark 2.0

Browsermark 2.0 gives us a good idea of where Surface 2 falls in terms of overall browsing performance. In general we’re dealing with a platform that is roughly comparable in performance to modern Android devices, but it’s not pushing the limits of performance in any way.

Google Octane v1

Google’s Octane test is obviously best optimized for Chrome, and here we see solid performance although clearly behind the fastest Android and Bay Trail devices.

GPU Performance

All of the Windows RT devices that launched last year had pretty terrible GPU performance. It didn’t matter if you had something with NVIDIA or Qualcomm inside, GPU performance wasn’t great at all. Even Intel’s competing Clover Trail solution was a huge let down on the GPU front. Clover Trail was so bad that I even noticed differences in animation frame rate between the Atom Z2560 and Qualcomm’s APQ8060A running Windows RT.
Tegra 4’s GPU on the other hand seems well suited for the task at hand. I doubt many users will be playing 3D games on Surface 2, but GPU performance is improved substantially over its predecessor. In the grand scheme of things we’re talking about roughly iPad 4 class GPU performance, all while driving a lower resolution screen.

GLBenchmark 2.7 - T-Rex HD (Onscreen)

GLBenchmark 2.7 - T-Rex HD (Offscreen)

GLBenchmark 2.5 - Egypt HD (Onscreen)

GLBenchmark 2.5 - Egypt HD (Offscreen)

3DMark - Ice Storm (Extreme)

The New Display Battery Life & Software
Comments Locked


View All Comments

  • Serr - Wednesday, October 23, 2013 - link

    "Although IE11 does a relatively good job on the touch front, I find that heavy multitasking with IE11 on Surface 2 can result in a lot of hangs and crashes within tabs or the application itself."
    There goes the truth! You don't have that even on iPad 2.
  • Wall-Swe - Saturday, October 26, 2013 - link

    @Serr Well that's a lie! My iPhone 4 is crashing almost everyday when using Safari.
    @Anandtech How come you only got 8hour of battery out of the Surface 2? Engadget got 14hours 22minuties, it its the best score they have had of any tablet!
  • MarcSP - Sunday, October 27, 2013 - link

    Yes, that discrepancy makes no sense. Or Anandtech’s device had some problem, or Engadget made a big mistake in the method they used. I know that of these options seems much more likely than the other ;-), but without more testing there is no way to know for sure.
  • whatsa - Friday, November 1, 2013 - link

    Theres video and video

    I can tell you I dont get the numbers stated with a BD rip....

    if its close then thats good enough for me as I have yet to see a standard for this
    testing used across the board. (I may be wrong so if you need to shoot aim for the leg)
  • MarcSP - Sunday, October 27, 2013 - link

    It is specially weird that Surface 2 got less battery life for video than Surface 1, when MS said battry life shoudl be 25% better and that now, unlike before, they are using the companion core for that task.
  • TechFan1 - Sunday, October 27, 2013 - link

    If this had bay trail inside I would already own one. Really disappointed they went with Tegra 4 :(
  • melomania - Sunday, November 3, 2013 - link

    Why in the ipad air review, does this machine only score a 750 in contrast ratio and here it is over 1000?
  • JBVertexx - Monday, November 11, 2013 - link

    I'm thinking of picking up one of these for my 7th grade son. He's had a Nexus 7 since that first came out. He uses that mostly for gaming. But this year, he needs a "device" for school. The Nexus 7 hasn't really been up for class note-taking, etc. Thinking this would be the perfect solution.
  • Hoekie - Sunday, November 24, 2013 - link

    Great review, but fails on the search for apps.
    Like telling us that there no Twitter app, make me worry you did not get a good look at the Store and have setting set to 'easy to find local apps'
    The official Twitter app for instance in the Windows Store for quit a time now. Nice thing also is that it can be snapped to the left. A link in a tweet makes the browser open that link. All on the same screen. Killer!

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now