Compute with the Surface Book

When discussing Ultrabooks, the word Compute doesn’t get thrown around very often, and for good reason. Even the MacBook Pro 13 only comes with Intel Iris graphics (no GT3e yet) and although Intel’s GPUs have been a priority over the last couple of generations, just like in gaming there is only so much you can do when your TDP is shared with the processor.

With Surface Book, there is more of an opportunity here. If you opt for the model with the NVIDIA GPU, you gain access to CUDA, which is NVIDIA’s parallel computing platform. Quite a few applications that need strong parallel processing have CUDA available as an option. Adobe, for instance, has CUDA support in many of their professional products like Photoshop, After Effects, Premier Pro, and more. NVIDIA lists hundreds of applications on their site which can benefit from GPU compute power, and there are also OpenCL applications as well which would benefit from the more powerful dGPU.

Expectations need to be put in check of course, because the GPU available in the Surface Book is not a workstation class GPU, so we shall see how it compares on these types of tasks. This is not an area where we have an extensive database of other devices, and normally compute is not a heavy focus for Ultrabook reviews, but I feel the Surface Book may find a niche with content creators so it’s worth examining.


From the makers of GFXBench is Compubench, and like GFXBench, there are a number of tests which can be completed with either the CPU only, or by choosing a GPU.

CompubenchCL Face Detection

CompubenchCL TV-L1 Optical Flow

CompubenchCL Ocean Surface Simulation

CompubenchCL Particle Simulation 64K

CompubenchCL TRex

CompubenchCL Video Composition

CompubenchCL Bitcoin Mining

The results are a bit mixed. Some of the tests respond very well to having the NVIDIA GPU, but some of the others don’t get as much of a benefit. But where the GPU helps, it can help a lot. Several of the tasks are 50% faster, and the Video Composition sub-test is 212% faster on the discrete GPU.

Agisoft Photscan

This software performs photogrammetric processing of images, and it has an option to use the GPU or just standalone with the CPU. Of the entire benchmark, only one section actually leverages the GPU functions so that test has been highlighted.

Agisoft Photoscan Stage 2

Even the one accelerated test still only shows a 5% decrease in time with the GPU being used. This highlights that even though a task may be accelerated with the GPU, the overall impact may not always be what you are expecting, since not all tasks can be done in parallel.

Using the Surface Book NVIDIA GPU for Compute

There is no doubt that if you are performing work that supports CUDA, the NVIDIA option on the Surface Book is going to make an impact. The question of course is how much. Applications such as those from Adobe do leverage CUDA, but it’s not for all tasks. This is kind of the issue with considering the GPU for compute. If you are someone who uses Adobe Premiere on the go, and need something smaller than a typical workstation class notebook, the GPU is going to help out, but since it doesn’t get leveraged for all tasks, it is very dependent on the exact task that you are performing.

GPU Gaming Performance The PixelSense Display


View All Comments

  • theduckofdeath - Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - link

    It's pretty obvious to me why they avoid Iris as a higher performance option. Intel has never shown any interest in keeping their drivers up to date for compatibility with new software. Nvidia is far ahead on that point. Reply
  • nico_mach - Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - link

    That's interesting and I haven't heard that. Otherwise, I think Intel would be a better choice for mobile efficiency and for long life. Reply
  • theduckofdeath - Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - link

    If you've never heard of Intels non-commitment to keeping their drivers up to date you've never tried to use Intel graphics for anything other that web browsing and text editing. I'm not even going to give you a specific reference because the reference is ALL gaming houses completely ignoring Intel on their compatibility lists. Because Intel simply just don't care. Reply
  • tipoo - Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - link

    They update drivers for my Iris Pro fairly often. Reply
  • tipoo - Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - link

    I think he's talking about the Intel only options. There's no middle ground with an Iris, it's either low end integrated or the dGPU with the SB. An Iris option would be a nice middle ground, and it's giving Intel exactly the same extra marketshare as the existing chip :P Reply
  • mczak - Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - link

    IIRC Iris graphics (so GT3, twice the EUs) didn't really do much in the 15W packages. That's because even the GT2 one can't quite reach max clocks due to too high TDP. And while more units at a lower clock are a bit more efficient the difference isn't dramatic.
    I haven't seen results yet with Skylake 15W GT3e (so with edram even) graphics, but I wouldn't be surprised if it's much the same story. You might need a 28W TDP Skylake cpu to really benefit much from the improved graphics (which for this form factor might be impossible).
  • cbf - Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - link

    "I haven't seen results yet with Skylake 15W GT3e (so with edram even) graphics ..."

    Well, that's the chip in the top model Surface Pro 4 (Core i7-6650U), so hopefully there will be some benchmarks of this soon (Brett?). I'd love to see how it compares to the discreate GPU in the Surface Book.
  • ImSpartacus - Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - link

    Read the conclusion and it's disheartening to hear that the software is lacking.

    Just like the surface pro, I'm betting that it will take an iteration or two before the price comes down and the polish goes up. Then ms will have a killer on its hands.
  • The0ne - Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - link

    The software bugs and hiccups are not isolated to the Surface Book but plagues most system that is detachable. Even the lenovo's has them. Windows is just poor at handling the integration or rather the wake up from the integration. Some bugs exist even on desktops.

    With that said, if you're considering a Windows device then you should be aware and willing to accept some of the common bugs.
  • ImSpartacus - Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - link

    Part of me isn't surprised that the two in one functionality is the thing that causes the bugs since it's a relatively "new" thing.

    However, I'm a little surprised that ms didn't see this coming. I mean, Intel started their ultrabook campaign with sandy bridge and they said it would be a three year progression before the ultrabook idea was fully realized. Sure enough, haswell ultrabooks are kickass and now Intel is marketing something else.

    It's "2-in-1" and that shouldn't surprise anyone. I'm sure Intel doesn't do this stuff without at least talking with ms. So ms should be aware that two in one machines are going to get popular.

    Worse still, this is their own machine... This is supposed to be the beacon that shows what a pc can be.

    I know it'll get better in time, but it's weird that such noticeable bugs made it into this first iteration.

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