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.

Compubench

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
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  • zeeBomb - Thursday, November 12, 2015 - link

    Let's go for 200. Reply
  • solipsism - Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - link

    Ah, you are correct, djboxbaba. Reply
  • KoolAidMan1 - Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - link

    The current 13" Macbook Pros are Broadwell, not Skylake. 28w Skylake parts aren't out until Q1 2016. Reply
  • tipoo - Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - link

    Solandri, now you're talking about the 13" MBPs CPU, after giving the 15" with dGPUs pricing...The 15" which we were talking about has a full wattage laptop quad. Your points are starting to look a little suspect as you mix and match a lot. Surface Book without dGPU pricing compared to the upgraded 15" MBP with GPU for price, and then the 13" MBPs CPU when that's convenient to talk about...

    Look at the Surface Books price WITH the dGPU, which I already specified before, and then match the storage and RAM of the 15" MBP, and the prices start to look similar, except with a quad core vs a dual. And the baseline Iris Pro gets close to the 940M performance as well.
    Reply
  • Solandri - Wednesday, November 11, 2015 - link

    tipoo, how am I mixing and matching? I looked at the top SB which has a dGPU at $2099, and compared to the top 13" MBP and top 15" MBP (with dGPU), and the SB pricing is closer to the 13" MBP. If you compare models without dGPU, it's even closer to the 13" MBP.

    Lowest-end 13" rMBP on Apple's website - $1299
    Lowest-end SB w/o GPU - $1499
    Lowest-end 15" rMBP w/o GPU - $1999

    And the Iris Pro 6100 performance doesn't come anywhere near the 940m (except for OpenGL, which is important for OS X, but not for Windows or games). The 940m is roughly 2x as fast.
    http://www.notebookcheck.net/Mobile-Graphics-Cards...
    http://www.notebookcheck.net/Computer-Games-on-Lap...
    Reply
  • Darkstone - Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - link

    You can't compare processors with different TDP's by their clock speeds. My 45W CPU isn't able to sustain it's turbo clock under most 100% workloads, on rare workloads it will even drop below it's stock clocks without using the GPU. On those rare workloads it's slower than an on paper lower specced i5 desktop CPU purely because the TDP is higher.

    The i5-5287U in the MBP will require about 21W to sustain turbo clocks under AVX workloads (according to notebookcheck's stress test). Any 15W part will be significantly slower regardless of what intel claims what the clock speeds are.
    Reply
  • Riley-NZL - Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - link

    Your also comparing an OSx device with a Windows device, the later being infinetly more valuable regardless of hardware specs :P Reply
  • tipoo - Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - link

    You can run both on the former. But anyways, the value of the OS is subjective per user, that's a meaningless thing to say. Reply
  • theuglyman0war - Wednesday, December 2, 2015 - link

    true considering the first thing I do when I demo the newest Surface at the Brick n Mortar is to see how accurate and responsive the pen pressure is.
    During these arguments I think the army of creative types who hunger for the niche these products offer are hugely ignored.
    Reply
  • Billie Boyd - Friday, November 27, 2015 - link

    While the Microsoft Surface is truly fantastic , there are higher rated ones, believe it or not (see http://www.consumerrunner.com/top-10-best-tablets/ for example..) Reply

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