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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  • Visual - Tuesday, December 8, 2015 - link

    Disappointing article

    Especially the GPU benchmarks - it should have been pitted against Iris and Iris Pro CPUs, to point out to Microsoft that they did a dumb thing going with a dedicated chip that's slower than top integrated ones.
    In particular, the most interesting comparisons are the new 15W Skylake Iris chips.

    Also worth nothing is the 940M tdp of 33W is not that far off from 960M 45W, so if going with dual graphics anyway, MS should have tried for the latter.
    Reply
  • raffle.177 - Monday, December 14, 2015 - link

    Why does it look so much like MacBook? Reply
  • MiraBelko90 - Wednesday, January 13, 2016 - link

    You can’t help but love the specs. http://www.interwebcom.com/microsoft-surface-book-...

    But I found the Surface Book a bit awkward while converting it from laptop to desktop mode.
    The older Surface tablets connect to the Type Cover keyboard via fabric hinge. It works pretty well, but there’s always a tiny bit of flex. Worse still is the kickstand, which Microsoft has never quite figured out how to prevent it from digging into your thighs. The hinge solves all that, holding the monstrous tablet securely. It doesn’t wiggle. Internal, toothlike hooks help secure the tablet to the base.
    Reply
  • damianrobertjones - Friday, August 26, 2016 - link

    "Microsoft has never quite figured out how to prevent it from digging into your thighs."

    ??? That person must have feeble thighs.
    Reply
  • Lolofly - Tuesday, January 26, 2016 - link

    Hey, has anyone tested both the battery life of i5 with dgpu and i5 without dgpu? Thank you very much. Reply
  • Guatdan - Sunday, January 31, 2016 - link

    Guatdan,

    Our staff has read your review and values your contribution even though it did not meet all our website guidelines. Thanks for sharing, and we hope to publish next time!

    Submit something new

    Thanks again,
    Microsoft Store

    Key board does not work
    Brand new product and right out of the box. The keyboard works very sporadically. There is no numeric pad nor any way to use Alt codes with a numeric pad even though there was room to put one on the keyboard. I am sending mine back right away. Avoid this product until the keyboard issues are fixed. Microsoft customer service on this product is very poor since techs do not have the product. The keyboard is either faulty or bad tech support. See www.amazon.com for other customers with the same keyboard issue.
    Reply
  • lizzy54 - Thursday, February 25, 2016 - link

    Great review! To clarify, can you charge the clipboard while it's detached? And while using it, i.e. taking notes? Reply
  • Microsoftbattery - Thursday, December 7, 2017 - link

    If you face any issue regarding Microsoft Laptop Battery then feel free to visit . Reply
  • Microsoftbattery - Thursday, December 7, 2017 - link

    If you face any issue regarding Microsoft Laptop Battery then feel free to visit .
    Microsoft battery
    Reply

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