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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  • jessedegenerate - Monday, December 12, 2016 - link

    FYI, you clearly poorly attempt to make one look worse than the other. Talking single core performance when comparing dual and quad core chips?

    Mentioning the i7 was a generation back while knowing about kaby lake quad core availability, there's nothing to call you, but a liar, and a shill.
    Reply
  • nikon133 - Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - link

    I wouldn't be surprised to see, down the path, something like Surface XBook. Goes well with XBox. Reply
  • tipoo - Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - link

    "A 13" MBP with i5 (no option for i7), 512 GB SSD, no dGPU is $1799"

    Which is exactly what I said once you *add the dGPU*, the prices are similar at the same storage/RAM tiers. And then the MBP 15" has a true quad instead of a ULV dual.
    Reply
  • tipoo - Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - link

    "A 13" MBP with i5 (no option for i7), 512 GB SSD, no dGPU is $1799
    A 15" MBP with i7 (quad), 512 GB SSD, and R9 M370X GPU is $2499"

    Proving my point, not going against it. I said once you add the dGPU, and then match the storage and RAM. And then the 15" MBP has a quad core full fat i7, not a ULV dual core.
    Reply
  • tipoo - Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - link

    You also went for the MBP with a dGPU despite getting the SP without one - the Iris Pro is already near 940M performance. The GDDR5 variant in the SB may be 20% above it. Reply
  • digiguy - Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - link

    A 980m or even 970m in the keyboard would not make sense as it would be bottlenecked by the dual core CPU in quite a few games (even this underpowered GPU is to some extend bottlenecked by the ULV i7 according to this review) Reply
  • brian540 - Tuesday, December 22, 2015 - link

    definitely agree here however the CPU wouldn't be able to keep up with an 980M Reply
  • jessedegenerate - Monday, December 12, 2016 - link

    lol @Solandri, the 13" starts at $1499, you're literally lying for one companies product to look better than anothers. I don't mean to be rude, but that's pathetic. Reply
  • Stuka87 - Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - link

    3K for a high end 15" laptop is one thing, 3k for an ultrabook is a very different thing. A high end 15" laptop will have nearly double the performance, plus larger screen, etc.

    The problem with the surfacebook is it sucks as a tablet. The screen portion is very heavy for a tablet, its not something you want to hold for more than a few minutes. So if you are going to use it for any length of time, its in laptop mode. So you may as well just save a ton of money and get a conventional laptop.
    Reply
  • dsumanik - Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - link

    Neither of you addressed the fact that a macbook + ipad costs just as much or more and is less portable, especially if you want more than 16gb storage lol. Just watch the ipad PRO is going to be the greatest AT/Apple collusion of all time LOL.

    Point is Anandtech likes to ignore apple price points, praise the product regardless of merit, or at least hold them to a different standard, which is exactly how apple marketing is designed to work. It's sad AT journalists fall for it too, but even worse promoting this thinking to the general public.

    I mean seriously that apple watch review pissed me off, 15k for a smartwatch with no GPS. Are you F**cking kidding me??? The whole point is that you are supposed to use it for fitness, but you still need to run holding your iphone, or alternatively hope it can 'guess' the distance traveled. The iwatch is a face palm, no matter who you slice it.
    Reply

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