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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  • solipsism - Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - link

    "I mean seriously that apple watch review pissed me off, 15k for a smartwatch with no GPS. Are you F**cking kidding me???"

    You're trying to argue that the Apple Watch starts at $15k or that the cost of 18k gold has no impact on cost. Shameful. You might as well claim that Swiss watch makers are all thieves when a $5 digital watch from China is both considerably less expensive and more accurate.
    Reply
  • dsumanik - Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - link

    pfft, so if there was a gold plated surface book, don't you think this review would be asking why it even exists/laughable?

    Yet apple, all good.

    Even 200 bucks and no gps is a ripoff. Component costs for modern GPS are miniscule. As a runner, distance and fitness tracking is really the only legitimate use case i can see to buy a smartwatch. Music+biometrics+gps on your wrist, so you dont have run with your iphone.

    Jobs would have made the watch do it all, cook let it slide and AT gave them a huge high five.

    But OMG surface costs over 3k, which sucks compared to an ultra book and the macbook.....its failed, biased, logic, and im calling BS
    Reply
  • Appanage - Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - link

    You should probably call a psychologist instead. Reply
  • solipsism - Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - link

    "Even 200 bucks and no gps is a ripoff. Component costs for modern GPS are miniscule."

    Your error is thinking that the lack of a GPS chip was due to component cost.
    Reply
  • MamiyaOtaru - Saturday, November 14, 2015 - link

    "pfft, so if there was a gold plated surface book, don't you think this review would be asking why it even exists/laughable?" yeah they would. Because gold plated laptops are not a thing. But people have been wearing gold watches for a long long time. It's not weird to have a gold watch Reply
  • bronopoly - Monday, December 7, 2015 - link

    > that the cost of 18k gold has no impact on cost.

    My rolex has more gold and costs less. So sure, it has an impact but it gets the apple markup like everything else does.
    Reply
  • bronopoly - Monday, December 7, 2015 - link

    Oh I should also point out that the build quality on the apple watch edition (or whatever the hell they call it) is total shit compared to watches of similar price. It's basically an expensive casio. Reply
  • Solandri - Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - link

    The screen portion is 1.6 pounds. The first gen iPad was 1.5 pounds. Reply
  • mhannigan - Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - link

    That's a seriously heavy watch! Reply
  • zogus - Thursday, November 12, 2015 - link

    Please take it from a former iPad 1 owner that that thing was too heavy to be held with one hand for a prolonged period. Reply

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