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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  • EzioAs - Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - link

    Not for PC. Reply
  • Teknobug - Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - link

    It's Xbox One exclusive for a year. Reply
  • cwolf78 - Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - link

    Actually it's coming to Windows 10 in March I believe. PS4 version is not coming out until "Holiday 2016" Reply
  • close - Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - link

    How is this MS's response to the iPad Pro? That's just an oversized tablet. This is a convertible which had 3 generations of similar products behind it. If anything, the iPad Pro is Apple response to all the ultraslim devices sporting a larger diagonal out there. Like the Surface... Reply
  • darwinosx - Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - link

    Apple isn't interested in making something is both a mediocre laptop and tablet. They prefer to make an outstanding table and laptop and thats my preference when buying. Reply
  • pixelpusher - Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - link

    I use both mac and windows for a living. I would just suggest one overlooked feature of the surface book by reviewers is that the thermals are directed away from your lap, which makes it lapable in a way previously unexperienced even on a macbook, in that it does not require one sacrifice his offspring to use it for prolonged periods of time atop your pelvis when laying on a couch or bed. Moving the intel part to the middle of the tablet where fingers do not typically grip, plus away from the bottom which comes in contact with your thighs or pelvis area is a move that is most welcome. So there is something in this design that is IMO better than normal laptops (Apple or otherwise). Reply
  • sprockkets - Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - link

    In case you don't know, you are replying to an apple troll. I suggest you ignore it, unless you want your iq to drop in half. Reply
  • ninjacut - Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - link

    yes! I was so used to heated lap from all earlier laptops the Surface Book changes the experience. Reply
  • Gigaplex - Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - link

    That really depends on whether you get a dGPU variant, which can pump out a bit of heat on its own. Reply
  • xthetenth - Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - link

    If you prefer an outstanding tablet, why would you buy an oversized phone?

    Modern tablets that have learned from the past few years of development running a proper OS for the full capabilities of the tablet form factor offer a great deal more. Stylus support alone is a huge addition that brings a huge number of potential use cases, shipping without an adjustable stand is a travesty, and limiting a tablet to a task switching and app opening UI that's obsolescent even on the phones it's lifted from is beyond farce.

    On the plus side, Apple does seem to have paid some attention, and is making their first attempt at a full-featured tablet. Pity that it seems three years in the past regarding such incredibly basic things as how to design a tablet stand, and the stylus doesn't place the same functionality in the user's hand.

    At least they're trying, rather than still making supercharged relics of bygone concepts of user interaction that get by on ecosystem inertia.

    Their laptops are pretty nice, and definitely top tier though if you want just a laptop although I prefer the priorities of the XPS series. Pity that you can't get decent tablet capabilities and full functionality without having to drag both devices and totally giving up any advantage in weight. My surface is nice and light and I never have to worry about whether I should take another device because I might have to do something it literally cannot do.

    Have a great day and don't get scoliosis from dragging around two devices and a pad of paper to do the job of one!
    Reply

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