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.


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


View All Comments

  • xthetenth - Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - link

    That was entirely too much fun to write, by the way. It's great when trolls make themselves such a low hanging fruit. Reply
  • osxandwindows - Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - link

    I use my iPad for music production,
    I don't need a full os.
  • xthetenth - Wednesday, November 11, 2015 - link

    Ahh, okay, so you're one of the lucky few whose use cases fit inside the absolutely gutted feature set of an overgrown phone. I do things with my Surface Pro that the iPad and even the iPad and MBP combo can't every single day. It's the first device that can really do everything I want it to do at work. It's pretty cool never having to stop to ask whether I can do something before asking how I do it. Reply
  • Chapbass - Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - link

    No, your preference is to buy whatever apple sells, regardless of how appropriate it is for your use case. As evidenced by your username. Reply
  • hughlle - Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - link

    Try reading the comment again ;) Reply
  • Sc0rp - Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - link

    How is the iPad Pro a response to anything with the surface line when:

    1) the iPad Line predates surface
    2) The Surface isn't even close to being a market leader
    3) The iPad had a keyboard available for it on day one as well as third party keyboard covers and styluses for years now.

    Also, Microsoft clearly made commercials to compare their surface pro to the macbook pro line because they want to make an answer to the MBP.
  • nikon133 - Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - link

    1) iPad predates Surface. iPad Pro is response to Surface. Split screen multitasking, accurate pen input, larger screen, Apple-made keyboard/stand. And the whole "pro" vibe... All inspired from Surface, though - imho - not executed as good, especially in keyboard/stand category. Not to mention software side of the whole "pro" concept.

    2) I would expect that Surface actually is, at present, leading productivity tablet. I think we will agree that previous iPads, nice as they are, are not business machines. Surface Pro, with available dock, multiple screens support and connectivity, can replace laptop and desktop for most work related tasks.

    3) iPad styluses (beside iPad Pro one) are clumsy fingertip-emulators. Keyboards, well, they had... 3rd party solutions which required separate power/charging and limited kick-stand features. Well, Pro's kickstand is also limited but at least keyboard does power from the tablet, right? Anyway... if you are willing to accept clumsy pens as acceptable solutions, then we should consider that clumsy Windows tablets were available ages before Surface, and iPad.

    Surface Pro concept is based on idea of one device replacing both laptop and tablet. Thus it makes sense that MS is comparing Surface Pro with both MB and iPad. One can like or dislike idea, but it does have merits for some people, me included.
  • xthetenth - Wednesday, November 11, 2015 - link

    I'd contend that up until really recently or roughly now, the Surface hasn't just been leading the productivity tablet market, it has been the productivity tablet market. Reply
  • Sc0rp - Saturday, November 14, 2015 - link

    Well, it had little competition but the reality is that Wacom has been the productivity tablet market, not the surface. Reply
  • Walkop - Wednesday, December 9, 2015 - link

    You're joking, right? Reply

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