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


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  • Sc0rp - Saturday, November 14, 2015 - link

    1) The iPad Pro is a natural evolution of the iPad line. The surface isn't the only tablet device with split-screen multitasking, accurate pen input isn't something new and Apple had an apple made keyboard since the iPad 1. Apple names ALL of their beefier products "Pro" with the exception of the iPhone. Look at the Macbook PRO and the Mac PRO for examples. Does that mean that you can't do PRO work on a macbook or an iMac? Nope,

    2) The surface isn't leading the tablet market and it is 'leading' the productivity tablet market in the same way that blackberry 'led' the smartphone market. You know, the same market that has been dwarfed several times over by iPhones and android handsets quickly after the iPhone was released and sorta put RIM out on the street. As for the surface replacing a laptop. Well, a regular laptop is still a much better choice than getting a surface pro.

    3) The original FIRST PARTY keyboard for the iPad that was released in 2010 was itself powered by the iPad but it could also be plugged into a computer or wall adapter to charge or sync your iPad. That's what what I meant when i said that the iPad had a keyboard since day one. The Styluses for the iPad aren't all 'fingertip-emulators. Quite a few of them have pressure sensitivity and palm rejection. And look, we are talking about where apple got their ideas. Keyboard cover docks were available for the iPad before the surface was ever even announced, So were styluses. yeah, tablet PC's had styluses, but those styluses didn't use capacitive technology which was the technological challenge for making a stylus for the iPad. The surface pro used to use Wacom digitizers before microsoft bought N-Trig technology to ditch wacom and save some money for the surface pro 3.

    I know what the surface pro concept is. Unfortunately it doesn't make for a good laptop or tablet. At least not in comparison to what you get from an actual tablet and an actual laptop.

    My entire point is that the iPad Pro wasn't a response to the surface. The iPad Pro is more like apple spreading to other market segments because the mainstream consumer tablet market is drying up pretty fast. Not just for apple but every other tablet manufacturer that appeals to the consumer market. There's really no reason to upgrade your iPad every year or every two years. If you own an iPad 4 right now, there's not much that an iPad Air 2 does that absolutely have to go get it and ditch your 4 and the actual demands from using the device don't necessitate an upgrade. An iPad Air 2 is a demonstrably more powerful and faster device, but the iPad 4 is great as is so far.

    Saying that the iPad Pro is a response to the surface is like saying that windows 10 is a response to Linux.
  • close - Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - link

    Or if you actually meant MacBook Pro you may be closer but still, they're different classes. Apple doesn't have anything in this class yet. Reply
  • appleimmune - Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - link

    That's about to change..

    Apple, the me too company.
  • solipsism - Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - link

    You took a patent as truth and then claimed Apple was a "me too" company for following a late 2015 MS product with a 2011 patent filing. Brilliant¡ Reply
  • Appanage - Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - link

    1. Patent filed in 2011
    2. Surface's CPU, chipset, and storage are located under the keyboard? That's news to me.
    3. Apple, the "me too" company as you described, was copying off Microsoft with the iPhone? And no, don't say PocketPC unless you expect laughter and discredit.
  • Sc0rp - Saturday, November 14, 2015 - link

    The patent was filed 2 years before the surface pro or surface book were ever announced. Reply
  • WagonWheelsRX8 - Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - link

    Yep definitely a nice review. Only wish he included some Apple products in his charts as well (especially the display related ones). Reply
  • Tallface - Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - link

    "Where the Surface Book is let down though is on software." ...this. Returned mine last weekend :-( Reply
  • Appanage - Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - link

    Exactly. Arguing over chips and hardware superiority is overlooking half the solution, and it's not even the most important half. Reply
  • Krysto - Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - link

    > It’s unfortunate that Microsoft did not opt for anything with Intel’s Iris graphics line for the Surface Book like it did for the Surface Pro 4, but the optional NVIDIA GPU more than makes up for it.

    Why? Do we really want Intel to own 90% of all chip markets?

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