System Performance

As of late, Microsoft’s launch schedule for Surface doesn’t seem to coincide with the industry norms, and that continues with the Surface Pro 6. Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book were the launch devices for Intel’s latest Skylake processors, and power management issues with that series of SoC has likely made the Surface team a bit wary about being first out of the gate again. As such, the release cadence doesn’t fall in-line with the normal yearly update as with most OEMs.

So, it’s a bit delayed, but with the Surface Pro 6 we get our first Microsoft designed convertible tablet with the quad-core lineup of 8th generation Intel Core CPUs, which have generally made a pretty sizeable impact in terms of overall device performance compared to the outgoing Kaby Lake dual-core U series. Microsoft is offering the Surface Pro 6 with either the Core i5-8250U, or the Core i7-8650U, both of which are Kaby Lake Refresh. Intel has just recently launched their latest Whiskey Lake processors though, so once again we see Microsoft updating at the tail end of a generation. The good news this time is that there aren’t significant changes for Whiskey Lake, although the inclusion of hardware mitigations to the Spectre and Meltdown vulnerabilities would have been welcomed.

The maximum RAM is still the same 16 GB as seen for a while, and this limitation is due to the maximum RAM size of LPDDR3, which we still see in most low-power PCs. Intel hasn’t added LPDDR4 support to any of their lineup yet with the exception of their Gemini Lake Atom based CPUs.

Last year we were able to check out the Core i7-7660U model of Surface Pro, which offered Intel Iris graphics and 64 MB of eDRAM cache, but the Iris model is no longer available in the 15-Watt range, so for this year, at least for now, Microsoft has had to step back to the traditional UHD 620 graphics.

Starting with the 2017 Surface Pro, Microsoft removed the fan from the Core i5 model, and that has continued with the 2018 Surface Pro 6, so this is our first chance to check out a fanless Surface Pro as well.

To test system performance the Surface Pro 6 was run through our standard suite of laptop tests. If you’d like to compare its performance against any other device we have tested, please check out our Laptop Bench.

PCMark

PCMark 8 - Home

PCMark 8 - Creative

PCMark 8 - Work

PCMark 10 - Essentials

PCMark 10 - Productivity

PCMark 10 - Digital Content Creation

PCMark 10 - Overall

UL Benchmarks PCMark is a good tool to evaluate overall system performance, since it tests all aspects of the device. The Core i5 model can’t quite hang with the fastest Core i7 laptops around, but considering it’s the only laptop in the lineup that is passively cooled, it does remarkably well.

Cinebench

Cinebench R15 - Single-Threaded Benchmark

Cinebench R15 - Multi-Threaded Benchmark

Cinebench R15 is purely CPU based test, and can be run in either single-threaded mode, or multi-threaded where more cores and higher turbo frequencies can really improve overall scores. In the single-threaded tests, the Core i5 in Surface Pro 6 is right in the middle of the pack, with it’s maximum boost frequency of just 3.4 GHz compared to a maximum boost of 4.2 GHz in a Core i7-8650U. But when you scale up the workload to multiple cores, the two extra cores and four extra threads in the Kaby Lake Refresh processor catapult it near the top, offering 66% more performance than the Core i7-7660U in last year’s Surface Pro.

x264

x264 HD 5.x

x264 HD 5.x

Another CPU test, x264 converts a video using the CPU, and generally scales well across more cores and threads, so the quad-core Surface Pro 6 does very well here, actually outperforming even the Core i7 in other devices. This is also quite a long test, meaning the Surface Pro 6 certainly would have run into its thermal limit, but it still offered excellent performance, meaning the passive cooling system was able to cope.

Web Tests

All of our web tests are run using the latest version of Microsoft Edge, and the Surface Pro 6 was tested on Windows 10 version 1803.

Mozilla Kraken 1.1

Google Octane 2.0

WebXPRT 2015

Here the Surface Pro 6’s Core i5 didn’t fare so well, with middling scores compared to the latest laptops around. Possibly due to the fanless nature, the PL2 values for the Surface Pro 6 were limited to around 23-Watts, and on other Kaby Lake Refresh devices, it’s not unusual to see 30-Watts for short bursts, and web tests tend to thrive on short bursts of performance.

Design GPU and Storage Performance
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  • Speedfriend - Tuesday, October 16, 2018 - link

    For all the talk of a lack of innovation from Intel, the charts comparing the various generations are quite incredible. 60% improvement in single threaded, 175% in multi, combined with a 100% improvement in battery life.

    Microsoft has got a winning device here, I see more Surface Pros at conferences than any other type of laptop including Macs, though still behind iPads
    Reply
  • fallaha56 - Tuesday, October 16, 2018 - link

    you’re bigging up numbers from years and years ago.... Reply
  • vanilla_gorilla - Tuesday, October 16, 2018 - link

    I'm guessing these are Microsoft conferences? Not sure where you're seeing more Surface devices than Macs or Thinkpads or HP laptops. Surface sells in incredibly small numbers compared to those other manufacturers. And what conferences have more iPads than anything? I'm not sure if you're lying or if you're attending conferences selling timeshares to senior citizens? Reply
  • althaz - Wednesday, October 17, 2018 - link

    You're just wrong here. Apple definitely sells more than Microsoft (Lenovo is around the level of Apple with HP and Dell far outstrip the rest). But the different isn't huge. There's no world in which "Surface sell in incredibly small numbers" compared to any other manufacturer's line.

    When you are talking about premium laptop-ish devices, the Surface line is comparable to the other popular makes. It's smaller than the top 4 - but in its category not by all that much.
    Reply
  • melgross - Wednesday, October 17, 2018 - link

    I don’t know what conferences you go to, other than those for IT, but I’ve never seen one of these anywhere.

    With all of the talk about these, as though they’re really important, Microsoft still has to show that they can grow yearly sales beyond the 3 million (maybe!) they barely managed so far. With SurfaceBook sales lower than 500,00 a year, and the Surface PC supposedly in the tens of thousands a year, none of these lines are doing anything near well.
    Reply
  • TheinsanegamerN - Wednesday, October 17, 2018 - link

    Except that speed increase comes from lower power usage. At the same clocks, intels chips are still not any faster then 3 years ago.

    Yeah, great, you went from "slow" to "decent speed.". The iGPU is still no faster, max performance is still dependent on the cooling system, and anything that isnt restricted to CFL light-bulb power levels is no faster.
    Reply
  • name99 - Wednesday, October 17, 2018 - link

    Looking at this sort of improvement misses the reason for concern with Intel.
    The original CPU (i3-4020Y) is 1.5 GHz, no turbo.
    The end point CPU (i7-7660U) is 2.5GHz base, turbo to 4GHz.

    Now from one point of view, it's nice that Intel has managed to boost frequency this way while not moving too far outside the power envelope. That helps low power devices (like Surface!) AND it helps large core count server chips.

    BUT look at the larger story. It's about lower power, NOT about higher achievable frequencies. The tech that got this does not help that much in boosting the frequency of your 120W desktop CPU in single-threaded mode. Meanwhile, there's been very little improvement in IPC, which can improve performance at the high end.

    If you care about some classes of devices, yes, great progress by Intel. But if you care about single-threaded performance at the high end, what's shown here is irrelevant, and just highlights that Intel either through inability or lack of interest is not delivering anything close to the same improvements at the high end.
    Reply
  • GreenReaper - Friday, October 19, 2018 - link

    The original was a i5-3317U dual-core hyperthreaded 1.7Ghz -> 2.6Ghz turbo. I have one. It's still quite nice, although with the cooling it has it can only maintain ~1.9Ghz under full load with BOINC.

    Surface Pro 2 and 3 were significant steps back in terms of single-threaded performance, to achieve the "thin and light" goal and improve battery life. That was probably the right decision for the target audience, but given I use my Pro 1 as a second screen I'm glad I got it cheap when the Pro 2 came out.
    Reply
  • Eliadbu - Friday, October 19, 2018 - link

    The days of CPU improvement are near the end
    IPC improvement is near the limit adding more instruction to the already large CISC is doubtfully helpful. We are just about the end on how far we can push the clock speed and and adding more cores and threads is useful but to a certain degree. And this is also true for AMD. A new direction should be taken like instead of stack of general purpose CPUs for a all consumers a family of specialized CPUs would good idea.
    Reply
  • wr3zzz - Tuesday, October 16, 2018 - link

    What is the downside of using a U-class CPU without active cooling? Surface Pro i5 is not the only one. Huawei's Matebook also pairs U-class 15Watt chips without fans.

    Why won't more companies do this?
    Reply

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