GPU Performance

While many will lament the loss of the Intel Iris graphics on this year’s lineup of Surface Pro computers, as already stated, there’s no Iris graphics available anymore in the 15-Watt lineup. There’s no doubt that the extra execution units, and the extra eDRAM as a system cache were valuable, but you can’t sell a product that doesn’t exist. As such both the Core i5 and i7 models have the Intel UHD 620 GPU for 2018. Whether or not this will make a dramatic impact on real-world use will depend heavily on what the GPU was used for, since in some cases the wider GPU could made a noticeable impact, but often it was highly thermally limited in a 15-Watt package anyway.

To test GPU performance, the Surface Pro 6 was run through our non-gaming GPU suite. If you’d like to compare it to any other device we’ve tested, please use our online Laptop Bench.

3DMark

Futuremark 3DMark Fire Strike

Futuremark 3DMark Sky Diver

Futuremark 3DMark Cloud Gate

Futuremark 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited

Futuremark 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited - Graphics

Futuremark 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited - Physics

In the synthetic 3DMark from UL Benchmarks, the Surface Pro 6’s extra CPU grunt helps it stay with the Iris equipped 2017 Surface Pro except in the least demanding tests, although on the most demanding GPU test, which is Fire Strike, the UHD 620 is well behind AMD’s Ryzen 7 in the same 15-Watt package.

GFXBench

GFXBench GL 4.0 Car Chase Offscreen

GFXBench GL 4.0 Manhattan 3.1 Offscreen

GFXBench 3.0 Manhattan Offscreen 1080p

GFXBench 3.0 T-Rex Offscreen 1080p

GFXBench is an OpenGL based test and is less relevant due to the lack of new OpenGL titles. These tests are aimed at the mobile computing crowd for smartphones and tablets, although in those cases the tests are run in 16-bit mode and not necessarily in OpenGL either so the results aren’t directly comparable. Here again we see the Surface Pro 6 in the middle of the pack, although the AMD based system drops off due to OpenGL drivers.

Dota 2

Dota 2 Reborn - Value

Dota 2 Reborn - Mainstream

Dota 2 Reborn - Enthusiast

Valve’s Dota 2 is a very popular arena battle game, and the game itself is playable on a wide-range of devices. The game engine tends to be CPU bound quite quickly, but is still a good yardstick when looking at lower-power GPUs. Here the Surface Pro 6 does quite well, especially on the lower detail settings. When the game is set to its maximum settings at 1920x1080, the Iris GPU in last year’s Surface Pro ends up throttling heavily and offering lower performance despite being a quicker GPU on paper. You can see quite easily how the game ends up CPU bound though if you look at the Surface Book 2 which features an NVIDIA GTX 1060 GPU. This GPU will easily run circles around anything else in the charts, but the game is held back by the U series processor.

GPU Conclusion

Intel hasn’t made significant changes to its GPU lineup for some time, and definitely lags behind AMD’s Vega architecture found in the Ryzen mobile lineup. Due to the lack of availability, Microsoft was unable to  maintain the tradition of offering the Iris GPU either. We’re fairly accustomed to where the Intel iGPU sits and until a new one is launched, we aren’t going to see anything too dramatic in the GPU performance.

Storage Performance

As with last year’s model, the Surface Pro 6 uses a BGA SSD meaning it’s soldered directly onto the motherboard. This saves space, as well as a couple of grams of weight, compared to the M.2 versions. SSDs have become a commodity, so generally manufacturers tend to buy from several suppliers. We can’t say for sure whether Microsoft is doing that this time, since we just have the single sample, but in the past they have so it would not be surprising to see this multi-sourced.

In the review unit we have the SK Hynix BC501 in a 256 GB configuration. This is a PCIe Gen 3 x2 SSD, which SK Hynix rates for 110K IOPS random read and 150K IOPS random write.

The SSD is bumping into the limits of PCIe 3.0 x2 on sequential read and write, and only the 128 GB model won’t do that according to SK Hynix. As usual, larger SSDs offer better performance, but you’re not going to see higher sequential reads than this BGA SSD offers in a x2 configuration.

System Performance Display Analysis
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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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