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Microsoft Surface Book 2 13.5" Review: Much Needed Refinement

Author: Ken Addison
Subject: Mobile
Manufacturer: Microsoft
Tagged:

CPU and Storage Performance

For our performance testing, we are pitting the Surface Book 2 against 3 other Intel 8th generation devices, including the XPS 13, Dawson Canyon NUC, and Zenbook 3 Deluxe UX490UA. These devices consist of the highest performance 8th generation systems we have tested so far. Additionally, we are also testing the HP Envy x360 powered by AMD's Ryzen 5 2500U APU.

Performance testing was done on all devices in the "Better Performance" mode Windows 10, which is the middle setting between "Best Battery Life" and "Best Performance"

Cinebench R15

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Cinebench R15 continues to show the performance dominance of the XPS 13 9370 in multi-threaded testing, winning by almost 9%. However, the Surface Book 2 manages to best even the Intel desktop-based NUC7i7DNHE platform.

In the Single-threaded test, the Surface Book 2 fairs slightly worse than both the XPS 13 and the NUC.

Handbrake 1.0.7

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Transcoding a 4K H.264 file to 1080p in Handbrake shows the effect of a prolonged CPU load on the Surface Book 2. This test shows a 23% rendering time increase for the Surface Book 2 when compared to the XPS 13.

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Taking a look at the processor frequencies of both the Surface Book 2 and XPS 13 during our Handbrake encoding test, we can visualize this performance gap. While the Surface Book 2 hovers at a clock speed just around 2GHz, the XPS 13 manages to maintain a clock of 3GHz for most of the test. This 1GHz gap is both a testament to the XPS 13's ability to maintain very high turbo frequencies, as well as a negative mark on the Surface Book 2's thermal tuning.

It's clear that in pure CPU-bound tests, the Surface Book 2 is significantly more conservative than other comparable notebooks in downclocking the processor due to its specific thermal design.

PCMark 10

PCMark 10 Extended is a benchmarking suite that aims to emulate several different usage scenarios ranging from basic productivity to mixed workloads, as well as light gaming and to applications for creative professionals like photo and video editing.

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PCMark10 shows quite an advantage to the GTX 1050 graphics in the Surface Book 2 versus the rest of the competition. Even the Vega-equipped HP Envy x360 falls short to the Surface Book 2 in PCMark.

However, the XPS 13 manages to pull ahead of the Surface Book 2 in the "Essentials" sub-test, which doesn't feature heavy OpenCL acceleration, negating the more powerful GPU.

Storage Performance

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Storage performance of the Samsung PM961 SSD in the Surface Book 2 is.. disappointing, to say the least. As we saw with the most recently XPS 13, there is obviously some firmware-level tuning here that is limiting the write performance, likely to reduce power consumption.

However, Microsoft seems to have gone in an extreme direction here, limiting the writes to just over 300MB/s sequentially. This is embarrassingly slow for a modern SSD. Even though this is a PCIe SSD, the write performance is slower than the vast majority of SATA SSDs. For reference, even the pocket-sized USB 3.1 Samsung T5 portable SSD almost doubles the write performance of the Surface Book 2.

While it's true that write performance isn't necessarily the most important thing on a mobile platform, limiting the performance to well under SATA rates seems like a waste of a great SSD in the Samsung PM961.


April 30, 2018 | 12:13 PM - Posted by Anonymous1 (not verified)

Just a heads up, the title of the chart on the first page says "Dell XPS 13 2-in-1"

April 30, 2018 | 02:27 PM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

Thanks updated!

April 30, 2018 | 04:49 PM - Posted by remc86007

I know these are pricy for the specs, but they really make excellent laptops even if that's all you do with them. I have a first gen Surface Book that I bought refurbished in early 2017 for $1000 which I use as my business laptop. Nothing at that price range gave me anything close to the screen quality (and aspect ratio), the keyboard and trackpad quality, and the battery life that the Surface Book does. I regularly get 12+hours of usage out of it.

May 1, 2018 | 11:06 AM - Posted by Grumpy wolf (not verified)

I worked for customer support for surface for a couple years, and I own a couple myself. The book 2 (at least the i7 version with the 1060) was a very nice device, decent gaming performance and was quieter than my thicker Asus laptop with a 1060. It also had great battery life, I would often have one at my desk all day only running on battery.

May 1, 2018 | 04:40 PM - Posted by Kretschmer (not verified)

Since a 1050 can't expect to run 3000x2000 at any reasonable FPS, how is the scaling at 1080P and half resolution (1500x1000)? Is it a blurry mess, like on most 4K monitors running at 1080P?

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