Microsoft Surface Book 2 13.5" Review: Much Needed Refinement
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 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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.