Between the first Surface Book and the updated version released in early 2017, Microsoft had played “small arm” by keeping the same sixth generation Intel processor while those of the seventh was already on track. Between the 2016 and 2017 versions, the only real development recorded on the technical sheet was embodied by the Nvidia graphics card. The GeForce 840M gave way to the more powerful GTX 965M. Problem, Nvidia had changed it too – its chip fleet during the summer of 2016! De facto, the Surface Book of early 2017 was also a bit outdated in this regard.
With the Surface Book 2, Microsoft has apparently heard the criticisms and acted accordingly. Everything is up to date, I promise! Note immediately that in UK, only the 13.5 inch version is available while in the United States, the Surface Book 2 is also available in 15 inch version. This is not (yet?) Planned for UK at the time of writing this review.
The new 13.5-inch machine is available in 4 versions, sold from 1,750 euros. Please note, on the Microsoft site, the cheapest has a seventh generation processor and not an eighth processor and is sold without a graphics card in the keyboard.
The model we are reviewing is the most upscale, displayed at 3,450 euros. Which is good since the 2017 version that we received for reviewing was also the most expensive and equipped like a fighter plane. The opportunity is too good, let’s compare them.
Surface Book 2 looks like two drops of water to previous models. Microsoft found an original design and spent time developing and building a case with quality materials (anodized aluminum, magnesium, etc.), it is therefore quite normal that the giant makes the most of it by reusing it as much as possible! And keeps it to shape its 2-in-1 hybrid laptops.
Two-in-one because although it looks like a laptop at first, the screen part is detached from the keyboard. So you can go from laptop to XL 13.5-inch tablet in seconds. You can even position the screen facing you but your back facing the keyboard … and use the keyboard as a simple support.
If you’ve never seen a Surface Book, know that it is aesthetically different from its competitors in two ways. The first is undoubtedly the hinge of the touch screen / tablet. It runs along the entire rear length of the machine and is articulated in four points, which gives it the air of a small tank track.
In addition, when closed and viewed from the side, the screen rests only partially against the keyboard keys. It is not a defect, no need to weigh with all your weight to try to close it! No, this is the second aesthetic subtlety of the Surface Book, taken up on this third iteration.
Goodbye mini DisplayPort!
The only external change is to be sought on the connection side. For the first time in the Surface family, a USB Type-C socket is integrated into a machine. It is not compatible with the Thunderbolt 3 standard and does not allow the device’s two batteries to be recharged. To do this, you must continue to use the proprietary socket, connected to the power supply unit. USB Type-C is intended to serve as video output (DisplayPort) and to accommodate the few compatible storage devices.
For hard drives and other conventional USB keys, two full-size sockets with standard 3.0 are available on the left side of the keyboard section. The SD card reader also remains in the game.
No wired network socket but the on-board Wi-Fi module (compatible with the ac standard) is responsible for connecting to the Internet. Finally, note on the tablet, the presence of a camera module 5 Mpixels front and 8 Mpixels rear (in case …) and a headphone jack, combining microphone input and stereo output, for those who swear that by wireframe! It is still on the tablet that the buttons for turning on and adjusting the volume are located.
Let’s move on to the recurring elements of the machine. We can already mention the backlit keyboard (three intensities) whose touch is among the best of the moment (almost as good as that of the Dell XPS 13, although different).
It is also on the latter that the key is used to eject the tablet from the keyboard part, whether the machine is running or stopped. And as always, you have to be fast enough because, otherwise, the magnetic locks will reset.
Moreover, to avoid ejecting the tablet while a large app is running, for example, Microsoft keeps the utility which launches automatically and prevents the operation until you have closed the programs listed in its small menu. . Note also: if the batteries are completely flat, the separation control will not work.
Let’s finish with the last recurring element, the large touchpad, very pleasant to handle, surmounted by a thin layer of sanded glass and which remains much more precise than the fingers applied to the touch screen to do image retouching or drawing for example.
Because if you were counting on the Surface Pen to draw lines or take notes directly on the screen, know that the Microsoft stylus is no longer supplied with the machine! Considering the price of this version, we expected to have an “all inclusive” offer, including at least the Pen sold as an option … the trifle of 110 euros.
A screen (certainly brilliant) as we would like to see more often
Before we talk about the components hidden behind the 13.5-inch screen, let’s take a look at the case of this one. Like all members of the Surface family, it offers a 3: 2 aspect ratio. Its image definition is 3000 by 2000 pixels, which is quite huge for such a display area. So, you have to increase the size of the Windows 10 interface to at least 150% to have good readability.
In terms of color rendering, not much to say. Its good. Even very good. We have not detected any major distortions in our multimedia assessment content. Once passed the probe, it turns out to be one of the best we’ve had in the ultraportable world for a very long time.
It even surpasses that of the old Surface Book! The average measured brightness is 403 cd / m2 (against 389 cd / m2) and the contrast ratio exceeds 1650: 1 (against 1581: 1). We take full retina, no doubt! In addition, the power of the backlight even makes it possible to effectively fight against reflections which are invariably caught by the protective glass of the panel.
However, let’s hope that this show of force from Microsoft does not come at the expense of the autonomy of the machine because, usually, Has a screen full of pixels and very bright, often calamitous endurance “(Labnet EntertainmentBox proverb).
Endurance on the rise again
The previous version of Microsoft’s Surface Book offered more than comfortable autonomy in our different review protocols. When the tablet rested on the keyboard part – both with batteries, we recall – we had measured times of 9 h 55 for video playback (screen full) and 8 h 57 in the context of versatile use ( screen at 200 cd / m2).
The Surface Book 2 does even better: still with its two batteries (rechargeable independently), it manages to hold almost 10:45 in video playback and more than 11:10 in versatile use. What make it an excellent travel companion for mobile workers. What also allow you to leave the AC adapter (376 grams) at home or in the office when the batteries of the SB2 are fully charged.
However, beware, the versatile autonomy of the tablet alone is really very limited: 2 h 33 minutes. Indeed, the battery housed in the latter has many elements to supply. The screen to start with, but also and above all 90% of the components of the device, housed just behind the panel.
Up-to-date components, a more powerful machine
The Surface Book 2 offers a hardware configuration adopting the lareview standards in this area. In the tablet part there is a lareview generation Intel Core i7-8650U processor (Kaby Lake Refresh), 16 GB of RAM (DDR3L) and 1 TB of SSD (Samsung PCIe NVMe). This is already a very good basis for work.
The graphics card is located in the keyboard part and is none other than a GeForce GTX 1050 (with 2 GB of memory) from Nvidia. This communicates with the other components via the connectors located on the display hinge.
And if the previous graphics chip housed in the Surface Book did not allow it to venture serenely on the paths of the occasional PC game, the GTX 1050 makes it almost possible.
Be careful however, Microsoft does not sell the Surface Book 2 as a gaming machine but as a device capable of combining CPU and GPU computing power in professional or semi-professional apps that know how to take advantage of it.
But, we couldn’t resist passing him some video game reviews, just out of curiosity. In the native definition of the screen, MOBA type games (DoTA 2, HoTS or LoL) see CS: GO pass with “High” settings.
However if you dream of playing Assassin’s Creed Origins or to Shadow of War, there, you will have to be satisfied with a Full HD image and details set to “Low” or even “Medium” to reach between 30 and 50 images per second on average. It’s not great but it still allows you to pass the time between two meetings and provided that the machine is connected to the mains to prevent the battery from melting like snow in the sun. And of course, the fact of launching such greedy games on the machine causes the ventilation to start and a rise in mercury, both on the back of the tablet and under the keyboard.
Noise and throttling!
As on the first two Surface Book, the sides of the tablet are completely perforated, so as to let in fresh air. Remember that in this case everything is passively cooled in this part of the machine. Only the keyboard part is equipped with active ventilation (exhaust opening located at the hinge) so that the graphics card can be properly kept at the right temperature.
So we did a few temperature readings to see possible progress because the 2017 version was heating too much for our taste. On all of the measurements made under the keyboard part, there is a decrease of 3 ° C on the SB2, going from 43.6 to 40.6 ° C. On the palm rest, nothing is moving, values between 27 and 28 ° C are kept.
On the back of the tablet, nothing very alarming except that the temperature tends to rise like a sudden spurt of fever … but it stabilizes around 40-41 ° C at the warmest, depending on the scenarios of component stress. Consumption also remains in the same waters as on the 2017 version, with 8.5 watts at rest against 98 W at maximum load.
Unfortunately, the noise from the blower emitted by the keyboard part remains quite significant, as on the previous version. We noted 40 dB maximum (30 dB at rest).
The absence of a fan (in the tablet part) contributes to not increasing the nuisance, of course. But it is nevertheless a source of problems! We found that the processor was struggling to keep its native frequencies. Especially when subjected to an extreme situation, which mobilized all its forces.
As the OCCT graph above shows, by executing tasks on all cores, the frequency climbs beyond 1.9 GHz thanks to the Turbo Boost to drop very quickly to… 900 MHz. Then after a few minutes, the Core i7 gets back on track and stabilizes at 1.6 GHz and drops back to 1 GHz. There is throttling in the air ! Would the passive dissipation system find it difficult to cool the four physical hearts hyperthreading ? A handicap that we had not noted on the previous version. The thing is all the more surprising since the Core i7 processor keeps – on paper – the same thermal envelope as the previous one (15 watts announced).
Please note, however, that our review is not representative of what can happen in conventional use (surfing, office automation, video, casu ‘games). However, with the power under the hood, turning large video editing or digital development apps to heavy photos is tempting. So be aware that the throtting phenomenon is likely to happen again, especially if the software is massively hyperthreaded and only uses the CPU to machine.
Note that we have managed to reproduce this same behavior by launching very greedy games in the native definition of the screen with fairly advanced graphics profiles. In short what convinces us a little more that the Surface Book 2 can improvise “player for an evening” but remains above all a very big “everyday worker” and that it is still a little limited …