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Should you buy the Surface Book with Performance Base for gaming?

Surface Book

We have to be careful not to call it a "new" Surface Book (opens in new tab), as it's really not. But the refreshed high-end model has some notable improvements over the existing one. You're getting twice the graphics power and plenty more battery life in something that's virtually identical to what you can already buy.

We're also asked fairly often with regards gaming, just what mileage you get on a Surface Book. We've already addressed the current top-spec model and what kind of gaming experience you get on it, but what about the Performance Base? Is it one for gamers?

What's inside the Surface Book with Performance Base?

Surface Book

Microsoft (Image credit: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

If you're interested in the full specs list, we've compiled a list of those, but the most important part from a gaming perspective is the "2x graphics" that Microsoft promoted on stage at launch. The Performance Base brings a 2GB NVIDIA GTX 965M to the Surface Book, along with a beefier battery.

While still a way off what you'd find in a dedicated gaming laptop, it's a substantial increase on the current NVIDIA graphics in the Surface Book. It's also the same GPU used in the base model Surface Studio.

Can you game on it?

Surface Book

Yes, you can. OK, you want more than that. We've already proven that you can game on a Surface Book, albeit with mixed results and a definite reduction in both resolution and graphical quality. And no, it's not just Candy Crush, either, you can enjoy titles such as Overwatch and Gears of War in some capacity.

The Performance Base will only improve that experience, and at this point, we'll have to wait and see exactly by how much. Given past experiences with a 960M GPU, we'd be fairly hopeful of a good improvement in both frame rate and resolution, but the fact it's a 2GB rather than a 4GB card will still prove limiting at times.

This refreshed edition of the Surface Book doesn't change the processor, either, which means you're still using a dual-core chip. Gamers should always prefer a quad-core.

More: Gaming on the current Surface Book with NVIDIA GPU

It's expensive

The Surface Book has never been a laptop to consider on a tight budget, regardless of your use case. The Performance Base Edition starts at $2,399 and goes up to $3,299. It's expensive, but it's also not exactly a regular laptop.

It's also not great value at these prices if gaming is high on the agenda. For less, you can certainly get much more raw performance. By comparison, the most expensive Razer Blade with a quad-core i7 processor and a GTX 1060 GPU tops out at $2,700.

The bottom line

Surface Book

The conclusion is very similar to that we came to when asking this same question about the Surface Studio. Your reasons for buying a Surface Book should be first and foremost that you want one for what it offers away from playing PC games. It's a unique product among laptops and has a lot to offer, albeit at a price.

If you're a casual gamer then you can go into a Surface Book knowing that you will be able to play your favorite titles to some extent. But if gaming is high on your priorities, go somewhere else.

See at Microsoft (opens in new tab)

Richard Devine is an Editor at Windows Central. A former Project Manager and long-term tech addict, he joined Mobile Nations in 2011 and has been found on Android Central and iMore as well as Windows Central. Currently you'll find him covering all manner of PC hardware and gaming, and you can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

67 Comments
  • Erm.... No. I'd definitely go with the Razer Stealth with the money I'd end up spending on a Surface Book. The newer mobile Gtx (1080?) chips being close to their desktop counterparts is the main reason for me.
  • Did you even read the article? That's what it says. If gaming is your priority then Surface Book is not the right choice.
  • Yes I read it. The "no" was answering the initial question. The latter part was my 2¢
  • Pretty sure you are thinking of the Razer Blade pro, not the Stealth.
  • Yes thanks!
  • No, I think he meant the regular Razer Blade (the 14" one).  The Razer Blade Pro is 17" and $3700.  Not exactly Surface Book competition.
  • Yes, can't wait to see how well solitaire runs!
  • I'm very curious to know if the ssd in the surface book is a pcie and what's the clock speed for the processor(whats the turbo boost clock speed)? also what's the speed for the ram. these are crucial features when comparing this to a Mac. Can someone please answer?
  • The SSD, Processor, and Turbo Boost setting is exactly the same as the original Surface Book V1 that came out last year.  The only thing that changed in the performance base version of SB is the Battery increase of 30% and the Keyboard base GPU was upgraded from a 940m to a 965m and that upgrade is roughly a double in graphics performance.
  • Thanks for responding but you didn't answer my question as these information are not available for the older version either.
  • but u wont have surface pen or windows ink feature, which very useful to me for math,noting, study. MANN, im looking for all in one, gaming & study :( MS c'mon :(
  • In others words you wanna spend $5000 for a laptop.
  • The Stealth is not a gaming notebook unless you dock it. Otherwise it's just another low-power 15 watt dual-core Ultrabook, but without a dedicated GPU or 3:2 display, like Surface Book. Presumably you are thinking of the Razer Blade, Razer's 14" notebook which is actually made for gaming, though it makes compromises compared to larger 15" and 17" gaming notebooks for being otherwise so thin and light.
  • All I need to know is will it run Civilization 6?
  • Easily. My surface pro 3 (i5 4GB RAM) runs it on low. 
  • The more energy efficient and compact these cards get, the more we will see parity between desktop and laptop. I don't know how long would it be when they will be equal, if at all.
  • Presumably the desktop equivalents will grow at an equally exponential rate, so I doubt they will ever be equal. Power comes down to size, both chip size and the ability to cool, and a laptop can never compare with a desktop in that regard.
  • also the razer stealth + razer core is still cheaper then the surface book with a gpu
  • I'm not a PC gamer, but isn't the statement in this article that "gamers should always prefer a quad core" not accurate at all? My understanding was that a dual core processor with higher clockspeeds than a quad core was always the higher performer for gaming. Perhaps that is antiquated knowledge and games are now commonly making use of multiple cores to their benefit?
  • Not for about 2 years. Quad core is the new minimum. Dx12 pushes multicore even further towards quads.
  • Cool, glad to hear that.
  • I think DX12 and Vulcan try to improve on using those extra cores, but that's probably only beneficial when you have a far more powerful GPU to keep up. Dual-core is probably the right balance for the hardware package here, as this device targets heaps of battery life as a selling point, not high-FPS gaming. 
  • Who the hell makes dual core chips these days. Thought ask chips were at least 4.
  • Lol wake up! Almost every premium laptop ships with dual core chips. Quad core laptop chips are few and far in between.
  • Intel
  • Intel....they have a U a the end of the model number and those are terrible for gaming.
  • the U denotes that the processor has integrated platform input/output. It's got nothing to do with the number of cores, though they're typically low power chips used in ultrabooks.
  • quad-core doesn't always mean better performance.
  • Not always, but usually these days.
  • Much to my chagrin, most premium-brand 13" laptops still have dual core Intel Core i5/i7 processors. This is true for Apple laptops as well, which is major the competition for Microsoft's Surface brand. I really wish that, at least at the high end of these models, quad cores would become normal for 13" screens. I suspect the extra power draw is encouraging brands to only put them with beefy batteries, and Microsoft clearly wanted to tout the massive battery increase gained by not pairing it with a quad core processor. I would have happily taken 12-14 hours of battery life with a quad core rather than 14-16 hours of battery life with a dual core one. As Intel reduces battery life with their chips, as well as nVidia / AMD with their graphics cards, things should only get better in the next generation or two, and I expect it to come with a lot of fanfare when they move to default quad cores.
  • every single company makes dual cores. i5 mobile chips are dual cores.
  • Even McDonald's?
  • Especially them, but they use slightly different terms. Their chips are called "Double Core with Cheese."
  • Yeah, that started with the new McCafe model.
  • I have played Forza horizon 3 ( which is considered one of the best visuals the PC has to offer ) on both a 4K PC at max settings running at 60 FPS. And an Xbox one S on a 4K 50" HDR TV. In all honesty although the PC version looks better. It isn't really that much better. And no way I'd pay the £1200 my friend paid for the small amount of difference. The same with Gears 4. And these 2 titles are the best on PC at this current time. I wouldn't even bother with PC gaming at this stage. If a console running 1.4 flops gets pretty close to a PC running 8tflops. Just imagine what Scorpio is gonna do. The upscaler in my TV upscaled FH3 rediculously well. And the HDR makes the lighting so much better. Personally I wouldn't bother spending out for a gaming PC. Just get a Scorpio which has roughly 6x the power of the current Xbox One. 1/3 more power than the PS4Pro. Also the Scorpio has a whopping 320gb/sec bandwidth. Compare that to the PS4 Pro for example 200gb/sec. And its likely going to be £399 according to rumours around Spencer.
  • A xbox doesn't look anywhere close to a decent pc. Scorpio will be a significant improvement, but there is no comparison. PC vs xbone/ps4 is similar to xbone/ps4 vs 360/ps3
  • I don't think so. Like I said. I've played them both. And I agree its better, but not that much better. I just think its easier for a dedicated machine without the fuss. Considering for me diminishing returns.
  • A game on Xbox One running 1080p/30 compared to the same game running with 8 times the pixel count at twice the framerate is a small difference? Yea, OK. O_o
  • 4k is (close to) 4 times 1080, isn't it??
  • Yes.
  • You're absolutely right. I was thinking 8 million pixels and got them mixed up.
  • Except the game is actually running at 4K, it is being upscaled to 4k.  That is a big difference and it does give improvement but true 4K will blow away upscaled 4K.
  • Forza horizon 3 is a Microsoft game, of course the way it looks on Xbox is close to how it looks on PC. But vast majority of games look vastly superior on PC.If you go see Battlefield 1, Crysis, Far Cry 3,4, Witcher 3.... they don't even seem like the same game the difference is so huge. And the framerate advantage is somehting no PC gamer shall give up. Now of course you might not see any difference even then, play on a console by all means. No point switching platform for something you can't see.
  • FH3 doesn't look anywhere near as nice on xbone as it does on pc. I basically agree with your post, but I think the difference on FH3 is also pretty stark.
  • You are severely misinformed.  Forza and Gears 4 are not the best Graphics the PC has to offer.  They may be marketed as that and a lot of people may believe that but that does not make it true.  These two games are console ports.  That means that these games were made for consoles and then ported to PC.  That also means that because of the port process the game will never be that much better than the console version because the game wasn't designed to take advantage of the PC hardware, it was designed to take advantage of the console hardware.
  • No thanks It's not a Gaming device
  •   Much like the Surface AIO, the Surface Book is productivity device.  As software developer and part-time photographer, these are both wonderful devices for those purposes.  However, I see hear and on game forums, everyone seems to be panning these devices for gaming when they were never meant to be gaming devices and there are devices for gaming if that is what you really, really want. As a software developer, I wish the Surface Book had a 32gb option so I can run some Hyper-V VMs for work, but I make due.
  • Agree, the Surface Book is a pretty great laptop/tablet hybrid but is not high end gaming device. If Microsoft ever decides get serious about gaming on it they would need to either make them with the new GTX 1000 gpu's(1050 if they are looking to save money on it's production) or even the RX 400 GPU's is they are looking to save money on it while getting a good gaming experience.
    Otherwise they would need to make amplifiers that work in the same way the keyboard/discreet gpu section works where all you have to do is connect the tablet section, a keyboard and mouse and your ready to go.
  • TL:DR me would buy this as general purpose light-cool laptop that can also do some decent gaming, which is perfect for me since I'm a desktop gaming master race elitist
  • Thanks @richard it is so important article to me :) thanks so much
  • It runs c&c generals very well
  • i would better go with xbox one 1tb with HD Tv and whole setup will cost me less than $1000! but i still owns a surface book and surface pro as well. this is not meant to be a gaminjg machine.
  • The Surface is awful for gaming. But it will play last gen games like a champ at 720p (so games up to 2013) and it will even run modern games decent enough at low settings.
  • My GTX 950 is only about 15% better than the GTX 965M. And my 950 can run almost all free-to-play and cheap but new games at 1920x1200 with graphics maxed. It even runs most new games at ~medium to high graphics. I'm quite sure that the 965M is powerful enough to run even some of the heavier games at 1080p with low to med graphics.
  • For the love of gaming just buy a god damn proper dedicated PC, these small toys are no were near as good as a proper PC, end of discussion!
  • Has the battery life been increased for the tablet portion? I would love a Surface Book, but that is the big turnoff for me. I want the portability of a Surface Pro, with the power of the Surface Book!
  • I'm 100% with you. I want a Surface Book badly, but I use my SP3 as a tablet a lot and I was also really hoping for some gains. I confirmed with my local MS store though... The tablet did not get any of those extra batteries; they're all in the base. In fact, the top portion of the laptop did not change in anyway whatsoever. I get why they didn't though. (adding weight/size to the tablet section would upset as many as it would make happy honestly) 
  • How about for VR?
  • Yes.
  • I think they could be good for AutoCAD correct?
  • did surface dial work on the screen of surface book?
  • It will not work on the screen of the surface book or Surface Pro 4 but it will still work as an interaction device.
  • No. Then what is the purpose of the Xbox One and S? Isaiah Heart
  • Can you take the Xbox with you and use on a train, in an airport, with ease without having to have an external screen? No?  There you go.
  • See green button "See at Microsoft". Click on it and it takes you to the Apple online shop.... Nice work ;)
  • Well what the... we will fix!
  • Totally agree with your conclusions here Rich. Perfect for the casual gamer looking to fire up a game from time to time. For the hardcore, would be best to setup your own gaming rig.