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Microsoft Surface Book Performance Base review: The price of power and performance

The same as before, but now with power to spare.

Surface Book and Xbox
(Image: © Windows Central)

Windows Central Recommended Award

Microsoft's new high-end Surface Book is aimed at two types of people: those who need extra graphics power and those with deep pockets. While the Surface Book with Performance Base still runs the same dual-core Intel Core i7 Skylake processor it gets a significant bump in graphics and, thankfully, battery too.

Let's take a look at what is new and what's different.

Surface Book specs

CategorySpecification
Operating SystemWindows 10 Anniversary Update
Display Size13.5-inch PixelSense Display
Display Resolution3000x2000 (267 ppi)
Processor6th Generation Intel Core i7 @2.6GHz (6600U)
GPUNvidia 965M
2GB GDDR5
RAM8 or 16GB DDR3
Internal Storage256GB, 512GB, or 1TB
Rear Camera8MP with 1080P HD video
Front CameraWindows Hello face-authentication & 5MP camera
BatteryUp to 16 hours
Dimensions as laptop12.30 x 9.14 x 0.51 - 0.90 inches
312.3 x 232.1 x 13.0 - 22.8 mm
Dimensions as tablet8.67 x 12.3 x 0.30 inches
Weight as laptop3.63 lbs. (1,647g)
Weight as tablet1.6 lbs. (725g)
PriceStarts at $2,399
Max Config at $3,299

More GPU

Previously, Surface Book had two different levels: one that used Intel HD 520 graphics and one with an optional (and more expensive) Nvidia GPU. That GPU was a custom job with 1GB of video memory and it offered similar performance to a GTX 940M.

Now, Microsoft has added a third option with the Performance Base. This time, instead of an oddly specced custom GPU it has a more standard and more powerful Nvidia GTX 965M with 2GB of dedicated GDDR5 video memory. The 965M is a solid performer, but it is based on the older Maxwell microarchitecture announced two years ago. It also pales in performance compared to the new Nvidia Pascal microarchitecture found in the GTX 10xx series of gaming laptops.

Surface Book Performance Base

Xbox One controller PC use (Image credit: Windows Central)

That's important to keep in mind for perspective. While the Surface Book can now do heavier gaming — including brand-new titles like Gears of War 4 — it will not outperform the most recent gaming laptops hitting the market. Nor would we expect it too.

Nonetheless, it is a significant increase from the previous Surface Book's dedicated GPU.

Playing Gears of War 4 this machine averaged 47 FPS but often went higher. That's at the native 3000 x 2000 resolution. Dropping down to 1621 x 1080 ("Full HD") and that number went even higher. That's solid gameplay at medium settings with vertical sync disabled.

Forza Horizons 3 is also perfectly playable, as are many other Windows 10 games on the Store. Keep in mind, the hissing fans of the Surface Book will kick in as well. You'll probably want to use headphones when hard gaming to avoid the distraction.

I don't want to hedge here: The Surface Book with Performance Base is perfectly playable for some high-end games. Unfortunately, Microsoft did not update the CPU to the newer 7th gen Kaby Lake processor. Combined with the 965M and the Surface Book with Performance Base is a more powerful, but somewhat dated, two-in-one.

CrystalDiskMark Benchmarks (Samsung SSD)

CategoryScore
Seq Q33T1Read: 1646 | Write: 1263
4K Q33T1Read: 375.1 | Write: 334.3
SeqRead: 950.1 | Write: 944.2
4KRead: 40.62 | Write: 110.7

Geekbench 4.0 Benchmarks (GTX 965M)

CategoryScore
Single core3948
Dual core7415
CUDA63029
OpenCL64108

3DMark

CategoryScore
Time Spy1559

While not a gaming monster the Performance Base is a notch higher than nearly all Notebooks. Due to the last-gen GPU and being "only" a dual-core machine the Surface Book hits walls compared to beefier quad-core gaming laptops. Nonetheless, can gaming PCs take off their displays to become a tablet? Do they get 10 hours battery life? Definitely not.

Don't mind our humps

Microsoft did have one issue tossing in the GTX 965M: Heat. To get thermals under control the company had to increase the size of the Surface Book's base to add a second fan for cooling. The result is a somewhat bulging hump near the display, and now the front of the base does not taper off.

However, the Surface team was smart. Most of the increased sized is pushed to the empty gap created by the unique Surface Book hinge. That means this variant doesn't feel too different when closed. While the base comes up around the keyboard somewhat, the travel of the keys has not changed and typing feels the same between models.

Heat-wise, the laptop peaked at 113° F (45° C) with 20 minutes of intense gaming in Gears of War 4. The heat was isolated towards the upper center of the keyboard near the function keys. You could also feel the heat on the bottom although it never became uncomfortable to use.

More battery

In a way, that physical change to the Surface Book is a blessing in disguise. Microsoft used the additional space to increase the primary battery by 30%, a jump from 52 Wh to 63.4 Wh. Combine that with the 18 Wh battery in the top half and you get an impressive 81.4 Wh of total power.

To put that number in perspective: most Ultrabooks are in the 50 Wh range, and no laptop goes over 100 Wh due to airline safety restrictions.

Microsoft claims this larger battery will power the Surface Book for 16 hours. As usual, those claims are under ideal conditions. In real world testing, however, the enlarged battery makes a real difference. In my tests over the last week, I consistently pushed 10 hours of real world productivity and went off the charger for two days. When you consider that this machine is running 16GB of RAM, a 1TB SSD, and an upgraded GPU, that is very impressive. That's also roughly the 30% increase I'd expect from the 7-8 hours of battery life I typically get on my older non-Performance Surface Book.

Note, however, if you tax the GTX 965M GPU at 100% e.g. gaming, video editing, etc. you'll probably eek out 5 hours. I have a gaming laptop that can do 90 minutes tops under those situations so again, the Surface Book here impresses.

Surface Book Performance Base

This is the new bigger 102W power brick for the Surface Book

That increased battery life means you can easily leave the AC charger at home. That's also a good thing as this machine comes with a larger and heavier 102 Watt power supply (11.4oz/323g) versus the standard 65W (7.2oz/204g) one. Also heavier is the Surface Book itself, the Performance Base brings the weight up to 3.63 lbs (1,647g), a small jump from the previous 3.48lbs (1576g).

You can feel it too. While a 3.6-pound laptop is not heavy per se, the Performance Base variant seems dense for its size, which is fine. When combined with the magnesium chassis the Surface Book feels substantial and premium. Nonetheless, it's a lot of computing power and battery cells packed into a 13.5-inch laptop — it's smaller and lighter than many so-called pro-level laptops (looking at you, new 15-inch Apple MacBook Pro) but still brings all of the expected performance.

It's time to pay

All of this comes at a price, though. The Surface Book with Performance Base starts at $2,399 (opens in new tab). That's for 256GB of SSD storage and 8GB of RAM. If you want 512GB of storage and 16GB of RAM, you'll have to pony up $2,799 (opens in new tab).

All of this power and performance comes at a price, though: up to $3,299

At the top of the mountain is our review unit which has 16GB of RAM and a massive 1TB SSD for a wallet-murdering $3,299 (opens in new tab). And no, Microsoft has no plans to sell just the base with new GPU in case you wanted to upgrade your current Surface Book. Though you could always buy a Surface Book Performance Base and sell your old one on Swappa (opens in new tab) to make up some of the difference

To buy or wait?

Microsoft has done an incredible job with the Surface Book with Performance Base. While it gains some weight and gets thicker in the middle, it still crushes the competition. If anything, the new Performance Base feels better to hold and use. The 965M GPU does wonders for mid-level gaming and graphic-intensive tasks.

The downside is what comes next. Microsoft is expected to release a true Surface Book 2 sometime next year. There's little reason to doubt they won't include Kaby Lake, which brings improved battery life and a 10% bump in performance. We'll also likely see the inclusion of USB Type-C and Thunderbolt 3.

What does all of that mean for the Surface Book with Performance Base? Perhaps not much. Microsoft may keep this SKU level 'as is' for the next year with no upgrades. While the Nvidia 10xx Pascal series is excellent, I'm not convinced Microsoft is ready to put that into such a slim machine. Nonetheless, there is that concern for missing the next big iteration.

It's important to remember that people who buy the Surface Book with Performance Base are getting it for its current level of performance and outstanding battery life. It's not, however, the same crowd as elite gamers who always need to push the envelope.

Best Keyboards For Microsoft Surface

Judging the Surface Book with Performance Base by today's competition and there is nothing else like it. Personally speaking, I find the Surface Book to be the perfect laptop. The keyboard, trackpad and unique 3x2 aspect ratio make it a joy to use. With improved graphics and even better battery life – a rare trade up – and you'll have to pry this device away from me before I hand it over.

Assuming you have the money, you can't beat the Surface Book nor its improved Performance Base variant. If you're looking for the best in this class this is it.

See at Microsoft (opens in new tab)

Pros:

  • Much improved GPU performance
  • Potential choice for gamers
  • Outstanding battery life
  • Still the best all-around laptop
  • It still has ports and an SD card reader

Cons:

  • Expensive!
  • GTX 965M is 2 years old
  • No Kaby Lake CPU

Do you have questions or want to talk about the Surface Book with Performance Base? Jump into our dedicated forums for the Surface Book today and get started!

Daniel Rubino
Daniel Rubino

Daniel Rubino is the Executive Editor of Windows Central, head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been covering Microsoft here since 2007, back when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, Microsoft Surface, laptops, next-gen computing, and arguing with people on the internet.

71 Comments
  • for that price you can get a laptop made for gaming Asus, Dell or MSI.. anything is better then this
  • I disagree and you are wrong on a few points e.g. battery life on an MSI or Asus. Dell, perhaps, but you are also getting a bigger laptop that is also not a tablet, nor has a pen. I'm actually unclear on how you can make such a blanket statement without any qualifications, ifs or buts. Different hardware for different needs. There is no other device on the market that does all the Surface Book does and that has a dGPU like this.
  • Actually, he did make qualifications. He said, "a laptop made for gaming". Which suggests he would play some sort of games on it. If that is true then battery life, touchscreen, nor pen would matter.
     
  • Well this is a 2 in 1 hell a 3 in 1 and its not a gaming device at least not marketed as one. So him looking at them as to better hardware I get it but its be different if this article were specifically saying the Surface Book is a gaming machine. They did nit, you can play games on it but in no way are they comparing it to a full fledged gaming laptop though just last yeah it could of been.
  • He did make qualifications, but he's essentially rating the whole 2-in-1 based on one measure which is gaming when this is not a gaming specific product.
  • who the hell would pay this for a laptop so weak ??
  • If performance were all that mattered, we'd all be carrying desktop computers around strapped to our backs.
  • If you're only comparing gaming specific laptops then yes, you can get better deals specifically for gaming laptops. However, this isn't a gaming specific laptop, it just has the additional capability to play games decently.
  • ..and gamers bu... wait... 'build' desktops. Laptop gaming is so.... desperate. Futile even.
  • Futile? Take another look.
  • you will change your perspective if you use gaming laptop. Im working in Cruise Line Ship and this gaming laptop is my main entertainment when off work. Also I paid higher than desktop counterparts but its portable and i can use it anywhere wherever I go to work and play. Super Convinient is the key.  Now Pascal on Gaming laptop is out and desktop gaming is = laptop gaming performance.
  • Not with Nvidia 10XX series GPUs. They are nearly the same performance as the desktop versions.
  • I still don't 100% believe these claims....Sure they might run at 90% of desktop performance for 5-10 minutes but you'll see pretty aggressive throttling across the board in most laptops. It's better than it was, and almost as good ON PAPER for sure. If they were that similar in performance we'd see fans being dropped from the desktop cards etc.
  • This!  Laptops have to deal with poor heat ventillation.  And guess what heat does to a processor?
  • What that being said I am starting to wonder if Microsoft will make a surface/Xbox device for gaming and will the Scorpio be the link between pc and console? As for the surface book for me Microsoft are really leading the way in business laptop/tablets/pc`s
  • That's quite a theory but to introduce a hybrid like that, would take some time to get practical and get accepted for what it is. Currently, gamers are happy with their choice of platform, either it's PC or Console.
  • Surface-phone-box. The tablet that can replace your high end dedicated gaming rig that pocketable with telephony capabilities ...pen-controller sold separately
  • Surface Book strikes the right balance but that's just me.
  • Surprising rating score based on the review. 4/5 stars at best.
  • For my needs and uses there is no other hardware that tops this device. Things like no Kayb Lake or Pascal are for the nerds a bit and I don't think it would have made a huge difference (or rather, the GPU would have, but battery/size/heat would then get dinged).
  • Or the design as a whole.
  • so you paid for this product with your own hard earned cash or did microsoft slip you a review model ??
  • With the new performance base the Surface Book is spot on. I already liked them and would personally HAVE to go for the one with dGPU. By the time a Surface Book 2 is released I'll probably be looking to replace my Surface Pro 3 and naturally they'll likely up the performance again including the dGPU by then so I'm excited for it. If I HAD to replace my SP3 today I'd likely go for the maxed out SB.
  • What about the battery in tablet mode?
  • Same as last year: 90 to 120 minutes under regular/heavy usage; can probably push it more under certain conditions.
  • what happen when u turn everything to high and keep the resolution little bit low? Playable? i want to buy one.
  • Mmm...hope it's going to last longer in a future version... Thank you!
  • I think the next model will have better charging options - Isn't it the case that with the existing models you have to re-attach the screen portion to charge it's battery? If you could work with the clipboard on a desk with it plugged in and charging separately it would be hardly any issue at all. I'd mostly have it completely detached for meeting notes more than anything.
  • No that's not the case you can charge the clipboard seperately using the power brick.
  • Actually, I hope they add a USB-C to both the tablet and base in the next version.
  • I think definitely people need to stop comparing this system to gaming laptops etc. I think it has a very unique form factor and a even more unique way of combining the 2 components. ie. the performance base with the 965m chip and the tablet part of the pc. Of course, you do pay a premium, but look at the pure experience associated with the machine... seamlessly switching between tablet and laptop mode, this is truly a power users dream.. especially those into heavy office use and art (video, photoshop, illustrating etc). However, one improvement I would love to see is the ability to attach an external gpu.. I think thunderbolt 3 is required. That would truly boost it into new territory.
  • you have to compare this to a gaming laptop. nothing else justifies the price whatsoever. and as a gaming laptop it fails miserably
  • Why do you HAVE to compare it to one? Comparing it to a Macbook Pro at a similar price is probably a better comparison. I love my Surface Pro 3, but wish it had a "good enough" dGPU for when I'm away from home for a while - Examples are places like on long flights, or visting family over xmas where I might want to play some Gears of War 4 or similar - I don't need an experience as good as my home PC, just something "good enough" That's because I mostly use my portable computers for work, if I wanted something portable mainly for gaming then I wouldn't consider the Surface Book. You have to compare it to what makes sense for you - I think a potential Macbook Pro purchaser could look a SB realistically
  • It was never meant to be a gaming laptop.  Like Dan mentioned.  Would you compare a similar priced Macbook Pro to a gaming laptop?  Size, performance and functionality determines the price.  There is no other 2-in-1 like the Surface book with a gpu this powerful.  Take that last sentence into account.
  • I just wish this and Surface Studio had new GTX-10 series. They could have atleast reduced the price if they had added newer graphics, because low end gtx 1060 is almost close in performance to high end gtx 980.
  • THIS is what I want.  I will wait for the next model as I currently have a gaming PC, but if the next unit has new proc and nvidia 10xx gpu I'm sold. 
  • Why do I have to click a link to read the article in Windows app, and in android app it is available within the app??
  • Same here. I wonder why
  • Android and iOS have many more users. It makes sense to have better app support on those platforms.
  • I would understand that, if only we weren't talking about WINDOWS Central. Not Android Central, nor iOS Central... Is it an app limitation, OS limitation...? Everybody here says its easier to build apps for Windows than other platforms. Well, it's not what I see.
  • It's more complicated than that, but it's being looked into.
  • It also changes sometimes. Like it'll return to the app to finish an article that I was reading and now it refers me to the website
  • It's a dream machine, too bad it won't come to Brazil. Any chances of a giveaway of this review unit? :)
  • "I consistently pushed 10 hours of real world productivity and went off the charger for two days."   When you say you got 10 hours of real world productivity, what software were you using? Namely browser, music player etc? I ask this because you didn't say and on Michael Fischer's review, he got only around 5 hours of battery life using the sort of software the vast majority of users use on their computers (Google Chrome instead of Edge, Spotify instead of Groove etc). So I'd be curious to know if you also went that route or, if you didn't, in case you do, how much battery life can you push out of it?
  • 10 hours of Word, Slack, browser (Edge), music, etc. Watch Fischer's review again, he was using Adobe video editing a lot of the day as that's his job. That's GTX 965M intensive. I write. I also note that if you use the GPU for gaming/video at 100% or intensively, you get only 5 hours. 10 hours though for regular non-GPU intensive tasks is legitimate and I stand by that. Engadget got 16:15 and Brad Sams says 10 hours too.
  • Yes I noticed that. I'm not too focused on specific time markers though. My main interest is in knowing if leaving behind the native Windows programs like Edge and Groove and switching them with alternatives represents a significant change in battery life or not.   Of course I would expect not amazing battery life out of using Adobe profusely or gaming (though honestly I know of no "gamer" that would use a Surface Book for it as you pointed out).
  • Would think the razer blade pro the ideal choice for that. Due to size comparable sleekness and better specs overall? While obviously dismissing what makes surface special, of course. Touchscreen tablet mode pen.
  • My main interest is in knowing if leaving behind the native Windows programs like Edge and Groove and switching them with alternatives represents a significant change in battery life or not.
    I do not expect a significant drop in battery life using alternative versions to Microsoft's core apps. Chrome's battery life has improved over the last few builds.
  • This hybrid Laptop/Tablet shows where Microsoft is heading however I feel they should have waited and put the new Intel CPU's in them. If you need a new laptop and can afford this device it's aa good one. I would wait wait till spring 2017 when the Surface Book 2 comes out with the new Kaybe lake CPU's which will have better performance and Battery life. I Think the Surface Book 2 will be an awesome Laptop/Tablet Hybrid. I think microsoft however needs to make a traditional fixed screen Surface Laptop just imagine how good it would be with kayby lake CPU's. Man OH Man microsoft would make a ton of cask selling a traditinal Surface tablet.  
  • Going off releases in 2015 and 2016 are we sure there will be hardware in Spring 2017? Seems a little early and that they would focus on a November-ish announcement each year. The creators update will bring things like the 3rd party VR headsets, and maybe some more 3rd party devices with pen input etc. but is it that likely MS will reveal anything in spring?
  • Why is this article only readable from the browser :-(
  • I really want this to satisfy my Windows 10 Gaming life and the DNA sequences I've been working with....really wish I could get one but the price scares me :(
  • Hi Dan, Thanks for the helpful review. One thing I'm wondering about, especially given my W10 experience on other MS hardware, is stability. Was the system stable throughout your testing? Did you try it with a dock during your time with it? My SP4 is brilliant conceptually, and much better than it used to be, but stability is still not completely ideal.  Thanks for any feedback you may have.  Best, Philip.
  • Well, they should include pascal based 10xx series GPUs in Surface Book 2 and I can not stress it enough. Most of the performance gains in pascal comes from newer architecture design manufacture processes and it also means better power and thermal consumption which means there is no excuse of thermal or power considerations for next iteration. And it offers more graphic compute on a similar scale. With hefty price tag, it will be a bad practice to ship Surface Book 2 with old generation GPU. When your customers are paying upto $3000, the least they deserve is latest generation internals and powerful ones at that.
  • they have excuse for not using latest pascal card, the research & development (R&D) was almost finish when pascal cards are released. They will refresh it soon maybe in few months.
  • Yeah, the timing was likely off for design team. A lot more thermal work and moving of internals around would likely be needed for Pascal; not something they could just do in a few weeks/months.
  • For the sake of science, what happens if you put the 1st gen Surface Book tablet onto the Gen 2 base? 
  • It works! There's no issue it just installs a driver for the video card, etc. Microsoft says that out of the factory they ensure each top matches the bottom perfectly, which is one reason why they don't sell it separetely.
  • "And the science gets done..." Thanks! I think that at the very least, it gives you some extra repairability. I wonder if MS would ever think to offer a trade-in program for the base or the tablet? It would be expensive, but I bet there are people who might want or need to change their configuration. 
  • Wow Daniel. Such a low Gears level. Someone's a noob ;)
  • Nice Review! I recommend my friends to get this if they have higher budget. Still Good for casual gamers and job on the go. I'll pass for now, if they refresh it with gtx1060 or atleast 1050ti and thunderbolt 3, then Im sold. Imagine you can play VR on that small package. I'll keep my Aorus X7v3 for now.
  • You'd "pass for now" but recommend it to your friends.I'm glad you're not my friend. 
  • Maybe his friends have a lot of money and just play casual/e-sports?
  • Microsoft is really missing out on more sales by not letting us first gen users buy a separate base.
  • What would you do with the original one though? I don't think anyone would buy it without the screen. So you can just sell the whole bundle and buy a new one.. As far as your files go, a system image backup should restore on the new device just fine too.
  • The same thing Surface Pro users do with their old type cover keyboard.
  • Believe it or not, I'm a Surface Book 1st gen owner, with dGPU (940m equivalent) and I've bought the SB in 2017 (performance base wasn't available in Italy).
    Also, Performance Base was too much expensive for me.
    So in March 2020, after deciding to skip Surface Book 2, waiting for the third iteration (which will be probably postponed because of Covid-19) I decided to upgrade my SB 1st without replacing it at all.
    Went to ebay, bought an almost brand new Performance Base (just the base, not the whole machine) for about 200£ (!) and I have upgraded my machine (in terms of battery life and GPU power).
    Being the architecture the same, it's totally compatible with my actual tablet portion (thanks to Microsoft which retained the same architecture).
    One little concern would be any side effect which would lead to compatibility issues, being base and tablet portion not manufactured and tested by Microsoft during the production. But I'm sure it will be okay.
    So with a little expense I can play AAA games at FullHD resolution and mid-high details while retaining my SB!
    Having moved to another country, forced me to bring with me just the Surface Book.
    So it's my only and daily machine.
    To save money and my investment, instead of selling it at a ridiculous price nowadays, I preferred to spend a little bit to try this upgrade.
    I really miss playing videogames and sometimes content creation performance is too bad to work flawlessy.
    Photo and video editing will benefit from the upgrade as well, although CPU and RAM are the same unluckily.
    The dGPU, 940m with 1GB, after a while on PS become very laggy because all the vRAM it's saturated and you have to close and reopen PS.
    Hope the PB will last at least for 1 year, just the time to enjoy a little longer this amazing machine.
    Meanwhile SB3 will probably come out.
    Just to say how cool it's the fact you can detach the base.
  • What's that surface bag Daniel got?
  • Do all the xbox one controllers work via bluetooth to play this, or do you have to have an adapter?
  • WARNING ---->*Edit snob incoming* --- "There's little reason to doubt they won't include Kaby Lake, which brings improved battery life and a 10% bump in performance." There's a double negative. Should be: "There's little reason to doubt they'll include Kaby Lake, which brings improved battery life and a 10% bump in performance."
  • Do I need a new surface dock for the performance base Surface? The current one has 90 watts but the performance base one just have round about 90 watts for the normal power supply. So, the dock should have some more watts for the external devices. I also found different product numbers but nothing more. The MS support hotline wasn't helpful. Dock Surface Book, Pro 3 and Pro 4 PF3-00006 Dock Surface Book, Surface Book Performance and Pro 4 PF3-00009 The technical specififcations are the same...