Apple and Microsoft have pursued very different strategies for their new platform refreshes this year. Apple opted to make the MacBook Pro thinner, lighter, and to use just a single set of ports for all peripherals. On the other hand, Microsoft made its new Surface Book slightly thicker, slightly heavier, and added a new Performance Base option that dramatically improves GPU performance over last year’s model. All of the Core i5 models from last year are still on sale, at least for now, so you can still jump into the Surface Book ecosystem at $1,500. All of the new Surface Books start at $2,000+ ($2,099 for the cheapest variant), and they pack Core i7 processors and new discrete GPUs from Nvidia.
The Surface Book With Performance Base uses a Core i7-6600U with a 2.6GHz base clock and a 3.4GHz Turbo. Last years’ Core i5-6300U had a 2.4GHz base frequency and a 3GHz top clock. The general review consensus on the Surface Book With Performance Base is that this update dramatically improves GPU performance, but offers comparatively little improvement in CPU performance. Not much changes much about the styling or design at all. Ports are still the same (two USB 3.0 and an SD slot on the left, mini-DisplayPort on the right). The hinge, outer styling, and screen are all identical.
The Core i7 CPU included in the new systems may offer higher burst performance, but it likely can’t sustain its frequencies over long periods of time. And the problem with the new Performance Base Microsoft designed is you can’t buy one separately from the rest of the system. The fact that the two base generations are perfectly backward and forwards compatible only makes this more frustrating. If you want a faster Surface Book for the GPU, you have to buy the entire system despite how the CPU doesn’t get a performance upgrade in any sustained tests. The Surface Book’s new GeForce GPU is more than capable of delivering basic gaming performance. But where the Surface Book excels is battery life; PC Mag reports 19 hours, 16 minutes, compared with 15 hours, 41 minutes for the previous model.
Finally, be advised that the new hardware prices aren’t remotely in line with what you can buy from other laptop manufacturers. You’re paying a huge premium for a detachable 2-in-1 and a nice GPU with great battery life. Some will find that premium attractive, and the new Surface Book’s 19 hours run time is amazing. Others will find better value in a more conventional machine from a different manufacturer.