Surface Book i7 – what changed and is it worth it?

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Curiously, Microsoft has quietly released an update to the original Surface Book, now called ‘Surface Book i7’. How imaginative of them.

Also, curiously, they have not released a followup to the Surface Pro 4.

So why did Microsoft do this?

Check this article out. In this article, I have pointed out that the dGPU in the Surface Book isn’t worth its extra cost. It’s a dedicated GPU that performs no better than the integrated version that comes with the Surface Pro 4 Core i7 version, called Iris.

So personally, I’m not surprised with this move from Microsoft. I’m ok with this move because this model is not called ‘Surface Book 2’.

And here’s why.

Small Incremental Updates for Surface Book i7

So what has changed?

Basically, Microsoft left the Surface Book i7’s tablet portion as is. Other than small design changes to the keyboard portion to accommodate more powerful GPU, nothing else has changed.

Basically, the hump near the hinge is now slightly more pronounced. Presumably, they need it to accommodate either a bigger heatsink or a fan. They do claim that new fins and an additional fan has been added on the Surface Book i7.

Surface Book i7 hinge

(Can you see the bigger hump here?)

Surface Book i7’s ports haven’t changed at all. This is not surprising given that this iteration is really an update to the base rather than the tablet unit. To add new ports (such as USB-C and Thunderbolt 3), I’m sure Microsoft would have had to update some chips in the tablet unit. That would have translated this into much higher cost for Microsoft.

And nope, the Surface Book i7’s processors have not changed. No Kaby Lake for you here! The hinge hasn’t changed either.

Overall, the Surface Book i7 is a bit heavier – 3.48lb vs 3.68lb compare to the older version.

Increased Battery Life in Surface Book i7

Oh yes, they do claim battery life has increased. But how?

By increasing the battery capacity of the base unit. The gen 1 unit featured 18Wh capacity in the tablet unit and the base contained 51Wh. The base for the Surface Book i7 will likely to use about 70Wh battery, deriving from Microsoft’s claim of 30% longer battery life overall.

Now it will last up to 16 hours. The key word here is ‘up to’, as is the case with other laptops.

How good is the GPU in Surface Book i7?

The version that came with the original Surface Book was an equivalent version of NVidia GeForce GT940. This was a customized version, so it doesn’t quite map into any of the existing chips available to the public. The new version found in the Surface Book i7 is called GeForce GTX 965M.

So how does the GeForce GTX 965M compare?

It’s still based on an older generation technology – 28nm. It’s an ‘M’ version so it’s designed for mobile platform. NVidia does produce 1050 series but ‘M’ versions aren’t out yet. They do have the recently announced GTX 1060 as well which is designed for laptops. But, it would have driven up the price even further.

So from this point of view, the choice is reasonable. Theoretical improvement should be around two times the dGPU in the Surface Book.

Pricing for Surface Book i7

You know the Surface Book i7 models won’t be cheap and you are right. It will start at $2399US and will top off at $3299US!

On a positive note, the existing Surface Book models will go down in price, so those will become more affordable.

An interesting twist

It appears that Microsoft has not changed from the tablet portion of the Surface Book i7. It looks identical to the one that comes with the older Surface Book. The big question is, will older tablet work with the new base?

Imagine just buying a new base for your current Surface Book, even the i5 version! A nice boost in GPU performance and battery capacity for a reasonable cost! Microsoft hasn’t clarified this possibility yet.

Also, since they opened this can of worm, why not produce TWO versions of the base? One version contains GeForce GTX 965M (the one used by Surface Book i7) and the higher-end version that uses GeForce GTX 1060 featuring a bigger battery and perhaps slightly thicker design.

I can dream, can’t I? 🙂


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10 COMMENTS

  1. 1. About the GPU: 965M is only slightly better than customized 940, but the fact that it now has 2GB instead of 1GB is significant.

    2. About the price: my 256GB SSD / 8GB RAM / 1 GB dGPU surface book v1 costs $2100, still. The new 256GB SSD / 8GB RAM / 2 GB dCPU surface book v1.1 costs $2400. I will gladly pay $300 more for 30% increase in battery capacity and twice graphic card VRAM. Unfortunately there are no trade-in / trade-up programs available yet… 🙁

    3. Microsoft has confirmed that you can pop the new base under the old “clipboard”. They just don’t sell the base separately just yet…

    • 2. I’m sure they will bring down the price of the current Book soon… So the difference will become more significant.
      3. I didn’t realize that they have already announced this. Are you sure it is a “yet” thing vs “can be done but will never happen”?

    • I don’t know about ‘slightly’ better, it does have almost 3x the raw power. For games, that’s the difference between ‘barely playable’ and ‘runs smooth’.
      That said, I expect they’ll bring out a refresh of both the Surface Pro and Book in spring where they incorporate current processors. Hopefully we’ll see an Intel lowpower quadcore paired with a GTX 1050Ti (which is also 50W TDP like the 965M). That would be some serious power.

  2. Yes John, you may indeed dream. Personally I would love to see the base sold separately, but after calls to several support division (including the Surface specific team) and the retail sales team, no one has any idea when or if the base will ever be sold separately.
    Rampant speculation here, but I’m curious if part of the reason for this is it would expose how silly the margins in the higher end devices are. If you compare models with similar tablet specs, the jump for having a dGPU in the base at all is about $200 over a base with just batteries. Do the same thing between “Performance Base” and normal i7 w/dGPU models and you’ll see the new base is values at $300 above the dGPU gen1 base. Put all that together, and Microsoft seems to value the keyboard, hinge, dGPU and battery configuration of the Performance Base at $500+, and that’s just how much MORE it costs than the normal keyboard on the device.
    Again I would love to see the bases sold separately, but the main reason I’m afraid we won’t see it is that I would expect either the premium versions to go for $650 and up (which would be a restrictive purchase price), or the prices for the versions in general to go down, neither of which would be supper attractive to Microsoft the company. Hopefully an argument could be made for lower margins with higher volume if Surface Book owners like myself purchased bases to extend the life of our device, but why let us do that when we could purchase whole new sets at higher margins instead?

  3. I’d love to have the option to buy a powerful base. Even if it was like $1000. If you could get a gtx 10xx series gpu it would be lovely. Or perhaps just open up the port specs so we could buy external gpu boxes! The port absolutely has to support it.

  4. I expect we’ll see the Surface Book 2 in spring with the yet-unreleased Kaby Lake U-Series quadcore and a GTX 1050Ti. That would be some serious power.

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