Surface Pro 4 Battery Life Benchmarks

The Surface has been out for about seven weeks as I write this and I finally managed to get all of my data together to do some real-life Surface Pro 4 battery life benchmarks. Part of this delay was to give Microsoft a chance to address some ongoing battery issues with the November Update which released in mid-November.

I’ve done this type of testing for previous Surface models, and many people have found it much more useful and accurate than synthetic benchmarks created by battery testing software (which many reviewers use).

So, let’s get down to the test results.

Surface Pro 4 Battery Life: Benchmarks

Here are the results for all three SP4 CPU models (m3, i5, i7). For these tests, in the interest of scientific rigor, my testing procedure was as follows (unless noted otherwise in a specific section):

  • The m3 SP4 had 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD
  • The i5 and i7 SP4s and 8GB of RAM and 256GB SSDs.
  • The Surfaces were all patched up as of November 15th (and included the November Update).
  • The Surfaces were not updated during the test sequence (to keep the patch level consistent throughout the tests).
  • The tests were run six times for each model and averaged to get the results below.
  • The devices were fully recharged and restarted before each test run.
  • The default “Balanced” power plan was used on each device.
  • Screen brightness was set to “Suggested.”
  • The devices were used until the critical battery action put them into hibernate at 3% remaining capacity. All low power messages were ignored.
  • None of the three devices I tested seemed to suffer from any issues or bugs that caused premature battery drain.
  • If I got an “outlier” result (such as the battery only running half as long during a single test), it was discarded, and a new run was performed.
  • Results were rounded to the nearest minute.

Now that you know what my testing procedure was like, let’s move onto the actual benchmarks.

Surface Pro 4 Battery Life: Normal Use

In this scenario, I tested a “normal use” scenario. I used the Surfaces to do things like web surfing, blogging, editing pictures, light graphics work, email, Facebook, streaming videos, etc. In other words, I basically just used them to work and web surf like any normal day.

I let the SP4s turn off the screen and sleep normally when I wasn’t using them, but I did not power them off or press the power button to rest them manually.

This graph shows minutes of battery life during regular use, including when sleeping:

surface pro 4 battery life

All three tablets would have made it through a typical 8-hour work day but, the m3 model would have just barely squeaked by at 7 hours and 54 minutes. By comparison, the i5 model gave me, on average, 10 hours and 4 minutes of life

This graph shows the total battery life while the Surfaces were actually powered on and in use (not including sleep):

You might be surprised by how poorly the m3 version did with this test. At 376 minutes (6 hours, 16 minutes) of average total run time, it had a battery life that was even less than the average for the i7 version. However, nothing was wrong with the test. It seems that the m3 version of the SP4 is simply less efficient than the other models.

If you try these tests yourself, the results will vary depending on the types of software you run, power settings, and how often you let your Surface go to sleep. I tend to let my Surfaces sleep about 30% of the time during the day, and I don’t tend to run high-intensity apps like Mathematica, Lightroom, or Lumion. Inversely, I do often run several web browser windows at once, and I usually have MS Paint and/or Excel running in the background; so, I am taxing the CPU a little bit, just not a lot.

Surface Pro 4 Battery Life: Streaming

For this test, I fired up the Netflix app and played back to back videos until the battery was exhausted. There were minimal gaps between videos (sometimes I had to deal with the “are you still watching” prompts). This test does a good job of simulating being on a long flight and passing the time by streaming movies. I did the same thing with YouTube (in Chrome).

The results are as follows:

Correction: The original graph for this section was incorrect. The m3 data was good but, the data for the i5 and i7 models were from a different test that I decided not to use (powered on, doing nothing). The graph above is the corrected version. The other graphs were double-checked and are correct.

As you can see, the m3 model once again is lagging behind the i5 model but, has a slight edge on the i7 model. Streaming from the net uses Wi-Fi quite a bit, but it shouldn’t be a significant tax on the CPU; so the m3, in theory, should have an advantage.

It also seems that the Netflix app is a little more efficient than YouTube on Chrome, which is not a total surprise.

Surface Pro 4 Battery Life: Gaming

For this test, I fired up SP4 is lacking) but they are still pretty good, and it draws each spacecraft component separately which adds to the CPU load.

Here are my results:

 

The m3 finally outperformed the i5 and i7 for battery duration. However, even though the battery lasted longer, it was much more painful to play KSP on the m3 than the others.

Often, I would have framerates in the single digits when I had more than one small spacecraft on screen. The i5 was quite playable most of the time (but would lag if I had a lot of objects on display) and the i7 version played pretty smoothly no matter what I had on screen (up to a point I put a monster space station with 628 individual parts in orbit, anyway).

Funny enough, if you look at my post on the Surface Pro 4 for this test, you will see that the SP3 has a battery with a larger capacity.

Surface Pro 4 Battery Life: Recharging

While depleting the battery is usually more fun, how quickly you can recharge your SP4 is pretty essential, as well. So, here are the results of my testing where I recharged the SP4 models from 3% back up to 100%. The tablets were not in use during the charge cycles:

This time, the result is pretty much a draw as all three versions recharge in a little over 2 hours and 30 minutes. Since the m3 version of the SP4 comes with a 24W charger (as opposed to the 36W version that comes with the i5 and i7 versions), I was a bit surprised by this result.

Surface Pro 4 Battery Life: How to Save Battery Life on Surface Pro 4

There are some basic things you can do to save battery life on this Surface. These are fantastic tips if you are looking to experience prolonged juice, in addition to already having a good battery!

Use Battery Saver Mode

There is an icon in your notifications section (it can also be searched, or Cortana can be used) that can be set up. This preserves the battery as much as possible by automatically dimming the screen as well as turning off other behind the scenes life suckers. You can turn this one on at all times, or select it to go on automatically when it hits 20%.

Disable background apps

In your settings, you can disable the background apps with a simple click. Go to the privacy feature and then click on background apps under the words “let apps run in the background”. You also have the option to turn off individual apps as you desire. These selections will help your device to do less work and therefore preserve your battery.

Keep an eye on your brightness

When the brightness automatically adjusts to brighter, it is wise to put it at a moderate level. High brightness on the display is one of the worst battery drainers. You can change the brightness through settings, on your toolbar, or on the keyboard itself.

Turn off battery suckers you don’t need

Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and mobile broadband are all things that run in the background. They are always searching for networks, and they drain your battery life in the process. Airplane Mode is a great way to give your laptop a break when you can go without these features. You can also individually keep them off as they are not in use.

Surface Pro 4 Battery Life: Best Accessories

We can talk all day long about battery life, but I also wanted to give you some insight into how to improve your time spent on the Surface Pro 4. I am doing that by giving you a list below of some of the best accessories! These accessories will only make your device even more lovable than it already is.

Type Cover

Some would argue that the Microsoft Surface type cover(aka the Surface’s keyboard) is the most important of all the accessories. This addition is the one thing that can make or break you having just a tablet or a two in one tablet and laptop. And the Surface 4 type cover is the best out there! It is larger than its predecessors by a whopping 40 perfect, and it’s so upgraded that even the Typepad glass is smoother than before! Not only does it have these improved features, but it is also faster, and typing has never been more comfortable with the new space that fits in between keys. There are even a few extra keys that come with this upgrade, which adds onto the list of improvements. All that extra space was truly put to good use!

Car Charger

The next great accessory on our list is the car charger for your Surface Pro. Do you use your Surface on the go regularly? Do you worry about it dying while you’re on the road? Then this is a great accessory for you! Laptop chargers seemed all but a far off dream for many of us. But now they are here and made just for your device. This charger is specifically designed for both the Pro 3 and 4. It also keeps the device from overcharging, which protects your battery from harm in the long run!

Surface Pen Tip Kit

Our third great feature is the Surface Pen Tip Kit, which saves you from buying a ton of pen types or wearing out your pen. With this kit, you have a great variety of sensitivity in your pen tips as well as different shapes and sizes. This product is a customizable set of pen tips which help you to get to work more efficiently. Regardless of if you draw, shade, write, select, or whatever you do, these tips are great for anyone who is looking for more than the generic tip that came along with your surface when you first purchased it.

Urban Armor Gear

The last add ons we will cover are some very protective, military-grade accessories. The first is the Urban Armor Gear, which is a surface case made for your Pro 4. This case offers ultimate protection from severe potential damages such a dropping it, scraping it, and scratching it. Not only is this an incredible protector, but it also has a built-in storage space for your Surface Pen! You can even stand this case up in not one, not two, but FIVE positions! Not to mention, it does not block any necessary ports from being used. It’s like a dream protector.

Matte Screen Protector

One of the best brands around is the ArmorSuit MilitaryShild. This accessory of theirs helps to keep your screen from scratching and cracking. If you are on the go frequently, have children around, or simply experience wear and tear that can lead to breakage, this screen protector is your best bet. It is military grade, meaning it’s top-notch quality. It is designed for this device specifically and offers incredible clarity through the glass. This protective layer is not like others meaning it is clear as day. This protector allows the device to remain free of common issues like fingerprints, dust, oil, and even screen bubbles. Not to mention, it is a UV protection, meaning the glass will not yellow like others tend to do. Lastly, the brand is so incredible that they allow you to claim free of charge if it does not live up to its expectations.

There is everything from mouses and chargers, to a variety for pens, to cases and screen protectors. There are so many fun and useful accessories out there for you to purchase and enjoy with your Surface Pro 4. We have covered a good variety of them below, but be sure to dig deeper and find ones that aren’t listed here as well!  

Surface Pro 4 Battery Life: Conclusion

Surface Pro 4 Battery Life: Final Thoughts

So, according to the marketing folks, the low-end m3 version of the SP4 should have the best battery life. Unfortunately, it doesn’t. I poked around online looking for other SP4 m3 battery reviews, and it seems that SP4 that was pretty similar to mine. This makes me think that my testing wasn’t flawed and that there’s something wrong with the m3 equipped SP4 when it comes to power management.

Overall, the i5 version seems to do the best job of managing battery life and, as a bonus, it has more computing power than the m3 model. So, if you want the best battery life from your Surface Pro 4, opt for one of the i5 models.

See also:

Manual Disk Cleanup: How To Find Out What Is Taking Up Your Hard Drive Space In Windows 10

Turn Off Hibernation In Windows 10

Core M3 Vs I5 Vs I7 Processors

What’s new about the Microsoft Surface Book With Performance Base?


While everyone is raving about the Microsoft Surface Studio, people are defiantly sleeping on the Surface Book with Performance Base!

The Surface Book is a love it or hate it device.

Some may hate the fulcrum hinge that divides the tablet to the keyboard, and others love the unique design.

The tablet itself still stands on a dual-core configuration and up to i7 Skylake Possessor. It holds up the 16GB of ram and 3000×2000 display with 267ppi.

What Is a Surface Book

Simply put, the Surface Book is a convertible laptop, and the first full laptop to come out among the Surface devices. Windows is the maker, and this is a windows 10 addition to the Microsoft Surface device lineup. The Surface Book came out in late 2015.

The things that make this device different are its unique keyboard dock and the secondary battery that offers good battery life. You can use this as a tablet or flip it back around and attach it to the keyboard, to use as a laptop.

What Are the Features of a Surface Book

There are quite a few bells and whistles that come with a Surface Book.

Full laptop power

This title means it is sturdy and more substantial than any before it. Surface Book has the level of drive that a laptop contains, but the daintiness of a tablet as well. You can count on strength, as Windows brags it is the most powerful Surface laptop.

Moveability

The tablet detaches from the keyboard, making it a sleek tablet that can be used for drawing, writing, or other things you would typically use a tablet for, alongside your Surface Pen.

Creative performance

This laptop/tablet love child is made for maximum creativity, regardless of if it is in tablet mode or laptop mode. There is the beauty of a 16GB memory hold, as well as the option for an i5 or i7 system processor, and a 6th Generation Intel Core. I mean, what more could you need? This is a great variety of features.

A graphics wonder

Since there is a discrete graphics chip lodged inside, as well as better video playback the Surface Book is made for the creatives. If you are a graphic designer, photographer, or videographer, you will appreciate this feature. The Surface Book is compatible with programs like Adobe and Photoshop. With the built-in multi-touch PixelSense, you can master the the art of curating by using your surface pen.

OneNote

Since this is a Windows 10 device, you will have OneNote right at your fingertips. This program is the ultimate storage spot for everything from your to-do lists, to calendar events, to notes, and everything in between. OneNote is accessible on all devices, making it the perfect way to organize on the go.

This device is not just great for the creatives. It is also ideal for the gamers too. If you want to hook up your Xbox wireless controller to the Surface Book, you are more than able to. This laptop is built to accommodate hardcore gaming, so get ready to play!

What Accessories Are Available with the Surface Book

When you purchase this device, certain things that come with it, and others you can buy separately. These accessories truly up your experience as a Surface Book owner.

A surface pen

Owning this accessory is a game changer, especially for the creative person. You can draw, shade, write, scroll, and so much more with this pen. As you can imagine, this is one of the features that is most talked about with the Surface lineup. Great new? It comes with your device!

Surface Mouse, Surface Mobile Mouse, Surface Arc Mouse, Surface Precision Mouse.

Each of these has a unique function, and they all vary in price pretty significantly. Decide on your needs, then take your pick. All of these are sleek, use current technology, and come in a variety of colors.

Surface Dial

This accessory may be one of the most incredible technological wonders Windows has created to date. You can change the color while you paint with this tool, as well as adjust volume or scroll without putting a single finger on the keyboard. It vibrates on your fingers as you work, giving you a better way to become one with your work. For sketchers, blueprint creators and other artists of all kinds, this is changing the way creators work. There are a variety of creative apps that work alongside Surface Dial. As a partner with the Surface pen, this accessory is the ultimate product for professionals of all kinds. It is a bit like magic!

Type covers

There are a variety of type covers to purchase, but your Surface Book does come with one! If you want to own a variety of type covers or want to try out a different one, these are interchangeable.

Questions to Consider When Buying a Surface Book

When searching for a surface, there are specific questions you can ask that will help you choose the perfect fit. The surface book is not the only option available to you.

1. Consider your needs. Are you are a gamer, a creative, or a professional that needs a drawing board, a manager, a freelancer, a contractor? No matter what your profession, there is most definitely a perfect Surface for you.

2. What features matter to you the most? Do you want a device that can be shared with others or a personal computer device? Do you need a creative design tool? Do you want 4G LTE when wifi is terrible? What amount of storage are you interested in having on a computer? These factors all matter when making a decision

3. Where will you spend the most time using your Surface?

4. How will you use it, meaning do you mostly use it for personal use, for productivity, for gaming and or professional use?

5. Which computer are you looking to purchase? The options range from laptops to desktops, to a 2-in1, which means a tablet with a removable keyboard (such as the Surface Studio)

6. A factor that plays a role in this decision is how frequently you are planning on bringing your Surface with you.

7. Consider your desired screen size, which can then help you determine the number of inches you want.

8. What are you planning to store on your Surface? Simple things like documents, or everything you do online?

Consider these questions, then match your answers with your ideal Surface.

Benefits of Microsoft Surface Book with Performance Base:

Now that we have walked through what a Surface Book is, imagine a Microsoft Surface Book with Performance Base as pretty much the Surface Book on steroids.

-The newly upgraded d-GPU is packing 2GB 965M, which is an upgrade from the older 1GB 940M. So you are looking to play high graphics games in higher FPS this model is for you!

-At this price point, it competes with the MacBook Pro.

-The battery life is 16 glorious hours long!

-This version is designed to balance at any angle you desire.

-The performance base writes as smooth as a pen on paper.

-This option is even more creative-friendly.

No Wrong Answer

Regardless of which Surface you choose, whether the Surface Book, the Surface Book with Performance Base, or a different Surface in the lineup, these devices are made with you in mind. There is indeed no wrong answer.

See also:

Best Surface 3 Case Options For You

Surface Pro 4 Accessories – What’s New?

Consider A Refurbished Surface Pro 3

Netflix 4K streaming – can Surface Pro 4 / Book handle it?

Netflix is finally offering a 4K streaming service. But Netflix 4K streaming isn’t for everyone. You must have a PC that satisfies both the hardware and the software requirements.

Let’s have a look into them and see if either the Surface Pro 4 or the Surface Book can handle them.

Netflix 4K Streaming – Software Requirements

The first interesting requirement is the browser requirement. Netscape asks you to use Microsoft’s Edge browser and nothing else! Not even their own Netflix’s Windows app!

But why?

At the moment, Edge is the only browser to support Windows 10’s PlayReady 3.0 (Content Protection DRM) and Protection Media Path. Netflix wants this, because they, as the owner of the contents, wants to prevent viewers from capturing and distributing contents illegally.

Other popular browsers may support PlayReady 3.0 in the future but none of them have made any announcements as of yet.

This also automatically means that you will need to use Windows 10.

Netflix 4K Streaming – Hardware Requirements

This is unfortunately where all Surface devices of today fail terribly. Netflix wants you to use a PC that uses the latest generation processor from Intel – the Kaby Lake processors. Note that the desktop version of that generation isn’t even out yet. Only a selected few laptops from specific vendors can claim they have Kaby Lake processors as of today.

So why this (harsh?) requirement?

It’s all about the 4K decoding. This is a very processor hungry operation that requires some help from the hardware. To make it worse (or better, depending on your perspective), Netflix 4K streaming is 10-bit. You can get away with 8-bit streaming, but then you will see banding and lower color details. What’s the point of having super high resolution but less than desirable color grading, right?

A generic processor will have a hard time decoding full 10-bit 4K streams in real time. The Kaby Lake series was designed to handle such tasks. There are some arguments that today’s high-end processors can decode this in real-time, including the Surface Pro 4 and the Surface Book that uses Core i7-6700K (a Skylake model). But for now, Netflix has decided not to go there. Why? My guess is that they don’t want to deal with support issues. They will want to reduce the number of different variations of supported platform until they build more confidence on the reliability side.

Of course, many of the video cards sold today can easily handle this kind of 10-bit 4K decoding, at least in theory but….

But may be….?

Any video cards powerful enough can be certified for PlayReady 3.0. Could this be enough? Perhaps this is only the first round of testing phase where Netflix wants to limit number of users to iron out potential issues? Both Nvidia’s Pascal series GPUs and AMD’s Polaris series support PlayReady 3.0. You can buy these video cards today and they are not all insanely priced.

But then there’s the connectivity issues. If you are using a desktop machines (or a laptop connected to a display), you will need to use HDCP 2.2. This has only became more popular recently. The chances are that if your setup is not based on the latest generation technology, you don’t have it.

The Surface Pro 4 will probably never be able to play such streams. The first gen Surface Book probably won’t either – it’s dGPU is just not powerful enough. The second gen Surface Book with more powerful dGPU might be able to get there.

But for most of us, we will probably have to wait for Microsoft to release the next generation Surface devices – Surface Pro 5 and the Surface Book. With the Kaby Lake processors, you are in good hands. Well, at least for the Netflix 4K fans.

Oh and Microsoft’s latest creation – Surface Studio won’t be able to handle Netflix 4K streaming. What a bummer.

Netflix 4K Streaming – Do I really need it?

If you are watching movies on your tiny 12/13-inch screens, is it really worth going up to Netflix 4K streaming? After all, that requires not just more hardware but also consumes more data, faster, meaning higher internet bills.

In reality, the answer is probably yes if you are a die hard fan. 4K streaming doesn’t just offer better resolution. In fact, many view higher resolution as one of the less important quality the 4K streaming brings. It is the additional color and dynamic range that adds to the overall enhanced experience.

Also, higher resolution means you can sit closer to the screen. We currently sit pretty close to our 65-inch 4K TV. (Yes, people visiting our place laugh at us). When we watch a good 4K YouTube videos, they are amazing. But only if you sit close enough.

And finally, here are the movies Netflix currently streams in 4K:

Complete List of 4K Movies on Netflix

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

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.

(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? 🙂

Which is the most popular Surface device on Windows 10?

So what is the most popular Surface device that is currently running on Windows 10? The Surface Pro 3 has been out much longer than the Surface Pro 4 but it was initially released with a earlier version of Windows. The Surface Book received a lot of hype during the initial release but did it sell well, especially compare to the Surface Pro 4?

I honestly expected the Surface Pro 3, Surface Pro 4 and the Surface Book to top this chart. But according to AdDuplex, here’s the result:

The Surface Pro 3 and the Surface Pro 4 are placed just about where I expected but the Surface Book appears to be far less popular. Looks like most people are choosing the Surface Pro 4 over the Surface Book. I guess portability and price is more important to most people than a slight increase in the screen size and some performance.

The original article did speculate that this might (partially) be because of the world-wise supply shortage – the Surface Pro 4 became available to most parts of the world from the get go while the Surface Book was only available to few countries. I doubt that alone can explain almost 10-times lower number though.

I expect most Surface Pro 3 and Surface 3 users to have upgraded their Windows to the version 10 by now, so given this chart, I’d say the Surface Pro 4 is doing rather nicely.

And here’s one more slide that might interest you:

No big surprise here, the big five – HP, Dell, Lenovo, ASUS and Acer are leading this chart. But I do expect Microsoft to gain significantly by this time next year when they have the next generation models in production full speed.

… and 5 more days to go from the end of our vacation!

Most power efficient browser for your Surface Book and Surface Pro 4?

Microsoft has recently performed some study on various browsers in the area of battery efficiency. They picked the usual popular browsers – Chrome, Firefox and Opera. They then compared them against their latest browser – the Edge. Microsoft says the Edge is especially optimized for mobile devices such as the Surface Book and the Surface Pro 4.

Their quote:

“You can simply browse longer with Microsoft Edge than with Chrome, Firefox, or Opera on Windows 10 devices”

You can read the this article to find out the details of their test methods. This is the chart they came up with:

All the tests were performed on the Surface Book which means the results probably apply well to the Surface Pro 4 as well.

Given the above, and if you care about longevity, its a no brainer to go with the Edge, right? Even the Wall Street Journal’s article confirmed that the Edge lasts longer than Chrome.

Well, a day later, Opera fought back, posting an article on their own blog, refuting Microsoft’s claim. Here’s what they posted:

Both Microsoft and Opera posted videos running their own tests.

Looking further into details, it does appear that Opera has used several methods to conserve battery. They offer a ‘power saving mode’ (the Edge doesn’t have one) and some of what it does may not suit your need. Of course, Microsoft has decided not to use this mode. Also, an insider build was used which may or may not point to anything.

Me? I use Chrome. I use Chrome’s bookmark synchronization heavily. I’ve built up a huge collection of bookmarks over the years in a hierarchy format. This can be used on any platform as long as I stay with Chrome. If someone comes up with something that lasts 50% longer than Chrome, I would use it alongside Chrome for those special occasions.

As for you guys, which browser do you use on your Surface device?

[poll id=”3″]

Oh and by the way, my wife and I are currently on vacation and we will be for another 10 days. Here are two of many pictures I’ve taken so far. Can anyone guess where we are? 🙂

Surface Book’s dGPU – what is it? Is it worth it?

Microsoft has decided to offer a dedicated GPU unit to their Surface Book line-up as an option on their mid-range model (i5 processor) and as a standard option for the high-end model (i7 processor). Similar options are not available for the Surface Pro 4 line-up but their high-end model (i7 processor) comes with a more powerful integrated GPU, called Iris which makes this whole situation very interesting.

There has been countless number of reviews that have ran benchmark tests to determine if the dGPU is faster and if so, by how much, including our own article found here. But what makes it tick faster and how does it compare against other surface models especially vs the high-end Surface Pro 4 with Iris?

Power and Cooling Envelops

It is important to realize that the GPU unit in the Surface Book has its own power and cooling envelop. In case of integrated GPU setup, they are shared. And in case of integrated graphics versions of Surface Book and Surface Pro 4, the total TDP envelop of the processor is 15w. This must be shared between the integrated GPU and the CPU. So in case you run graphically intensive apps such as 3D games, the GPU will take up significant amount of that envelop, forcing the CPU side to throttle down to not exceed 15w. In plain English, the system runs at slower pace than it is capable of due to power and cooling requirement.

In case of our dGPU, both the CPU and the GPU will operate at its maximum designed capacity as both will draw as much current necessary to do their operations within their (higher) TDP envelop limits. Of course, this also means this combo is more power hungry. The dGPU is rated at total TDP envelop of 33w in addition to the processor’s 15w.

Which GPU?

Clearly, Microsoft is not capable of designing and manufacturing their own GPUs. They do mention that it is based on a Maxwell processor, but customized. Maxwell is designed by nVidia and it is used in many of their GPUs right now, including the likes of GeForce 700 series, GeForce 800M series, and even GeForce 900 series. They are all manufactured using a 28 nm process.

This is quite a range of GPUs, so this alone isn’t enough to determine which GPU it actually resembles. There is a tool called GPU-Z that identifies the inner details of the GPU which can help us identify where this GPU sits.

Here’s what the GPU-Z app produces:

This isn’t quite a match against any of the existing nVidia design so Microsoft is correct in saying that it is a custom design. The closest is the nVidia 940M and looking at the numbers, the dGPU in the Surface Book is slightly under-clocked compare to the standard nVidia 940M. The dGPU holds the same number of shaders but it’s pixel rate is slightly lower at 15.3 GPixel/s vs 17.2 GPixel/s. Texture fillrates are slightly lower too, at 30.5 GTexel/s vs 34.3 GTexel/s. But it uses GDDR5 memory rather than DDR3 for significantly higher memory bandwidth. So even though the core is running at a slightly slower pace, I expect this setup to result in a slightly faster overall performance than a typical 940M setup.

Just as a comparison, here’s the GPU-Z report for the standard integrated GPU version (Intel HD 520) built into most of the Surface Pro 4s and non-dGPU version of Surface Book:

As you can see, the theoretical numbers are not even close and that is to be expected. But in reality, the differences aren’t as big as you’d expect as there are other bottlenecks within the system outside of GPUs.

How does it compare to other Surface devices?

Here are the GPUs used by each of the Surface devices with different levels of CPUs. Each number indicates their test results using Passmark G3D Mark numbers. G3D test suit runs two DirectX 9, one DirectX 10 and one DirectX11 tests:

  • Surface Book with Intel i5 processor / Intel HD 520 GPU : 763
  • Surface Book with Intel i5/i7 processor / Custom nVidia 940M “dGPU” : ~1100 (their site does not record average of this GPU)
  • Surface Pro 4 with Intel m3 processor / Intel HD 515 GPU : 569
  • Surface Pro 4 with Intel i5 processor / Intel HD 520 GPU : 763
  • Surface Pro 4 with Intel i7 processor / Intel Iris 540 GPU : 1373

Surprised with the result? Lets look at another benchmark – GFXBench Windows OpenGL – 1080p Manhattan 3.1 Offscreen:

  • Surface Book with Intel i5 processor / Intel HD 520 GPU : 39.6 FPS
  • Surface Book with Intel i5/i7 processor / Custom nVidia 940M “dGPU” : 61.1 FPS
  • Surface Pro 4 with Intel i5 processor / Intel HD 520 GPU : 39.6 FPS
  • Surface Pro 4 with Intel i7 processor / Intel Iris 540 GPU : 63.5 FPS

Again, probably not what you were expecting.

I’ve looked around for some real gaming benchmark numbers and they too show that the two processors don’t show big gaps in performance. To be fair, Surface Book’s dGPU does appear to outperform the Surface Pro’s Iris 540 in most gaming benchmarks but the gap is surprisingly small.

What’s up with those surprisingly high Iris numbers in Surface Pro 4 i7 models?

How could an integrated solution (Iris) outperform (or closely match) the performance of a dedicated GPU unit? How could a portability-focused Surface Pro 4 model nearly match that of the GPU performance of the Surface Book which is clearly designed to handle higher powered GPU processors?

Lets look further into the Iris built into the 6th generation Skylake processes.

Intel Iris for Skylake processors

Intel produces three levels of Iris GPUs for its Skylake processors – 540, 550 and “Pro” 580. The Surface Pro 4 i7 model uses the slowest of the three – Iris 540.

Compare to the “non-Iris” HD 520 model, the Iris 540 features twice as many execution units running at the same clock speed. Just as important is that the Iris 540 gets 64MB of eDRAM on the same die. The result is a surprisingly good performance out of an integrated solution which still consumes only 15w – the same as the lesser models.

Of course, just as with other laptops, if you push the system hard, they will throttle down and it is unknown how long the Surface Pro 4 with Iris 540 can sustain at a high performance level but still it is an impressive showing. And unlike benchmarks, gaming and day-to-day apps typically don’t continuously stress the system, so in real life, throttling might not be as necessary, hence the gap might be even smaller.

Conclusion

IMO, the first generation Surface Book sits at somewhat awkward position. It is positioned as an ultra portable laplet that can handle some light gaming and graphically intensive apps. At first, it sounds all good until you check out the GPU performance of the i7 version of the Surface Pro 4. It features a integrated GPU that consumes little power but more a less matches the graphical performance of the dGPU! Further more, this option is not available for the Surface Book – if you get the i7, you get the dGPU. If you detach, you get the non-Iris “less capable” HD 520. If you get the i5, you are stuck with once again, the HD 520.

There are other pros such as a bigger screen and a larger battery capacity but if those are not as important as portability, and if you still care about some decent GPU power, IMO, Surface Pro 4 is the way to go, but only if you get the i7 version.

Surface battery life – how to maximize it

This article focuses on how to take care of your battery so that you can enjoy longer lasting battery even after many years of Surface use. This is not an article to talk about how to make your Surface battery life last longer on each charge – there are plenty of articles written on that topic.

Battery Life Cycle

Every type of rechargeable battery invented by human has a restricted number of life cycles. Each life cycle is defined as 100% of full capacity. So if you drained your battery 50% then fully charged twice, that’s one full cycle. Typical modern lithium batteries can last 500 to 1000 life cycles although some claim over 2000! This of course, depends on your usage habit. As long as your usage pattern isn’t very harmful for the battery, your device should last well past the lifespan of your device.

Here’s how you can find out how many life cycles you have consumed so far:

  1. Press <Windows> + R
  2. Type ‘CMD‘ then <Enter>
  3. Type ‘powercfg /batteryreport‘ within the Command Prompt window then <Enter>.
  4. This will create a file called ‘battery-report.html’ at some location that you need to note down in the Command Prompt.
  5. Use the file explorer to navigate through to the report file.

When you open it, you will see the report with lots of information on the battery usage. You will also find the number of life cycles you have consumed on your Surface (see – ‘CYCLE COUNT’ field).

Depth of discharge seriously impacts number of life cycles as seen here (from batteryuniversity.com):

  • 100% discharge: 300 – 500 life cycles
  • 50% discharge: 1200 – 1500 life cycles
  • 25% discharge: 200 – 2500 life cycles
  • 10% discharge: 3750 – 4700 life cycles

You shall not do

There are couple of things you should be aware that negatively impact the Surface battery life. Here are couple of them:

  • Heat – high temperature is very bad for batteries in general. Many cell phones damage batteries when it is used under load (such as playing games) while charging. I use a laptop cooler when I use y Surface Pro 4 extensively.
  • When you are using the device on battery, try not to go lower than 40%. Then charge back to 100%. This will pretty much ensure you will get at least 1000 life cycles. Most modern devices have some kind of built-in protection – they tend to report conservatively at the low end to discourage people from draining too low. Going down to 0% is bad but in reality, the controller will likely have stopped discharging well before the actual level dropped to 0%.

You shall do

  • Use ‘hibernate’ instead of ‘sleep’ mode. Yes, it is a bit slower but when your device is in hibernation mode, it discharges at far slower rate than when it is in ‘sleep’ mode. The problem with the sleep mode is that sometimes people forget that their device is set to sleep mode and leave them for a long time. This gradually brings the battery level to 0%.
  • Microsoft recommends to completely drain then fully charge about once a month. This is to recalibrate the battery monitor for the maximum accuracy. Remember, under a normal circumstance, this is considered bad but it needs to be done at least once a month, at least according to Microsoft.
  • Try to use as little battery as you can before charging. More frequently you charge, the better without going deep discharge.

In short

Getting the best Surface battery life isn’t really that hard. Here’s what the Surface Team said on their batteries:

“The batteries on our Surface products are designed with some of the highest charge cycles for consumer electronic devices. This means that the battery can get charged daily (5 days a week) for over 4.5 years and still maintain 80% capacity.”

This is probably good enough for just about anyone.

Might be interesting to see how your device compares to others. Please post the age of your Surface and your life cycle consumed below.

Laplets vs Tablets – which is the future?

Laplets, also known as 2-in-1 PCs combines elements of both laptops and tablets. Both Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book are considered laplets for obvious reasons. When laplets were introduced few years ago, the tablets (iPads and Android tablets) were way ahead in terms of sales numbers. But based on recent numbers, this trend has been changing – tablet sales growth has slowed down to a halt and there’s even signs that it is declining. Desktop PCs aren’t doing any better – PC sales have been declining for years and so has the conventional Windows laptop sales. Even the mighty Windows 10 is showing a declining after a strong start.

So, how are laplets fairing vs other established competitors in terms of sales?

1010data has published some data on this subject and shows that laplets are doing incredibly well this year. According to their data, Apple iPad is still leading the segment at 32.5% market share with the general declining trend. The biggest gainer is the Surface Book which went up from 16% to 25% – this is a huge increase and if it keeps this up, the Surface Book will overtake the iPad sales!

Are you surprised with this result? Personally, I’m not. I do own an Android tablet but it doesn’t get much use. For productivity use, I need a  fully blown Windows 10 device as Android (and iOS) doesn’t have all the productivity apps I need. For casual work or entertainment purpose, the phone works just fine with its 5-inch display. The Android tablet is mainly used as a eBook reader as phone screens are too small and Windows tablets are too heavy and bulky to carry around for quick trips. For productivity use, my current main device is the Dell XPS 15 but the Surface Pro 4 is almost good enough and I will be adding an external monitor shortly so that will take care of the screen size issue.

My future plan will probably include owning a phone and either a model from Surface Pro lineup or Surface Book with a large external monitor in my office.

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How to fix scaling issues on older Windows Apps

(The above shows Photoshop CS3 displaying super-tiny buttons due to scaling issues)

Having a high resolution screen is very nice – everything looks much cleaner and more detailed. Well, at least that is the theory and it works well on most modern devices where both the OS and the applications are aware of potentially large(!) variations in pixel densities across many devices. Unfortunately, Windows has a long history and much of it’s applications, even today, are not aware of this. When ultra-high dpi devices (such as the Surface devices) were introduced to the market, things looked pretty ugly – super tiny, overlapping or blurry fonts, buttons, cursors, and other elements. Even the vertical scroll bars were too thin to grab. These are the scaling issues you will be facing on all Windows devices with high dpi screens no matter who built it.

Soon, Microsoft introduced means for developers to handle wider variety of dpi displays within Windows, but the application developers couldn’t catch up quickly. And in many cases, they chose not to. Like many, I own many older copies of applications that are borderline unusable on today’s modern devices. And just to be clear, in most cases, the problem is caused by the apps, NOT Windows. Microsoft can’t help you here with some magical updates.

How do you deal with such situations? Although the following method won’t work with every single legacy apps with scaling issues, it will work for many. Unfortunately, there’s no global button you set to enable this – you must create a manifest file for each app, but once done, you can forget about it.

Here are the steps:

  1. Press “Windows Button” + R.
  2. Type “regedit” then <Enter>. It may ask for permission, if so click on “Yes”.
  3. Navigate to “HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE > SOFTWARE > Microsoft > Windows > CurrentVersionSideBySide
  4. Right-click on “SideBySide”, then click on “NEW > DWORD (32bit)”.
  5. Type “PreferExternalManifest” then <Enter>.
  6. Once the new entry is created on the right side of the panel, right click on “PreferExternalManifest“, then “Modify”.
  7. Enter the value 1. Make sure the Base is of type “Decimal”.
  8. Finally, click on “Ok”.

You just told Windows that you want to use external manifest file by creating one new entry in the registry. Now, you must create your own manifest file and place it in the same location as where the EXE file of your app is located.

Download the following file, rename it, then place it in the right directory where your EXE file is located: (Click here to download). Your manifest file MUST be renamed to match your EXE file, then append “.manifest”. So if your EXE file was “Photoshop.exe” then your manifest file should read “Photoshop.exe.manifest”.

Now you can execute your EXE file and hopefully your app will present you with less scaling issues.

What I have found out so far on this workaround is that it doesn’t work in all cases. Out of all apps I have tried so far, about half of them worked (on the Surface Pro 4) and more the up to date the app, more likely that it will work. As an example, I have a very old copy of Adobe Photoshop (version CS3) and this workaround doesn’t work for me at all, both on the Surface Pro 4 and the Dell XPS 15. But for some of the other recent apps, it works great. Some of the more recent Adobe apps have also been reported to be working. In some cases, the scaling works better but overall, it looks a bit more blurry – still a better trade-off.

Here is the link to the original article written by Dan Antonielli.

Since I still want to use the Photoshop CS3, I’m afraid I’ll have to continue to look for other solutions… Oh well.