PC

Powerful graphics chip option for Microsoft Surface Book 2

The Microsoft Surface Book 2 can be used for graphics editing or gaming when attached to its keyboard with a dedicated graphics chip.
The Microsoft Surface Book 2 can be used for graphics editing or gaming when attached to its keyboard with a dedicated graphics chip.

I was among the first to get my hands on the Surface Book when it was introduced in 2015 at a media event in the United States.

What struck me then about the device was its weird-looking hinge. It appeared to extend when the laptop was opening, but compressed when the lid closed. The laptop did not close fully, leaving a slight gap between the screen and the keyboard.

Its screen could be detached to become a tablet as it holds computing parts including an Intel Core processor. Other PC makers have come up with similar detachable designs.

But Microsoft has added a trick to the Surface Book. The keyboard base has a dedicated Nvidia graphics chip. When the Surface Book is attached to its keyboard, the graphics chip, more powerful than the typical integrated version, can be used for graphics editing or gaming. It adds a whole new dimension to the device.

Before they can remove the tablet, users have to press a special key on the keyboard, or the Detach icon on the right-hand side of the taskbar. This is unlike other detachables where you can simply pull out the screen. The extra step is to ensure that apps using the graphics chip in the keyboard base are properly shut down first, as the graphics chip is unavailable in tablet mode.

Unfortunately, Microsoft did not launch this two-in-one laptop here then.

  • TECH SPECS

  • PRICE: $2,188

    PROCESSOR: Intel Core i5-7300U (2.6GHz)

    GRAPHICS: Intel HD Graphics 620

    RAM: 8GB DDR3

    SCREEN SIZE: 13.5 inches, 3,000 x 2,000 pixels

    CONNECTIVITY: 1 x USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-C, Surface Connect port, 2 x USB 3.0, SD card reader, audio jack

    BATTERY: 23 watt-hour (tablet) and 46 watt-hour (base)

    RATING

    FEATURES: 4/5

    DESIGN: 4/5

    PERFORMANCE: 4/5

    VALUE FOR MONEY: 3/5

    BATTERY LIFE: 5/5

    OVERALL: 4/5

Fast-forward 21/2 years later and the Surface Book - its second iteration - is available here. The design is unchanged, with the new Surface Book 2 sporting a similar silver magnesium chassis.

Like before, you can remove the screen to turn it into a tablet. Or flip it around and re-attach it to the keyboard such that the screen is in front of the keyboard. This turns the laptop into a touch-capable kiosk (often dubbed Stand Mode) that is great for watching videos. The hinge holds the screen firmly.

Its hardware has been upgraded to reflect the times. The Surface Book 2 can be configured with the latest eighth-generation Intel Core i7 processor and Nvidia's 10-series graphics chip. The battery capacity has been increased.

Microsoft has also introduced a 15-inch model in addition to the 13.5-inch version. Both sizes have a similar 3:2 aspect ratio that lets you see more of a document or Web page, reducing the amount of scrolling required.

For this review, I tested the entry-level 13.5-inch model ($2,188) with a seventh-generation Core i5 chip. My unit lacks the dedicated graphics chip in the keyboard base, relying instead on the Core i5's built-in graphics.

But a mainstream Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 graphics option is available for this size, while the 15-inch model allows for a gaming-grade GTX 1060 to be installed. Prices top out at $4,588 for a Core i7 with 16GB RAM, 1TB solid-state drive (SSD) and the GTX 1060.

Performance-wise, it is in line with other ultrabooks with similar specs. While it is not ideal for graphics-intensive tasks, apps do load fast enough, thanks to its 256GB SSD.

Its touchpad is probably one of the best in the market. It is smooth, accurate and produces a very satisfying click when pressed. This audio cue may not seem important, but the meaty click reassures me that my input was registered. The backlit keyboard is also excellent, with plenty of key travel.

It is the first Surface device to sport a modern USB Type-C port, though I feel Microsoft could have gone further by adding Thunderbolt 3 support, too. There is also a proprietary Surface Connect interface that works with a Surface dock for those who require more ports, including Ethernet.

The Surface Book 2 works with other optional Surface accessories, such as the Surface Pen stylus and the Surface Dial, a puck-shaped controller useful for minute adjustments for settings in apps such as Photoshop. Like the Surface Pro, the Pen can be attached magnetically to the side of the Surface Book 2.

Thanks to its two batteries - one in the tablet and the other in the keyboard base - the device has very good battery life. It lasted 7h 20min in the video-loop battery test at maximum brightness.

The last pieces of the puzzle have fallen in place. With the new Surface Book 2, the Surface Pro tablet, Surface Laptop and the Surface Studio all-in-one PC, Microsoft has assembled a decent-sized portfolio of premium Windows hardware devices to rival Apple in the high-end segment.

  • Verdict: With its dedicated graphics chip option, the Surface Book 2 is a prosumer laptop crafted with care using premium materials.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 21, 2018, with the headline 'Powerful graphics chip option for Microsoft Surface Book 2'. Print Edition | Subscribe