Surface Book: My Ultimate Laptop

I have no use for tablets. Smartphones today with their 6” displays are large enough to what I once did with an iPad mini. The rest of my work requires I'm in front of a laptop or workstation, except for the rare occasion when I feel the need to hold a large glass panel in my hands. Microsoft had the same idea when creating the Surface Book; to make a perfect notebook experience with the ability to act as a slim, beautiful tablet if needed. And they nailed it! The Surface Book is now my daily driver

DISCLAIMER:

You've probably heard how Surface Book had a rocky start, plagued by driver and firmware issues. Microsoft has addressed these and corrected them, so I won't elaborate on all of that shit. I will say that while Windows 10 has been appealing, it’s really the August 2nd Anniversary Build (a.k.a. Redstone) update that ties everything together for an amazing Windows experience

Performance so good...

In terms of power, Microsoft made sure the Surface Book can deliver. Starting with the guts, the model I’m using is packing a Core i7 CPU with 16GB of RAM, 512GB of flash storage and the NVidia dedicated GPU. During its introduction at the October 2015 Windows 10 Device event, it was clear this notebook was designed for performance. It has no difficulty slicing through Adobe Premier, Visual Studio and games like Fallout 4 and The Witcher 3. No two ways about it, this thing is a powerhouse, which is why it’s also my desktop.

 Yup.  This is  my  domain.

Yup.  This is my domain.

...no need for a desktop

The Surface Dock is one of the most practical, first-party accessories I’ve used being that it adds an entirely extra level of functionality to this notebook. By using just one cable connected to the book’s smart connector, I gain four USB 3.0 ports, Ethernet and two mini Display ports. And unlike some docking solutions have the ports without the capability to use them all, this one executes perfectly (you'll also see a Belkin USB hub I have sitting on top of the Surface Dock for even more ports).

As you can see, the dock has no problem powering my usual, three display setup. To be specific, (because let’s face it; if you’re reading this than you’re a nerd) the main 27” display and one of the verticals are connected directly to the dock via DisplayPort to mini DisplayPort cables. The last vertical monitor is powered by a Diamond USB to DVI video adapter, which is connected to one of the four available USB ports on the dock. And because the Surface Book has a dedicated NVidia GPU, I’m running the following resolutions:

  • 27” main display @ 2560x1440
  • 20” verticals @ 900x1600
  • Surface Book display @ 3000x2000

Laptop with a side of tablet

While I’ve spent plenty of time with various “2-in-1” devices, the Surface Book is perfect for me thanks to the design ratio. Microsoft already has a tablet that can act as a laptop. What they’ve done with the Book is create a laptop first and foremost, that can occasionally be used as a tablet. It’s been previously referred to as an 80/20 split, with 80% being the amount of time one should use it as a laptop. Well guess what? I also have an 80/20 split in my use for it; well, maybe more like 90/10. Even though I do very little on a tablet, there are occasions when having a large, touchscreen canvas comes in handy. And watching the screen-detach (which Microsoft calls the “clipboard”) is pretty nifty to show off.

On the topic of design, I have to call out the placement of the components. While the bulk of the power is in the display, the second GPU lives in the keyboard base. When using it as a tablet, you still have the i7 CPU, RAM and SSD, but are limited to the Intel HD onboard graphics chip. And it’s no slouch. Integrated GPUs have become so fucking good that I believe only a slim number of users need to worry about getting anything beefier).

By having all of the components in the display, you’ll start to notice something incredible. Under a moderately heavy load, the keyboard stays cool to the touch. Because it’s only housing the GPU, there’s not much else in there to get warm. Even when utilizing the NVidia card with some games, the base only gets slightly warm above the keys. This is a most welcome departure from typical high-performance notebooks that have no problem burning your fingers.

The Display

The display is somewhat unique as Microsoft opted for a 3x2 aspect ratio instead of the typical 16x9 or 10. If you’re one of the four people who have used a Chromebook Pixel, this should look familiar. If not, it’s closer to the once standard 4x3 format, pre-widescreen era. This is a valuable to thing to have on a notebook because of one reason: the internet. Assuming you go online with your computer, you’ll soon find that web pages are designed vertically, and not wide. Take a look:

Not only am I not losing anything on the sides, but I actually gain quite a bit of screen real estate where it matters. It’s also an incredible display with a resolution of 3000x2000, but I’d just as soon leave that part out of this write up as there are so many 4k quality displays on the market that it’s hardly worth mentioning anymore. Just know it’s a beautiful, HiDPI display that’s so realistic it’s almost like looking at print. And because Windows 10 fixed all (okay, most) of the scaling issues that plagued 8.1, there’s no problem bouncing between multiple monitors of different resolutions.

Just a terrific laptop

Throughout the day, I frequently disconnect the Book from my desk and use it as an actual laptop, and it does not disappoint. When you come from the land of MacBooks, there’s a certain level of build quality you expect from a machine. In my opinion, your typical OEMs (Dell, HP, Lenovo, etc) have all engaged in a "race to the bottom"- pack the most specs into the cheapest box with the lowest build quality you can while under-cutting each other on price. I know that’s a generalization, and there are a few exceptions out there, but it's been a while since I've seen anything especially unique as I wander the aisles of Best Buy seeing droves after droves of Surface knockoffs and MacBook Air wannabes.

As a straight forward laptop, it is just about perfect. The keyboard has the right amount of travel while being relatively quiet. It’s such a pleasure to type on that I've stopped using an external keyboard at my desk with it. I should mention that if you choose an external keyboard, it makes sense to go with the Microsoft Designer wireless desktop as the keys are nearly identical to that of the Book. I don’t know about you, but I definitely benefit from a unified typing experience whether I’m at the office, home or a Dunkin Donuts.

If you've ever used a MacBook, you'll know that most PC laptops have shitty trackpads. Knowing this, Microsoft modeled their trackpad after the best. It’s a large, glass track area that supports the multi-touch gestures in Windows 10. It gives me the same gliding sensation I got used to from my time on a Mac.

 Just about perfect

Just about perfect

The most important part of the Book’s design is the I/O. In a world where it’s in vogue to take away ports on a laptop, it’s nice to still have the staples. The Surface Book includes two full size USB 3.0 ports, SD card slot and mini DisplayPort out. I still prefer Ethernet if the location I’m in offers it, so I’ve started carrying this handy little guy. It works perfect with the Book and offers a great amount of ports for the buck.

Wrap up

If your daily driver is actually a tablet, the Surface Book is not for you. This machine is a laptop, with the capability to have its head ripped off when appropriate. But if you’re like me (God help you) and you find little need for a third product between smartphone and laptop, I implore you to look at this notebook. It is a beautiful, versatile powerhouse and an exemplary model of what a Windows 10 machine should be.