There’s something about the Microsoft Surface Book that has always caught my attention whenever I see one in public. Its design is weird, but unique; it’s portable, but still has the power to outperform most 2-in-1s in this category. We’ve already covered the basics of how the laptop performs for everyday use, so I spent some time with it to see if it could work as my primary go-to laptop when I need to edit videos (a big part of Microsoft’s creative pitch behind the Surface line). I also was curious to see how it handled some light gaming with its new graphics card.
The Surface Book that I’ve been using is the Performance Base model that is equipped with Intel’s sixth-generation Intel Core i7 processor, NVIDIA’s GTX965M with 2GB of GDDR5 memory, 1TB SSD, and 16GB of RAM. It’s a $3,200 brick of a computer.
I’ve been traveling a lot lately. I spent nearly two weeks in DC, and brought the Surface Book with me to be my only laptop for the trip. It took the place of my usual workhorse: a 2015 15-inch MacBook Pro with dedicated graphics.
Initial impressions when using an external drive for my Premiere Pro project files weren’t great, as I encountered a lot of stuttering and lagging when trying to edit 1080p clips from a Canon C100. But after transferring my files to the Book’s internal SSD, scrubbing through my four-minute timeline was a breeze, and cutting clips was seamless. There was still some occasional stutter happening here and there when files were loading or if my timeline wasn’t rendered, but as a seasoned Premiere user this was expected behavior.
However, rendering and exporting videos on the Surface Book took longer than expected. It performed about the same or worse than my 2015 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro, which is not as good as I’d hoped from a brand-new computer released in late 2016. Even though it’s using a GTX965M, which seems like a massive improvement over last year's custom Nvidia GeForce 940M, this graphics card is old, and not the best for editing. Doing basic camera tracking in After Effects took longer than I was accustomed to and playing back the clip in real time just wasn’t smooth.
To see how the Book fared with gaming, I installed Rocket League, NBA 2K17, Steep, and Rainbow Six Siege. Most of these games I tried running on low to medium settings, with most of the extra options turned off, and a resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels. Running these games on their highest settings would either bog down the computer to the point of making it unusable or just crash the game entirely. Rocket League was the only game out of the bunch that ran smoothly, and that was with its graphical features turned way down. Ubisoft’s new game Steep barely ran at the lowest settings and lowest resolution. And NBA 2K17 was playable, but not a great experience because of the occasional lag and dropped frames. I can say the same for Rainbow Six Siege. If you’re thinking about gaming on the Surface Book, it might suffice for the lightest of needs, but will disappoint any heavy gamers.
Would I consider using the Surface Book as my go-to mobile editing machine? Probably not. It was functional, but not ideal. The model I used is on the higher end of the spectrum for professional laptops, and there are definitely others on the market, like the new Razer Blade, or new 15-inch MacBook Pro with much better specs for relatively the same price.
Microsoft wants to pitch the Surface Book as the ultimate portable computer for creative professionals, but in my experience, it fell rather short of that mission. The Book might be fine for photo editing and other less demanding creative disciplines, but for my everyday needs as a video editor for The Verge, it missed the mark.