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The tiny Surface Book design secrets Microsoft didn’t talk about

Published Oct 22nd, 2015 2:36PM EDT
Surface Book Design Review

The Surface Book laptop was probably Microsoft’s most interesting announcement from its Windows 10 event. It’s a device that’s been highly praised in reviews, though people don’t like what Microsoft has done with the price. While many reviews go into the overall experience with the device, both in laptop and tablet modes, there’s one hands-on experience with the Surface Book that you shouldn’t miss, because it explains several of the Surface Book’s design secrets.

DON’T MISS: A reminder of why the iPhone is so great

Microsoft spoke in great detail about some of the Surface Book’s features, stressing the device’s massive performance when compared with its most famous rival, the 13.3-inch MacBook Pro. AnandTech did a little more digging, unearthing several interesting details about the laptop’s design and internal components, including the discrete GPU that can push performance to impressive levels.

For starters, the GPU card that Microsoft did not identify on stage is a variation of NVIDIA’s GM108-based GPU that has specs close to the GeForce GT940M. The GM108 for the Surface Book has 384 CUDA cores but just 1GB of GDDR5 RAM rather than the 2GB of expected memory. Microsoft traded “memory capacity for improved GPU performance through additional memory bandwidth,” the site wrote. “This is a pretty typical tradeoff in lower-end GPUs, however, to ship 1GB of GDDR5 in a mobile part in 2015 is quite unusual to say the least. Even GM108 should benefit from GDDR5 (thanks to its narrow 64-bit memory bus), but with only 1GB of memory it’s going to be cramped.”

Similarly impressive is the GPU’s placement and what that means for the laptop — the chipset is situated in the Surface Book’s keyboard dock. The GPU’s TDP (thermal design power) should be under 30 Watts. “There is no way to fit that kind of TDP into a normal Ultrabook,” AnandTech says.

The GPU connects with the tablet using PCIe lanes in the Surface Connect port between the Clipboard and the base.

The performance increase resulting from the utilization of a dedicated GPU is huge, and the first benchmarks show that the Surface Book will blow away competitors when it comes to overall performance. The Surface Book is significantly faster than the Surface Pro 4, although a comparison with the MacBook Pro isn’t available in AnandTech’s tests.

Also impressive is the Intel Core i5 or i7 processor that resides behind the screen, which is right on par with Ultrabooks. Design-wise “having a full 15 Watt Core processor in a 7.7 mm chassis is fairly impressive, especially since you almost never hear the fans kick in,” the tech site notes.

The 3:2 screen aspect ratio makes the Surface Book look considerably taller than any other laptop out there, which might favor productivity on the device. The retractable hinge has a vital purpose as well: It’s supposed to prevent balance problems so that the display doesn’t flip over when in laptop mode.

Even more interesting is the fact that the hinge’s design doesn’t let you perfectly close the laptop, which means Microsoft was able to improve the keyboard experience. Since the keys don’t touch the display, Microsoft had extra room to offer 1.6mm of key travel on a very thin base.

Finally, because the only component the keyboard packs is the extra GPU, Microsoft was able to go crazy when it comes to additional battery power. “The additional 52 Wh of capacity in the base is as much battery as most Ultrabooks have. Combined with the 18 Wh in the Clipboard, the Surface Book packs in an impressive 70 Wh of capacity,” AnandTech said.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.