Microsoft is finally joining the laptop Thunderdome with the Surface Book, a high-performance machine with a detachable touchscreen. It faces its toughest competition in the form of the incredibly popular 13-inch MacBook Pro. Apple’s smallest high-performance option packs speed and storage into a thin, unibody chassis that’s well known around the computing community. Can the Surface Book overcome, or is it destined to be forgotten like so many Microsoft projects?
Microsoft Surface Book
Apple MacBook Pro 13
|Size||12.3 x 9.14 x .51-.90 inches||12.35 x 8.62 x .71 inches|
|Weight||3.34 pounds||3.48 pounds|
|Display||13.5-inch PixelSense touch display||13.3-inch Retina display|
|Resolution||3,000 x 2,000 (267 ppi)||2,560 x 1,600 (227 ppi)|
|Operating System||Windows 10||Mac OS X|
|Storage||128, 256, 512GB||128. 256. 512GB or 1TB|
|CPU||Intel Core i5 or i7||Intel Core i5|
|RAM||8GB or 16GB||8GB or 16GB|
|Camera||Front 5MP, Rear 8MP||Front 720p|
|Connectivity||Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, USB 3.0, Mini DisplayPort||Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, USB 3.0, HDMI, Thunderbolt 2|
|Sensors||Ambient light, Accelerometer, Gyroscope, Magnetometer||Ambient light, Force touch|
|Battery||Up to 12 hours of video playback||Up to 12 hours of video playback|
|Price||$1,499 base||$1,299 base|
|Availability||October 26th||Available now|
|DT review||Hands-on||4.5 out of 5|
Surface Book available from: Microsoft
When it comes to performance, the two systems are almost tied, especially at the base level. Intel’s Core i5 processors have become the standard for those looking for a mid-range chip, and are featured in both the MacBook and Surface Book. The MacBook’s base CPU is a dual-core chip with a 2.7GHz base clock, We don’t know the model in the Surface Book, but it’s likely to fall short of the higher TDP chips in the MacBook. Both systems can be upgraded to an Intel Core i7.
However, above the base level is where the difference becomes a bit clearer. The higher-end options on the Surface Book include a discrete Nvidia GPU, a huge boon for those into gaming, media creation, or video editing, whereas the MacBook Pro has Intel Iris graphics.
Both machines are built with solid state drives, as is the norm in laptops these days, and both base models are built with 128GB of storage. The MacBook Pro is available with a 1TB drive, while the Surface Book tops out at 512GB, which is exorbitantly expensive. It’s hard to say which system has a quicker drive without testing the Surface Book, but the MacBook Pro will be hard to beat in that area.
In flagship laptops like these, a 1080p display just doesn’t cut it anymore. Both of these systems feature sharp, high-resolution displays, both of which are almost the same size, but there are a few key differences.
The Surface Book has an exceptionally high-res display, with a 3,000 x 2,000 pixel screen for a solid 267 ppi. The MacBook Pro’s Retina display is no slouch either, at a more traditional 2,560 x 1,600 pixel resolution, with a ppi of 227. At laptop distance, that’s not going to make a huge difference, but when you detach the screen on the Surface – another benefit of the Surface Book – it’s going to help the clarity a lot.
Speaking of tablet mode, the screen on the Surface Book is a touch display, which is built with a brand new PixelSense processor. The close integration of signal processing, thinner glass, and improved stylus make writing and taking notes feel more natural than ever.
Winner: Surface Book
Both devices have the same quoted battery life, and it’s likely after release we’ll confirm very similar actual run times on a single charge. That being said, it’s likely the dedicated GPU isn’t being used in the Surface Book’s quoted use time, and discrete graphics tends to be a huge drain on battery life.
Both devices are almost identical in size and weight, to the point that the inch or less difference in size isn’t going to matter in the real world. One could argue that’s a win for the Surface Pro, because it packs more functionality and a more diverse form factor into the same space, but it’s basically the same.
When it comes to connectivity on the two devices, it’s not so much about which one’s better as it is which one’s better for you. USB 3.0, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth 4.0 are both standard on these machines, as they are almost every other laptop on the market.
The key difference is that while the Surface Book relies on Mini-DisplayPort for video out, the MacBook makes use of a full-sized HDMI port. The MacBook Pro also has ThunderBolt 2 ports, which can be used to send video out to DisplayPort monitors.
Winner: MacBook Pro
The base model of the Surface Book runs $1,499, while the base model of the MacBook Pro is just $1,299, and the two systems are fairly similarly equipped. If you opt for the Surface Book, the stylus is included with the device, but that’s hardly a $200 value, until you consider the screen upgrade to a higher resolution with touch in that price.
At the higher end, the MacBook Pro’s value is drastically worse. The most tricked out systems on both sides will run you $2,700 each. They’re fairly similar, both boasting Intel Core i7 processors and 16GB of RAM, but the MacBook Pro has a full 1TB drive. The Surface Book has only 512GB, but has dedicated graphics by Nvidia. We think the inclusion of discrete graphics far outweighs the bigger hard drive.
Winner: Surface Book
Score one for Surface
These systems are very competitive on paper. While the MacBook Pro has already earned its stripes as a capable and well-built device, the Surface Book is a journey into uncharted territory for Microsoft. At the base model, the MacBook Pro is likely to outperform the Surface Book due to a faster processor and twice the hard drive space, but it lacks the touchscreen and form factor versatility.
That being said, as you slide up the cost scale to higher configuration models, the Surface Book starts to look more appealing. Dedicated GPUs are a much more relevant upgrade in this day and age, and one that most users are more likely to notice than extra hard drive space.
Along with everything else the Surface Book brings in terms of new functionality, it’s worth waiting until it’s in hands and has reviews before you pull the trigger on a new MacBook Pro 13.