Microsoft is digging itself a hole by giving away free Surface Docks

Microsoft Surface Book 2

Technology companies sometimes do things that leave me scratching my head. I wrote about one example in my Surface Book 2 editorial, where I outlined a few of the reasons why I regret purchasing the innovative but inherently flawed 2-in-1 device. Now, Microsoft has done it again, with its latest offer of a free Surface Dock with the purchase of a Surface Book 2.

You might be wondering what I have against the company offering a promotion like this. After all, offering a free value to spur product sales is Marketing 101. And the Surface Dock is certainly a value, currently priced at $200 at the Microsoft Store and offering the best combination of ports you’ll find for Microsoft’s Surface line of portable devices.

But here’s my concern: The 15-inch Surface Book 2 still has a problem with its shipping power supply, which only provides 95 watts of power to the system. That means it can’t keep the CPU and GPU running at full speed without tapping into the battery. The Surface Dock only makes matters worse by providing only 60 watts to the system, less than what’s required even when barely using the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060.

The Surface Dock makes the power problem worse by providing only 60 watts to the system.

I tested a 65 watt USB-C power adapter with my 15-inch Surface Book 2 a few weeks ago, by running Diablo 3 — not exactly an intensive gaming test. The machine burned through 30 percent of its battery life after less than an hour of playing. If I’d played long enough, it would have throttled the GPU to avoid depleting the battery entirely.

Now imagine using the GPU for editing video or running any of the myriad creative apps that use the discrete GPU’s power to speed things up. With only 60 watts, chances are you’d tap into the battery the second you accessed the GTX 1060. That means you might get only a few hours into a working session when the system decides it’s time to slow things down.

What this means in practice is that if you use the Surface Dock with your 15-inch Surface Book 2, then you’re either limited to using the integrated GPU — and wasting your significant investment in such a powerful notebook — or you’re going to kill your battery. And I mean that literally — not only is it a serious inconvenience to have a battery that’s constantly running low on power, but all those extra charge cycles are like a thousand cuts. They add up, and your non-removable battery is going to die much sooner than it should.

microsoft surface dock

So I just don’t get it, Microsoft. If I were you, I’d avoid referencing the 15-inch Surface Book 2 and the Surface Dock in the same breath. In fact, I’d avoid mentioning them on the same web page. Surely you recognize that the two are a poor pairing, and that you’re just rubbing a customer’s nose in what amounts to a serious engineering faux pas.

It may seem like I’m being overly harsh on Microsoft here. You might think I’m saying that the 15-inch Surface Book 2 is just a terrible product. The truth is that the notebook is a fine machine as long as you’re buying it for the right uses, which means that you don’t need a hardcore gaming system or one that can encode video for hours on end using the GPU. And if you want a portable notebook that does double-duty as an incredibly thin and light 15-inch tablet, the Surface Book 2 is a great choice.

The Surface Dock is the best way to connect peripherals to the Surface Book 2, but it comes at a cost.

But if you want to use your notebook as a desktop replacement, complete with multiple monitors and a handful of peripherals, then it’s still a questionable purchase. The Surface Dock is the best way to connect those external devices to the Surface Book 2, but it comes with a real cost. You can expand the notebook with the dock, but in doing so you severely limit its power.

Microsoft has done a lot of great things in the last several years. It’s designed several important, innovative products and it’s pushed the industry forward. We certainly wouldn’t have so many great notebooks if it weren’t for Microsoft’s Surface (along with Intel’s ultrabook initiative).

But Microsoft has made some boneheaded decisions along the way, and the decision to give Surface Book 2 15 users a Surface Dock that’s likely to make them unhappy is one of the most boneheaded decisions of all. I’ll close with this: if Microsoft is doing this to blow out its Surface Dock inventory to make room for a new Surface Dock that provides more power to the system, then I’ll revisit this piece with some new thoughts on its marketing strategy.

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