I tried using the Surface Book 2 as my only PC, and it let me down

Bill Roberson/Digital Trends
Microsoft wants the Surface Book 2 to be your only PC. Its website calls the Book 2 a “versatile laptop, powerful tablet, and portable studio in one,” going on to tell users it will “speed through intensive tasks,” and even handle Windows Mixed Reality.

It’s an appealing idea. I’ve long been a three, even four-PC guy; I have a desktop and laptop for work, and often have both at home, too. That’s a lot of computers, and while cloud connectivity has bridged most gaps between them, it seems wasteful. What if one PC could do it all?

I thought the Surface Book 2 15-inch would be that device. It certainly seems powerful enough on paper. With a Core i7 quad-core processor, Nvidia GTX 1060 graphics, and 16GB of RAM, the Book 2 is quicker than my work desktop. Seeing a chance, I eagerly cleared it a place in my battlestation — but it wasn’t meant to be.

The scale of the problem

The Surface Book 2 15-inch has a beautiful, pixel-dense display with a 3:2 aspect ratio that packs about 250 pixels per inch. It’s fantastic. My work desktop, however, pairs well with a humbler 2,560 x 1,440, 27-inch monitor. The Surface Book 2 doesn’t seem to play nicely with it.

Fine text wasn’t as smooth as I expected, and everything on the screen looked and felt slow.

I noticed the problems almost immediately. Connecting the monitor was easy enough, but when I made it the primary display, the (now secondary) Book 2’s screen looked off. Fine text wasn’t as smooth as I expected, and everything on the Book 2’s screen looked and felt slow, as if it were refreshing at a slower rate than it should.

“That’s too bad,” I thought, and then closed the Surface Book 2, thinking the problem solved. Boy, was I wrong. My problems were just starting.

They were minor at first. The icons on the desktop spaced themselves strangely. A few hours later, I noticed the title bar of several windows had shrunken. Not a big deal. Then, my cursor began to disappear as it entered certain application windows, including Word and Outlook. That was more of an annoyance, and I rebooted the Book 2. That fixed the problems, but they soon returned.

Mark Coppock/Digital Trends
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

As it turns out, my unusual behavior is the cause. I sometimes disconnect the Book 2 to use it as a laptop, and then re-connect to my monitor when I return. Crazy, right?

Microsoft even has a support page for this, titled “Windows scaling issues for high-DPI devices.” According to the page, “These symptoms also occur when the hardware configuration changes, such as when you dock and undock a device that uses external monitors, or you detach an external monitor from the device.” The fix? Log off, and log back in. This “resets the display information and improves the behavior.”

Let’s summarize. The Surface Book 2 — and all Windows devices, apparently — can’t properly handle docking/undocking from an external display. The result is a snowball of UI rendering issues that eventually force the user to log off. There’s no fix. That’s just how it is.

Ouch.

What are you doing, GPU?

Alright. So the icons don’t always look quite right. It’s annoying, sure, but does it really matter? Is logging off and back on that annoying? Perhaps not, but it’s not the only problem.

I frequently saw the Surface Book 2 slow to a crawl for no obvious reason.

Surface devices are notorious for odd bugs. They’ve earned plenty of criticism in the past. Consumer Reports made waves last year when it revoked recommendations from Surface products, citing a high rate of reported problems. Prior to that, in 2015, Microsoft apologized for problems with the Surface Book and Surface Pro 4, saying “For those of you who’ve had a less-than-perfect experience, we’re sorry for any frustration this has caused.”

The frustration continues. I frequently saw the Surface Book 2 slow to a crawl for no obvious reason. Upon investigating, I found it was linked to extremely high GPU use by the Desktop Window Manager. As with UI scaling, this isn’t a problem specific to the Book 2, but that didn’t make my experience any better. I ran out of patience with it quickly, and I’m using a review unit. I don’t know what I’d do if I saw this performance after spending at least $1,500 or, in the case of our review unit, $3,300 — but I’m sure it’d include cursing.

While that’s the most headache-inducing problem, there’s plenty more. Why doesn’t OneDrive work when I try to browser it through an Office application? Why do I hear strong coil whine when I connect the Book 2 to a monitor, and only then? Why did Microsoft ship it with a power brick that’s too small, so the battery discharges under heavy load?

I work with PCs all the time. It’s my job. I’m fine with seeing a glitch here or there, and on their own, each problem I had with the Surface Book 2 wouldn’t be a dealbreaker. Together, they’ve ruined my experience, and I’m going back to my multi-PC lifestyle. The Surface Book 2 is still a great 2-in-1, and is a solid choice if you need a workstation laptop, but we can’t recommend tossing your desktop for it.

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.

Product Review

Dell's new 2-in-1 Latitude is the best business laptop – if you can afford it

Dell’s Latitude 7400 2-in-1 is the world’s smallest 360-degree convertible with a 14-inch display. It’s made for business users, but consumers with fat wallets will like its features and battery life.
Computing

In 2019, laptops are better than ever. Here are the best of the best

The best laptop should be one that checks all the boxes: Great battery life, beautiful design, and top-notch performance. Our picks for the best laptops you can buy do all that — and throw in some extra features while they're at it.
Computing

If you need your laptop to be large, these ones are most in charge

Whether you're in the market for a mobile workstation or a gaming behemoth, there's probably something in the 15-inch form factor that can fit the bill. Here, we've rounded up the best 15-inch laptops available.
Deals

Amazon sale drops deals on Microsoft Surface laptops

Despite an increasingly crowded market, the sleek Microsoft Surface laptops have left their mark. Both the Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 and Surface Book 2 are discounted on Amazon right now, too, with deals that can save you up to $300.
Gaming

Take a trip to a new virtual world with one of these awesome HTC Vive games

So you’re considering an HTC Vive, but don't know which games to get? Our list of 29 of the best HTC Vive games will help you out, whether you're into rhythm-based gaming, interstellar dogfights, or something else entirely.
Computing

What is Libra? Here’s what you need to know about Facebook’s new cryptocurrency

Facebook released a white paper announcing its new cryptocurrency, Libra, which it intends as a way to enable more people around the world to process online payments. Here's how the new blockchain technology works.
Computing

YouTube’s new HD music videos let you relive your youth in vivid detail

Relive your youth in vivid detail with YouTube's new HD music videos. The video sharing website will be converting your favorite, decades-old music videos from SD to HD and the first hundred of them are available to watch right now.
Computing

From Air to Pro, here are the best MacBook deals for June 2019

If you’re in the market for a new Apple laptop, let us make your work a little easier: We hunted down the best up-to-date MacBook deals available online right now from various retailers.
Computing

Ice Lake benchmarks show Intel isn’t done firing back at AMD

A leaked benchmark shows Intel's upcoming 10th-generation Ice Lake mobile chip outperforms AMD's Ryzen 5 3500U. These test metrics follow less than a month after Intel and AMD traded dueling keynotes touting their next lines of CPUs.
Deals

Dell drops big discounts on Inspiron 7000 and G5 gaming laptops for grads

Dell has been dropping deals on laptops all summer, and now in time for graduation day, you can score a Dell Inspiron 7000 15 laptop or a G5 15 gaming laptop at deeply discounted prices of just $830 and $900, respectively.
Deals

The best Amazon Prime Day 2019 deals: Leaked date and sale predictions

Amazon Prime Day 2019 isn't here yet, but it's never too early to start preparing. We've been taking a look at the best discounts from previous Prime Days to give you our predictions of what to expect this year.
Computing

Microsoft teams up with Kano to create a DIY Windows 10 PC for kids

Microsoft and Kano have unveiled a build-it-yourself Windows 10 PC aimed at making computing fun for kids. The Kano PC features an 11.6-inch touchscreen and attachable keyboard, and comes bundled with a range of software.
Apple

Good news for Mac photographers — Lightroom now available from Mac App Store

Getting your hands on a copy of Adobe Lightroom CC just got a bit simpler for Mac users. The popular photo-editing app launched on the Mac App Store today, allowing photo editors to skip ordering from Adobe and go right to the App Store.
Computing

These monitors will brighten up your game room or office, no matter your budget

Whether you want a monitor with a 4K resolution, HDR support, high refresh-rate for gaming, or just a great all-rounder at a good price, we've got something for you. These are the best monitors you can buy right now.