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Surface Book 2 (15-inch): Microsoft supersizes its most powerful portable PC

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Written by Ed Bott on
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Surface Book 2 (15-inch)

$1,199 at Walmart
  • Editors' Review
  • Specs

For the past five days, I've been using a Surface Book 2 in place of my everyday PC, a first-generation Surface Book.

At first glance, this new addition to the Surface family doesn't look all that different from its predecessor.

It's made from the same sleek magnesium. It has the same distinctive segmented hinge, which allows the display to detach and be used in clipboard mode. When you open the lid you see the same elegant backlit keyboard and oversized glass trackpad.

CNET Review: Surface Book 2 is a satisfying sequel

It's not until you see the Surface Book 2 next to its predecessor that you really appreciate the difference.

It's big. The 15-inch display is roughly 20 percent larger than the 13.5-inch display on the original model, and the entire package is about 25 percent heavier, weighing in at 4.20 pounds (1905 g).

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The review unit I've been using includes 16 GB of RAM, 1 TB of storage in the form of a PCIe-based solid-state drive, a quad-core Intel i7-8650U CPU, and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 discrete GPU with 6 GB of GDDR5 graphics memory.

All that power comes at a price, of course. This configuration, the top of the Surface Book 2 line, runs $3,299. (That doesn't include the Surface Pen or Surface Dial, both of which are both optional extras.)

Make no mistake about it: This portable powerhouse wasn't designed for anyone who'll be put off by a few extra ounces in the carry-on bag or a few extra dollars in the price tag. Instead, it's made for extremely demanding professionals, especially those involved in creative work such as video processing or photo editing.

It also makes a spectacularly good desktop replacement, as I discovered when I plugged it into the Surface Dock and connected it to a large monitor and an external Surface Keyboard.

More remarkable than all that horsepower is the battery life that the 15-inch Surface Book 2 achieves.

Microsoft claims "up to 17 hours of video playback" for this model. Manufacturers' claims are always based on best-case scenarios, of course, but in this case I found the claim to nearly match reality.

It's hard to perform comprehensive battery tests in only five days when you're also trying to evaluate the rest of the package, but my limited testing found that battery life is uniformly excellent. After more than eight hours of streaming a high-definition video using the built-in Movies & TV app, the battery indicator was still showing more than 50 percent remaining.

Surface Pro: The evolution of Microsoft's hybrid tablet PC

For more mundane productivity workloads, with a mix of disk- and CPU-intensive activity, I used another 32 percent of the battery in just under four hours.

If those results are consistent over the next few months, they'll translate to about 11-12 hours of battery life per session, which is superb. The Windows 10 Battery Report on this review unit estimates a battery life of 10 hours, 55 minutes based on that first five days of usage. Estimates for the two most recent sessions, after setup and indexing tasks were complete, ranged from 11 hours, 10 minutes to 13 hours, 55 minutes.

Microsoft says the 13.5-inch Surface Book 2 should get approximately the same battery life as its supersized sibling. By contrast, my original Surface Book consistently gets battery life of about 7 hours.

The new 102W power supply included with this unit is noticeably larger than its predecessor and was able to recharge the Surface Book 2 from 15 percent to 100 percent in about 2 hours.

The other signature feature of the Surface Book 2 is a new USB Type-C port, which takes the place formerly occupied by a Mini DisplayPort connector on the original Surface Book.

With the help of various adapters, I was able use that Type-C port to connect external network adapters, USB flash drives, and other peripheral devices to the Surface Book 2. Unfortunately, because that port doesn't support Thunderbolt 3, its external display support is limited to 2880 x 1800 at 60Hz. That resolution is sufficient for most large external monitors, but it wasn't enough to drive my 34-inch display with its 3440 x 1440 resolution.

For now, the USB Type-C port is more of a novelty than anything, with the ability to support external power supplies such as the one that comes with a MacBook Pro along with inexpensive external hubs. The Surface Book 2 still has the blade connector for its proprietary power supply and dock as well as two external USB 3 ports and an SD card slot.

Two logical competitors to the Surface Book 2 are the 15-inch MacBook Pro and Dell's XPS 15, both of which are designed for the same creative professionals. For now, Surface Book 2 offers a performance edge thanks to its newer GPU, but that gap will close with future updates from Apple and Dell.

For now, the touchscreen and full-featured Windows Hello biometric support are major differentiators over the Macbook Pro, while the 3:2 display and the detachable display distinguish the Surface Book 2 from Dell's otherwise competitive XPS 15.

For power-hungry creative professionals, the Surface Book 2 is certain to be tempting, even at the price. The only misgiving is Microsoft's history of teething problems with the rollout of new devices. The original Surface Book required several updates over several months before it was stable and reliable. Waiting a few months for early adopters to report on reliability might not be a bad strategy.

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