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Laptops

Microsoft Surface Book 2 is bigger and better

A new 15-inch size, updated Intel CPUs and gamer-ready Nvidia graphics hit Microsoft's pro-level Surface two-in-one.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Microsoft is heading into the holiday season with a new Surface computer, but it's not what you might expect. No, this isn't a new version of the slate-like Surface Pro two-in-one, or the slick-looking Surface Laptop. Instead it's the other Surface hybrid, the Surface Book. This is a bigger, bulkier two-in-one with a detachable screen and a very laptop-like keyboard dock, and it's known for having a lot of computing power and fantastic battery life.

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The Surface Book 2 now comes in both the original 13-inch size and a new 15-inch version. The timing makes them some of the first PCs to get Intel's latest eighth-gen Core CPUs. More interesting is an upgrade to better graphics hardware, which is happening just as the first round of Microsoft Mixed Reality headsets (which start at around $300) go on sale. 

Microsoft Surface Book 2

Sarah Tew/CNET

What makes the Surface Book such an interesting product is that the CPU, along with the other main components, are all in the tablet half, while the keyboard base has an extra battery, plus an Nvidia graphics card. Previous Surface Book models had fairly pedestrian GPU hardware. Now, the 13-inch model gets an an optional Nvidia GeForce 1050, and the 15-inch gets a default GeForce 1060 -- both are great mainstream graphics cards for gamers, and a big step up from what the Surface Book had before.

Of course, both models work with the sold-separately Microsoft Pen stylus, which is getting a very minor update, and the new Fall Creators Update version of Windows 10, which lets you do all kinds of cool augmented reality stuff through the new Mixed Reality Viewer app. You can take a 3D model from Microsoft's Paint 3D program, for example, and drop it into a real-world situation, as captured by the rear-facing camera. (The Surface Book 2 has a 5-megapixel front-facing camera and an 8-megapixel rear-facing one.) 

Microsoft Surface Book 2

Adding a tiny 3D solar system to this table. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

Ports and basic specs are as follows:

Microsoft Surface Book 2: 13-inch

  • Intel 8th-gen Core i5 (dual-core) or i7 (quad-core) U-series processors
  • 13.5-inch 3,000x2,000-pixel display
  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 GPU (Core i7 version only)
  • 2x USB-A 3.1 ports
  • 1x USB-C 3.1 port
  • SDXC card reader
  • Headphone jack
  • Proprietary Surface Connect port (power)
  • 8GB or 16GB RAM
  • 256GB, 512GB or 1TB SSD storage

Microsoft Surface Book 2: 15-inch

  • Intel 8th-gen Core i7 U-series processors
  • 15-inch 3,240x2,160-pixel display
  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 GPU
  • 2x USB-A 3.1 ports
  • 1x USB-C 3.1 port
  • SDXC card reader
  • Headphone jack
  • Proprietary Surface Connect port (power)
  • 16GB RAM
  • 256GB, 512GB or 1TB SSD storage

Note that, even though these are launching alongside the first wave of Windows Mixed Reality headsets, they lack an HDMI port, so you'll need a USB-C-to-HDMI adaptor to connect one. In a brief hands-on gaming demo, however, the Nvidia 1060 GPU in the 15-inch version worked great while playing both Gears of War 4 and Cuphead, so this may be the first Surface device that can be taken seriously as a gaming machine.

Microsoft Surface Book 2

Sarah Tew/CNET

Alongside the Surface Book 2, Microsoft is also launching a new mouse, the Surface Precision Mouse. It has a more traditional ergonomic design than either the older Surface Mouse or Surface Arc Mouse, and includes three programmable left-side buttons and both Bluetooth and wired USB connections. There's no price information on the mouse yet, but the two previous Surface mouse models were between $49 and $79 in the US.

Microsoft is pitching the Surface Book 2 as a direct competitor to Apple's MacBook Pro, claiming it has much better performance. That's potentially true, as the MacBook is still using previous-gen Intel chips. But one area where they're very closely matched is the high price -- the Surface Book 2 starts at $1,499 for the 13- and $2,499 for the 15-inch. 

The 13-inch model is hitting several global markets, starting at £1,499 in the UK, and AU$2,199 in Australia. The 15-inch model is US-only for now (its price converts to £1,880 or AU$3,180).

The Surface Book 2 will be available on Nov. 16, with preorders starting Nov. 9.