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Microsoft Surface Book i7 (2016) review:

All about that base

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Tablet's the same, base is new

If you want to quickly understand the difference in the new Surface Book, know that the top part -- the tablet with the great display -- is basically the same. The included Surface Pen is the same, too. It feels great for sketches and art, and is also pressure-sensitive. It's not quite as tactile as Apple's iPad Pro-only Pencil, but it's everything you'd need.

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The Surface Pen still does a great job with graphic design and sketching apps.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The 13.5-inch display, at 3,000x2,000 pixels, looks vivid and fantastic. 267 pixels per inch amounts to a really rich viewing experience, and it's the perfect display for what the upgraded base can throw at it for graphics-rich games and apps.

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Games look good.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Faster, stronger, better

We put Microsoft's newest Surface Book to the test in benchmarks, and it's a noticeable improvement.

But, while the upgraded Intel Core i7 processor is new, but it's not quad-core. And note that the new chip is still a sixth-gen Skylake processor, not the latest seventh-gen Kaby Lake model that's appearing in some new Windows machines. Ultimately, that's fine -- in our initial experience, Kaby Lake chips aren't massively faster, and given how much trouble Microsoft had fixing the sleep/wake glitch on the original Surface Book, it's good that they're sticking with what works.

The new Surface Book has faster performance, better multitasking, better battery performance -- enough to make a difference, but not necessarily enough to eclipse the competition. And, then there's the Nvidia GeForce graphics. The GeForce GTX 965M is a very good processor for everyday gaming and graphics work, and finally gets the Surface Book into power-user territory.

But, it's still out of range for what current VR rigs like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive require, meaning this isn't a VR-compatible PC. Now, that could change down the road: Microsoft promises its Windows Holographic environment and headsets debuting next year will work across more computers. Will the Surface Book with Performance Base be folded in? I wouldn't count on it if you're desperate to get VR into your life, but time will tell.

Multitasking Multimedia Test 3.0 (in seconds)

Dell XPS 13 (touch)
452
Apple MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2016)
460
Razer Blade Stealth
482
Microsoft Surface Pro 4
519
Microsoft Surface Book (2015)
522
Microsoft Surface Book (2016)
610

Note:

Shorter bars indicate better performance

Geekbench 3 Multi-Core

Dell XPS 13 (touch)
7878
Razer Blade Stealth
7704
Microsoft Surface Book (2016)
7377
Microsoft Surface Book (2015)
7348
Apple MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2016)
7178
Microsoft Surface Pro 4
6775

Note:

longer bars indicate better performance

Online Streaming Battery Drain test (in minutes)

Microsoft Surface Book (2016)
709
Apple MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2016)
696
Dell XPS 13 (touch)
475
Microsoft Surface Book (2015)
471
Razer Blade Stealth
416
Microsoft Surface Pro 4
298

Note:

longer bars indicate better performance

It gets expensive

There's a price to pay for the new Surface Book, and it's really high.

The new Surface Book starts at $2,399, £1,799 or AU$3,299, which is higher than even Apple charges for its entry MacBook Pro with Touch Bar. You get 256GB of storage and 8GB of RAM in that configuration; upgrade it all the way to 1TB of storage and 16GB of RAM, and it'll cost $3,299, £2,649 or AU$4,949.

That's the biggest downside to the Surface Book: you could conceivably buy a more affordable Windows laptop and a tablet for the same price. In the last year, there have been a number of great convertible Windows touchscreen computer options that rival the Surface Book, including Lenovo's OLED ThinkPad X1 Yoga hybrid (which costs less, too).

There are obvious advantages to combining both tablet and laptop together, and when Microsoft's vision of where touch-enabled computers clicks, it offers things you can't get anywhere else. I can prop this up and use it like a mini Surface Studio in tabletop mode, and sketch on the fly. I could detach the tablet and use it around the house. I could just go into laptop mode. I have options. I like that. But I'd really like if Microsoft's original vision of the Surface as a slim tablet, with its extra keyboard options, could work hand in hand with this still-standalone Surface Book.

Next year, Microsoft could and should make new Surface tablet-tops that pop into the base...and maybe new bases too. That's the vision of where Microsoft wants to go, according to Microsoft's head of device business, Panos Panay, who's in charge of the Surface line. But right now, you can only buy this in one set package: tablet and base, together as one new Surface Book. If you owned the old one, you can't just buy the base. Not yet, at least.

Wouldn't it be awesome if you could, though?

System Configurations

Microsoft Surface Book (2016) Microsoft Windows 10 Pro (64-bit); 2.6GHz Intel Core i7-6600U; 16GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,866MHz; 2GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 965; 1TB SSD
Apple MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2016) Apple Mac OS Sierra (64-bit) 2GHz Intel Core i5-6360U; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,866MHz; 1536MB Intel Iris Graphics 540; 256GB SSD
Razer Blade Stealth Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.7GHz Intel Core i7-7500U; 16GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,866MHz; 128MB (dedicated) Intel HD Graphics 620; 256GB SSD
Microsoft Surface Pro 4 Microsoft Windows 10 Pro (64-bit) 2.4GHz Intel Core i5-6300U; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM; 128MB (dedicated) Intel HD Graphics 520; 256GB SSD
Microsoft Surface Book (2015) Microsoft Windows 10 Pro (64-bit) 2.4GHz Intel Core i5-6300U; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM; 128MB (dedicated) Intel HD Graphics 520; 512GB SSD
Dell XPS 13 (touch) Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.7GHz Intel Core i7-7500U; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,866MHz; 128MB dedicated Intel HD Graphics 620; 256GB SSD

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