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Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 review: A faster Surface Laptop 2 is back, now in black

Even with a big performance boost, more RAM and a cool new matte black color, this still feels more like a Surface Laptop 1.5.

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Dan Ackerman
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Dan Ackerman

Editorial Director / Computers and Gaming

Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a semi-regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications. "Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times

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Last year's Surface Laptop from Microsoft broke the mold for Surface devices. Microsoft had spent a good part of the past half-decade pushing the idea of Windows-powered slates and two-in-one hybrids, eventually becoming the standard bearer for the category with the best-in-class Surface Pro line. But the Surface Laptop was something different. It was a slim, premium laptop designed to compete with the Dell XPS, HP Spectre and Apple MacBook Air laptops of the world.

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8.2

Microsoft Surface Laptop 2

The Good

The Surface Laptop 2 ups the default RAM and upgrades to much faster processors. The new matte black color option looks great.

The Bad

Other than a CPU/RAM bump, there's very little new about this. The black color option is only available on more expensive configurations. No USB-C, a rarity for premium laptops.

The Bottom Line

Microsoft's Surface Laptop 2 gets a big speed boost and a new color option, but is otherwise a minimal update to the first version.

The Surface Laptop borrowed more than it invented, but it did an excellent job of synthesizing a greatest-hits high-end laptop, with a slim, modern design, great 12.3-inch touchscreen, good keyboard and touchpad combo and even a decent set of ports. It wasn't necessarily better than those other laptops, but it was at least in the running, and provided a real alternative to the same familiar shapes seen in every coffee shop and classroom. 

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Sarah Tew/CNET

The Surface Laptop's one big innovation was a fabric-covered interior, using an artificial material called alcontera, perhaps best known for its role in the boat upholstery industry. The fabric surfaces ended up being much sturdier and more stain-resistant than I expected, and I've become a fan.

You can read a deeper dive into the use of fabric in the Surface Laptop design in our review of the 2017 version

Surface Laptop 2

Price as reviewed $1,299
Display size/resolution 13.5-inch 2,256 x 1,504 touch display
CPU 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-8250U
Memory 8GB DDR4 SDRAM 1,866MHz
Graphics 128MB dedicated Intel UHD Graphics 620
Storage 256GB SSD
Networking 802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.1
Operating system Windows 10 Home (64-bit)

In the year-plus since the original Surface Laptop, it's remained near the top of my premium slim laptop list, in part because the official Microsoft Store and other retailers often had steep discounts on the base model.

Now that there's a new version, unimaginatively named Surface Laptop 2, and that means the starting price is bouncing back to $999. As I liked the Surface Laptop, it should come as no surprise that I like the Surface Laptop 2, but that's because they're nearly identical. The outer form is unchanged, with the exception of a new matte black color option. There's still a USB-A port and mini-DisplayPort, but no USB-C or HDMI. 

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Inside, the processors get a big upgrade, from dual-core seventh-generation Intel CPUs to quad-core eighth-gen. The actual boost in performance is impressive in our benchmark testing, even though the first-gen version felt speedy enough for mainstream or student use. In another upgrade, the base RAM is now 8GB instead of 4GB, which is also welcome. Battery life is also better by a bit, adding around 40 minutes over the first-gen Surface Laptop, and just passing 11 hours on our streaming video playback test. But note these are preliminary battery life scores, and we're conducting additional testing.  

The $999 version has a Core i5 and 8GB of RAM, while our review unit ups the SSD storage from 128GB to 256GB, which drives the price up to $1,299, which feels like a hefty premium for an additional 128GB of storage. In the UK, it starts at £979 and in Australia, AU$1,499. 

Aside from the big boost in performance and a handful of small internal tweaks, it's fair to say one could expect more from second-generation Surface Laptop. Other premium laptops, such as the Acer Swift 7 or the 2018 redesign of the Dell XPS 13 move the design ball further down the road, while this is a product that's largely the same as the original. 

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The new Surface Pro 6 next to the Surface Laptop 2. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

No more Windows 10 S

If you've been looking at the Surface Laptop and holding out for an update, then go ahead and grab the new version. The faster performance is a nice bonus for your patience. If you have the original, I shouldn't even need to say that there's no need to upgrade.

Microsoft did undo one of the few missteps of the first Surface Laptop. That model shipped with the limited Windows 10 S operating system -- a stripped-down version of Windows that only allows installs from the built-in app store -- but nearly everyone took advantage of a free upgrade offer to full Windows 10, which allowed for "real" apps such as the Chrome web browser or Steam PC gaming platform to be installed. The Surface Laptop 2 comes with Windows 10 Home as the default, a much more practical choice.

While I'm enjoying my initial days with the Surface Laptop 2, I am disappointed in one thing. The new matte black color, much hyped by Microsoft, looks amazing. But, it's only available in a step-up model that doubles the internal storage from 128GB to 256GB, at the cost of an extra $300. The $999 base model is only available in gray, which is also very nice, but not the "new" color.

Geekbench 4 (multicore)

Microsoft Surface Pro 6 12,488Lenovo Yoga 730-13 12,191Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 11,983Acer Switch SW713 Black Edition 11,688Microsoft Surface Pro (2017) 8,845Microsoft Surface Laptop (2017) 7,176
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

Cinebench R15 CPU (multicore)

Microsoft Surface Pro 6 596Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 589Lenovo Yoga 730-13 504Acer Switch SW713 Black Edition 389Microsoft Surface Pro 368Microsoft Surface Laptop 328
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

Video playback battery drain test (Streaming)

Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 671Microsoft Surface Laptop 621Microsoft Surface Pro 6 606Microsoft Surface Pro 505Lenovo Yoga 730-13 501Acer Switch SW713 Black Edition 300
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance (in minutes)

System configurations

Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-8250U; 8GB DDR4 SDRAM 1,866MHz; 128MB dedicated Intel UHD Graphics 620; 256GB
Microsoft Surface Pro 6 Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-8250U; 8GB DDR4 SDRAM 1,866MHz; 128MB dedicated Intel UHD Graphics 620; 256GB
Lenovo Yoga 730-13 Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-8250U; 8GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,400MHz; 128MB dedicated Intel UHD Graphics 620; 256GB
Microsoft Surface Pro (2017) Microsoft Windows 10 Pro (64-bit); 2.5GHz Intel Core i7-7600U; 16GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,866MHz; 128MB (dedicated) Intel Iris Plus Graphics 640; 512GB SSD
Microsoft Surface Laptop (2017) Microsoft Windows 10 Pro (64-bit); 2.5GHz Intel Core i5-7200U; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1866MHz; 128MB (dedicated) Intel HD Graphics 620; 256GB SSD
Acer Switch SW713 Black Edition Microsoft Windows 10 Pro (64-bit); 1.8GHz Intel Core i7-8550U; 16GB DDR4 1,866MHz; 2GB Nvidia GeForce MX150; 512GB SSD
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Microsoft Surface Laptop 2

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 7Performance 8Battery 8
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