Pricing and Closing Thoughts
Pricing – Premium Hardware has a Premium Price
Since the introduction of the Surface products, Microsoft has leaned towards a higher price point. I think it is both to appease their OEM partners as well as to appeal to select consumers by making Surface devices “aspirational” in nature – they should appear rare and exotic. Both the new Surface Book and Surface Pro 4 continue this direction and, although I wouldn’t call them overpriced, they definitely aren’t budget devices.
|Processor||Core i7-6600U||Core i7-6600U||Core i5-6300U||Core i5-6300U||Core i5-6300U|
|GPU||NVIDIA + Intel 520||NVIDIA + Intel 520||NVIDIA + Intel 520||Intel 520||Intel 520|
|Processor||Core i7-6650U||Core i7-6650U||Core i5-6300U||Core i5-6300U||Core m3-6Y30|
|GPU||Intel 540||Intel 540||Intel 520||Intel 520||Intel 520|
The Surface Pro 4 starts at just $899, though that configuration uses the Intel Core m3-6Y30 processor, a dual-core HyperThreaded processor with a base speed of 900 MHz a maximum Turbo clock rate of 2.2 GHz. Those clock rates, paired with a 4.5 watt TDP (configurable down to 3.8 watts or up to 7 watts) should give this model the best battery life, but the lowest overall performance. The Core i5 model uses the i5-6300U, a dual-core, HyperThreaded processors with a 2.4 GHz base, 3.0 GHz Turbo and 15 watt TDP. Those that step up to the Core i7-6600U will still have a dual-core HT design but with a 2.6 GHz base clock and 3.4 GHz maximum Turbo clock.
The move from a Core m3 model with just 4GB of memory and a 128GB SSD, to a Core i5 with much better performance, double the memory at 8GB and twice the storage at 256GB, will cost you $400. This is a sizeable, but worthwhile, jump. However, asking for $300 for Core i7 upgrade or $500 for the Core i7 and double memory/storage will likely be too much for most.
The Surface Book starts at a much steeper entry price of $1499, but it leaps over the Core m processor and gives users at least a Core i5 configuration with a 128GB NVMe SSD and 4GB of memory. Our tested configuration, essentially the same as the Surface Pro 4, with 8GB of memory and a 256GB NVMe SSD will run you $1899 with the keyboard dock that includes the NVIDIA GeForce discrete GPU. Without that GeForce chip, you can get the same configuration for $1699.
Is the NVIDIA GPU worth the $200 upgrade? Honestly, unless you know you want to do some modest gaming on the go, I would say no. It will help with any software that takes advantage of OpenCL (some Adobe applications, some media apps) and PC gaming will get a significant boost, but otherwise I don’t see a lot of use for a discrete GPU in a productivity laptop or tablet. It’s possible, though I haven’t tested it, that the model without the dGPU may eek out a bit more battery life and should be less blue-screen prone since the system doesn’t have to disconnect or reconnect a display adapter every time you split up the 2-in-1 hardware.
Microsoft is asking a $200 premium for the Surface Book vs a similarly configured Surface Pro 4. However, with the added cost of the Type Cover ($160) that price difference drops to just $40. That makes cost almost a non-factor when comparing the two Surface devices but still is a concern when looking at the ecosystem as a whole. For example, the Lenovo Yoga 900 with a Skylake Core i7 processor, 8GB of memory and a 256GB SSD has an MSRP of $1199, some $400 less than either Surface device. There are other technical and design differences to be sure, but users looking to purchase the Surface Pro 4 or Surface Book should know that they are not engaging in optimal performance per dollar actions.
That being said, there are still plenty of reasons to love and to buy this new generation of Microsoft Surface devices. From a build quality and design perspective, the Surface Pro 4 continues in the same vein as previous models and, to me, that means a slick and modern design that blends tablet and notebook features nearly perfectly. The kickstand allows for basically any viewing angle on a desk or table (though on-the-lap usage is compromised), the magnesium case design is angled and aggressive and the addition of a Type Cover makes the device exceptionally capable of just about any notebook usage model. Couple that with impressive hardware performance, a beautiful screen and decent battery life and portability and you can see why the Surface devices get so much attention.
The Surface Book is the new guy on the block and has a new design that is definitely unique in the world of notebooks. Though opinions vary, I really like what the designers at Microsoft have done with the Book – the hinge is both visually interesting as well as functional. I think the complication of having to use an electrical release mechanism can be a hindrance if you want to disconnect it while the machine is turned off or even if the battery is low, but I didn’t find myself switching between the laptop and tablet modes as often as I originally thought I would. Battery life is better, the screen is bigger and the keyboard / trackpad combination is likely the best I have used on a Windows machine. The optional discrete GPU offers another reason to move up to the Surface Book if you want to do some basic gaming or take advantage of the GPU compute capability of the added hardware. It’s bigger and thicker and heavier than the Surface Pro 4 though, so users consider both should consider that trade off.
The hardware design is superb, the hardware configuration is top of the line for this generation, Windows 10 is more than capable of handling the high DPI resolutions and there is no bloatware to deal with on the Surface platforms. Other than the eccentricities of the designs (Type Cover, hinge), price is the only thing that you can really complain about on either the Surface Pro 4 or the Surface Book. If you want flagship Windows notebooks that combine design, style, technology and performance, both the Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book are the best you can buy. If I were picking one to keep in my bag going forward, I think the larger screen and discrete GPU option on the Surface Book would make it my selection.