The Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 Review: Surface Essentialsby Brett Howse on March 28, 2019 8:00 AM EST
- Posted in
- Surface Laptop
- Surface Laptop 2
Microsoft’s Surface lineup was created to bring a spark of innovation into the PC industry at a time where much of the competition was slow to change, and slow to adopt new form factors and new technologies. Microsoft’s Surface Pro lineup has undoubtedly been a huge success in this respect, with the 2-in-1s providing plenty of flexibility coupled with great hardware.
Unsurprisingly then, Microsoft has taken this success and run with it, growing the Surface brand by fleshing out the product line with more models. However even as Microsoft expanded the Surface family, they have always tried to keep that same edge – always embracing a unique feature on their lineup to differentiate a Surface device from the competition. Surface Pro had the kickstand, of course. Surface Book is a laptop with a detachable display. Surface Studio is an all-in-one PC that can fold into a drafting table.
But even with the Pro as a successful template for how to build out the Surface family, Microsoft has one product that doesn’t really fit in with the rest, and that is the Surface Laptop. There are no tricks or unique chassis features here. Microsoft just set out to create a thin and light laptop to fill a void where people want to buy a Surface, but want to use it in their lap; and they don’t need the performance, heft, or price of the Surface Book. It's a simple concept for a company that's been more focused on distinctive designs, but one that helps tap an important segment of the notebook market.
We didn’t get a chance to review the original Surface Laptop, but the Surface Laptop 2 is only a small update, offering new color choices and the move from Kaby Lake dual-core processors to Kaby Lake-Refresh quad-core options. Also, Microsoft has ditched the anemic 4 GB of RAM in the base model; all Surface Laptop 2 models ship with a minimum of 8 GB of LPDDR3, with high-end and upgraded models increasing that to 16 GB, which happens to be the maximum supported by Intel’s current U-series processors.
Even without any crazy chassis features, Microsoft has set the Surface Laptop apart from the competition in a couple of key ways. First and foremost, they’ve kept the excellent 3:2 aspect ratio display in a sea of 16:9 laptops. The extra vertical height is welcome when doing any sort of productivity work, though it is a design tradeoff of sorts since less of the display is used when watching 16:9 video. Along these lines, Microsoft’s PixelSense displays are some of the best in the industry as well, offering class-leading color accuracy along with touch and pen support. The 13.5-inch display in the Surface Laptop 2 offers 201 pixels per inch, which isn’t quite as sharp as the Surface Book 13.5’s 267 pixels per inch, but still enough to offer a sharp image.
Meanwhile the other differentiating features for the Surface Laptop 2 come down to asthetics and the typing experience. In terms of looks, Microsoft offers the Surface Laptop 2 in a choice of four colors, going so far as to color-match the Alcantara keyboard deck. Which as it happens, is the other notable feature here, as the Alcantara keyboard rounds out the device by providing a smooth typing experience.
|Microsoft Surface Laptop 2|
|Model Tested: Core i7-8650U 8GB 256GB $1599|
|Processor||Intel Core i5-8250U
4C/8T, 1.6-3.4GHz, 6MB L3, 14nm, 15w
Intel Core i7-8650U
4C/8T, 1.9-4.2GHz, 8MB L3, 14nm, 15w
|Memory||8 GB or 16 GB Dual-Channel LPDDR3|
|Graphics||Intel Core i5-8250U
Intel UHD Graphics 620 (24 EUs, 300-1100 MHz)
Intel Core i7-8650U
Intel UHD Graphics 620 (24 EUs, 300-1150 MHz)
|Display||13.5" 2256x1504 3:2 PixelSense
Touch and Pen support
100% sRGB color, individually calibrated panels
|Storage||128 GB, 256 GB, 512 GB, 1 TB PCIe 3.0 x2|
|Networking||802.11ac, 2x2:2, 866Mpbs Max, 2.4 and 5GHz
Dolby Audio Premium
|Battery||47.5 Wh, 44 W AC Adapter with USB charging port|
|Right Side||Surface Connect Port (charging and docking)|
|Left Side||USB 3.0 Type-A
Mini DisplayPort 1.2
|Dimensions||308 x 223 x 14.48 mm (12.13 x 8.79 x 0.57 inches)|
|Weight||Core i5: 1252 grams (2.76 lbs)
Core i7: 1283 grams (2.83 lbs)
|Camera||Front: 720p Camera and Windows Hello support
|Extras||Surface Pen and Dial (sold separately)
Surface Dock - 2 x mDP 1.2, 4 x USB 3.0, 1 x Gigabit (sold separately)
|Pricing||128 GB Core i5 8GB RAM: $999
256 GB Intel Core i5 with 8GB of RAM: $1299
256 GB Intel Core i7 with 8GB of RAM: $1599
512 GB Intel Core i7 with 16GB of RAM: $2199
1 TB Intel Core i7 with 16GB of RAM: $2699
Buy the Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 at Microsoft.com
Yet even with all of the Surface Laptop 2's cutting-edge hardware, what you surprisingly won't find here is a USB Type-C port. In fact it’s a bit ironic; Microsoft first launched the Surface brand because they felt the competition wasn’t innovating quickly enough, only for Microsoft to adopt USB Type-C at such a slow pace. As a result of this, the Surface Laptop 2 offers just a single USB port, and that is USB-A. While you can’t fault Microsoft for including a Type-A port (since it improves compatibility dramatically), the lack of any USB-C is a fault that is difficult to overlook, especially when you consider the laptop has a Mini DisplayPort instead, a port that has been rendered all but redundant by USB Type-C alt modes.
The real benefit of USB-C in a laptop like this would be in charging though, especially since numerous laptops and pretty much all Android phones have migrated to the new connector by now. Instead, Microsoft continues to rely on its proprietary Surface Connect port for charging. And while the magnetic connector works flawlessly while also granting the laptop compatibility with the Surface Dock, I still see little reason why they couldn’t offer both USB-C and the Surface Connect, like they do on the Surface Book 2.
But, if you can get past the lack of expandability, there is a lot to like about the Surface Laptop 2, starting with its design.
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sorten - Thursday, March 28, 2019 - linkIf I absolutely needed a laptop today I'd probably pick up a used one so I could wait for the Ice Lake CPUs from Intel this fall. It would be a shame to buy such nice hardware only to find yourself two significant generations behind within 6 months.
yankeeDDL - Thursday, March 28, 2019 - linkI hope you're right. Intel has been caught sleeping, and the improvements since SkyLake have been, frankly, anecdotal. It seems that AMD, by making a small core, designed from the ground up to work in tandem with other cores, has a much more effective/scalable architecture. So a 4-core, 8-thread CPU from AMD, while providing slightly lower IPC, today, is much more effective than a 4-core, 8-thread CPU from Intel.
Let's see if ICL brings real benefits. The 10nm node should help a lot.
smilingcrow - Thursday, March 28, 2019 - link"So a 4-core, 8-thread CPU from AMD, while providing slightly lower IPC, today, is much more effective than a 4-core, 8-thread CPU from Intel."
I thought AMD currently has lower IPC + lower clock speeds so how exactly are they more effective?
With Ryzen3/Zen 2 due in the summer this may change but for now AMDs advantage is more cores per buck.
niva - Thursday, March 28, 2019 - linkI'm assuming he meant in terms of price/core, but that's just a guess.
Doesn't AMD have a big problem with power consumption in mobile CPUs though? I've read that the AMD laptops out now suffer from big power drain even if performance wise they're equivalent or batter than the Intel chips at the same price range.
Irata - Friday, March 29, 2019 - linkSupposedly in idle only, but I do not really see that on my Matebook. Then again, I do not let it sit idling for hours on battery since it boots so quickly that there is no reason for that.
In normal use (web / video), the battery indicator does not move much at all.
What many forget is that even with Intel based laptops, there are sometimes big differences between models or manufacturer, depending on the battery size and how well they configured their laptop. The ones that aren't well done are not the ones you usually see in comparison tests though (as there are more models to pick from vs. AMD based ones).
lightningz71 - Monday, April 1, 2019 - linkTheir big problem was definitely low power states management on the 2X00u series of chips. The 3x00 series chips that are now hitting the market make up a lot of ground in that regard, both with the chips themselves and better bios/uefi implementations by the vendors that are building the systems. Add in the fact that AMD has finally decided to take the lead on providing a stable, performant drivers for the video section of the chips, and you can largely ignore the abysmal efforts of the vendors themselves to provide quality, updated drivers themselves.
For the money, some of the low end AMD 2x00u series laptops gave you MUCH more bang for your buck than the equivalent intel based offerings. The few limitations that people who purchased them did come across could be overcome through software tools by those that it actually mattered to (power and performance management profiles could be tweaked by certain software tools that allowed systems to maintain higher boost states longer and better manage their thermals).
I can't wait to see some of the more thorough write-ups on the latest 3x00h series laptops that are fast enough in both core performance and graphics performance to go up against comparable intel based machines that also include an Nvidia MX1xx series dGPU with an i5. They should technically be less expensive, offer similar performance and be more power friendly when pushed to their limits. This isn't to say that they won't have their flaws, just that, dollar for dollar, on the low end, you'll get more with the AMD system.
Manch - Friday, March 29, 2019 - linkSuperior SMT
smilingcrow - Friday, March 29, 2019 - linkIPC includes the whole chip performance so they are still behind.
Zen currently makes sense to me if you want 8 or more cores so hopefully with Zen 2 they will compete from 4 cores upwards.
Manch - Monday, April 1, 2019 - linkIPC refers to the perf of a single core usually. Generally has an advantage of about 8-10%. That advantage disapears when using SMT/HT. AMD has the more efficient design so it makes up for that 10% deficit. Throw in multiple core and it starts to win. TBS even now a lot of software is optimized still for Intel but thats changing rapidly. Intel still has a clockspeed advantage. Where as Zen has a pretty hard wall @4.3, Intel can get on down the road a good bit faster. Especially with 4 core chips. I dont think that advantage will last too much longer. Between the mitigations from ME/SPec, and lack of new architecture, Intel seem to be pushing cores over HT now to keep its advantage short term. AMD put out a competitive chip, Intel has yet to fire back like it did with Core against Athlon XPs(Those were the days!) Theyre just stretching their long in the tooth Core. Something is waiting in the wings though.
smilingcrow - Monday, April 1, 2019 - linkFrom what I've seen a 6C/12T Intel beats a similar spec AMD easily.
I've read that AMD's HT gives a bigger boost than Intel's but that still isn't enough for it to catch up due to it being too far behind in other areas.
So it's about as meaningful in the real world as a purely synthetic benchmark.
That should change soon with Zen 2 so there will be no need to live the life of a fantasist then.