Post Production

Microsoft Surface Book: is it really twice as fast?

No, though it is more interesting than the new MacBook & iPad Pro combined

Microsoft has released their Surface Book laptop, dubbed the “MacBook Pro Killer” by some in the press. Apparently, Microsoft claimed that the Surface Book is twice as fast as a MacBook Pro, but now that we’re past the feel-good atmosphere of the announcement, we might look closer at what’s actually being offered. The Microsoft Surface Book is a fast ultrabook with a GPU dock and tablet, touch, and pen features – and that combination of features is attractive to many looking for a decent design/exploration machine. Performance in the higher end models may not match the competition from Apple, not that Apple is putting much priority on Mac development.

The Surface Book is a nice piece of engineering: a very light tablet with a big high quality screen, plus touch and active pen, and a GPU dock with a high quality keyboard and trackpad. Microsoft necessarily frames discussion of their new products with Apple’s widely admired products, something noted this week by David Pierce in Wired and Ewan Spence at Forbes. There’s even a guide for potential switchers in Making the switch: MacBook to Microsoft Surface Book at Microsoft’s website. While the Surface Pro is a good looking innovative product, more interesting than the new MacBook and iPad Pro combined, too much spin can invite claims that disappoint. Microsoft hasn’t so far released details on their tests that show that the Surface is twice as fast as the MacBook Pro.

Oddly, PC World felt it best to benchmark a Surface Book with an NvidiaGPU to a MacBook Pro without a dedicated GPU, and then proclaim Surface Book vs. MacBook Pro: It isn’t twice as fast. It’s three times as fast!  That claim is based on a single test using Premiere Pro CC exporting a 4K file to H.264 using the Vimeo preset at 1080p at maximum render quality. The rest of benchmark tests did not fulfill Microsoft’s claim, even without an Apple speedbump to Intel Skylake processors.

While better Mercury Engine acceleration is good news for prospective users who want pen/touch features, PC World used just a single measure to compare apples with expensive oranges. They could have tested units with almost exactly the same specs (except screen size) albeit at a lower price, or tested by switching to “Integrated graphics” in the Hardware and Sound > Nvidia Control Panel. But they didn’t.

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The Surface Book base model with a 2-core i5 is $1500 (MacBook Pro is $1300), or $1700 with 256GB SSD (Mac $1500), then $1900 adding an Nvidia GPU. Upgrading to a 2-core Skylake Ultrabook i7 with 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD is $2,700. The tech press says the SSDs are faster PCIe models akin to those found in the MacBook Pro, though the tech specs at Microsoft does not indicate it. Microsoft doesn’t currently specify the CPU in the store website either. 

To get a MacBook Pro with a GPU, you have to get the 15″ model with 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD. For that, along with a GPU with more memory, you spend $2500. It’s this machine that most comparable to the $2,700 Surface Book, which comes with a touchscreen and active pen (akin to Wacom but without configurable controls).

It doesn’t seem clear to some Windows fans that the MacBooks are cheaper to comparable Surface Book models in each case, and come with a quad-core CPU in the two 15″ models that are cheaper than the top 2 Surface Book models. That last point is crucial to many looking for a more perfect machine for designing motion graphics and editing and rendering video. For many users of Premiere Pro and After Effects – both keyboard intensive apps – performance might trump touch and pen features. 

Still, the Surface Book is intriguing and accelerates Premiere Pro rendering, so it’s worth looking at fair comparisons, benchmarks, and reviews as they trickle in.

The earnest review by Fstoppers, Surface Book Vs MacBook Pro 15, MacBook Twice As Fast, illustrates the confusion caused by hype, and clarifies that the performance of a MacBook Ro with GPU is superior to a comparable (yet cheaper) Surface Book. Fstoppers has several related videos on the new Microsoft products if you want to compare further. 

 

Later, Dave Lee showed Premiere working fine in his overall review Surface Book Review – The Almost Perfect 2 in 1. Also, George Drake posted Microsoft Surface Book Adobe Premiere CC Test, which shows that the Surface is serviceable for 1080p footage (or proxies) and compares it a bit with the ASUS Zenbook Pro ($1500). The Surface Book plays 1080p footage fine in tablet mode or with the GPU dock, and you may get effects acceleration in tablet mode with built-in OpenCL capabilities. 

The review at Tested is good, but if you’re short on time, skip on down to Lisa Gade.

MobileTechReview‘s Microsoft Surface Book Review, with Lisa “the pen lady,” shares benchmarks and promises more direct comparisons with competitors like HP Spectre x360 (touch/pen for $1150 vs. Surface Book $1700) or the Vaio Z Canvas (quad core CPU for same price as Surface Book).

 

Update:

Jonny Elwyn has a few related items, iPad Apps for Film Editors (integrating touch into edits), Video Editing With Logitech G-13 Keyboard (on how Alan Bell A.C.E. uses one in combination with his Wacom tablet as his primary film editing devices), and Film Editing Keyboards, Mouse, Controllers and more. The last one is a very nice roundup.

There’s are many routes innovation may take and the future looks bright for pen, touch, and control surfaces. Here’s something from Wacom, which has explored pen features for editing, and a video on pens and ergonomics.

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Rich Young is a long-time After Effects user from the San Francisco Bay Area. His After Effects and Premiere Pro round-ups provide viewers with an easy-to-digest summary of developments. He also supplies info and links…

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