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Surface Book Ups the Hybrid PC Ante

I’ve been following Microsoft’s progress in laying out and elaborating its Surface vision since the first version (and the RT model) emerged in 2012 or thereabouts. I went so far as to buy into the vision with the Surface Pro 3 last year — I’ve got an i7/256GB SSD/8GB RAM model with Type cover here at the house. And finally, oh finally, I think MS has got it right with yesterday’s announcement of the Surface Book in NYC: a real keyboard with hinge (and an external NVidia GPU, too, no less) that houses a 13.5″ tablet in laptop mode, where that tablet can be released to do tablet things as and when they’re needed.

This Ars Technica photo shows the Surface Book with tablet detached from the keyboard deck.

The hinge also flips over 180, so that the device can run as a tablet while still using the external GPU in the keyboard deck. The MS Surface Book page currently offers the following combinations for pre-order, which omits a version with a 1 TB SSD (mentioned in various third-party reports on the device — for example, on Mashable — but apparently not yet available for pre-order or purchase):

Surface Book Models Available for Pre-Order
128GB Core Intel i5 8GB No
256GB Core Intel i5 8GB No
256GB Core Intel i5 8GB Yes
256GB Core Intel i7 8GB Yes
512GB Core Intel i7 16GB Yes

Prices on the Surface Book models range from $1500 at the lowest end to $2700 at the highest end, at $200 increments (except for the final entry, which goes for $2,700, a $600 jump from the 256 i7 GB model, even more than the increment between the two SSD sizes on Surface Pro 3 and 4 models, much to my dismay). I can only speculate that should a 1 TB model become available as mentioned in this YouTube video, it will be even more eye-wateringly expensive than the 512 GB model currently available (another $6oo increment perhaps?).

According to what I read in the trade press, the SSDs in these units are new NVMe/PCI-e M.2 models which offer blazing fast read and write speeds (about 4 times faster than SATA 3, if recent reviews have any bearing on their performance, as I’m sure they probably will, if only in establishing the best possible overall performance profile for Surface Book storage). The discrete GPU model is supposed to support higher-frame-rate gaming and high-end CAD and 3D modeling with equal aplomb, even though we don’t know what chip is being used yet (the video does indicate it’s a GeForce model, so we know it’s prosumer oriented rather than out-and-out professional grade Quadro GPUs; I’m guessing a GeForce 960M or better). The i5 and i7 models will also be drawn from the mobile segment of the Skylake family, though again exact makes and specifications have yet to be revealed.

Personally, I’m pretty jazzed by the announcement and what it portends. I’m glad MS has finally come out with a Surface model with a clamshell design and a real, solid keyboard/dock. I’m already pretty inclined to buy one, but I learned from my 2014 misadventures with the Fujitsu Q704 to wait and see how well it sails before boarding that deck for myself. Stay tuned: I’ll keep reporting on this from time to time.

[Note added 10/19: Pricing for the 1 TB model Surface Book is finally out, and it’s “only” $500 more than the 512GB model, so MS didn’t repeat the $600 increment from 256 to 512 verbatim: it took $100 off that apparently huge step of 256 from 256 to 512 to add another 512 to get to 1024. Very interesting. See pricing on the Surface Book page in the MS Store (US Version). For comparison’s sake, a recent Ars Technica story puts the price of the upcoming NVMe Samsung 950 Pro M.2 at $350, so make of MS’s pricing strategy what you will. It leaves me wishing for a way into those machines to upgrade them in the field!]