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Surface Book vs. MacBook Pro: It isn't twice as fast. It's three times as fast

Gordon Mah Ung | Oct. 23, 2015
Microsoft figured out how to put a discrete GPU into the Surface Book, and it paid off.

surface book vs macbook pro 13 cinebench r15 multithread
The higher clocked chip of the MacBook Pro 13 again edges past the Surface Book’s CPU. Click on image to enlarge.

Not what you expected, PC fans? Consider the CPUs. The MacBook Pro 13 uses a pretty high-wattage, dual-core 28-watt chip with a base clock speed of 2.7GHz. That means it sticks to 2.7GHz even when under a load, and it’ll Turbo Boost to 3.1GHz. The Skylake dual-core in the Surface Book is a 15-watt chip; its minimum clock speed is 2.4GHz with a Turbo Boost of 3GHz.

Even though the Skylake CPU is faster than the Broadwell CPU in the MacBook if all things are equal, the chip in the MacBook most likely runs at higher clock speeds all the time.  If you want to peep the specs of the chips in use here, I’ve lined them up at Intel’s ARK for you to compare.

surface book vs macbook pro 13 geekbench multi
In pure CPU tests, it’s often a wash and the MacBook Pro’s higher clocked CPU has a speed advantage here. Click on image to enlarge.

Let's move on to Geek Bench 3, which uses “real world” algorithms to measure CPU speed. It’s another squeaker win for the MacBook Pro 13, but a win nonetheless. The same rule applies here as with Cinebench R15: The greater clock speeds of the hotter chip in the MacBook Pro is just cranking at too high a frequency for the Surface Book’s Skylake chip to keep up.

I could show you a few more benchmark charts between these two platforms, but it won’t change unless I use something that might favor a new feature in the Skylake CPU, such as SpeedShift. Let’s just agree that on the vast majority of CPU-bound tasks, the Core i5 MacBook Pro is probably going to be a smidge faster than the Core i5 Surface Book.

I'd generally rule it a tie in CPU performance, though, and this is why. Skylake is a 15-watt chip going up against a 28-watt chip. That’s a huge thermal and power difference. Given that disparity, Skylake still comes out looking pretty good.

Was Microsoft fibbing!?

If you’re thinking Microsoft’s mouth was writing checks its hardware couldn’t cash, take a step back. Microsoft has never told me exactly what tests it used to determine the “twice” boost (believe me, I asked), but I always suspected it was mainly built around the GeForce chip. 

Of the many ground-breaking features Microsoft pulled off with the Surface Book, one of the crowning achievements is that GPU under the keyboard. You can see what a difference it makes in GPU-intensive benchmarks.


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