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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.

I calibrated both laptops to the same 260 nit brightness, disabled screen dimming, and turned off the wireless. I also set the volume to approximately the same volume by listening to a test tone with a set of Samsung ear buds in each computer. Audio was left on with the same ear buds in the laptops.

For a test file, I used the same 4K-resolution Tears of Steel .MOV file from my Premiere Pro encoding test. Normally, I like to run the same player, such as VideoLAN, to make it neutral. The last time I did that resulted in belly aching that the test is unfair because it doesn't use each OSes' optimized player.

So for this test, I used the QuickTime player on OSX El Capitan. I would have used iTunes as Apple does on its official run down tests but an apparent bug in it prevents videos from looping. The QuickTime player is the default player anyway which some argue is what you should use. On the Surface Book I used Windows Movies and TV player which is also highly optimized for power and Windows 10.

Both manufacturers actually claim 12 hours of battery life for movie play back. The MacBook Pro 13 has a massive 75 watt-hour battery while the Surface Book's is about 68 watt hours. That gives the MacBook Pro 13 about a 10 percent greater battery capacity over the Surface Book.

After 8 hours, I called it a day. The MacBook Pro 13 was reporting 19 percent battery life with 2 hours of estimated battery life left. The Surface Book was reporting 29 percent with 2:26 left. I could have taken both down to zero, but I wasn't going to sit in my cubicle and watch the moon rise.

I give the Surface Book the win by a small margin. What's really impressive is the Surface Book does it with a touch-screen which can consume 10 percent of run time and a smaller battery too. Both laptops actually offer fairly excellent run time overall but neither would have hit their rated life for lower-resolution file playback.

But, but, but...

There's one last issue to address: Price. Some may argue it should be the $1,500 Surface Book against the $1,500 MacBook Pro 13.

This cuts to exactly what Microsoft is likely arguing: We figured out a way to put a GPU in a 13-inch laptop, while Apple and all other PC makers couldn’t or wouldn’t do it.

The Surface Book's premium price is what a premium is about. You can’t get discrete graphics in any MacBook Pro, but you can on the Surface Book. And the payoff is clear.


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