System Performance

The Surface Pro has always provided good performance for the size of the device, and for the new Surface Pro, we see the step to the latest 7th generation Intel Core processors. The choices are the same as the outgoing Pro 4, but one generation newer. Even though the latest Kaby Lake chips utilize the same CPU architecture as Skylake, improvements to the 14 nm process, which Intel is calling 14nm+ allows for higher frequencies, and lower power consumption, so despite having the same architecture, there are gains to be had. Let’s take a look at the CPUs.

Surface Pro 4 CPU vs Surface Pro (2017) CPU
CPU Core m3 Core i5 Core i7
Surface Pro 4 Core m3-6Y30
2 core, 4 thread 900 MHz to 2.2 GHz
Core i5-6300U
2 core, 4 thread 2.4 GHz to 3.0 GHz
Core i7-6660U
2 core, 4 thread 2.4 GHz to 3.4 GHz
Surface Pro (2017) Core m3-7Y30
2 core, 4 thread 1.0 GHz to 2.6 GHz
Core i5-7300U
2 core, 4 thread 2.6 GHz to 3.5 GHz
Core i7-7660U
2 core, 4 thread 2.5 GHz to 4.0 GHz
Increase 100 MHz (base) 400 MHz (turbo) 200 MHz (base) 500 MHz (turbo) 100 MHz (base) 600 MHz (turbo)

You can see the base frequencies have all improved slightly, but the boost frequencies on all of the chips have increased significantly. This will allow quite a bit more responsiveness from the system, as well as overall higher performance if the device can keep the heat and power consumption in check for more sustained boosting.

Microsoft has provided the Core i7-7660U Surface Pro for review, with 16 GB of RAM and a 512 GB SSD. This adds another wrinkle over most other Ultrabooks in that it offers the Intel Iris Plus Graphics 640, compared to the HD 620 graphics in the i5 (and most other Ultrabooks) and the HD 615 graphics with the Core m3 model. The Iris Plus graphics configuration not only doubles the execution units available, from 24 to 48, but also includes 64 MB of eDRAM which can be used as a system cache as well as a graphics buffer. This provides yet another tier of memory before having to go to the (relatively) slow system memory, and depending on the application, can provide a real boost to performance.

Speaking of the integrated GPU, besides clockspeeds, this is the other area where the switch to Intel's Kaby Lake processors improves things for the Surface Pro. The GPU's media block received a significant overhaul, getting full hardware support for HEVC Main10 and the VP9 codec. The former is going to be popular with commercial streaming services over the long haul, and the latter is Google's codec of choice for YouTube, which immediately unlocks a good deal of power savings. Furthermore Kaby Lake is the first Intel processor family to get Netflix 4K support, offering a level of detail more befitting of the Surface Pro's higher resolution (though not quite 4K) display.

It's no surprise then that Microsoft has opted to keep the fan on the Core i7 model, since the extra graphics can quickly eat up the available TDP, but we did clarify with them that the Core i5 model is still running at the full 15-Watt TDP of the i5-7300U, and hasn't been intentionally set to a lower TDP via cTDP functionality. Hopefully we’ll have a chance to test that at a later date and see how the lack of active cooling impacts it.

Speaking of cooling, the Surface Pro now includes a slider if you click on the battery icon, which allows you to quickly and easily change the power mode. The choices are Best Battery Life, Better Performance, and Best Performance, with Best Battery Life as the default and recommended. Modern Standby devices have not allowed you to adjust the power settings very much before, so it’s nice to see some choices here now. Microsoft let us know that the slider settings adjust CPU efficiency and the PL1 / PL2 settings.  In “battery saver” the CPU and GPU are throttled with priority given to the GPU.  In “best performance” the CPU and GPU run at full power. This makes a big difference on noise levels, but also impacts performance, and we’ll dig into that when we look at the cooling later on. For the following scores, Best Performance was chosen for all of the graphs.

We’ve tested the Surface Pro with our standard laptop test suite, and comparisons will be among other similar devices. The Surface Pro 4 in the graph was the Core i5-6300U model, and since we didn’t get to test anything with Core i7-6660U, the Surface Book will be used as a comparison with the Core i7-6600U (although it did have external graphics as well). For other comparisons, there are some more Ultrabooks, and the Dell XPS 15 with quad-core 45-Watt Skylake to give a comparison against a larger device.


PCMark 8 - Home

PCMark 8 - Creative

PCMark 8 - Work

PCMark has just launched an updated version of their all-in-one PC test, and once we have some more data from it, you should start to see it appear in our reviews. For now, since we have a lot of existing data on PCMark 8, we’ll showcase that. PCMark really tries to be a real-world test, with many different workloads that range from short, bursty tests, to longer sustained 3D gaming. As you can see, the Surface Pro is a significant step ahead of every other system here, with the combination of a higher frequency CPU, 64 MB of eDRAM, and double the execution units in the GPU of most other devices. Both Home and Creative see the largest gains, since they both have some gaming involved, but even the Work scores are a good step above the rest of the devices, including the quad-core Dell XPS 15.


Cinebench R15 - Single-Threaded Benchmark

Cinebench R15 - Multi-Threaded Benchmark

Cinebench is a rendering test, and we showcase the CPU scores only. It allows both single-threaded and multi-threaded versions of the test, and since it’s mostly CPU based, it’s a great display of the progress in CPU performance gains. You can see that the 15 W Core i7-7660U in the Surface Pro easily beats everything in the single-threaded version of this test, but the quad-core Dell XPS 15 unsurprisingly dominates on multi-threaded testing.


x264 HD 5.x

x264 HD 5.x

Much like Cinebench, x264 is mostly a CPU test, and a video clip is converted on the CPU into h264. There is no single-threaded option though, so you can see the quad-core parts still offer a lot more grunt for these kinds of tasks, but compared to the other Ultrabooks, the Surface Pro is the fastest again.

Web Tests

Browsing performance is tough to capture well, mostly because the results are so heavily impacted by the browser. Browsers continue to improve on scripting performance, so over time, even the same system will improve somewhat. Still, it’s important to look at since so much of our time is spent on the web. Google Octane is now deprecated, and we’ll phase it out soon, but since we have a large sample of older devices tested, it’s still a good test to check out.

Mozilla Kraken 1.1

Google Octane 2.0

WebXPRT 2015

The combination of the latest Edge browser in the Creators Update version of Windows 10, with the speedy Core i7-7660U, put the Surface Pro pretty much at the top of all of these results.

System Performance Conclusion

The amount of performance that’s able to be packed inside of such a small device continues to impress, and for the first time, we’ve been able to check out the Core i7 model with Intel Iris graphics. Surface Pro can easily hold its own against any other Ultrabook, and often surpass it in performance. It would be great to see more vendors offering Intel's Iris graphics, since there are only a handful at the moment. But regardless, the move from Skylake to Kaby Lake has been a nice step forward, despite the CPU architecture remaining the same.

The Signature Type Cover and Surface Pen Graphics and Storage Performance
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  • skavi - Thursday, June 15, 2017 - link

    They have a coating on the fabric to prevent the worst of wear. If you've touched it, it feels a bit more rubbery than expected based on appearance.
  • BrokenCrayons - Thursday, June 15, 2017 - link

    Since the keyboards are easily detached and can be replaced independently of the rest of the tablet, wear and tear might not be a problem as long as you can get your hands on a new one after it starts looking ragged. I know that's not an ideal solution, but it shouldn't discourage purchase of one of these things for those people that still have an interest in buying a tablet in modern times.
  • BillBear - Thursday, June 15, 2017 - link

    For $130 apiece, you think they are disposable?
  • fanofanand - Thursday, June 15, 2017 - link

    It is an odd position for BrokenCrayons to make, as he is typically a proponent of less waste and spending less on tech. To each their own but this seems to be very inconsistent with his previous posts. I think $2600 is absurd for what you get.
  • BrokenCrayons - Friday, June 16, 2017 - link

    My justification is based on the purchase price of the Surface Pro. The price is fairly high relative to the hardware specs and suffers from limits in utility due to its tablet form factor. For someone making that sort of purchase for personal use, I'll go out on a limb to argue that there are emotional and social implications (ex: desire for a status symbol, brand loyalty to Microsoft, etc.) that override practical considerations and therefore the cost of a replacement keyboard is probably a less significant factor than the need to have one that looks fresh and new. In short, this is about the psychology of the buyer which doesn't have a lot to do with my personal preference to use borderline derelict laptops for my own computing needs.
  • Eliadbu - Friday, June 16, 2017 - link

    Just buy Eve-V why pay excessive amount of money for a brand.
  • simard57 - Wednesday, June 21, 2017 - link

    has the Eve-V been reviewed here at AT?
  • simard57 - Wednesday, June 21, 2017 - link

    if HP, Dell or Lenovo offered a 3:2 display - I would seriously consider it.
    I would lean towards the 360 models. I wonder why Microsoft didn't make the Surface Laptop a 360 model 2-1. are there serious compromises required to support a 360 hinge over a traditional clam shell laptop?
  • desolation0 - Thursday, June 15, 2017 - link

    The $130 version does not include the Alcantara fabric, but also seems to stick with basic black for color scheme. It is not available yet, but is listed on the Microsoft Store. The Alcantara sheathed signature edition cost $160. If you are more worried about durability and a bit of savings than feel and style the regular edition would be your cover of choice. On the subject of durability and replaceability, it should be noted that the keyboard parts for most ultrabooks and laptops are available significantly cheaper. Unfortunately, for many ultrabooks and some laptops the replacement process can be prohibitively difficult for the average consumer. Professional repair service can run you as much or more if you don't shop around successfully.
  • name99 - Thursday, June 15, 2017 - link

    Why the insistence on these sorts of very thin "cover" keyboards? Seems like painting yourself into a corner.
    For iPad you can use a separate bluetooth keyboard (eg the same Apple wireless keyboard that you can use with an iMac) and just carry that with you, along with a very lightweight cover that also acts as a stand (like the Apple cover and a thousand other covers). I assume Surface can also use a BT keyboard.

    This pair doesn't look like a laptop anymore, if anything it's more like using an iMac. But it does mean you don't have to force all the compromises and constant weight of a super thin keyboard. It also means that (depending on your exact usage patterns) you can leave the keyboard at home, or in your hotel room, or whatever, and use the on-screen keyboard for small messages, just switching to the real keyboard when you need to type a lot.

    Seems to me a better alternative for most users --- but most people seem unaware of it. Even in the Apple store, they were clueless when I explained this to them --- I had to actually demo pairing an Apple keyboard with an iPad before they believed me!
    People are just locked into this mental image of "make it look+feel like a laptop" even though that's not necessary.

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