Surface Book 4 | The case for a new design approach

 Surface Book 4 | The case for a new design approach

Yesterday Microsoft announced a number of refreshed Surface devices like Surface Go 2, Surface Earbuds, Surface Headphones and both Surface Book 3 models. Today we will make the case that Microsoft should adopt a new design strategy for Surface Book 4.

Surface Book

When the Surface Book first arrived on the scene back in October of 2015, our only notion of what a Surface looked like was a Surface with a kickstand. Microsoft marketed them as “A tablet that can replace your laptop,” so when the company introduced their first laptop called ‘Surface Book,’ many of us just asked “why?”

Even when the Surface Laptop was announced, we still wondered what was going on internally at Microsoft. The problem wasn’t the Surface laptop, that is exactly what the Surface Book should have been, the problem was the Surface Book itself.

The original Surface Book and today’s Surface Book are basically the same flawed design. Instead of retaining the kickstand somehow, someone decided to create an overengineered convertible laptop. I just mentioned that the Surface Book design was flawed, the flaw is that it is over engineered for the laptop use case.

Microsoft just #NailedIT with their new Surface lineup - IT Central Point

Microsoft’s solution to get you into digital sketching mode was for you to hold a button down on the keyboard until the UI on the screen said it was unlocked, also you can hear when it is unlocks. The reason why you have to unlock it this way is because there is a NVIDIA graphics card inside of the keyboard base. You cannot just quick disconnect a graphics card, so Microsoft has to spend a lot of time engineering this capability into the final product. If it were just an extra battery, additional ports and keyboard you would not need a software+hardware dependency to detach the tablet from the keyboard.

So why did Microsoft think they needed to detach the tablet? The use case I mentioned above was for digital sketching. When you finally detached the tablet, you could lay it down flat by itself and sketch or re-attach it backwards, fold it down and sketch on it at a very low angle. A more elegant solution to get into sketching mode would be a 360-degree hinge. The Surface Pro series enables far more angles than the Surface Book’s design does. Yes, the Surface Book has many angles that the tablet can be positioned at, but the wobble creates a drawing surface that is unstable.

Why is Surface Book marketed as a MacBook Pro competitor but then falls short when it comes to actually competing with Apple’s Pro laptops? We recently reported on both of Apple’s MacBook Pro laptops. Just a few days ago Apple announced its refreshed 13-inch MacBook Pro and a few months back released their new 16-inch MacBook Pro. Apple’s Pro laptops are simply more powerful than both of Microsoft’s Surface Book 3 models.

13.5″ Surface Book 313″ MacBook Pro (2020)
OSWindows 10 Home, PromacOS Catalina
Display13.5″,3000×2000 pixels, 267 ppi, 3:2 aspect ratio13.3″, 2560 x 1600, 227 ppi
CPU4-core 10th Gen Intel Core i5, 1.2 GHz-3.7GHz

4-core 10th Gen Intel Core i7,
1.3 GHz-3.9 GHz
1.4GHz quad‑core 8th‑generation Intel Core i5, Turbo Boost up to 3.9GHz, with 128MB of eDRAM

2.0GHz quad‑core 10th‑generation Intel Core i5, Turbo Boost up to 3.8GHz, with 6MB shared L3 cache

Configurable to 1.7GHz quad‑core 8th‑generation Intel Core i7, Turbo Boost up to 4.5GHz, with 128MB of eDRAM

Configurable to 2.3GHz quad‑core 10th‑generation Intel Core i7, Turbo Boost up to 4.1GHz, with 8MB shared L3 cache
GPUIntel Iris Plus Graphics in tablet

Intel Core i7-1065G7 models: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1650 with Max-Q Design w/4GB GDDR5 graphics memory

Intel Iris Plus Graphics 645
Memory8GB of
3733 MHz LPDDR4X

16GB of 3733 MHz LPDDR4X

32GB of 3733 MHz LPDDR4X
8GB of 2133MHz LPDDR3

16GB of 3733MHz LPDDR4X

32GB of 3733MHz LPDDR4X
Storage256GB, 512GB, (1TB M.2 2280) PCIe256GB, 512GB, 1TB, 2TB, 4TB
Connectivityx2 USB-A version 3.1 Gen 2

x1 USB-C version 3.1 Gen 2

x1 3.5mm headphone jack

x2 Surface Connect ports (one on keyboard base, one on tablet)

x1 Full-size SDXC card reader
x4 Thunderbolt 3 (USB‑C) ports

x1 3.5mm Headphone Jack
NetworkingWi-Fi 6: 802.11ax compatible
Bluetooth Wireless 5.0 technology
802.11ac Wi‑Fi

Bluetooth 5.0
WeightIntel Core i5: 3.38 lbs including keyboard

Intel Core i7: 3.62 lbs including keyboard
3.1 lbs
ColorsPlatinumSilver, Space Gray
Starting Price$1599$1299

After reviewing the specs from both the 13.5″ Surface Book 3 and the 13″ MacBook Pro we can see that for $300 less, you can get a more powerful machine with Apple’s new 13″ MacBook Pro.

15″ Surface Book 316″ MacBook Pro
OsWindows 10 Home, PromacOS Catalina
Display15″, 3240×2160 pixels, 260 ppi, 3:2 aspect ratio16″, 3072×1920 pixels, 226 ppi
CPU4-core Intel Core i7, 1.3GHz-3.9GHz6‑core Intel Core i7, 2.6GHz

8‑core Intel Core i9, 2.3GHz

8‑core Intel Core i9, 2.4GHz
GPUIntel Iris Plus Graphics in Tablet

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1660 Ti with Max-Q Design w/6GB GDDR6 graphics memory

NVIDIA Quadro RTX 3000 (accessible through business website for everyone)
AMD Radeon Pro 5300M with 4GB of GDDR6 memory and automatic graphics switching

Intel UHD Graphics 630

Configurable to AMD Radeon Pro 5500M with 4GB of GDDR6 memory

AMD Radeon Pro 5500M with 8GB of GDDR6 memory
Memory16GB of 3733 MHz LPDDR4x

32GB of 3733 MHz LPDDR4x
16GB of 2666MHz DDR4

32GB of 2666MHz DDR4

64GB of 2666MHz DDR4
Storage256GB, 512GB, (1TB, 2TB M.2 2280) PCIe512GB, 1TB, 2TB, 4TB, 8TB
Connectivityx2 USB-A version 3.1 Gen 2

x1 USB-C version 3.1 Gen 2

x1 3.5mm headphone jack

x2 Surface Connect ports (one on keyboard base, one on tablet)

x1 Full-size SDXC card reader
x4 Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) version 3.1 Gen 2

x1 3.5 mm headphone jack
NetworkingWi-Fi 6: 802.11ax compatible
Bluetooth Wireless 5.0 technology
Xbox Wireless built-in (15” only)
802.11ac Wi‑Fi wireless networking
IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n compatible

Bluetooth 5.0 wireless technology
Weight4.20 lbs including keyboard4.3 lbs
ColorsPlatinumSilver, Space Gray
Starting Price$2299$2399

After reviewing the specs side by side for the 15″ Surface Book 3 and Apple’s 16″ MacBook Pro we can see that the 16″ MacBook Pro offers a more powerful machine for only $100 more. Microsoft is still using 15W Intel processors, even though Apple is utilizing 45W Intel Core processors. If Microsoft wants these two machines to compete, then Microsoft needs to offer a more comparable package. If the thermals are just too much for the tablet part then Microsoft should adopt a new strategy for Surface Book 4.

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To recap, we have identified that Microsoft needs to utilize 45W Intel Core processors in its Pro-level laptops to better compete with Apple’s MacBook Pro line. We also recognize that this may not be possible if Microsoft is to keep the detachable tablet feature because of thermal constraints. By Microsoft’s own emission, most people do not detach the tablet from their keyboard. Since the sketching use case is still a powerful one then how can we both retain the flexibility of a convertible laptop and also make it more powerful?

The solution is a design similar mechanically to Acer’s ConceptD 7 Pro and ConceptD 9 Pro. The display portion looks like a Surface Pro, it even has a kickstand, but the kickstand is attached permanently to the keyboard base. This design approach moves the processor into the base, thus simplifying the design and reducing thermal load behind the display. With the new thermal headroom Microsoft can now add the 45W processors to the package.

Acer wins Good Design 2019 awards for its ConceptD notebooks - NotebookCheck.net News

Clearly Acer’s design is clunky looking but mechanically would work great. It already kind of looks like a Surface Pro sitting on top of a laptop keyboard, just try imagine simpler lines and the platinum gray or maybe even black.

Related Reading: Surface Stories