Microsoft released its Surface Book 2-in-1 in October 2015, calling it the “ultimate laptop.” It sports a detachable screen, Surface Pen support, Intel “Skylake” dual-core processors and Windows 10 Professional.
Despite the tasty list of hardware specs, the 2-in-1 didn’t arrive without a few hiccups. There were some complaints surrounding the “Dynamic Fulcrum Hinge” including a gap that’s formed when the laptop is closed. The Clipboard tablet portion of the device has a low battery life, and the pricing is rather steep on the higher end.
So, you can tell that we’re not the only ones already clamoring for Microsoft to improve on an already promising formula. Enter the (would-be) Surface Book 2..
Cut to the chase
What is it? The would-be second Surface Book device
When is it out? Current rumors point to late 2016 or early 2017
What will it cost? Likely as much as – if not a bit more than – the current Surface Book
Surface Book 2 release date
Naturally, the company has not officially announced the product given that the Surface Book launched mere months ago. However, it’s easy to speculate that a follow up is in the works, and could possibly arrive by the end of the year, next to the Surface Pro 5.
But, here’s the thing: Microsoft’s Anniversary Update slated for this summer is widely believed to be part one of two “Redstone” updates slated to arrive on Windows 10. Recent rumors indicate that Redstone 2 (RS2) wouldn’t arrive until sometime early 2017, next to new branded hardware devices and the long-awaited Surface Phone, all of which will take direct advantage of the new RS2 features.
Added to this early 2017 theory is that the Surface Book 2 is expected to use a “Kaby Lake,” 14-nanometer processor from Intel, which is slated to go into volume production at the end of the year. This processor family will offer native USB 3.1 support, Thunderbolt 3 support, feature up to four cores as the default configuration, and better performance both on the CPU front and GPU front. Windows 10 will be the only Microsoft-based platform that will support these chips.
What we want to see
For as much as we’ve been smitten by the Surface Book, firmware issues aside, there will always be room for improvement. (That would be the case even if it had earned top marks from us.)
From the screen size and resolution to the hardware inside, we have a few ideas for how Microsoft could craft an even better Windows 10 tablet.
An even better screen
The upcoming Intel “Kaby Lake” processor will undoubtedly be needed to power the rumored, higher-definition screen that’s slated for the Surface Book 2. The current model sports a 13.5-inch display with a 3,000 x 2,000 (267 ppi) resolution that’s backed by an integrated Intel HD Graphics 520 GPU.
The new model may utilize the same-sized screen but offer a 4K resolution: 3,840 x 2,160. This rumor is aligned with public information we’ve seen about Intel’s “Kaby Lake” architecture, which will supposedly include a better graphics architecture that improves playback of 4K video and 3D graphics.
With a higher resolution should come a better way to actually detach the screen from the keyboard. That’s one of the biggest complaints surrounding the current Surface Book unit: the hinge’s locking mechanism featuring Microsoft’s “muscle wire.”
This scheme not only requires electricity to work, but that users must press and hold down a key until the hinge lets go of the tablet. It’s software-based, too, meaning the process could be hampered by an unforeseen glitch in the system.
Thus, the Surface Book 2 needs a functional hinge that allows the keyboard to be detached whether the device is on or off.
We need more power
Of course, with an increased screen resolution comes the need for more power. The “Kaby Lake” architecture is said to support processors with a thermal envelope of up to 95 Watts (W), which isn’t too shabby, meaning it shouldn’t be a battery hog with increased performance.
But the Surface Book 2 will need better battery support overall, as the original provides a 4-hour battery in the Clipboard and an 8-hour battery in the base (based on our tests). Customers will want to use the Clipboard on its own, and its current battery will likely not provide those 4 hours when watching 4K content.
An improved battery would also be needed to support a built-in recharge dock for the Surface Pen. The current device is powered by a standard AAA battery, but a patent reveals that Microsoft is shooting for a stylus with a built-in rechargeable battery.
This is a rather old patent, but it wouldn’t be surprising nonetheless if the company pushed forward with a rechargeable Surface Pen for the Surface Book 2, even more so given Microsoft’s current focus on providing better stylus support in Windows 10. The new pen will supposedly feature an LED indicator light and a power button.
More power might also be needed for an updated, discrete GPU option, too. As previously stated, the current model has an option for a Nvidia GeForce graphics chip based on the “Maxwell” architecture, which has a thermal envelope of up to 75W.
If Microsoft were to offer the notebook version of, say, Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 980 graphics chip, the power requirements would shoot up to 145W. Alternatively, the slower GeForce GTX 980M chip would use less power (100W) while still supporting DirectX 12 in Windows 10, but require more juice than the current discrete GPU used in today’s Surface Book.
What would make the Surface Book 2 really shine is if it were to be VR-ready. That means installing additional ports into the current configuration that merely includes two USB 3.0 ports, a mini DisplayPort and an SD card reader.
The missing ingredient here is the required HDMI 1.3 port supporting a 297MHz clock by way of a “direct output architecture.” That means the external video output pumped through the HDMI port cannot be locked to the laptop’s integrated GPU.
A race to beat its new rivals?
Despite a good deal of talk about when the Surface Book 2 will be released and what it will contain, there are several reports (with dodgy reliability) speculating that the device – along with the Surface Pro 5 – will be released this summer alongside the Anniversary Update. The reasoning behind this theory is that Microsoft wants to beat Apple to the market before the fruity company unleashes its new MacBook Air and MacBook Pro (2016).
Again, given the Surface Book and Surface Pro 4 are fresh off the presses, releasing follow-up models this soon seems highly unlikely.
However, what seemingly backs up this theory is that Microsoft knocked $150 off the Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book on April 8 and April 9 in a possible attempt to clean house and get ready for newer models. This may just be coincidence, but it’s hard not to put two and two together and come up with a possible summer 2016 scenario.
Still, despite the sale, the Surface Books are somewhat expensive, a sore spot we hope Microsoft addresses with the release of the Surface Book 2. (For all we know, price-to-inventory could be the exact reason behind said sale.)
That’s it for now. There are probably a few easter eggs hiding in the Windows 10 Insider Preview builds that we haven’t caught yet in terms of hardware. Microsoft’s plans for the Anniversary Update are seemingly rather big, and throwing in new devices shouldn’t be totally out of the question.
We’re still betting on an early 2017 release for Surface Book 2, but we’ll have to play the wait-and-see game as summer 2016 approaches.