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Megathread Tech Hardware Reviews Megathread

Discussion in 'Computers & Video Gaming' started by LordSquishy, Nov 6, 2015.

  1. LordSquishy

    LordSquishy Probably Not A Producer

    So I glanced through, and I thought this'd be cool. We all buy tech, yeah? Course we do. And we love to tell people about it. So why don't you be both helpful and show off your new stuff with a... review?

    That's right!

    That's what this thread is for! Tech reviews! I'll threadmark 'em as you post them.

    (Also, yes, I have one I'm working on now, hence the thread.)
  2. LordSquishy

    LordSquishy Probably Not A Producer

    Microsoft Surface Book (October 2015 edition)

    So on Wednesday, as a present for getting my LLM, I got a new toy: the Microsoft Surface Book. It's cool. Let me tell you why.

    First, let me say that the Surface Book replaces my old Asus Transformerbook T100, which I bought in 2013, and which serves essentially the same role: a clamshell, laptop-like device with the guts in the screen portion, which can be detached and used as a tablet as desired. I'll lay out generally some specs:

    DeviceAsus Transformerbook T100Microsoft Surface Book
    ReleaseOctober, 2013October, 2015
    Cost$399 CAD$2,499 CAD
    Screen Size10.1", 1366x76813.5" 3000x2000
    CPUAtom Z3740 Quad CoreSkylake i5-6300U Dual Core
    Storage32GB MMC256GB SSD
    Size171mm deep by 263mm wide by 20.5mm thick232mm deep by 312mm wide by 22.8mm thick
    Weight1.07kg, with dock1.58kg, with dock
    So let's get this out of the way: compared to what I'd been using before, it's just a little bit bigger in every respect, about half again as heavy, and substantially more powerful. It shows.

    I really like tablets as a concept, but I don't use one a lot of the time. A lot of what I do- working on SV, working on...work, chatting on IRC- requires substantial amounts of typing, and that means I need a physical keyboard. The tablet's great for lying in bed watching Netflix or browsing the web or doing crosswords, and so it's a good feature, but it's not good enough for a daily driver for me. I do too much typing for that to be practical. Hell, I have a $200 keyboard...

    The Laptop Dock

    The Surface Book comes with two parts: the tablet top and the laptop dock bottom. The SB's laptop dock comes with most of the batteries, the dedicated GPU, the keyboard, and most of the ports: charging, one mini-displayport, SD card, and two full-sized USB 3.0 ports. (The tablet has a charging port that doubles as the dock connector and a headphone jack).

    You want the laptop dock to give you an excellent laptop experience- and it does, including for some reasons you might not expect.

    The trackpad is excellent- one of the best I've used, bar none. It's large and glass and very smooth. It tracks accurately; one, two, and three finger touch and gestures are clean and well-understood; and it has great palm rejection when I'm typing. In fact, the only thing that annoys me is it's not as sensitive as I would like. I tend to turn up sensitivity very high, especially on touchpads (because I hate having to swipe) and this one doesn't seem to go as high as I would ideally like. It's not bad, but it's not perfect there.

    The keyboard is also excellent. It's backlit- which every keyboard these days should be- but the backlight is, quite frankly, weird. It doesn't have an automatic light sensor. Instead, it's 'touch sensitive'- it comes on when you hit keys or move the touchpad, and then fades away after 30 seconds of non-use. Quite frankly, I would have liked them to throw in the light sensor, too. For typing, it's excellent. The keys are large and island-style, with good spacing between them. All the keys you'd expect are present, though the up/down arrow keys are half-height in order to sandwich between the left and right arrow keys.

    Typing is... good for a device of this class. You won't find MX blue keys on something this size. The keys have moderate travel- more than on the very tiniest devices, but not as many as the older, larger laptops, and they are extremely quiet. In fact, in both travel and typing experience it feels like someone has placed a thin layer of rubber under the keys, giving them a slight resistance/bounce (though not a lot) and a quietness and shallowness. Typing was quick, accurate, and smooth with only about half an hour of practice. You wouldn't feel hesitant to knock out a 1500 word SV post on this keyboard, no sir.

    You will note a weirdness about the spacing. The Surface Book has a 3:2 aspect ratio instead of the closer to 16:9 or 16:10 aspect ratios that are more common these days on screens (and therefore laptops), and you will probably feel like the keyboard deck is very large compared to what you are used to; there is tons of space on either side of the large trackpad and behind and in front of the keys. It feels like I have to reach across it. I don't actually, and the difference is pretty minor, but it does feel odd sometimes.

    The laptop dock also contains about three quarters of the battery and the dedicated GPU. I understand the dedicated GPU is a custom-built Nvidia chip with 1GB of DDR5 video memory and is somewhere in the GTX 940M to 950M range. This is not a gaming machine, and I would never attempt to play Fallout 4 or the Witcher on it, though I imagine on lower settings it might take a valiant stab. But the super-high-resolution screen compared with the limited power budget here (60W power supply) means only lower-end games will run acceptably. It plays Star Trek Online, Civilization 5, and Europa Universalis IV just fine, for example. The GPU comes in handy much more often doing things like photoshop. Tasks feel substantially faster when attached to the keyboard dock and using that dedicated GPU.

    There are two other interesting things about the laptop dock I'd mention. First, it stays remarkably cool- as you'd expect. There's no CPU, and other than the GPU, no power hungry components at all. For a laptop, it runs hugely cool on the lap. Second is the detaching method for the tablet. I don't know how it works. They say it's muscle wire, but I can't actually figure out how it attaches, since the parts on the base appear to be just flat 'tongues' of metal that go into holes. Who the fuck knows. Anyway, in order to detach it, you have to press and hold down a button on the keyboard for five seconds. If you aren't using the GPU and the tablet has enough battery life, it'll detach. If you are using the GPU or the tablet is out of power, it won't detach. Microsoft rules your life again. :mad:

    The Tablet
    It's beautiful. It just is. It's svelte, it's light, and the magnesium goes all the way down to the floor.

    The tablet's a rounded rectangle, with a full-glass face. The bezels on the screen are about half an inch on each side, which incorporates what looks like three cameras and two microphones up top (regular front-facing camera for videoconferencing, plus some IR stuff for iris scanning) and two speakers, one on either side at the 'top'. The edges are less interesting. The tablet has a magnesium band around the 'front' 3/4ths, which is broken at the top for a plastic spacer (probably for antennas, honestly). The plastic spacer also holds the power button and volume rocker. Behind this magnesium band is a sort of indentation, which is heavily perforated, through which the system cools (there is a CPU fan in the tablet), and then a flat magnesium back. On the back, you'll find the rear-facing camera, two more microphones, and the square, mirrored Microsoft logo.

    The pen attaches to the left side of the tablet magnetically. The magnets are in the tablet, and it won't stick anywhere else. They're pretty hefty magnets, and they do a good job of holding it on against everyday this and that; but in your bag or against real pressure, it'll pop right off.

    The screen is beautiful. The resolution's odd; 3000x2000, but it's clear and crisp and running it at 200% zoom means you get about 1500x1000 active space, which is pretty comfortable on a device in this size class. Colors are good, and blacks are black. I usually run it at about 25% backlight, because otherwise it chews through battery like nobody's business. That's good enough for indoor use, though in a brightly lit room you might step it up to 50%; I have never used anything higher for any significant length of time, because it's unnecessary. It's also touch sensitive. Finger touch is exactly what you'd expect from capacitative multi-touch; it's sensitive and accurate, but your fingers are less precise than the screen can be. The pen, on the other hand...

    I'm not an artist. My sister borrowed the tablet and pen for a while and pronounced it "amazing". The palm rejection she says is first-class, the precision is great, and the touch sensitivity is wonderful. From a non-artist perspective, it just feels good- the resistance between the tip of the pen and the screen is almost exactly perfect, and the display is close enough to the glass that that weird visual effect that happens when there's distance is minimized. It also has an eraser, which is the best fucking thing in tablet pens since ever. Just flip it upside down and erase. Works in every app I tried- Paint, One Note, hell, even the New York Times crossword app!

    The pen also has a button on the top. It syncs to the Surface with bluetooth. Press it and it...does stuff. Honestly, this is something that could be improved. One tap seems to open one-note which I guess makes sense, and tap and hold is supposed to open Cortana but sometimes does and sometimes doesn't. I don't really use it. The one thing that feels totally natural and yet which is impossible is clicking and holding the button down and then talking into the top like a microphone, but that gesture doesn't do shit and there's no microphone. Huge missed opportunity here, if you ask me.

    Otherwise, well, the specs are the specs. A minimum of 8GB of RAM is a godsend, because the 2GB in my old machine was just not good enough for doing real work. This is. So is the space; 32GB is not enough to store files on, and 256GB is. I wouldn't bother to step up to the 512GB or 16GB of RAM or i7 though, because quite frankly I have a desktop which outclasses that and costs a lot less than $3500. There's a line between "necessary mobile power" and "unnecessary mobile expense", and I feel like the i5/8GB/256GB model is closest to it.

    Conclusion, and bits and bobs.
    There are a couple of annoyances. The latch is the most obvious one. It's hard to open with one hand. Possible, but hard. The magnets are strong and much of the weight is in the top, so you sort of have to lever it open to get it to open. It's not a huge hassle, but it is kind of annoying. I've mentioned my issues with the pen, and I'll add that it's inconvenient to store. You can stick it to the side of the tablet, but if you throw it in a bag, it'll come off. My very old pen-enabled tablet (the HP Touchsmart Tx2, from 200...8?) had a well for the pen, which worked great, but this pen's thicker than the Surface, so doesn't work well here.

    The other thing that I think surprises people is that the Surface Book is clearly a laptop first. Yes, it has Connected Standby- so just like a phone or tablet, you press the button and it comes on instantly and it recieives alerts and updates and whatever while it's 'off'. Yes, most of the components are in the tablet portion, but not the batteries. You'll get maybe 2-4 hours of battery life out of the tablet alone, depending on what you want to use it for, but there's another 6-10 hours in the base. I think, but am not sure, that the tablet will charge from the base when you plug them in. It's kind of hard to tell; the battery measurements mostly seem to do whatever the fuck they want, so it's not a totally reliable measure of that kind of thing.

    It's also very expensive. Two years ago, my Transformer Book was about a tenth the price. That machine is clearly inferior to this one, but even ignoring the march of two years time, the comparison doesn't really make the Surface Book look amazing when it comes to value. Is it worth it?

    Hard to say. Of course it depends on how much you value your money; but it also depends on how much you value your aggravation. Everything the Transformer Book does, the Surface Book does better. If that extra thirty seconds of lag working with multiple web pages or word documents is worth $2000, well, there you have your answer. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't.

    In the grand scheme of things though, I'm pretty happy. Some Surface Book users on Reddit have described a variety of issues. I haven't; there was a November 2nd firmware update which I downloaded first thing, which may have fixed some of them. Otherwise, I can't report any issues.

    Getting one, though, is another story. Apparently they are sold out across Canada, and mine was only acquired by visiting every Microsoft store in the city and snagging one of the last two excess inventory they had. So yeah.

    Verdict: Well, I hate these things, but if I had to put a number on it? 9/10. It's amazing. Love it to bits.

    (I can do pictures or specific requests if you like, just imgur wasn't working from work as I was writing this).

    Last edited: Nov 6, 2015
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  3. Feng Lengshun

    Feng Lengshun I Am Not A Crook

    Can I request Office 2016 and Office 365? Preferably with a note as to how essential/useful/worth-it are the different editions. For note, I already have a genuine Professional Plus Office 2010 - are the new editions of Outlook, Publisher, and Access that great? Or would the Home & Student edition suffice? Actually, is it even worth buying? And how about the Office 365 counterparts?

    Office 2016 and 365 looks good, but I have to really consider if it's worth buying or not. Or if it's even worth using/downloading (as in, is it even worth pirating? I already have a Microsoft Office here after all - should I go the extra effort?).
  4. LordSquishy

    LordSquishy Probably Not A Producer

    Well I meant about the Surface Book, but I have a bunch of versions of Office, so sure, in a bit. :p
  5. Feng Lengshun

    Feng Lengshun I Am Not A Crook

    I was actually a bit unsure about it and thought it probably aimed towards Surface Book, but decided to just ask anyway :p Kind of need those comparisons to make some decisions after all.

    Well, for a Surface Book specific request, can I see a closeup its latches, the place where it latches on the tablet part, and the... erm, bending part of the dock? Other than that, how good is it compared to Apple products? Because I honestly can't think of another comparison. I mean, I don't think it would really hold up against similar priced normal laptops, or even some cheaper than it. Or is it?

    Honestly, I'm still on the fence about its design. On one hand, it's just plain cool. On the other hand, it felt gimmicky and over-expensive, overall not very practical if you want to just do normal works. Getting a laptop and tablet seems to be more practical and cheaper if you ask me.
  6. As someone who's never used a 2-in-1 convertible, what kind of benefits does a laptop that's also a tablet provide? The ability to take hand written notes (ie. mostly diagrams, mathematical symbols and drawing capabilities) and to show other people what's on your screen more easily are obvious, but what I'd like to know is to what extent it benefits workflow or reduces annoyances. Realistically, what a lot of potential buyers are wondering is whether the "transforming" utility of the Surface Book is worth $1000 compared to a traditional laptop. I have little doubt that the SB is probably the best in its category, but I'm uncertain about to whom and to what extent the category makes sense. To make an analogy, I'm more interested in the fact that a 21:9 ultrawide UWQHD screen makes sense because it allows you to have three usable vertical windows side by side than in the contrast an colour fidelity of a particular 21:9 screen.

    There have also been a few reports of bugs with the SB, notably with the release mechanism, did you encounter any of them?
  7. You can also turn the screen around and attach it "backwards", so that you can use the discrete GPU in clipboard mode or just to prop the display up. Though this can be bothersome if it gets stuck in this form and you can't detach it (if there's a glitch or your battery's below 10%), as Peter Bright found during Ars Technica's review: Surface Book review: The hybrid that really does replace your laptop

    The tablet is secured to the base via a sort of spring and clip, but it uses "muscle wire" (metal that contracts when heated by electricity) to pull the spring back when you send the detachment command.

    See Microsoft's animation (via The Verge) and iFixit's teardown:
    [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]
    Article: Step 20
    • The Surface Book features a "Muscle Wire Lock," that will keep your display securely fastened to the base, until it's time to undock and get more mobile.
    • Muscle wire is one of many names for shape-memory alloy, a class of materials that can undergo deformation, and then return to a prior shape when heated.
      • In this case, electricity is run through the wire, heating it up and causing it to contract. This pulls the black pulley inward, against the spring, lifting the lower arm of the linkage.
    • That lower arm holds a very tiny rod captive. The rod serves as the grip, that holds onto the base unit's metal tab. When the linkage is retracted, the rod rolls out of the way and lets the base go.

    You can also double-click it to take a screenshot and save it to your Pictures folder (equivalent to Win+PrintScreen), according to Thurrott.

    Here's a chart I made recently comparing a few laptop models I was looking at, including the Surface Book:
     Microsoft Surface 3Dell Inspiron 15 (7559)Dell XPS 15 (9550)Microsoft Surface BookMicrosoft Surface Pro 4Dell XPS 15 (9550)Microsoft Surface BookMicrosoft Surface BookMicrosoft Surface Book
    CPUAtom x7-Z8700 (4x1.6-2.4GHz)Core i7-6700HQ (4x2.6-3.5GHz)Core i7-6700HQ (4x2.6-3.5GHz)Core i5-6300U (2x2.4-3.0GHz)Core i7-6650U (2x2.2-3.4GHz)Core i7-6700HQ (4x2.6-3.5GHz)Core i5-6300U (2x2.4-3.0GHz)Core i7-6500U (2x2.6-3.4GHz)Core i7-6600U (2x2.6-3.4GHz)
    GPUIntel HD GraphicsGTX 960M with 4GB GDDR5GTX 960M with 2GB GDDR5Intel HD 520Intel Iris 540 with 64MB eDRAMGTX 960M with 2GB GDDR5Nvidia (GTX ~940M 1GB GDDR5)Nvidia (GTX ~940M 1GB GDDR5)Nvidia (GTX ~940M 1GB GDDR5)
    RAM4GB LPDDR3-16008GB (1x8GB) DDR3L-16008GB (2x4GB) DDR4-21338GB (DDR4?)8GB (2x4GB) DDR3L-160016GB (2x8GB) DDR4-21338GB (4x2GB) LPDDR3-18678GB (4x2GB) LPDDR3-186716GB (4x4GB) LPDDR3-1867
    Display10.8" 1920x1280 touchscreen15.6" 1920x1080 matte LED15.6" 1920x1080 InfinityEdge13.5" 3000x2000 PixelSense12.3" 2736x1824 PixelSense15.6" 1920x1080 InfinityEdge13.5" 3000x2000 PixelSense13.5" 3000x2000 PixelSense13.5" 3000x2000 PixelSense
    Battery28 WHr74 WHr 6-Cell56 WHr 3-CellUp to 12 hours of video playbackUp to 9 hours of video playback84 WHr 6-CellUp to 12 hours of video playbackUp to 12 hours of video playbackUp to 12 hours of video playback
    Wireless802.11ac + BT 4.0802.11ac + BT 4.0802.11ac + BT 4.1802.11ac + BT 4.0802.11ac + BT 4.0802.11ac + BT 4.1802.11ac + BT 4.0802.11ac + BT 4.0802.11ac + BT 4.0
    Weight0.622 kg / 1.37 lbs2.59 kg / 5.72 lbs1.78 kg / 3.9 lbs1.515 kg / 3.34 lbs0.786 kg / 1.73lbs1.88 kg / 4.1 lbs1.579 kg / 3.48 lbs1.579 kg / 3.48 lbs1.579 kg / 3.48 lbs
    LxWxH267 x 187 x 8.7 mm383 x 265 x 25.3 mm357 x 235 x 11-7 mm312 x 232 x 13.0-22.8 mm292.10 x 201.42 x 8.45 mm357 x 235 x 11-7 mm312 x 232 x 13.0-22.8 mm312 x 232 x 13.0-22.8 mm312 x 232 x 13.0-22.8 mm
    OtherSurface Pen & Type Cover +$180bulky but well-ventilatedUSB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-C portSurface Pen; 2-in-1 tablet/laptopSurface Pen; +$130 Type CoverUSB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-C portSurface Pen; 2-in-1 tablet/laptopSurface Pen; 2-in-1 tablet/laptopSurface Pen; 2-in-1 tablet/laptop
    (Surface Book specs via AnandTech's review)

    There are also other configurations available, but these were the ones I was most interested in. Product pages:
    I'm favoring the XPS 15 for its balance of specs, portability, price, and ability to perform my own upgrades down the road. The Surface Book is neat, but I'm not sure about spending so much on a first-gen product. The Surface Book 2 might be more compelling (especially if Microsoft updates it with a USB Type-C port).
    Last edited: Nov 6, 2015
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  8. LordSquishy

    LordSquishy Probably Not A Producer

    I updated my review with pictures, including as requested of the locking mechanism (though there's not much to see).

    It's good. The best comparison, design-wise, is definitely to something like the Macbook Pro. The design stylings are similar, and it's just that good. Design-wise- both in look and in the... 'completeness' of the design, it matches Apple. Fit and finish appears to be the same. I have about 10 Windows laptops or 2-in-1s to compare it to, plus a Macbook Pro and a Macbook Air, and in fit and finish, it definitely matches the Apple products- in fact, some aspects are almost totally identical (fucking trackpad, I'm looking at you).

    Spec-wise it's a closer thing. You could definitely buy a much more powerful laptop for this money. My brother just got a MSI gaming laptop about eight weeks ago for closer to $1800. Spec-wise, it's definitely a better machine. But it's a lot larger and has nothing near the battery life. It also doesn't have the pen, or the high-res touchscreen... it's clearly a matter of trade-offs, and I don't really think there's a comparable machine out there, at the moment.

    Ah. Mm. There's definitely something to that. It's certainly very expensive, and the hinge does... look gimmicky. But it never feels cheap, and it never feels badly constructed, which in my mind is more important. It works well. Whether it's worth it- eh, again, hard to measure.

    To answer what I think is your question, I like having a touch-screen on a laptop. People give it a lot of shit, but I find it's often substantially more convenient for me to use the touchscreen than the trackpad, especially if I'm doing something that requires my full attention not to be focused on the computer (like typing in a quote from a book, or whatever), because it gives me better 'acquisition time' on whatever I'm doing on the computer.

    The tablet functionality is primarily useful because you don't need two devices: you can use the device as a tablet and all of your shit will still be there. That's the main workflow advantage. If you want to go sit outside and watch Netflix on a tablet, you can also check the email you were working on or glance through all of the SV tabs you had open when you were working on your laptop.

    In that respect, I personally find that a convertible suits my mobile needs. I know people who have a desktop replacement laptop and a tablet instead (my brother, for example, has a gaming laptop and an ipad) but I gave up on desktop replacement laptops years ago. They're shitty laptops and shitty desktops, and you get shit for both. The tablet's portability doesn't come close to making up for that lack of convenience. On the other hand, a 2-in-1 isn't a shitty laptop and a shitty tablet glued together: it's a reasonably mobile laptop and a perfectly fine tablet. The use cases converge a lot better than other possibles do, and in some cases the overlap is actually beneficial: all the convertibles I've had have amazing battery life (all 12+ hours) and have the touchscreen which I find helps my workflow. It works for me.

    Not really. People are describing the "can't release at less than x battery" to be a bug, but I think to some extent it's just the way the system is designed.
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  9. Touch-screens are becoming more and more common in regular laptops actually.

    How do you deal with the 3 hour autonomy of the top part? Is it a non issue for you as you don't need more autonomy in tablet mode or do you use it with the screen attached to the base in reverse mode?

    Some people have reported the base sometimes not being detected after reconnection or the the top losing connection to the base unpredictably.
  10. LordSquishy

    LordSquishy Probably Not A Producer

    Right now, my workflow generally involves using it as a laptop during the day when I'm at a desk and then detaching the base and charging it and taking the tablet with me to bed for an hour or two, and then redocking it to charge all night.
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  11. Feng Lengshun

    Feng Lengshun I Am Not A Crook

    Does the tablet part refills its battery by sucking up the dock's battery if you connect them? If so, at what rate? Say, you have 30% left for the tablet, you connect it to the dock, how long would it take for it to get to the 100% capacity on the tablet part if it recharges? And how does the battery indicator works? Two icons?
  12. LordSquishy

    LordSquishy Probably Not A Producer

    There's one battery indicator which displays the available battery life for the system as a whole. If you click on it, the pop-up will show you separately the status of both the dock battery and the one in the tablet, if the two are connected.

    As you would expect, the system drains off the dock battery first when the two are connected.

    To test your other question, I drained the tablet separately to 90% (4hrs, 55 minutes remaining, according to its battery meter; approximately 20 minutes of use, browsing the net, checking emails, and drawing with the pen) and then docked it with the base, turned it off, and left it for 10 minutes.

    When I returned after 10 minutes, the tablet battery was still at 90%. I'm not sure whether this is intended behavior or a bug; I sort of hope the latter.
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  13. If intended, I can see the logic: transferring battery power from the base to the tablet would undoubtedly be less efficient to some degree than using the battery power directly. Though the catch of course is that this limits its utility as a standalone tablet. Would be nice if they gave you the option to configure it.

    Did you notice whether the Surface Book charges its base first, the tablet first, or both in parallel when docked?
  14. LordSquishy

    LordSquishy Probably Not A Producer

    If my memory is accurate, it charges both equally up to about 40% and then charges the tablet first to full.
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  15. It's intended, IIRC there's a 30% energy loss when charging a regular Li-on battery via another one.
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