The Microsoft Surface Book Is a Windows Laptop You'll Actually Want to Use for Editing

Microsoft Surface Book
Microsoft product launches generally don't get much love from NFS. The new Surface Book, however, is definitely worth talking about, particularly for editors.

What is the Surface Book, you're probably asking yourself? In essence, Microsoft went all out to create a flagship laptop/tablet hybrid with high-end hardware and innovative design, all centered around the completely refreshed Windows 10 operating system. Basically, Microsoft built a laptop for people who need powerful machines to get shit done. It's the Macbook Pro of Windows laptops, but it's also quite a bit more than that, thanks in no small part to the detachable tablet display.

Video is no longer available: www.youtube.com/watch?v=XVfOe5mFbAE

So let's start with the basics. The Surface Book is equipped with a fantastic 13.5-inch IPS display, coming in a resolution of 3000x2000 and a PPI of 267. This makes it comparable, and even favorable, to the Retina Displays on the 13-inch Macbook Pros. These machines are also given Intel Skylake Core i5 and i7 processors, depending on which configuration you choose, as well as dedicated NVIDIA GPUs in the higher end configurations. Add to that either 8GB or 16GB of RAM, and it's clear that Microsoft has put some serious computing power into these new machines.

With all of that said, the pricing structure for the Surface Book can only be described as premium. The base model — with an i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, 128GB of storage, and no dedicated GPU — comes in at $1500. When you start adding in the higher-end hardware like the i7 processors, dedicated GPUs, and more memory, that price starts to climb rapidly, going all the way up to $3200 for a version with 16GB of RAM, a 1TB SSD, an i7 processor, and the dedicated GPU.

For more details on the features and performance of the Surface Book, here's the video portion of Tom Warren's review for The Verge:

So now let's talk about the Surface Book's potential as an editing laptop, and why it stands out from other comparably-priced machines. First and foremost is performance. With hardware like this, particularly if you opt for one of the higher spec machines, you should be able to edit 4K video to your heart's content, do some light to medium compositing and color work, then export everything in reasonable time. It is a relatively high-end laptop, and you should expect it to perform like one.

Microsoft Surface Book

Another aspect of these machines that should excite editors is that display. In all of the reviews that I've come across thus far, the overwhelming consensus is that the display is far and away the best aspect of this device. Many are even going so far as to say that it's hands down the best display in a device of this size, thanks to its high resolution and wide color gamut. Of course, you'd have to adjust to the somewhat unorthodox 3:2 aspect ratio, but my guess is that the extra vertical screen real estate would be beneficial for certain applications.

Next up is the touchscreen aspect of this device. While touchscreens typically aren't used for video post production purposes, that's largely because most editing and compositing softwares don't support touch gestures, and most computers/tablets with touchscreen functionality aren't powerful enough to run professional software.

In Adobe's latest updatePremiere Pro, After Effects, and Character Animator all implemented some variation of touch gestures and interactivity into their interfaces. Adobe seems to be counting on the idea that more and more computers will have touchscreens as we move into the future, and they're trying to give more tactile ways to interact with their software.

While there are definitely other Windows-based touchscreen computers and tablets out there, the Surface Book is among the first that you would actually want to use for serious video production (thanks to the significantly higher specs and dedicated GPU). As for how and why you'd incorporate the touchscreen into an editing workflow, my inclination is that it would be great for skimming through media, marking ins and outs, and building simple rough cuts. Of course, you'd probably still want to do the majority of the editing and fine tuning with a mouse, rollerball, or keyboard, but the rough cutting process could be fun and tactile with a touchscreen.

So there you have it, a Windows laptop/tablet that presents an intriguing portable option for editors. It's certainly not inexpensive, but professional machines rarely are.

Now I'd like to hear from you. Does the Surface Book represent a worthwhile proposition for video editors and filmmakers? Let us know down in the comments!     

Your Comment

21 Comments

Why get this over the top of the line Macbook Pro? The macbook is 2500 and the surface with similar specs is 2700. Also, the surface has 2 usb 3 ports. The Macbook has an HDMI, 2 USB 3 ports and 2 thunderbolt ports. Also the mac has force touch which is fantastic for editing, although I haven't used touchscreen for editing yet. Also the display wobble might be very irritating for quick keys commands.

October 22, 2015 at 11:31AM, Edited October 22, 11:31AM

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Brad Jones
Director/Producer/Writer/Editor
632

October 22, 2015 at 11:40AM, Edited October 22, 11:40AM

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Brad Jones
Director/Producer/Writer/Editor
632

Well that wasn't a fair comparison, since it's comparing a high end 15" Macbook Pro Retina instead of a high end 13" MBPR vs the Surface Book.

Try 15" Dell XPS vs the 15" MBPR instead.

October 22, 2015 at 9:26PM

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Joe Gunawan
DP/Camera Op/1st&2ndAC/Commercial Photographer
469

It's fair considering the surface pro they tested is more expensive than the MacBook Pro (The Surface Pro is 2700). The Surface Pro they tested has similar specs (16 gb ram, 512 GB SSD) but it lacks the processor power or the GPU of the MacBook Pro. It's fair as far as price goes and it proves one thing, this computer is not suited for intensive editing like a macbook pro is.

October 23, 2015 at 10:47AM

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Brad Jones
Director/Producer/Writer/Editor
632

This article is absolute nonsense...The surface book will never keep up with macbook using two-core CPU, which makes the macbook almost twice as fast.
And 4K edit? really?

October 22, 2015 at 11:46AM

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Joe
74

I am a Windows-based PC user, but also use a MacBook Pro when traveling or on-location. So, I like both Mac and PC and am comfortable floating between both systems. I do find it odd, however, that Microsoft based an entire ad campaign on promoting the Surface over the MacBook Pro for image editing and processing power, but then produces a higher-priced Surface Book that cannot keep up with a MacBook Pro. Tablet/touch screen aside, and without having tested the new system myself, it does seem like a miss and an opportunity for Apple to "strike back."

October 22, 2015 at 12:20PM

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Jefferson Donald
Director
196

Well, this is obviously a bit of a luxury item, especially in PC terms. I am wondering if comparing it to a Macbook is even fair. Perhaps comparing it to the recently announced iPad Pro would be more appropriate.

Also, ASUS ROG… eats Macbooks as an appetizer.

October 22, 2015 at 5:33PM

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I would wait until early next year when USB 3.1 starts being implemented in new PC and peripherals.
http://www.digitaltrends.com/computing/what-is-usb-3-1-when-will-it-be-r...

October 22, 2015 at 5:36PM, Edited October 22, 5:37PM

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Darryl Gregory
Director of Photography
221

Hmmmmmm. Gaming systems have better spec's at a lower price, minus the availability of touch/gesture, which I don't need. Not blown away just yet!

October 22, 2015 at 8:35PM

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This is one speculative review and therefore useless reporting that causes more harm than good. There is a review where the guy bought the most expensive 2700 bucks Surface Book and Macbook Pro that was 200 bucks cheaper. I can't remember the exact details but it was something like this: The Macbook Pro came out twice as fast and Surface Book had no way to edit 4K footage. It didn't even play it smoothly (with nothing added to it, just footage as it was) while Macbook played it even with effects added.

October 23, 2015 at 4:30AM, Edited October 23, 5:22AM

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i have the top line retina 15 but also just got a hp z workstation laptop.
the hp is a killer!

October 23, 2015 at 6:02AM, Edited October 23, 6:02AM

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Kazu Okuda
Filmmaker
1676

Everyone comparing this to the Macbook are missing the point of this product. The surface book and surface pro come with a load of functionality via the stylus and touchscreen in a portable package that you don't get with a Macbook. I do a lot of motion graphics work and use my Surface Pro to create and animate assets on the go. It's very convenient. I also, own a Macbook and have used it extensively on my travels, but the Surface Pro is a different product with a different feature set that the Macbook doesn't have. So trying to make a direct comparison on specs doesn't completely make sense.

October 23, 2015 at 6:17AM

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October 24, 2015 at 6:24AM

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If you want to drop $3200 on a machine to edit on it won't be this. I can build a 8 core 16 threaded machine with a 4k monitor and a 980ti that will kick this machine's teeth in for that price. Seriously I just made one on pcpartpicker and even included the price of keyboard/mouse, case, and 32gb RAM. The fact that they won't mention what nvidia gpu they are using is just scary. I would not buy something without knowing what I'm buying. Although I do get some people need a workhorse for the road... but still that's one expensive workhorse.

October 23, 2015 at 8:13AM, Edited October 23, 8:13AM

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I do not think touchscreens in their current state work very well for After FX or video editing. Reaching across the keyboard and touching a vertical screen just to maneuver sliders or move objects takes a lot more effort than moving a mouse or a finger a couple inches. All that extra energy is spent on something that looks cool but is much less practical and far less precise. And ditching the keyboard altogether just reduces functionality even more. I think there will definitely be a place for touchscreens in the editing/visual FX world but I don't think they've really found their place yet.

October 23, 2015 at 1:16PM, Edited October 23, 1:19PM

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Derek Doublin
Director, Cinematographer, Large Scale Artist
731

I don't think I'd splash out on this just yet but the surface line is exciting - they do keep making big steps but they aren't quite there just yet. What I'd like to see (and I'm not sure if this exists) is like a cable option to keep the screen plugged into the keyboard so it still makes use of the Nvidia GPU but have them laid out so the screen can sit to the right of the keyboard on a table rather than above the keyboard. Other people have mentioned this but using a touch screen or tablet while reaching over the keyboard is a pain in the ass. I use the Logitech G13 to the left of my tablet to remedy this (as I learned from the great interview with Alan Edward Bell) and it's a total game-changer in terms of comfort and functionality. Also once they start fitting in GPUs like the 980m I think they will be an awesome device to have, especially for doing graphics/3D work or just editing on the go. Finally they really do need to include hardware profile switching for the colour space. Having a wide gamut display is fantastic but only if you can drop it to sRGB or rec.709 / 2020, otherwise wide gammut is nothing but trouble even if you calibrate the display as the software like Premiere and Resolve still don't support GPU based profiles. Of course anyone serious enough about colour will have a decent secondary display but the point of this is portability and if they get some of these things right it could be a great tool for things like on-set dailies or maybe documentary work while traveling light.

October 24, 2015 at 4:36PM, Edited October 24, 4:36PM

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K
1142

They should really remove the word "EDITING" from the title of this news as the tests show it really doesn't do much on that front with it's poor 2 core processor and very low specced nVidia GPU

October 25, 2015 at 8:19AM

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Have any of you guys even tried this thing with the dedicated GPU? it flies with video editing no problem even with running photoshop in the background. An everyone saying why this is more expensive then a similar spec Mackbook, you guys realize that it has a touch screen, a stylus, and doubles as a tablet right? so of course its going to me more expensive with innovative features that apple could only dream of.

October 26, 2015 at 5:33AM, Edited October 26, 5:33AM

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Luke Coutts
Director, Photographer, Cinematographer, Actor,
184

the dedicated GPU is very low specced. It took days for me to even find a reference what it was as microsoft didn't really mention that on their specs. And the testing against the macbook pro proves this comp isn't for editing. Yes it has touch screen and works as a tablet, but when you are editing you need power. This computer has only dual core processor so you better invest your money on a comp with better processor and better dedicated GPU which you actually need for editing

October 29, 2015 at 9:32AM

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I'm iffy on the idea of touchscreen editing. The main annoyance of my phone screen is the fingerprints. If I'm working on video, I want a clear picture, not smudges. I would rather have a surface that mirrors to the screen, such as a Wacom tablet. I love my touch pad on my laptop. If it was bigger, it would be awesome.

November 14, 2015 at 6:08PM

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Ryan Gudmunson
Recreational Filmmaker
884

Maybe this is a stupid question but since I'm poor as dirt. How valuable is the discrete GPU when editing? Can I get by with the Intel Graphic 520 on the cheapest model?

June 16, 2016 at 8:06AM

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