Now it is an exciting moment to buy a new laptop, with Microsoft having released its new lineup of Surface devices and Apple having released its new MacBookPro with TouchBar.
I have a super-old MacBook Pro, “early 2009” Core 2 Duo, that is still working pretty ok till now, after having boosted RAM to 8Gb and disk with an SSD. With a lifetime of 7 years and half, having kept all my previous laptop maximum 3 years, this is the longest living computer I ever had, more than twice.
But with the model getting out of support and not compatible with new macOS versions, it’s time for a new laptop to enter my home-office. If there were no Surface laptop, the decision would have been a no-brainer, but now it gets more complicate. So let’s see the specs and features of both the two models.
Note: Since none of the two laptops are available on the market, this comparison is just based on specs and personal opinions.
Microsoft Surface Book
The Surface Book is a hybrid laptop, with a 13” touch screen and pen, and a detachable keyboard that also contains additional battery and discrete graphic processor (NVIDIA® GeForce® GTX 965M 2GB).
The new version, called “Surface Book with Performance Base”, comes in 3 configurations all based on i7 Intel CPU: 8Gb RAM and 256Gb SSD and 16Gb RAM with both 512Gb or 1Tb of SSD.
The old Surface Book is still available and comes in 7 configurations, i5 or i7, with or without discrete graphic processor (still NVIDIA GeForce), 8Gb or 16Gb RAM and 126Gb to 1Tb SSD.
Apple MacBook Pro
The MacBook Pro is a standard laptop, with a new Touch Bar strip on top of the keyboard, available in both 13” and 15” displays, the latter with a quad-core i7 and a discrete graphic processor (Radeon Pro 450 2GB or 460 4GB).
In addition to these, there is also a revamped MacBook Pro 13” without the Touch Bar. In total there are more than 30 possible configurations as you can mix and match what you want. They even have 2 different clock speeds available and SSD goes up till 2Tb, with the powerful configuration being a 15” with 2.9Ghz quad-core i7, 16Gb of RAM, 2TB SSD and Radeon Pro 460 4GB.
Comparing the two beasts
Moving along from the factual information, let’s compare the products, focusing on the features that are not just coming from the specs
This is difficult to do a fair comparisons, especially when comparing prices later, because, while for the MacBook Pros we know exactly their clock speed and if they are dual-core or quad-core, there are no specs for the new Surface Book. I read somewhere they used the same processors of the previous model, so dual-core i5 2.4Ghz and dual-core i7 2.6Ghz. Which is more than the revamped MBP whose i5 is 2.0Ghz and i7 is 2.4Ghz, but (much) less than the new models which have an i5 with 2.9Ghz and i7 up to 3.3Ghz and even a quad-core i7 2.9Ghz for the 15”.
Update: In comments someone wrote that “processors are not benchmarked by GHz these days”. While there is more to CPU performances than GHz, they still play an important part of it. So I looked up the model numbers of CPUs, and compared their scores on PassMark benchmarks.
|i7-6920HQ @ 2.90GHz||MBP 15” (optional)||9588|
|i7-6820HQ @ 2.70GHz||MBP 15” (standard)||8697|
|i7-6700HQ @ 2.60GHz||MBP 15” (standard)||8029|
|i7-6567U @ 3.30GHz||MBP 13” (optional)||5479|
|i5-6267U @ 2.90GHz||MBP 13” (standard)||4882|
|i7-6600U @ 2.60GHz||Surface Book (all)||4751|
So, as you can see, the i7 used by the Surface Book has even lower score than the i5 used as standard option in the MacBook 13”.
Winner: MacBook Pro
If in the pure processing power the MBP wins hands down, when it comes to graphics it’s a bit different: the MBP does have a discrete graphic processor, but only in the 15”. The MBP 13” has the integrated Intel Iris Graphics 550, but it’s nothing compared to the GeForce and even less compared to the 15” MBP.
Winner: Surface Book with Performance Base
I’ve been using a Surface Pro at work, and I came to love the touch-screen. And the new Surface Book has a touch-screen and with the addition of the pen (included), the dial and you can remove the screen and use it as a tablet. You can also buy the dock and connect it to external displays and other USB devices. This makes it the perfect hybrid device for both desktop and mobility usage.
The MacBook Pro doesn’t have a touch-screen, so no pens or dial-like devices, but it has the new Touch Bar and now a bigger trackpad (thanks to Antonio for pointing it out). Thinking back and how I use the touch screen, I mostly use it for tapping on command icons and autosuggestions while typing or navigating between tabs or scrolling pages. And for 80% of these operations, the Touch Bar is a good replacement. And comes with the added advantage of not making the screen dirty with finger marks. The disadvantage is obviously that it needs apps to be specifically designed for it, while with a touch-screen any app works. And also that you cannot draw on it: Apple has the idea right or wrong I can’t say) that if you want to draw or do things with your hands, you use a lighter a more focused device, which is the iPad.
Update: Lot of people in the community (and in comment) also complained about the MBP only having USB-C/Thunderbolt ports, and not having HDMI, USB 3 or other port. This is true indeed, but you if you are thinking of buying a 2500USD laptop, I guess you can also afford a 70USD multi-adapter, which is still cheaper than then 200USD dock for the Surface Book.
Winner: No winner … or depends on the usage, probably for a developer the touch bar is better.
The MacBook Pro, thanks to Handoff and universal clipboard, can seamlessly transition between laptop, tablet, phone (if running iOS) and even watch.
For the Surface, the transition between laptop and tablet is as easy and unplugging the keyboard, but the transition to phone is very limited and not many people still have Windows Phones.
No comparison is over without comparing prices. The Surface Book comes only with 3 configurations, so the exercise should be fairly easy. Unfortunately there is not a single configuration exactly available in both laptops. Not all MacBooks have discrete graphic processor, and normal CPU is more powerful in MBP.
|Config||Surface Book||MacBook Pro 13”||MacBook Pro 15”|
|i7 8GB 256GB SSD||2399USD||2099USD||2399USD (16Gb)|
|i7 16GB 512GB SSD||2799USD||2499USD||2599USD|
|i7 16GB 1TB SSD||3299USD||2899USD||2999USD|
The Surface Book is always about 300USD more expensive than the MacBook Pro 13” (which doesn’t have a dGPU) but is also 200USD more expensive than the 15” (apart from the 256SSD configuration which is 8GB vs 16GB). If you need a fully desktop/mobile solution with both devices should buy additional accessories: the 199USD dock for the Surface Book and an iPad for the MacBook Pro (399USD to 799USD depending on sizes and configurations).
Doing a bit of math: 200USD of difference + 200USD of dock – 400USD of the cheapest iPad = 0 (or 100USD if you compare to 13”).
So at the end the difference of price is negligible.
If you just want a laptop that works on its own, the MacBook Pro is a better choice: cheaper, more powerful and with a bigger display.
If you want to be able to transition between desktop and mobile there is no clear winner: depending on how you want this transition to happen – unplug a keep the same device, or move to a more focused device – and depending on which ecosystem you are already used to, you want to choose one or the other. The price and specs are very similar so I think it’s just a matter of preferences and habits.
Personally I think I’ll go with the MacBook Pro: I have iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch. And I don’t do much designing with pen and I think a tablet is more useful for my usage then an heavier multi-purpose hybrid device.