Microsoft Surface Book's Secret Nvidia GPU: What Is It?

There's an optional discrete graphics card available in higher-spec variants of Microsoft's brand new Surface Book laptop; it'll make the thin and light laptop powerful enough for a bit of casual gaming as well as demanding graphics applications like Adobe Photoshop. Probably, at least -- we don't actually know anything about it, and Microsoft and Nvidia are staying pretty quiet on the topic.

The base Surface Book's integrated graphics are delivered by an Intel HD Graphics 520 processor, built into the silicon of the Core i5 or Core i7 CPU -- par for the course for a thin and light notebook, with more than enough power for video decoding and Web browsing and entry-level gaming. But from the 256GB/8GB/Core i5-6200U model upward, a discrete graphics chipset built by Nvidia promises more GPU compute power than you'd expect for a laptop of the Surface Book's svelte and mobile design.

But we don't know what graphics processor exactly that Nvidia and Microsoft are using in the Surface Book. There are eleven current mobile graphics chipsets currently available in Nvidia's line-up for Microsoft to choose off the shelf, ranging from the extremely basic GeForce 910M and 920M to the more powerful GTX series, including the GTX 950M all the way up to the desktop-grade, power-hungry GTX 980 (non-M). The sweet spot is obviously somewhere in the middle, considering that the GPU is driving a high-resolution display but only has the keyboard dock's thin chassis and relatively low-Wattage battery to work with.

The word from our Nvidia spokesperson is this: "Microsoft has announced a new laptop named the Microsoft Surface Book. The new laptop includes an NVIDIA GeForce GPU." Microsoft has teased us in a couple of different ways, referring to the dGPU as an "optional NVIDIA GeForce Graphics Processor with dedicated 1GB GDDR5 high-speed memory", with "the full power of hardware-accelerated graphics" -- but there's no more detail than that, at least for now. Nvidia does say that the GPU is new, and as yet unannounced, suggesting that it might be a semi-custom chip developed specifically for the Surface Book and sitting in between models in the existing line-up.

Nvidia tells us: "The new GPU is a Maxwell-based GPU, and was designed to deliver the best performance in ultra-thin form factors such as the Surface Book keyboard dock. With NVIDIA GeForce GPU powering this new hybrid, users will be able to speed up productivity apps such as Adobe Illustrator and Lightroom, and light PC gaming." This suggests that it's not a hugely powerful chip -- maybe not even a GTX series chip -- since Nvidia is talking more about productivity compute rather than 3D graphics compute. This would be a kick in the pants for gamers, but the dGPU would still be genuinely useful for CAD work and professionals' needs, architects and the like.

At Microsoft's announcement, Devices boss Panos Panay said that "this [GPU] is for the gamer who plays League of Legends; this is for the architect who is building a building right now; this is for the scientist who is thinking about a cure for cancer." Here's where the plot thickens a little. League of Legends was exactly the title that Nvidia used to showcase its entry level desktop GeForce GTX 950 graphics card -- an entry level discrete GPU, but with enough power to run LoL at 1920x1080 pixel resolutions and 60-plus frames per second.

Given that the GTX 950 is a desktop graphics card, but pushing a 1920x1080 pixel resolution (2.1-megapixel) in Nvidia's benchmarks that is significantly less demanding than the Surface Book's 3000x2000 pixel (6-megapixel) 13.5-inch panel, referencing LoL would suggest that it's at least GTX 950-equalling in outright graphics power. Expecting constant 60fps performance at the Surface Book's higher resolution is probably a little bit optimistic, but even then it'll have to have a decent amount of grunt. The Nvidia GeForce GTX 950M cracks 67fps in NotebookCheck's Dota 2 benchmark; the GTX 960M just tops 83fps. A semi-custom chip in between these two, or even as powerful as the GTX 965M is possible; I'm betting on something like an as-yet-unannounced GTX 955M.

Whatever it is, it'll be a significant jump in power from the integrated Intel graphics of lesser models and of the tablet portion. The only big question remaining is whether it'll be enough for anything more demanding than LoL and Photoshop. At the end of the day, all we know is that the Surface Book should be pretty well suited to MOBA games like League Of Legends, and it'll do a better job of it than the Surface Pro 4 and probably any other thin and light notebook. We'll have our hands on the new Surface Book very soon, so stay tuned. It'll launch in Australia on November 12 from $2299, and the discrete GPU variant will be out on November 26 -- no word on just how much it'll be, though.

This post originally appeared on Gizmodo Australia


    I'm currently running an Asus UX303LB with a 940m, and I love it.
    Wow at Ultra. CS:GO, Diablo 3, TF2, Divinity OS, LoL and a bunch of other games run perfectly. It's a perfect machine for replaying Fallout 3, Skyrim, Space Marine and more.
    On top of this, it's thin form means moving it around for some Xbox One remote play is actually damn good (despite my preference for the PS4). On too of all this, the 13.3" screen is bright, and the fans are really quiet.

    However I think the new MS Laptop looks like the next step up. While the Asus w/ 940m is more more than enough for most of my gaming needs, I'm willing to bet the MS machine will be higher quality, and more pleasurable for day-to-day use.

    A lot of gamers scoff at semi-gaming laptops like these, but moving from my MSI GT72 Dominator Pro (980m) to the much thinner Asus has been an excellent more for me. I can take it to work and it looks professional, I can bust it out on my lap at home (you know.. as a LAPtop), and the battery lasts ages when I'm not gaming.

    Either way - I see this as a genuine Macbook Pro competitor. Colour me excited on this one.

      UX303 represent! Yeah the 940m is really the lowest I'd go for basic ultra-portable gaming IMO and in this form factor I wouldn't be surprised if that's what they are going with.

      Although, for the price, more would be better (As always). I'm just not sure if they would go shoving something hotter/ more power hungry into something that thin. They verry well might but, realistically, I can very easily see this being a 940m or maybe a 950m at a push (I think I may have read gddr5 somewhere which would suggest the possibility of a 950m, but don't quote me on it lol). Would be a pleasant surprise if not though lol.

      Edit: After stumbling across a review of this months later, guess what? GPU resembles the 940m.

      Last edited 08/10/15 6:06 pm

      Personally I would advise people to get a semi gaming laptop and a full gaming PC instead of a gaming laptop. Will probably cost the same as a gaming laptop but offers a lot more. Use the light laptop around and game on the PC if I want. I could steam stream to my laptop as well if I want to do it.

        If the entry price is $2299 as the article said then the i7 8GB 512gb Nvidia model would be around $2950 which is as much as any decent gaming laptop, especially after CES next year. So that AND a gaming PC you lose your portability to game and will be looking at about $4500

          Yes, but at this size you are normally paying for the form factor and not necessarily getting comparable performance. Just because it's priced at $2299 does not mean you will be getting the same performance as an evenly priced gaming notebook or PC, which is what I think everyone's getting at.

          Get something lower end for portable stuff and something higher end for stationary stuff. Trying to get both normally just results in something hot, expensive, and not nearly powerful enough to justify the price.

          Edit: For reference, just look at the Dell XPS13. It's not a perfect comparison, but it shows that, with the ultra portable form factor, price quickly escalates without comparably 'meaty' hardware to go along with it. With that in mind, I can very easily see a low end mobile nVidia GPU 'justifying' the $2299- $2950 price tag on one of these. (As I say though, it would be fun if it weren't the case)

          Last edited 08/10/15 7:33 pm

    Eh... sounds suspicious. There are very few nVidia gpus still on the market with only 1 gb vram. Its unlikely to be more than or equal to a 950m, as even those have heaps more vram, sometimes reaching up to 4gb.'re not going to be rendering LoL at 3000x2000. Just like when I play iOS games on an iPhone 6s Plus that doesn't render at 1080p. Generally speaking the rule for laptops with integrated graphics is 720p. The Nvidia chip may be able to power it at 1080p at decent framerate. But keep in mind that this (and higher resolutions) would lead to significant heat and battery drain. So it's most likely going to be playing at a lower resolution. Just like Xbox One/PS4 that render at 900p and upscale to 1080p.

    Pricing is at the Microsoft Australia site:

    The price of the i7 500gb model isI AU$4,199.00 incl. Gst....
    Sadly, I'll be parking with that money come the end of the month...
    Although, my question is still, why aren't the 1Tb options for the surface pro 4 and surface book coming to Australia...?

      '[...] why aren't the 1Tb options for the surface pro 4 and surface book coming to Australia...?'

      I think it's because nobody wants to pay OVER FOUR and a HALF GRAND for a bloody laptop and the 1TB version would probably cost over $5000. (!!!!!!!)

      Damn I would SO buy a Surface Book but the prices are just outrageous these days. Most of it's from the USD rise against the dollar and the Book is US tech so it rides the USD into expensive-for-Aussies-land.


      I guess because they would be so outrageously priced...

    Great article. I have been asking this question about what level gpu this is since the announcement. I have been searching for tidbits since then. This article put it all together very nicely. Thanks!

    When you guys think about it.... you only have a 13inch screen... sooooo maybe 1gb is enough lel.

    Surface Pro 3 runs some fairly intensive games at 720 with no issues whatsoever. Even a low end dedicated GPU will be sufficient for most things. Anything is won't run isn't something you wouldn't want to play on a laptop anyhow.

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