MacBook Pro vs. Surface Book: How 2016's Models Compare

  • MORE

This week Apple and Microsoft revealed their latest visions for notebook computing, giving users a real choice for how they interact with their devices. While both offer similar specs, they primarily differentiate in how you use touch. Microsoft is focusing on touch and pen-based input right on the screen, while Apple is making smaller, but potentially just as important, tweaks to its established input methods.

sc macbook pro vs surface book 1477669646289 2999141477669713

Specs

MacBook Pros and Surface Books both sport 6th Gen Core i5 and i7 processors, so neither really takes the lead in terms of performance. The Surface Book with Performance Base offers both Intel HD graphics and Nvidia GTX 965M graphics. The 13-inch MacBook Pro has integrated Intel Iris for 2D games, while the 15-inch steps up to Radeon Pro for 3D titles.

We'd put our money on the 15-inch Pro's Radeon GPU as the winner, with the Surface Book with Performance Base coming in close behind and the 13-inch Pro bringing up the rear.

screen shot 2016 10 27 at 2.18.22 pm

No matter which size MacBook Pro you buy, it won’t be as high-res as a Surface Book. All of Microsoft’s 13.5-inch Surface Book notebooks feature a 3000 x 2000-pixel panel, while Apple’s 13.3-inch MacBook Pro sports a 2560 x 1600 display, and the 15.4-inch MacBook Pro packs a 2880 x 1800 panel.

MORE: New Surface Book is Overpriced, Outdated and Totally Worth It

Special Features

Apple’s distaste for a touch-screen operating system shows, as the MacBook Pro only offers a thin Touch Bar, while Microsoft’s Surface Book boasts a full-screen touch screen. Apple isn’t the only one adding new functionality, as Microsoft's Surface Dial (seen below on a Surface Studio) works with the Surface Books.

surface studio dial w 755

The Touch Bar may not be enough for some who want a full touch screen, but Apple's new addition may be a game-changer for those users who haven’t learned -- or can't be bothered with -- keyboard shortcuts. Apple didn’t need to add the Touch Bar to move predictive text and autofill to the Mac, but we are happy to see the GIF bar in Messages and options to take or decline a phone call.

macbookpro touch bar 675403 2999141477600818

While many PC notebooks feature fingerprint readers for biometric verification, the Surface Book doesn’t have one and the MacBook Pro features a TouchID sensor. The Surface Book only added facial-recognition sign-in via Windows Hello in its $2,399 Performance Base model.

Battery Life

Microsoft appears to be beating Apple when it comes to the battery life in its next-gen notebooks. The company claims its Surface Books offer 12 to 16 hours of advertised battery life, and the Core i5 Surface Book with integrated GPU lasted 12:29 on the LaptopMag battery test.

Meanwhile, Apple said all of its MacBook Pros offer up to 10 hours of battery life, a claim it better hope it exceeds once we have a chance to test the new laptops.

MORE: 6 Reasons to Still Buy a MacBook Air

Connectivity

It appears that Apple has the more forward-facing connectivity options, as the company abandoned USB Type-A ports for new Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) ports. These ports support charging, DisplayPort, as well as 40GBps Thunderbolt connections, HDMI and VGA.

aj7a6945 675403 2999141477600972

Apple’s 13-inch MacBook Pros feature two Type-C ports, while its 15-inch models sport four. Both sizes, unlike the iPhone, include 3.5 millimeter headphone jacks.

Over on the Surface Book, you’ll find a more traditional set of options: two full-size USB 3.0 ports, a full-size SD card reader, a Mini DisplayPort and a headphone jack.

Prices and Configurations

While the entry-level 13.3-inch MacBook Pro starts at $1,499, it lacks the Touch Bar feature. To get a Touch Bar, you'd get the $1,799 13.3-inch laptop, which packs a 2.9-GHz dual-core i5 processor, 8GB of memory, a 256GB SSD and Intel Iris graphics. The Surface Book starts at only $1,349, and that 13.5-inch detachable includes a 6th Gen Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, a 128GB SSD and Intel HD graphics.

screen shot 2016 10 27 at 2.19.07 pm

Over at the top of the price range, the high-end 15.4-inch MacBook Pro and 13.5-inch Surface Book both cost $2,399. So, while Microsoft is giving you a detachable touch tablet display, Apple’s offering more screen estate.

That MacBook Pro features quad-core Core i7 processors, 16GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD and a 2GB Radeon Pro 450 graphics card. The high-end Surface Book with Performance Base also offers a Core i7 CPU, a 256GB SSD and Nvidia GTX 965M graphics, but only 8GB of RAM.

MORE: New MacBook Pro Hands-on: Touch Bar Is NOT a Gimmick

Outlook

It doesn't feel like anybody hitting the Buy button for either of Apple and Microsoft's premium-grade laptops is investing in a bad product, as both provide a mix of speed and plenty of reasons to update. The choice you make is likely rooted in the ecosystem you're invested in and how each machine shows its maker's priorities.

Microsoft is continuing to focus on touch screen and pen input, and its Surface Dial adds one more way to offer input. Apple's Touch Bar may be a fantastic way to enable users to do more with their Macs, and we'll have to see how many apps develop for it. 

Laptop Guide

Author Bio
Henry T. Casey
Henry T. Casey,
After graduating from Bard College a B.A. in Literature, Henry T. Casey worked in publishing and product development at Rizzoli and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, respectively. Henry joined Tom's Guide and LAPTOP having written for The Content Strategist, Tech Radar and Patek Philippe International Magazine. He divides his free time between going to live concerts, listening to too many podcasts, and mastering his cold brew coffee process. Content rules everything around him.
Henry T. Casey, on
Add a comment
15 comments
  • Typical User Says:

    They left out that one can get the Radeon 460 GPU w/4GB RAM on the 15inch model, so there are three different processors that are available, not 2 that are mentioned. Also, Apple is using later gen SSD that are about 30% faster, so those doing large file transfers (video production especially), I'm sure the faster SSD will be a better choice.

  • alexx Says:

    Macbook =
    Productivity/NoGaming
    SurfaceBook = Entertainment/Gaming

    even though the macbook has a QUAD core cpu and costs less when maxed out that is because it is only 512gb and it isnt touchscreen or detachable or have better battery also its gpu isnt as good as the nvidia one so you get all this extra stuff for just 400 and anyways 2.6k is already a lot so if you are buying in that range just go ahead and get the 3k SurfaceBook

  • Joe Ferezno Says:

    I wish someone would mention the fact that the Surface Book, even with the most expensive model, only has a DUAL CORE i7 processor. The 15 inch Macbook Pro has a quad core i7 processor. There really isn't any competition here at all. The most expensive configuration of the surface book tops out at almost $3000, which for a few hundred dollars ($2400-2700) you could get a Macbook Pro with a much faster QUAD CORE processor speed.

    Don't get me wrong, the surface book is a nice machine. But to pay near $3,000 and to only get a dual core? No thank you. Not sure why the Macbook Pro has been getting so much crap. It's basically on par with every other laptop with similar features and the screen is one of the best on the market (despite not having the highest resolution its brightness, color gamut, and contrast are top notch). Compared to a spec'd out Dell XPS 15 at around $2600 with similar specs that only really beats the Macbook Pro in that it has the option of adding in 32GB RAM. Although RAM boosts really only do you any good if you have a processor that can match the RAM you put in your machine (otherwise it's like tricking out your Toyota Prius...). Arguably, the few hundred dollars in price difference in the higher end Dell XPS laptops and Macbook Pro is due to build quality (i.e. carbon polymer/metal combination vs aluminum unibody).

    Also the quad core Kaby Lake processors aren't even out yet, all that are out so far are dual core Kaby Lakes. So don't be fooled by arguments of processors between Skylake and Kaby Lake; the performance gain between the two is only about 7-10%. And back to my main point, a quad core (most often) scorches a dual core, regardless of whether it's Kaby Lake or Skylake.

    I'm not being an Apple fanboy. I actually just ordered my first Macbook Pro after being on the fence and a Windows user for so long. I also love the Surface line; I have a SP3 and really like it. However, I do need a device with a bit more power to it and for me that's the 15 inch MBP.

    I love the concept of the Surface Book and would've been sold if it had a quad core (as I'd really like to consolidate my SP3 and main laptop). It's just disappointing seeing the prices they charge while Avaio (not tied to Sony anymore) released the Z Canvas 2 in 1 that actually has a QUAD CORE (running around $2000 to $3000). Granted, it's build design isn't as premium as Microsoft or Apple, but in terms of raw computing power, you're getting what you pay for.

    I've done a shit ton of research on 2016's best laptops and 2 in 1s. It's been a pain in the ass to see all of these articles promoting one device over the other instead of actually giving an unbiased report of what you're getting vs what you pay for. For a high end laptop with a sleek and solid build quality, the 15 MBP and 15 Dell XPS seem to be some of the better options. To me, the Surface Book just doesn't pack enough power for what you're paying, but the Surface Pros 3 and 4 remain excellent options for a side device.

  • Greg Johnson Says:

    There's really no comparison between an expensive, lightweight PC laptop and the MacBook Pro.

    Apple users don't know what they're missing by not having a touch screen. And being able to detach your screen and take it with you is like having an iPad and a MBP in the same device.

    There's no question you should avoid the Apple product. They were great before but have stagnated.

  • bill gates Says:

    uhhh... every configuration of the surface book as well as the surface pro 4 have Facial Recognition (Windows Hello) built-in. It works for logging in to the computer, logging into apps/websites, and for making payments too.

    touch id is in fact likely more cumbersome.

  • Adrian Says:

    You can buy the finger print keyboard from Microsoft or just use your face with the default camera

  • Samuel Says:

    They said 40GBps when they meant 40Gbps. Big difference in bytes vs bits

  • JuanSoto Says:

    If I could afford to buy either, it would be the Surface Book. I don't even have to think hard about it.

    The versatility of the SB is nothing to scoff at or diminish. Simply put, from a hardware perspective, it puts it a generation ahead of Apple's line of laptops (discussions of ecosystems aside) with their touch interface and flexible 2-in-1 design.

    Apple needs to step up its' game. Microsoft isn't the only company passing them by. Even the innovative gaming laptops I've seen posted here make Apple's hardware seem dated.

    I do like that Apple has stayed firm on the 16:10 aspect ratio (though I prefer 3:2 as a dev machine).

    As an outside observer, even their OS seems overly demanding. Would anyone even try and run MacOS on an Atom with 2GB? It seems that only an i5 will do now with massive amounts of RAM.

    If I was an Apple loyalist, I'd be very disappointed right now. Seems that Apple users are far more loyal than Apple itself who couldn't even give their iPod a nod or refresh the only laptop I found enticing... 'The Air'. At least they didn't get rid of more ports...

  • SomeDev Says:

    Honestly, I like the idea of touch bar, but I do not like idea to exchange them for Fn buttons and it doesn’t make it up to touch screen. Now understand me right – touch bar is interesting, but not intuitive and since you can/should swipe it for right buttons, you have to pay attention to the keyboard, what already seems counterproductive. As well, I do not see real innovation – just colorful application based macro keys. Those things I had 10 years ago. Touch screen require more hand movement, but it is more intuitive. You see what you want, you touch it – seems more simple to me .It isn’t selling point to go and buy a mac for me (especially since I will have to give away so much money and especially time for learning Mac OS hotkeys). Beside touch bar, I do not see anything special about Mac book. Then again, Surfacebook did get only hardware upgrade. And still feels like better investment for what it can provide.

  • Valedictorian Says:

    1. The 2016 SB comes only with i7.

    2. The 2016 SB comes with at least 256 GB SSD.

    3. No 2016 SB model hast Intel HD Graphics but all have NVIDIA GeForce GTX 965M.

    4. AMD Radeon 455 Pro is probably a weak version of Radeon RX 460. Only the desktop version of RX 460 is slightly better than the GTX 965M (2016) so it's not very likely, that the 455 Pro will be better than the GTX 965M.

    5. The 2016 SB starts at 2399 $.

    6. The high end MBP 15.4 costs 2799 $ and offers a 512 GB SSD and Radeon Pro 455 2GB.

    7. The hight end 2016 SB costs 3299 $ and offers a 1 TB SSD and 16 GB of RAM.

  • Paul-Henri ANDRIEU Says:

    Firstof all, excuse me for my english (I am French :D)

    So, I tested the new MacBook and the SurfaceBook in task wich consumes lot of performances, and the SurfaceBook is faster in PhotoShop, AfterEffects, PremierePro and InDeseign. But the touch bar of the mac is usefull, for example in Keynote, pages,...

  • hmmokay Says:

    The surfacebook and MacBook processors are night and day different performance wise: the surfacepro 4 has half as many cores.

  • Intosh Says:

    The author really missed the point of the touch bar.

    He should realize that the Fn keys are generally useless; F1, F2, F3 are meaningless to most users and therefore are rarely used. So much so that, if he paid attention, he would have recalled that in Macbooks before this latest model, the Fn keys have icons on them representing functions such as brightness, volume, play/pause, etc. A touch bar is really an evolution of this. Now you can have (soft)keys with any icons you want representing much more meaningful and useful keys to users. Not only that. The touch bar can display information, allow gestures and have buttons of different sizes. Swiping on the bar to scroll through a list and then touch to select is faster and more efficient than swiping the touchpad and move the cursor to select. And don't tell me a full touchscreen would be as efficient because it is not. The touch bar allows your arm and hands to stay on the keyboard -- you don't need to lift your arm to touch the screen. Professionals who spend 8 hour a day with a laptop understand these little movements of the hands/arms make a big difference. Finally, the same muscle memory that allows a user to reach for the F1 or Esc key without looking down will also allow users to eventually touch the soft-keys without looking down.

    The touch bar will because a great differentiator that will keep Apple's laptop a leader in usability and productivity. A year from now, doubters will be silenced and people who adopted this new tool, will never want to go back to Fn keys.

  • MicrosoftFan Says:

    Actually the author is correct that the new Surface Book uses sign in via WINDOWS HELLO.
    Additionally, every Surface Book in existence just so happens to ONLY include last years models, since they were introduced October 2015.
    Finally, facial recognition is good, even better with great hardware like the new Surface Book, but is only better and faster than regular Windows fingerprint readers. Apple's TouchID is far faster and more secure than facial recognition, and I know that by experience having owned both an iPad with TouchID and a Surface Pro 4.
    That said, I can understand how a dedicated fan like you would get upset over the wording, since it did make the Surface seem inferior in that regard.

  • Speednet Says:

    The article is wrong about the Surface Book's facial recognition. It states, "The Surface Book only added facial-recognition sign-in via Windows Hello in its $2,399 Performance Base model."

    The truth is that every Surface Book model in existence, including last year's models, have facial recognition, and it's far better and faster than a fingerprint reader. The comparison should state "Macbook Pro doesn't have facial recognition -- only a fingerprint reader". (Instead of the comment saying that the SB doesn't have a fingerprint reader.)

Back to top