Is the Surface Pro 8 the best programming laptop so far?

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The new Surface Pro 8 series of laptop/tablet hybrids have just been announced and they are set to be released on October 4, 2021. I am personally very excited about this particular release for a variety of reasons.

The 8th version of the popular Surface Pro line is a continued improvement upon its predecessors, featuring a more powerful CPU, a 120Hz Dolby Vision display, 2 Thunderbolt 4 ports, a removable SSD drive (much like the Surface Pro 7+), and lastly, it comes preinstalled with Windows 11.

As a programmer with a relatively high set of requirements when it comes laptop performance, the Surface Pro 8 checks off all of the marks on my list. Combined with a new keyboard cover and upgraded slim stylus pen with a haptic feedback motor, the Surface Pro 8 is easily your take anywhere workstation.

Let's take a closer look at what makes this version so special and why every programming looking for a new work laptop should consider picking this one up.

Overview

Microsoft has done a fantastic job this time around in keeping everything that makes the Surface Pro line a superb laptop and adding much needed features and upgrades to the mix.

The Surface Pro 8 now features a 13 inch PixelSense display, though this time boasts a 120Hz refresh rate with a 60Hz default.

The CPU options this time around are the latest 11th Gen Intel Core i5 and i7 processors with built-in active cooling, ensuring a quieter overall experience while keeping performance high.

And this time around, even the Surface Pen has received a much needed upgrade, along with a new Surface Type Cover taken right out of the Surface Pro X design.

The soon to be released Windows 11 is also making its appearance on the Surface Pro 8 as the factory OS of choice. There's alot to like here overall.

Now let's get into some of the technical details.

Technical Specs

Dimensions 11.3 in x 8.2 in x 0.37 in (287mm x 208mm x 9.3mm)
Display Screen: 13” PixelSense™ Flow Display Resolution: 2880 x 1920 (267 PPI) Up to 120Hz refresh rate (60Hz default) Aspect ratio: 3:2 Touch: 10 point multi-touch GPU Ink Acceleration Dolby Vision® support3
Memory 8GB, 16GB, 32GB (LPDDR4x RAM)
Processor Quad-core 11th Gen Intel® Core™ i5-1135G7 Processor Quad-core 11th Gen Intel® Core™ i7-1185G7 Processor
Security Firmware TPM chip for enterprise-grade security and BitLocker support Enterprise-grade protection with Windows Hello face sign-in
Software Windows 11 Home Preloaded Microsoft 365 Apps8 Microsoft 365 Family 30-day trial9 Preloaded Xbox app Xbox Game Pass Ultimate one month trial9
Sensors Accelerometer Gyroscope Magnetometer Ambient Color Sensor (brightness and color)
Storage Removable solid-state drive (SSD) options: 128GB or 256GB 512GB or 1TB
Battery life Up to 16 hours of typical device usage
Graphics Intel® Iris® Xe Graphics (i5, i7)
Connections 2 x USB-C® with USB 4.0/Thunderbolt™ 4 3.5mm headphone jack 1 x Surface Connect port Surface Type Cover port Compatible with Surface Dial off-screen interaction*
Cameras, video, and audio Windows Hello face authentication camera (front-facing) 5.0MP front-facing camera with 1080p full HD video 10.0MP rear-facing autofocus camera with 1080p HD and 4k video Dual far-field Studio Mics 2W stereo speakers with Dolby Atmos®
Wireless Wi-Fi 6: 802.11ax compatible Bluetooth Wireless 5.1 technology
Exterior Casing: Signature anodized aluminum Colors: Graphite, Platinum4 Physical buttons: Volume, Power
Battery capacities Battery Capacity Nominal (WH) 51.5Wh Battery Capacity Min (WH) 50.2Wh

Performance

The Surface Pro 8 comes with 2 options when it comes to its processor. You have the option of an 11th Gen Intel Core i5 or the 11th Gen Intel Core i7 Evo processor. Evo platform-based laptops are designed from the start to provide improved image and video editing, faster wake times and improved battery performance.

I've personally used the Surface Pro line with an i5 processor for the past 3 years and I've found that it can handle almost any workload that I can throw at it. My typical workday however, looks  like the following:

- Visual Studio
- SQL Server
- Inkscape
- Photoshop
- 100+ browser tabs
- 100+ Explorer windows

The Surface Pro has not disappointed me yet. While the Surface Pro 8 is by no means a gaming machine, it does feature Intel Iris Xe Graphics on both CPU versions which is adequate for playing a variety of games as well as providing decent image editing.

All Surface Pro 8 models come equipped with fast SSD storage drives, which this time around, can be swapped easily with limits of up to 1TB.

Display

The biggest difference with the display of the Surface Pro 8 compared with previous models, is that the laptop hybrid finally brings with it a 120Hz refresh rate.

The Surface Pro 8 also boasts a larger screen than its predecessors with a 13 inch PixelSense Flow display, compared to the previous 12.3 inch displays of past models.

The resolution remains strong at 2880 x 1920 with a 267 PPI. As with previous models, the Surface Pro 8 keeps its 10-point multi-touch touchscreen ensuring fast screen response times as well as strong gesture control.

One of the biggest benefits of having a 120Hz refresh rate however, is the increased smoothness of drawing with the Surface Pen, meaning shorter latency times as soon as the pen hits the screen.

And lastly, the Surface Pro 8 is the first in its class to feature an ambient display setting. This enables the display to change itself in response to the current lighting conditions. This potentially means that regardless of the environment that you find yourself in, that you will always have the optimal viewing experience keeping you engaged with your work.

Portability

One of the biggest benefits that the Surface Pro line brings to tech savvy people, like myself, is in it's portability. This is the biggest draw for me personally as a freelance developer who needs a laptop pretty much 24/7 for various work related activities.

The Surface Pro 8 can easily fit into almost any carrying case as it's width is typically less than that of a textbook and comes in weighing just under 2lb.

Adding to its portability factor in this latest version, and borrowing from the Surface Pro X once again, the SSD drive is fully removable with options up to 1TB of storage, meaning you can swap them out as needed.

With the included Dual far-field Studio Mics, Dolby Atmos sound, and a 1080p front-facing camera, the Surface Pro 8 is definitely one of the most portable all-in-one's out on the market today.

Thunderbolt 4

People have been asking for some time now and Microsoft has finally listened. The new Surface Pro 8 now includes, not one, but 2 super fast Thunderbolt 4 ports.

With Thunderbolt 4, you can now connect fast storage devices as well as external monitors for a fuller office experience. You can also connect external GPU's for overall improved gaming performance.

Thunderbolt 4 ports have a 40Gbps bidirectional bandwidth, meaning data can be moved to and from external storage incredibly quickly. It also means that up to five Thunderbolt devices can be connected all powered by one port.

This is a huge addition and one that solves many of the complaints that many people had about previous models.

Type Cover Keyboard

This time around, Microsoft has released a brand new type cover for the Surface Pro 8 with a few improvements, such as built in Surface Pen storage with built in charging.

The Surface Type Cover has by far been a fan favorite when it comes to typing experience. The keys are well spaced out and the depth of each key press, while low profile, is enough to make for a very satisfying typing experience.

Surface Slim Pen 2

The Surface Pen has been redesigned for Surface Pro 8 and now follows the more familiar design of the Surface Pro X. The new Surface Slim Pen 2 is slimmer than the original pen, and now features an on-board haptic motor designed to mimic the feeling of ink on paper.

As mentioned above, the Slim Pen 2 is designed to be stored in the new Surface Keyboard Cover ensuring that it stays protected and charged at all times.

Battery Life

One of the areas in which the Surface Pro line has fallen short in the past is with its battery life. The Surface Pro 8 claims an estimated 16 hours of battery life this time around, which is a mighty claim.

Previous models, like the Surface Pro 7 estimate battery life at around 10 hours with typical use, which is a huge difference.

I personally have averaged around 5-6 hours of use with my Surface Pro 6 under heavy load.

Given that the Surface Pro 8 has a larger battery capacity at 51Wh and that it is running the new (and likely optimized) Windows 11, the dream of a 10+ hour workday isn't as farfetched anymore as it once was.

We will have to wait until Windows 11 is officially launched however to get realistic real-world numbers. For now, we can definitely dream.

Are there downsides?

In general, I am a huge fan of the Surface Pro line of laptops. It works great with my programming work as a .NET Developer, and given a gorgeous display, a fantastic keyboard and sturdy yet very lightweight form factor, I don't typically have any gripes aside from a lack of ports and a lackluster battery life.

With the added Thunderbolt 4 ports and improved battery performance, I can safely say that I personally do not have anything negative to say about this device. Microsoft has taken a winning formula and has only managed to improve it which should definitely be applauded.

Is it good for developers?

Given that the Surface Pro 8 runs using the latest 11th Gen Intel processors, includes a removable SSD drive, runs with a 120Hz display and features one of the best typing experiences for this form factor, I can gladly recommend this laptop to developers at any stage.

I myself have built all of my current web applications using a Surface Pro laptop without any issues for the past several years. I also do much of my design work on it as well, and knowing that I can simply toss it into a bag and leave my house with all of my work intact, is a very liberating feeling.

We'll have to wait a few more weeks though to finally get our hands on one to fully test it to its limits and see how it truly holds up.

Walter Guevara is a software engineer, startup founder and currently teaches programming for a coding bootcamp. He is currently building things that don't yet exist.

Comments

K
11/21/2021 11:41:22 PM
The best laptop for programming needs to be a portable machine. But it also needs to offer a comfortable keyboard, speedy performance, and plenty of storage. A laptop that's fast will offer a streamlined workflow as well as saving you time when loading or running projects.

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