Last month Microsoft announced the second generation Surface Pro, offering an update to the already impressive Windows tablet.
For many, this was a highly anticipated move as they were eager to see what Microsoft had in-store this time around. The folks at Redmond didn’t disappoint as the new Surface Pro was made available with up to 8GB of RAM, an updated current generation Intel Core i5 Haswell processor and a whopping 512GB of internal storage. These updates pit the Surface Pro directly against many ultra-books and laptops as it offers the storage and performance to match.
The new Intel Haswell Core i5 processor packs a new integrated Intel HD4400 graphics chip. While the chip is expected to perform better, we wanted to see what the differences were and what it means for you if you are considering a Surface Pro 2 for yourself. Before going any further, it’s important to affirm that the true performance benefits the Intel Graphics HD4400 brings over the previous chip are primarily going to be of major importance to people who push the device to its limits i.e. gamers or videographers. For everyday users, the differences are negligible, save for any power consumption, as the HD4000 was already an adequate performer graphics-wise.
The original Surface Pro featured Intel’s Core i5 Ivy Bridge processor which had integrated HD4000 graphics. The new HD4400 graphics chip will purportedly feature a performance bump from the previous generation HD4000 chip. Part of the reason is the increased number of execution units. The HD4400 has 20 execution units while the HD4000 has 16 – a 25% bump. Opinions differ over what the real performance gains truly are but early real world tests point to a 10% performance increase.
As far as gamers are concerned, this will mean better gameplay with smoother animation. One of the biggest tests for graphics chips are demanding, fast moving games with a lot of detail like first person shooters. The test is whether the graphics chip can process and render all the detail quickly enough to allow for smooth gameplay. When it isn’t able to do so, gameplay progresses faster than the chip can render it, so in order to stay with the gameplay, it has to selectively skip rendering some parts of the game, resulting in stuttering and pausing – a phenomenon known as ‘dropped frames’.
The HD4400 promises a higher frame rate than its predecessor and it should handle most modern games with little trouble. This list of popular games tells you if the HD4400 performs adequately enough to run them.
Running some of these games on the Surface Pro 2 with its integrated chip may require them to turn down the settings and reduce the amount of detail and frames to keep gameplay smooth. In other words; the Surface Pro 2 and its graphics chip does fine for casual gaming, but will not fill the role of a specialist gaming computer.
The new chip is more energy efficient and thus consumes less power than the HD4000, which for Surface Pro 2 users will result in much improved battery life. The HD4400 graphics chip also supports the very latest DirectX 11.1 versus Direct X 11.0 on the HD4000 – a set of drivers which improve the Surface Pro 2’s multimedia capabilities, particularly those to do with gaming. To further enhance the Surface Pro 2’s gaming capabilities, the HD4400 chip also carries support for OpenCL 1.2 and OpenGL 4.0.
Much of the Surface Pro’s appeal was that it was meant to be an all-rounder and Microsoft have continued this theme with the Surface Pro 2. This new graphics chip only further solidifies its positioning as a capable all round device.
It now features an improved 4K decoder for videos and a fast QuickSync encoder. With the rising popularity of high resolution video, having a portable, powerful machine which can handle that kind of media is incredibly useful for people in that profession. This isn’t a feature confined to amateur videographers of course, as modern smartphones and personal camcorders are now able to capture video at 4K.
For everyday use, operation should be smooth and snappy. That lightning fast responsiveness that Surface Pro was known for should remain and ensure that the tablet is a joy to use. The boosted battery life will be appreciated, as is the added support for 4K video decoding which is sure to grow in popularity, resulting in increased demand.
To see just what the chip is capable of, here is a video of the Sony Viao Duo which carries the same Haswell processor and integrated HD4400 as the Surface running a few games.