Last week, while I was in San Francisco for Microsoft’s Build 2016, I received a Surface Book (Core i7, 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD and NVIDIA dGPU) from the Redmond company so that I could start putting it to use and sharing the experience with all of you.
Although Surface Book has been on the market since last fall, it was only in February of this year that issues relating to power and sleep were finally resolved with the February 2016 system firmware and driver updates.
I can vouch that those updates do indeed work for Surface Book but getting them fully installed took a weird turn last week which I will explain later.
Let me begin with the out of box experience.
The retail packaging that Surface Box arrives in (weighs about 4 lbs) is about a half pound heavier that the device itself (3.34 lbs). It is really high quality and durable to protect your new investment.
Be sure to check out our Surface Book Unboxing Gallery to see more of how the device arrives in its retail packaging and some close ups of the key parts of Surface Book itself.
Setting up Surface Book is not unlike getting any device ready to go out of its retail box - plug it into a power source and press the power button and then follow the onscreen prompts.
You also are reminded of why using a Microsoft Account is the best way to use Windows 10 as it streamlines things by synching not only system settings but those for your apps as well.
Initially this Surface Book came out of the box running Windows 10 Build 10586.29 which is from a Cumulative Update in early December for Version 1511 (OS Build 10586) which was released in November.
Since Windows 10 uses Cumulative Updates to deliver fixes to the Current Branch release of Windows 10 it only takes one update cycle to bring a device up to speed with all the latest fixes and security updates (10586.164).
In my first cycle of updates however, all of the February 2016 firmware updates for Surface Book failed for some reason. I learned why the next day from one of Microsoft’s Surface Engineers who was attending Build 2016. The system needs at least a 40% charge before it will undertake firmware updates to insure power is not lost during the flashing process. When an update gets delayed there is supposed to be some type of trigger to initiate the firmware flash once the device is over 40% but for some reason that trigger was not set or did not fire.
By the way, that first reboot after the initial cycle of updates sat on a black screen with just a white mouse cursor visible for about 4 minutes. I was tempted to force the power off and then back on again but I resisted the urge. Thankfully, it did restart on its own so if you see this just let the device do its thing.
Anyway, I then ran a second cycle of Windows Updates and this time it appeared the February firmware and driver updates were successful.
It turns out that was not the case:
Even though four out of five firmware items were flagged as having issues in Device Manager, the Surface Book itself seemed to be working just fine.
A quick question via Twitter pointed me towards a manual install file of the February 2016 Firmware and Driver updates for Surface Book. I attempted this fix but was never prompted to uninstall the previous failed installation nor did I see the Surface System Update screen.
So I continued using Surface Book that first night in my hotel and even tried out the Clipboard tablet and found everything to be a great experience. That Clipboard is a nice size, this is the first extensive use I have ever put into a 3:2 ratio sized device, and its weight is perfect for tablet use as well.
The next morning, I headed over to the final day of Build 2016 and mentioned the issue to some of the other folks around the press table. After being kidded about turning it off and then on again, I went into the Device Manager and pulled up the details on one of the firmware entries to see if there was anything to help troubleshoot the error.
I found that every firmware entry in Device Manager with an error also had the correct version of the February 2016 updates listed for it. I then I noticed that there was an error code that indicated a restart was necessary and each entry had a restart button right below the error code – which I had apparently missed the night before.
I clicked the restart button and the firmware update screen was displayed as they were installed to the device. After everything was done I verified in Device Manager there were no errors on any of the firmware entries.
Now, I know I had restarted the Surface Book a few times the night before after I first got these errors and I am confident the device had well over a 40% charge as well. I am not sure why one of those reboots did not trigger the firmware updates but it appears some instruction set to carry that out by the OS/BIOS did not get passed along.
Of course, your mileage may vary if you are setting up a Surface Book but I guess a good piece of advice is to get the device charged up to over 40% and then start the cycle of updates. My impatience to get rolling can wreak havoc apparently!
Since then the Surface Book has performed well. The battery life under my style of steady usage looks to be about 7.5 hours and I am now trying some tweaks to see about conserving more of that juice.
As for weirdness and crashes I have only experienced two things in the last week:
- One random Blue Screen of Death related to the ov7251.sys file which appears to be a camera sensor driver. It has not happened again since then.
- I opened up the Surface Book one morning to log in with Windows Hello facial recognition and the Windows Hello camera was not working nor was it listed in the Device Manager. A reboot cleared things up and Windows Hello and the camera was working again but I did have to go through the setup process once again.
I guess the two could have been related but I cannot verify that right now as the two events happened at different times. I am however, keeping an eye on things to see if they pop up again.
One other observation is related to the hinge and the gap it creates between the keyboard and screen. Each time I reach for the device when it is closed I feel a small amount of flex with that gap. It initially concerned me but I was able to discuss it with the Surface engineer I mentioned earlier and he said that flex is designed into the product.
My plans long term is to keep the Surface Book running Windows 10 Current Branch, currently Build 10586.164, and run Windows Insider Preview builds on my HP Spectre x360.
So the journey with Surface Book continues. Keep an eye on my Twitter feed as I have been making some observations via social media but I am also keeping notes to bring you regular updates along the way.
If you have any particular questions about the device let me know in the comments and I will endeavor to answer those for you as well.