Microsoft Surface Pro 7+ review: A giant leap in graphics performance

It's the most potent upgrade Microsoft's Surface Pro line has offered in years.

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Surface Pro 7+ audio and webcam

The Surface Pro 7 and 7+ both include a pair of stereo speakers rated at 1.6W; the Surface Pro 7+ includes Dolby Atmos audio controls. Perhaps because of that internal redesign that increased the battery size, to my ears, the Surface Pro 7+ speakers sound flatter and softer, even after fiddling with the Atmos settings.

Microsoft surface pro 7+  rear vents and camera Mark Hachman / IDG

You many never use it, but Microsoft mounted a handy rear-facing camera on the Surface Pro 7+. Note the small vents, too—that’s the only ventilation the Surface Pro 7+ has, and they’re used effectively. There’s virtually no way for crumbs to work their way in, either.

Long before the pandemic hit, the Surface lineup emphasized great webcams, though they still lack a privacy shutter. The Surface Pro 7+ includes a great 1080p, user-facing webcam, but also a surprisingly high-resolution rear-mounted webcam. The latter was designed for business-related tasks such as taking snapshots of whiteboards or scanning documents. You can also make “professional” adjustments such as manual white balance and exposure, and even manual focus. You may not care, but it’s extremely rare for a laptop or tablet maker to offer these options.

Surface Pro 7+ camera Microsoft Mark Hachman / IDG

The Surface Pro 7+ webcam is sharp, with great color.

Surface Pro 7+ Performance

Microsoft’s latest Surface Pro 7+ benefits from the new 11th-gen Core chip inside of it, a member of the potent new Tiger Lake family. We’ve already compared the Surface Pro 7 to the Surface Pro 7+ in benchmarks, showing that Microsoft increased the CPU performance of the Surface Pro 7+ by about 22 percent. That’s good, but check out the GPU performance, which has improved massively—up to 91 percent!—thanks to the new Xe core built into the Tiger Lake architecture.

In part, that’s because dialing up the Windows power-performance slider actually makes a difference. Microsoft shipped our review unit set to “best battery” by default, even while plugged in. In previous Surfaces, adjusting the slider to “best performance” didn’t alter the results meaningfully, but with the Surface Pro 7+, we saw a boost of another 10 percent. We’ve highlighted those “maximum performance” scores by outlining them in black in our performance charts.

The most impressive part, however, is that the Surface Pro 7+ does all this without a fan—at least in the Core i3 and Core i5 models—and we didn’t notice any evidence of slowdown during prolonged gaming sessions due to thermal throttling. (“[The] Core i7 [model] is designed to minimize fan speed and noise to only the most intensive workloads,” according to Microsoft.)

We rarely see such a significant generation-to-generation improvement as we do between the Surface Pro 7 and the Surface Pro 7+. Not only would we recommend the Surface Pro 7+ for everyday office work, but the upgraded GPU makes it a serious contender for light gaming—without drastically dialed-down visual settings, either. Don’t expect you’ll be able to play graphically intensive games like Microsoft’s Flight Simulator at comfortable resolutions and frame rates. But a racing game like Forza Horizon 4? Yes, absolutely.

If our comparison set seems heavily Microsoft, you’re right—the vast majority of Windows tablets sold currently are manufactured by Microsoft. We’re expecting Tiger Lake-based corporate Windows tablets from Lenovo (the ThinkPad X12) and Dell (the Latitude 7320), but they aren’t available yet. So we’ve included gen-over-gen comparisons alongside with some older third-party tablets and Microsoft’s Surface Laptops for comparison.

Our first benchmark is UL’s older PCMark 8 Creative, a synthetic test encompassing photo and video editing, light gaming, and other mainstream tasks. Here, the Surface Pro 7+ leads in both default and performance modes. 

Microsoft Surface Pro 7+ pcmark 8 creative Mark Hachman / IDG

The Surface Pro 7+ rises to the top of PCMark 8’s Creative test, which measures photo and video editing, light gaming, and more. 

We’re shifting to the more modern PCMark 10 suite, which offers an enormous variety of tests, from web browsing, video conferencing, spreadsheet work, photo editing, and 3D rendering. Note that we weren’t able to test some devices using both benchmarks. In any case, the Surface Pro 7+ again posts leading scores in the comparison.

Microsoft Surface Pro 7+ pcmark 10 Mark Hachman / IDG

The Surface Laptop 3 rises to the top of the PCMark 10 performance charts, but the Surface Pro 7+ is right behind.

Maxon’s Cinebench test asks each CPU core and thread to render a 3D image as quickly as possible. It’s a short sprint for the CPU in the R15 release of the benchmark. The Surface Pro 7+ posts a midrange score in default mode, but it vaults to the top in performance mode. 

Microsoft Surface Pro 7+ cinebench r15 Mark Hachman / IDG

The Surface Pro 7+ is the fastest tablet we tested—and at maximum performance the difference is significant.

We’re moving from the aging Cinebench R15 to the current R23 release, which (among other changes) imposes longer test run that creates more of a thermal load. While we don’t have enough data from other products to create a chart, we can say that the fanless, Core i5 Surface Pro 7+ we’ve reviewed decreases performance by about 20 percent. We’ve tested this performance drop on powerful gaming notebooks, which prioritize cooling, and found the difference there is narrower, about 10 percent. 

Our primary CPU stress test uses the free HandBrake utility to transcode a Hollywood movie for an Android tablet. Because the test can take anywhere from 30 minutes to more than an hour, it can cause thermal throttling, especially in thinner Windows PCs. The older HandBrake version we use isn’t optimized for the modern features of the Tiger Lake platform, but we stuck with it so we could compare it to older platforms. No surprise, the Surface Pro 7+ was again among the top players.

microsoft surface pro 7 plus handbrake Mark Hachman / IDG

Again, the Surface Pro 7+ rises to the top.

To test the new Iris Xe GPU within Surface Pro 7+’s CPU, we turn to 3DMark and the older Sky Diver test. This is where we see the Surface Pro 7+ really shine: The graphics performance is nearly double that of the Surface Pro 7!

Microsoft Surface Pro 7+ 3dmark sky diver Mark Hachman / IDG

The Surface Pro 7+ offers a massive leap in graphics performance, thanks to its Iris Xe GPU.

We also compared the Surface Pro 7+ to some similar Iris Xe-based laptops using the more modern Time Spy benchmark.

Microsoft Surface Pro 7+ time spy Mark Hachman / IDG

Here, we’ve compared the Surface Pro 7+ to some other recent laptops, just to position how well it performs graphically. Interestingly, some Iris Xe models respond well to pushing the performance slider to maximum performance, while others are indifferent.

Can you play games with the Surface Pro 7+? Absolutely. We played a pair of real-world games: Microsoft’s own Forza Horizon 4, a visually rich, fast-paced racing game; and Troy: A Total War Saga, which takes a birds’-eye view of a battle simulator, with hundreds of individual characters. Both games stress the CPU and GPU alike. 

In the case of Forza Horizon 4, I eked out 30 frames per second (fps) at Low settings at 1920x1200, which accommodates the tablet’s 3:2 screen ratio. (Unlike some games, Forza recommends 30 fps, versus 60 fps, as a satisfactory frame rate. In my experience, it runs just fine at that setting. At Medium settings, the framerate was about 23 fps to 25 fps.)

forza horizon 4 benchmark microsoft surface pro 7 Mark Hachman / IDG

The Surface Pro 7+ can hit 30 frames per second on Forza Horizon 4, but at Low settings. Note the scatter graph at the top of the screen.

We used the “battle” benchmark within the Troy simulator, and again generated a satisfactory 30 fps at 1280x1024 at Medium settings—albeit with some odd stutters. While we wouldn’t suggest that this could take the place of a dedicated gaming laptop, clearly the Surface Pro 7+ has acquired some respectable gaming chops. And remember, this is all being done without a fan!

troy a total war saga benchmark results microsoft surface pro 7 Mark Hachman / IDG

While benchmarking Troy: A Total War Saga, the Surface Pro 7+ suffered some odd stuttering effects. 

Finally, we tested the Surface Pro 7+ battery life by setting the display to a fixed luminance, then repeatedly looping a video until the battery expired. Battery life improves about 12 percent over the Surface Pro 7+, thanks to the thinner display and larger battery Microsoft added. (The battery in the Surface Pro 7 was 43.2Wh; the Surface Pro 7+ comes in at 48.9Wh.)

In all, battery life has improved slightly over previous Surfaces, and that’s good news: Just over 10 hours is excellent. But be careful! Battery life dropped by nearly three hours with performance set to maximum. We also were surprised to see what happened when we accidentally left the Dolby Atmos for headphones setting switched on: Battery life dropped about two hours.

Microsoft Surface Pro 7+ battery life Mark Hachman / IDG

The Surface Pro 7+ battery life averages just about ten hours on default settings.

Should I upgrade to the Surface Pro 7+?

We still don’t know why this tablet wasn’t called the Surface Pro 8. That’s how much the Surface Pro 7+ has improved over the Surface Pro 7. Because the new Tiger Lake CPU appears to have played a major role in this upgrade, we’ll be interested to see how the Surface Pro 7+ compares to other Tiger Lake-based tablets coming down the pike. If you’d like to wait to shop the alternatives, we understand.

If you’re deciding whether to upgrade from an older Surface Pro, the Surface Pro 7+ performance justifies an unequivocal yes. If you’re debating between the Surface Pro 7+ and a more traditional clamshell, though, we’d be more cautious: Surface Pro tablets come with a price premium attached, and this is no exception. You’re going to see similar benefits from notebook PCs that transition from Intel’s 10th-gen to 11th-gen products, such as the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 9310, as well as the Asus ZenBook Flip 13, and they’re priced similarly as our review unit.

Still—a massive increase in GPU power, a good bump in CPU power, an LTE option, more battery...and no fan? Those are all compelling reasons to consider the Surface Pro 7+. The best Windows tablet just got much, much better.

This story was updated on Feb. 19 to add Microsoft's specification for the Surface Pro 7+ display brightness.

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At a Glance
  • With the Microsoft's Surface Pro 7+, the best Windows tablet just got much, much better, thanks to its powerful CPU and graphics upgrades. It also offers an LTE option, better battery life and more.

    Pros

    • Massive upgrade in GPU power
    • Fanless (for our review unit)
    • Battery life increases from prior generations
    • LTE options immediately available

    Cons

    • Type Cover keyboard sold separately
    • No Thunderbolt port
    • Choice between LTE or microSD, not both
    • No 5G option
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