All posts in “Laptop”

Some HP laptops are hiding a deactivated keylogger


Researcher Michael Myng found a deactivated keylogger in a piece of software found on over 460 HP laptop models. A full list of affected laptops is here. The keylogger is deactivated by default but could represent a privacy concern if an attacker has physical access to the computer.

“Some time ago someone asked me if I can figure out how to control HP’s laptop keyboard backlight,” wrote Myng. “I asked for the keyboard driver SynTP.sys, opened it in IDA, and after some browsing noticed a few interesting strings.”

The strings led to something that appeared to be a hidden keylogger – a program that sends typed characters to an attacker – in a Synaptics device driver. Given that the decompiled code prepared and sent key presses to an unnamed target, Myng was fairly certain he had something interesting on his hands.

Luckily, HP responded quickly.

“I tried to find HP laptop for rent and asked a few communities about that but got almost no replies,” he said. “One guy even thought that I am a thief trying to rob someone. So, I messaged HP about the finding. They replied terrifically fast, confirmed the presence of the keylogger (which actually was a debug trace) and released an update that removes the trace.”

The bottom line? Update your HP laptop as soon as possible. If you are on HP’s list of affected laptops you can download the fix here.

Microsoft’s Surface Book 2 really is a beautiful beast

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Using a 15-inch, 4.2-pound powerhouse like Microsoft’s new Surface Book 2 takes some time getting used to. It nearly fits into my backpack, but weighs on my back. It’s unwieldy to carry around the office, but has remarkable battery life. It takes up more space on my desk than my other computers, but has workstation-level power.

These are the type of calculations I make as a longtime ultra-light convertible user. My systems of choice typically weigh 2 pounds or less. I know that 12 -and 13.5-inch Microsoft’s Surface Pro and Apple’s MacBook, respectively, have their limits, but I love them for their combination of portability, power and battery life. If I wanted to do more, like edit 4K video, edit high-resolution images, start doing CAD work, program or game my neurons away, I’d consider a portable like this.

The beast at rest.

The beast at rest.

Image: lance ulanoff/mashable

The Surface Book 2 is not a reinvention of the original Surface Book. At a glance and aside from the size, it’s indistinguishable from the Surface Book with Performance Base I have in my office. It has the same magnesium body and similarly designed keyboard and mouse. 

Broadly, the component design is the same. Microsoft puts the CPU in the “Clipboard” PixelSense touch screen and the discrete graphics in the base. You can still detach the screen with the press of a button and signature the dynamic fulcrum hinge that connects the base and screen looks and feels unchanged.

Something’s different

The closer I looked, though, the more I saw evidence of the 1,000-part changes Microsoft Windows Device Lead Panos Panay told me about in October. Many are subtle. For example, even though the keyboard is the exact same size on the Surface Book 2 15-inch, it now sits on a relatively flat plane. The channel that surrounded the original keyboard, nesting it slightly more deeply in the chassis, is gone.

The new Surface Book 2 15-inch (left) next to the 13.5-inch Performance Base model.

The new Surface Book 2 15-inch (left) next to the 13.5-inch Performance Base model.

Image: LANCE ULANOFF/MASHABLE

The screen looks similar, but in addition to a higher resolution 3240 x 2160 (versus 3000 x 2000 on the Surface Book 2 13), the frame that surrounds it is a tad sleeker. Microsoft got rid of the chamfered edge, which basically gives the Clipboard a cleaner look. The front facing camera resolution (5 MP) is unchanged, but now Microsoft hides it and the IR camera (for Windows Hello facial recognition) behind a darker black screen frame.

Panay told me the hinge is completely redesigned, but it looks and works the same as before. Changes are only evident when you detach the screen. There’s a somewhat different and slightly quieter detach click when you hit the Surface Book 2’s detach button on the keyboard. And when I pulled away the 15-inch display, I noticed that, while the trio of digital connectors looked unchanged, the magnets that hold the screen in place are somewhat smaller than those on the original Surface Book.

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As you would expect for a workhorse laptop – even a hybrid like this – the Surface Book 2 maintains its supply of ports. There are still two USB 3.1 ports and an SD card slot on the left side of the keyboard. The right side though is home to one of the most important port changes Microsoft has made in the history of the Surface brand. There’s finally a USB-C port. It’s there for data or charging, though you can’t grab just any USB charger. I tried a USB-C cable plugged into a Samsung charger and the system informed me that the computer wasn’t charging and that I should use a recommended USB-C charger.

No big changes to the ports on the left side (USB got upgraded from 3.0 to 3.1).

No big changes to the ports on the left side (USB got upgraded from 3.0 to 3.1).

Image: LANCE ULANOFF/MASHABLE

Goodbye DisplayPort, hello USB-C.

Goodbye DisplayPort, hello USB-C.

Image: LANCE ULANOFF/MASHABLE

The introduction of USB-C also means the loss of a DisplayPort. I have numerous adapters that convert, for instance, VGA to DisplayPort and HDMI to DisplayPort, but, sadly, no display adapters that terminate in USB-C.

Next to that new port is Microsoft’s propriety Surface Connector power/data port. It connects to the same size Surface Connector plug as any other Surface device, however, the Surface Book 2 power cable is much thicker and the power brick much larger than any Surface Book or Pro power source before it. Just something to keep in mind if you plan on doing a lot of traveling with this behemoth.

Hardcore insides

Obviously, the Surface Book 2’s biggest changes are the ones I can’t see.

My $3,299 test system is packed with 1TB of storage and 16GB of RAM.

There are myriad tiny differences between the last Surface Book and the new model. Among them is the redesigned base vents seen here on the Surface Book 2.

There are myriad tiny differences between the last Surface Book and the new model. Among them is the redesigned base vents seen here on the Surface Book 2.

Image: lance ulanoff/mashable

Surface Book with Performance Base vents

Surface Book with Performance Base vents

Image: lance ulanoff/mashable

Inside the PixelSense display is Intel’s 8th Generation Core i7 CPU. The fan-less design means that, for many processor-intensive applications, the Surface Book 2 is whisper quiet. However, like the Surface Book with Performance Base before it, there’s also resource intensive silicon is in the base. The 15-inch Surface Book 2 features a powerful Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 with 6 GB of RAM. When I started running 3D operations and the Mixed Reality viewer in Windows 10 Fall Creators Edition, the base fan spun up. The good news is that it’s quieter than the fan in the Surface Book 2 Performance Base.

The new Surface Book 2 handily beats the Performance Base model on both single and multi-core scores in Geekbench. The Multi-Core score is nearly double that system. The Surface Book 2’s scores come close to, but do not beat the MacBook Pro Retina 15-inch running an Intel Quad-Core Core i7.

In a vacuum, however, these numbers mean nothing. What matters is how the Surface Book 2 performs the myriad heavy-lift tasks required by modern knowledge workers. I’m pleased to report that across mundane browser tasks, intense Photoshop work, insanely big spreadsheets and entertaining PC gaming operations, the Surface Book 2 didn’t miss a beat. 

Microsoft claims 17-hours of battery life (using the batteries in the base and display). Over the course of two days, myriad tasks, setting brightness to max and not letting the screen timeout, I got roughly 12. I’m certain I could’ve done much better in battery-saver mode, but, regardless, your mileage will surely vary.

Keyboard, Screen, Pen

I’ve been writing the Surface Book 2 review on the Surface Book 2’s excellent keyboard. The keys have substantial travel (roughly 1.5 mm) and response, as well as enough spacing to make touch-typing a breeze. Unlike the huge 7-inch track pad on Apple’s MacBook Pro, the Surface Book 2’s 5-inch touch pad does physically move, but only along the bottom edge where you’ll press for left or right clicks. Thanks to the glass covering, there’s no drag and the track pad was responsive to touches, taps, and gestures like pinch to zoom.

The Surface Book 2 is designed for touch and pen input.

The Surface Book 2 is designed for touch and pen input.

Image: Lance ulanoff/mashable

The biggest difference between Apple’s MacBook line and Microsoft’s Surface Books (aside from the operating system) is that the Surface Book display is a touch screen and a standalone tablet computer. As such, it includes accelerometers and gyroscopes that allow it to measure movement. I can detach the 15-inch screen and play Asphalt Extreme, turning the display back and forth like a steering wheel to control the action on screen.

That’s simply not possible with the MacBook Pro. If you want that kind of functionality from a large-screen Apple device, get an iPad.

In addition, the Surface Book 2 works with the $99 Surface Pen (not included) and Windows 10 is the most pen-friendly desktop (and laptop) OS on the planet. It’s a true pleasure to detach the screen, flip it around, fold it back onto the keyboard, rest my palm on the screen and start drawing on the expansive 15-inch touch display.

The PixelSense Display is still a full-blown tablet in its own right.

The PixelSense Display is still a full-blown tablet in its own right.

Image: LANCE ULANOFF/MASHABLE

The Surface Book 2 base looks a little sad without the display.

The Surface Book 2 base looks a little sad without the display.

Image: LANCE ULANOFF/MASHABLE

I really do love this screen. Visually, it’s an improvement over the last Surface Book and easily as good as anything Apple produced at a similar scale. Obviously, it’s not as thin as a MacBook Pro screen, but then those computers don’t have battery and CPUs inside.

If you create a lot of art, design, Photoshop, CAD or even programming work, and have $3,299, this is the premium workhouse convertible for you. I do think Microsoft should consider throwing in a Surface Pen (come on, guys, even at the base price, people are spending over $2,400 for one of these rigs).

Would I buy it? No. Not because it isn’t excellent, but because I get all the power and performance I need – with a lot less weight — from the equally versatile Microsoft Surface Pro.

Microsoft Surface Book 2

The Good

Sharp design Ample power Excellent and responsive touch screen Decent battery life Quiet operation Tremendously versatile

The Bad

Big screen wobbles a bit when you move it Power and battery life add up to weight

The Bottom Line

Microsoft’s first 15-inch laptop convertible is powerful, attractive, pricey, and ready for anything.

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Hands-on with Microsoft’s high-end Surface Book 2


Microsoft’s Surface Book 2 is the most powerful mobile Surface device yet. It easily blows away the Surface Pro, Surface Laptop and, of course, the old Surface Book. It’s also one of the odder devices in the lineup, though. It’s not just a Surface Pro with a rigid keyboard. It’s a relatively heavy base with a powerful processor and graphics card and a big battery — and it has a surprisingly light removable screen that turns it into a tablet and that features a less powerful processor and graphics chip.

Microsoft shipped me a top-of-the-line 15-inch Surface Book 2 review unit with the latest Intel Core i7-8650U CPU clocked at 1.9 GHz, a discrete Nvidia 1060 GPU with 6GB of RAM, 16GB of memory and a terabyte SSD. That’s $3,299 worth of Surface Book, though at the low-end, you can also get a 13-inch machine for $1,499 with an i5 processor, 8GB of RAM and an integrated Intel GPU. In between, there are a number of other 15-inch models with Nvidia 1050 GPUs and varying numbers for RAM and disk space.

There surely a world of difference between the performance of these low-end and high-end machines, so you get what you pay for. But Microsoft’s message here is pretty clear: the Surface Book 2 is basically a mobile workstation for those who want to edit videos and photos, play games on the road or just need a really powerful mobile machine to crunch numbers or compile a Linux kernel or two. It’s Microsoft’s challenger to the MacBook Pro and it’s not shying away from the comparison.

I’ve only had the Surface Book 2 on my desk for just over 24 hours, so this isn’t a definitive review (I have barely been able to run the battery down once in that time, after all). We’ll do that in a week or so, after I’ve had some more real-world experience with it.

Even after a short time with the new Surface Book, I’ve come away impressed (anything else at this price would be quite a disappointment, of course).

We can argue about its design — that rounded hinge that leaves quite a gap even when the laptop is closed wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea when the first version launched and while Microsoft has tweaked the hinge, the gap is still as prominent as ever. You may even call it ugly. But it sure makes it stand out in this crowded laptop market.

What you can’t argue about, though, is the overall quality of the build. The base is a solid piece of metal. The tablet/screen is securely attached to it (and the keyboard has a key that releases it from its base). The large chiclet keyboard has enough travel and gives you a good indication that you’ve pressed a button, making it quite comfortable to type on.

The touch-sensitive screen is bright and at a resolution of 3240×2160, you’re getting a higher pixel density than on the MacBook Pro. Thankfully, Microsoft and the software developers in its ecosystem have fixed most of Windows 10’s issues with high-density displays, so you can actually now enjoy the experience. The screen may just be a bit too glossy for some (too many laptop screens these days are), but it’s winter in Oregon and we won’t see the sun until next year, so I haven’t been able to test that.

Let’s talk about the key feature of the Surface Book 2 for a moment: the detachable screen. It’s surprisingly light, especially when you consider that it’s a 15-inch tablet with a promised five-hour battery life. But is it more than just a novelty? Microsoft argues that you can detach it and use it as a tablet, fold it around to go into “studio mode” for comfortable sketching, or detach the screen, turn it around, re-attach it for mobile presentation.

Some of these feel like niche use cases and I can’t quite see myself doing any of this on a regular basis but that’s probably a personal thing. I’d be quite happy with the Surface Book 2 if the screen didn’t detach, too (though at a lower price).

The power of the dedicated GPU should make for a pretty good gaming experience (though not at full resolution and the highest settings — it’s not a 1080, after all. We’ll run some benchmarks in the next few days.

Oh – and if you’re worried about having to use dongles for this laptop, don’t worry. It comes with a USB-C port, two regular USB-A ports, an SD-card slot and the usual Surface connector for charging and attaching the Surface Dock if you have one. And there’s a headphone jack, too. There’s no Mini DisplayPort like in the first-gen model, but you can connect up to two 4K monitors at 30Hz or a single 4k monitor at 60Hz via the USB-C port — or via a Surface Dock, of course. You can’t drive four screen by using both the USB-C and Surface Dock simultaneously, though.

What about the negatives? The fan, especially in the screen, tends to kick in a bit too often. It’s quiet but noticeable, even when the CPU load isn’t all that high. The screen can also get a bit warmer than I’d like. It’s also heavy. At 4.2 lbs, you’re not going to have to double-check that it’s in your backpack. And there’s the design with its odd hinge — but I already mentioned that.

Unlike the first-gen Surface Book, this one doesn’t seem to suffer from the regular blue screens of death and other issues that buyers of its predecessor had to deal with. I hope that remains true as I continue to use it.

Microsoft is clearly making a play for disgruntled MacBook users by throwing in a three-month subscription to Adobe’s Creative Cloud Photography plan for the next two months, talking up how well Autodesk Maya and other apps work on the Surface Book 2, and — most importantly — by simply making this a high performance machine.

So will the Surface Book 2 get MacBook Pro users to switch? That probably depends on how much you love/hate Windows 10, but it strikes me as a good — and far more powerful — alternative to Apple’s current mobile offerings. And it’s copious amount of power that sets it apart from the masses (plus its detachable screen, but I just don’t know how big a selling point that’ll be for potential users).

The new Surface Books are available for pre-order now and will start shipping tomorrow.

Why Microsoft turned the Surface Book into a 15-inch ‘beast’

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No one in the tech industry wears their heart on their sleeve quite like Panos Panay. The Windows Devices head is sometimes almost overwhelmed by his own passion for Microsoft’s Surface products. Panay’s enthusiasm bubbles over, he goes off script, and he often over-shares.

Either all that is true, or Microsoft has never had a savvier product lead. Whatever the case, Panay’s product fervor is infectious and, when he explains why he’s so excited about Microsoft’s new Surface Book 2, you believe him.

Panay unveiled the two new Surface Book 2 hybrid laptops, a 13-inch model and big-rig 15-incher last week at a relatively low-key event that, while timed as the last Microsoft media get-together before the launch of Windows 10 Fall Creators Update (Oct. 17), was squarely focused on a launching the redesigned portables.

Panos Pany tried to keep it chill, but he didn;t spend much time on that stool.

Panos Pany tried to keep it chill, but he didn;t spend much time on that stool.

Image: lance ulanoff/mashable

“I just want to talk to you about these products,” said Panay earnestly. He’d been instructed to keep it low-key, stay seated, and just chat, but, as usual, Panay was prowling before the group of journalists assembled causally on couches, benches, and cushioned chairs. Behind him, under fabric, were the two new laptops.

Microsoft is aggressively pursuing the mobile-workhorse market that Apple has carved out.

Panay spoke, as he often does, with enormous pride about the growth of the Surface brand over the last five years and how, in those early days in 2012, the team would challenge each other to spot a Surface in the wild.

“Who can take the first picture?” he remembered. That first picture turned out to be a Microsoft employee on an airplane. 

When I sit down with Panay after the launch to talk about his vision for these Intel quad-core, 8th generation Core i-running systems, I also note that just a week earlier, when I pulled out my Surface Pro on a recent flight to the West Coast, the woman two seats away did the same.

Panay smiles and says, “It’s indicative now. It’s happening.”

With the Surface brand now more firmly established in consumer’s minds, Microsoft continues to expand the brand across multiple mobile devices, Surface Laptop, Pro, and Book, and on the desktop with the Surface Studio. Now, with the new Book 2, especially the super-sized 15-inch model, Microsoft is aggressively pursuing the mobile-workhorse market that Apple has carved out with the 15-inch MacBook Pro.

Microsoft Corporate Vice President of Devices Panos Panay unveils the new Surface Book 2.

Microsoft Corporate Vice President of Devices Panos Panay unveils the new Surface Book 2.

Image: lance ulanoff/mashable

Panay called the new $2,499 15-inch Surface Book 2 “a beast,” telling us it’s five times more powerful that the original Surface Book, claiming it’s capable of pushing a stunning 4.3 trillion math operations per second.

“No laptop has ever pushed this much computational power in this mobile a format,” said Panay.

He also claimed that the Surface Book 2 offers 70% more battery life than a comparable MacBook Pro. 

For all that power, the Surface Book 2, both the 13-inch ( $1,499) and 15-inch, looks almost exactly the same as the original 13.5-inch laptop. Microsoft still puts the core processor in the 3:2 aspect ratio screen, which is essentially a touchscreen tablet that sits on the dynamic fulcrum hinge. The screen (6 million pixels with 260 ppi on the 15,; 267 ppi on the 13) still detaches with the press of a button and can be used alone or flipped around, reattached, and then folded down on top of the keyboard to an angled “Studio Mode” for drawing. The keyboard base still houses copious amounts of battery and, in some cases, a discrete Nvidia GPU.

However, as is often the case these days in mobile technology, there is very little about the Surface Book 2 that isn’t new.

The new Surface Book 2 hybrid laptops, which look a lot like the old Surface books.

The new Surface Book 2 hybrid laptops, which look a lot like the old Surface books.

Image: LANCE ULANOFF/MASHABLE

There are over 1,000 new parts in Surface Book 2, Panay tells me later. Even that iconic hinge that lets you use one finger to lift the substantial screen while keeping the base firmly on the table, is all new. 

Earlier that day, Microsoft Design Chief Ralf Groene told me as I lingered over an exploded view of the new hinge in the Surface Book 2 demo room that Microsoft re-engineered the entire hinge and attachment mechanism.

I noticed that when I detached and reattached the screen, the operation was quieter and surer. Groene told me that the redesign cut down on screen wobble.

It’s made out of ceramic now,” says Panay later. This has the side benefit of making the Book 2 slightly lighter.

Microsoft tore down its dynamic fulcrum hinge and re-engineered it.

Microsoft tore down its dynamic fulcrum hinge and re-engineered it.

Image: LANCE ULANOFF/MASHABLE

“We have to design from inside out; we don’t design from the outside in,” says Panay as way of explaining why the Surface Book 2 is not, visually, a new design. He also notes that the design has become iconic for customers looking for a certain level of performance in a laptop.

And the Book 2 does take the Surface brand performance to some new, uncharted places.

A workhorse

This may be the first Intel Quad-Core i7 CPU (8th generation) running in a tablet without a fan (13-inch model, only). The tablet cools passively. Earlier, I noticed a tiny grill runs the entire outside edge of the tablet.

“When you don’t need a fan, it starts to change a lot of things. One, it takes weight out of the product. Two, passively cooling means you’re not working with any noise, any barriers from a tablet perspective… and you’re burning less battery,” says Panay.

The 15-inch Surface Book 2 is a beast.

The 15-inch Surface Book 2 is a beast.

Image: LANCE ULANOFF/MASHABLE

Microsoft is promising 17 hours of battery life for the Surface Book 2. “I’m using my Book 15-inch,” grins Panay, “I can’t remember that last time I charged it. It’s just crazy and it’s so fun to me right now.”

It sounds a little less crazy when you consider this is, in the case of the 15-inch model, a nearly 4.22-pound laptop (the 13-inch weighs 3.67 pounds). The tablet alone alone gets you a still-solid 5 hours. For comparison, the Surface Pro weighs 1.73 pounds (Core i7 model) and gets you 13 hours of battery life.

If Surface Book 2 users primarily use the product as a tablet, this might be a problem, But Panay explains that the typical Surface Book user detaches the screen in relatively short, 20-to-30-minute bursts. 

“Of course, the way we manage battery is, when you’re docked or back plugged into the keyboard, we push the power equally through this [to the screen and base], so it makes it easy to detach whenever you need to and you have power. It works out pretty well for our users,” he says.

Microsoft’s redesign work extends to the keyboard and mouse. 

“The keyboard has got its own new feel,” says Panay, who boasts to me about the laptop keyboard’s 1.55 millimeters of travel, (the amount of movement you get when typing a key), adding that it’s significantly better than the, according to him, 0.55mm of travel found on the latest MacBook Pros.

Typing on the Surface Book 2 does feel pretty good.

Typing on the Surface Book 2 does feel pretty good.

Image: LANCE ULANOFF/MASHABLE

That satisfying typing feel is a direct result of the Surface Book’s unusual design. While the MacBook elegantly squeezes virtually all its technology into the base, Microsoft gets to split at least some of it between the base and the 7.7mm-thick tablet. 

“I will profess to you it’s perfect for the elegant typing experience,” says Panay, warming to his subject, “the buttery smooth feel, the make/break of being productive and typing as fast as you can… and we do a bunch of typing tests.”

Yes, USB-C, finally

There is one other notable change to the outside of the Surface Book 2: the introduction of a USB-C port (there are also two USB Type-A ports and an SD card slot).

Back in May when Microsoft unveiled its new Surface Pro and Surface Laptop, I asked Panay why the company still hadn’t adopted USB-C. Panay said that, “It’s not that it’s not great. It’s not that people don’t use it, but it’s not ready for these products yet. It’s not ready for our customers.” He did add that it would eventually show up in their products.

And now it has.

OMG, it's got USB-C.

OMG, it’s got USB-C.

Image: LANCE ULANOFF/MASHABLE

The USB-C port replaces the DisplayPort and, as such, is primarily intended to drive an external display.

“What I want to be careful of is, I don’t want to remove the Surface Connector that’s so important to people. That quick charging, that matters,” he says, still trying to qualify the introduction of this single port.

Panay admits that the USB-C port can also be used to read an external hard drive and, yes, charge the Surface Book 2.

And yet he hedges again, trying to warn people off plugging in any random USB-C-based charger.

“You can charge off of it, of course, but that’s not the goal. Because you’re going to find chargers that simply don’t work and that’s not what I want for customers,” he says.

Inside a beast

The Surface Book 2 is designed for creators and those who are building the future, said Panay during his presentation. The Nvidia GTX 1060 GPU backed by 6GB of RAM (in the 13-inch, there’s a 1050 with 2GB of  video RAM) will support processor-intensive tasks like CAD, 3D and video rendering.

Inside the Surface Book 2 13-inch's 7.7 mm tablet/screen. They can fit an Intel 8th Gen Quad-Core i7 without a fan.

Inside the Surface Book 2 13-inch’s 7.7 mm tablet/screen. They can fit an Intel 8th Gen Quad-Core i7 without a fan.

Without a CPU and motherboard, there's a lot of room for battery in the Surface Book 2's base.

Without a CPU and motherboard, there’s a lot of room for battery in the Surface Book 2’s base.

During the presentation Panay impishly played an unfinished Surface Book 2 sizzle video that elegantly, and with copious amounts of exquisite 3D-rendering, demonstrates how the new design came together. 

Later, Panay is still beaming about going rouge and sharing the video early. “That video you saw, we are pushing renders of that video on this device. Not sure how we’ll talk about that in the future, but it just gives you that essence…We can do our video editing right on the fly. We can recreate that product, rendering the sound and the images. It’s pretty cool.”

When you put an Nvidia GPU in the base, you have to add fans.

When you put an Nvidia GPU in the base, you have to add fans.

Image: LANCE ULANOFF/MASHABLE

That raw power, however, may also excite another audience: gamers. Panay called the system “amazing for gamers,” telling me later that its remarkable to have this kind of gaming power in a system this small. “This should look like a massive gaming rig,” he says.

When I tell him that my son owns one of those huge gaming laptops, Panay encourages me to bring home 15-inch review unit I’ll eventually get and “take it to your boy and let him have at it.”

Which one

Before we finish, I bring Panay back to a question I’m often asked, “Which Surface should I buy?”

Panay breaks it down:

There’s the Surface Pro, which is all about versatility. So, if you need a laptop with significant battery life but that can truly support work on the go, this is probably your pick.

Panos Panay broke down Surface buying choices for me.

Panos Panay broke down Surface buying choices for me.

Image: LANCE ULANOFF/MASHABLE

The Surface Laptop is “a laptop in its truest form,” says Panay, “It’s about beauty and precision design,” and adds, “There are a set of people who want a laptop that’s performant, that’s light enough, that’s thin enough, but must be iconic or beautiful, it has to be.”

The Surface Book 2 is about pushing performance. It’s really for the creative in the 3D rendering app Maya, the engineer in CAD. 

To see if that product messaging and reality come together for consumers, Panay spends a lot of time in Microsoft Stores observing customers who come into buy new systems.

“So, there’s a reality to that moment. Somebody walking in and wanting to buy a product and understand it and the reality to the marketing messages,” he says.

He wants the product truth, how the Surface feels, what its components can do, to match the marketing message so that when the customer does arrive in the store, the choice is obvious.

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Razer’s Blade Pro THX Edition is an epic mobile production powerhouse with noisy fans

W

hen Razer bought THX off of George Lucas’ hands, no one knew what they’d use their new multimedia technology arm for — until they announced the improvements to their most powerful laptop: the Blade Pro. The result is the Blade Pro THX, a new laptop with a color corrected 4K G-Sync display and Dolby 7.1 audio port.

With these improvements, Razer has created a certified production machine. In fact, Razer is so confident the Blade Pro THX can be a production-level rig that they’re bundling FL Studio — the music production suite used in nearly every genre of music, but especially hip-hop.

But is this 17-inch, $4,000 machine — you read that right — what production professionals and gamers looking for in an all-in-one package? Also, is cooling the Blade THX a problem?

Is THX color/sound correction all it’s cracked up to be?

Yes, it is.

Back in June, I began testing Windows gaming machines like the AERO15 that feature color correction as a feature. Why is this important? It means what you see on-screen is accurate and is as “true to color” as possible. If you’re a designer, editor, photographer or just about anyone who cares about the visual representation (and reproduction) of your work, then this matters.

If you’re a Mac user, this has never really been a problem, as Apple tunes their color profiles on top of having great displays.

Recently, Windows 10 manufacturers are starting to really care about reaching that 100 percent Adobe RGB color gamut. The Blade Pro THX covers virtually all colors recognized by Adobe applications — including just keeping an accurate color profile — as a feature. Also, having a THX color profile thanks to their acquisition of the company also gives it an edge when editing or watching video, or just playing games.

When you look across the spectrum of Windows machines, there’s inconsistency in correct color profiles. For example, a tablet computer like the just-reviewed HP Spectre x2 — one of its main features is to serve as an artistic tool — only has a 72 percent color gamut rating; Microsoft’s Surface Pro scores 75 percent. Meanwhile, an older Razer laptop like the 12.5-inch Blade Stealth has maintained a 100 percent rating for the past two hardware generations. But the AERO15 I mentioned earlier? It scored 60 percent. There just isn’t much consistency across brands.

I can’t dismiss the fact that Windows manufacturers are making an effort, but I can say it’s about time.

As for audio, the improvements over the regular Blade 17″ (and most other large laptops) aren’t as dramatic. The Blade THX will definitely fill a room and give you some bass kick, but if you’re trying to become the next Metro Boomin’, then you’ll need to look elsewhere for your audio fidelity needs.

Actually, outputting audio elsewhere is where the THX certification shines. Razer hasn’t only tuned the onboard speakers and drivers, but the 3.5mm audio jack as well. It supports Dolby 7.1 and both input/output via the same port. It’s quite a nice touch.

Here’s what you get for ports: Ethernet, an SDXC slot, three USB 3.0, one HDMI 2.0, Kensington lock, 3.5mm audio jack and a Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C).

Gaming on the Blade THX (or listening to jet turbines)

There’s no need to question Razer’s gaming pedigree; the last two generations of Blade machines have always had high-end specs.

Basically, whatever you throw at it, the Blade Pro THX will run at full settings, at 4K resolution. And if by some chance you’re not hitting at least 60 frames-per-second, you can always downscale the in-game screen resolution to compensate. The crispness, use of G-Sync to eliminate screen tearing, and color accuracy definitely helps in fooling your eyes, even if just for a minute.

If it’s somehow not powerful enough for your work, then you’re obviously in need of a real desktop.

To start the show, the Blade Pro THX sports one of the most powerful mobile processors: a quad-core, 7th-generation Core i7 at 2.9GHz (base clock), 3.9GHz (boost clock) and tops out at 4.3GHz (overclock). If it’s somehow not powerful enough for your work, then you’re obviously in need of a real desktop.

For visuals, you get an NVIDIA GTX 1080 graphics card with 8GB GDDR5 memory (again, insane for a laptop), a whopping 32GB RAM and finally, a 512GB solid state drive for storage (with one and two terabyte options).

In the end, the whole package weighs 7.69 pounds and is 0.88-inch thin; by no means a mobile warrior, but it can be carried around.

Of course, there’s a catch (or two). To keep cool and intact, Razer has different fan profiles you can set, but the sound reaches 60 decibels when measured with a phone app.

This laptop has such loud and bombastic fans that I could even hear them over the gameplay on my headphones, set to 50 percent volume. People sitting in my vicinity thought an air conditioner had turned on; this is not a laptop that is kind to shared work spaces.

Furthermore, despite the copper thermal heatsink and jet turbines for fans, the palm rest gets uncomfortably hot. It’s a shame really and is something I’m trying to better understand by talking to Razer engineers.

People sitting in my vicinity thought an air conditioner had turned on; this is not a laptop that is kind to shared work spaces.

For a company that makes gaming peripherals, I wasn’t disappointed in the feedback or key travel of the mechanical keyboard or the unusually positioned touchpad. You’d never use the latter to play games, but it is usable and eventually, you get used to it.

Of course, the Blade Pro THX has a 99Wh battery. Of course, it’s not like you’d notice; the battery drains within two hours when used in High Performance Mode. Longevity is not what Razer designed it for, but technically you should always use this laptop with the power brick.

Bottom Line

This is the most powerful computer that Razer has ever produced, with the highest starting price. $4,000 for a 4K laptop seems uncanny to most, but it’s well worth it when you know what you’re getting. This is a true creative’s desktop in a laptop, without being as thick as a textbook. I give high marks to Razer for accomplishing that feat alone.

Right now, this is the most well-rounded, high-end desktop replacement laptop — at least until NVIDIA’s Max Q is in more gaming laptops by the end of year.

However, it’s also the Blade with the most faults: it runs hot, loud and competes with top-tier desktop pricing. If this is too much for you, most of the Blade THX’s best traits trickle down into their smaller models, which hopefully will also receive THX certification in the future.

Right now, this is the most well-rounded, high-end desktop replacement laptop — at least until NVIDIA’s Max Q is in more gaming laptops by the end of year.

Price as Reviewed: $3,999 at Razer USA