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With the Surface Book 2, Microsoft is throwing down the gauntlet with Apple

Daniel Howley
Technology Editor
Microsoft’s Surface Book 2 is here to take on Apple’s MacBook Pro.

Microsoft (MSFT) wants you to ditch your MacBook Pro in a big way. The company today announced its new Surface Book 2 laptop/tablet hybrid, and it’s designed specifically to take on Apple’s high-powered laptop.

The follow-up to the original Surface Book, which suffered from software issues resulting in high customer return rates, the Surface Book 2 is built to out-muscle Apple’s offering in both sheer performance and battery life.

And that power can be put to use both during office hours and after when you’re ready to dig into a night of gaming.

Flexing its muscles

In unveiling the Book 2, Microsoft vice president Panos Panay addressed the challenges the company faced with the original Book, before saying that consumers use the same device more hours a week than any Surface offering.

The Book 2 shares the same look as the original Book. It offers a sleek industrial styling and unique, accordion-like hinge as its predecessor. But Microsoft says it has worked to improve that hinge, making the Book 2 more balanced so when you tap the touch screen in laptop mode, it won’t wobble.

Microsoft’s new high-powered Surface Book 2 comes in both 13.5-inch and 15-inch screen sizes.

For its second-generation Book, Microsoft is also rolling out a second size option. In addition to the standard 13.5-inch model, Microsoft will offer a 15-inch version of the Book 2. It’s no coincidence that Apple also sells 13.5-inch and 15-inch versions of the MacBook Pro.

Power moves

A quick look at the Surface Book 2’s specs versus the MacBook Pro’s shows just how much Microsoft worked to outclass Apple’s heavyweight laptop. Out of the gate, both the 13.5-inch and 15-inch Surface Book 2’s have higher resolution displays than their competing MacBook Pros.

The based version of the 13.5-inch Surface Book 2 comes equipped with Intel’s seventh-generation Core i5 dual-core processor, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB solid-state drive and Intel’s built-in graphics chip for $1,499. Those specs in 13.5-inch MacBook Pro will cost you the same price. The Surface Book 2, though, benefits from a touchscreen and the fact that it can be used as a tablet.

From there, Microsoft jumps to Intel’s new eighth-generation Core i7 quad-core processor, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD and Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1050 dedicated graphics chip with 2GB of video memory. Apple’s MacBooks don’t yet offer Intel’s eighth-generation processors, and you can’t get a dedicated GPU in the 13.5-inch MacBook Pro.

The Surface Book 2 can run games like ‘Gears of War 4.’

The top-of-the-line 13.5-inch Surface Book 2 includes a quad-core Core i7 chip, 16GB of RAM, a 1TB SSD and the GTX 1050.

Step up the 15-inch Surface Book 2 and you’ll get a quad-core Intel Core i7 CPU, 16GB of RAM and your choice of a 256GB, 512GB or 1TB SSD. The 15-inch Book 2 also gets Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1060 graphics chip with 5GB of video memory.

It’s worth pointing out, however, that Apple’s 15-inch MacBook Pro can be equipped with a 2TB SSD, which is a ridiculous amount of storage space.

Microsoft claims that both versions of the Surface Book 2 can get up to 17 hours of battery life when used in laptop mode and 5 hours of battery life in tablet mode. That 17 hours, Panay explained, is the result of video playback testing in which Microsoft runs down its machines while playing a video on a continuous loop.

The 13-inch and 15-inch MacBook Pro, meanwhile, get 10 hours of battery life.

I tried out the 15-inch Surface Book 2 during Microsoft’s unveiling and it really is as powerful as advertised. The laptop was able to handle “Gears of War 4” easily, without a hiccup at a resolution of 1080p. Push that higher, though, and frame rates begin to suffer.

If you’re the kind of person who wants to be able to work and game on the same laptop, the 15-inch Surface Book 2 might be the machine for you.

A VR world

The launch of the Surface Book 2 coincides with Microsoft’s new Fall Creators Update. The update, which you can download automatically, serves as Microsoft’s big leap into the world of virtual reality thanks to the included Windows Mixed Reality program.

Windows Mixed Reality will allow any machine capable of running the software the ability to power a compatible Windows Mixed Reality headset. Available through manufacturers like Acer, Dell, HP, Lenovo and Samsung, the headsets, which retail for between $300 and $400 and include wireless controllers, are far easier to setup and use than competing systems like Facebook’s (FB) Oculus Rift and HTC and Valve’s Vive.

That’s because Microsoft’s Windows Mixed Reality headsets use a form of tracking technology called 6-DoF, or six degrees of freedom, that allows your physical movements to be translated into the digital world without the need for clunky external sensors.

Whether Windows Mixed Reality will herald a much needed boost in the amount of must-have VR content remains to be seen. But if you’re already dropping $1,499 on a laptop, what’s an extra $399.

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Email Daniel at dhowley@yahoo-inc.com; follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley.