Last year, I wrote about the Surface Book 2 being the best silent notebook computer as it was the most powerful option available without a fan at that time.
At the end of 2018, there are several better options now, including other offerings by Microsoft: the Surface Pro 6 and the Surface Laptop 2. The Surface Pro 6 actually offers an 8th-gen quad-core Intel Core i5 in a fanless package, making for undoubtedly the best fanless portable computing experience.
The Surface Laptop 2 also offers 8th-gen quad-core Intel Core CPUs, but does not have a fanless configuration. However, I recently acquired one and have determined that although not fanless, it is probably the best silent notebook computer. How is that possible? Let’s find out!
Why Not the Surface Pro 6?
If the Surface Pro 6 and the Surface Laptop 2 have essentially equivalent processing power and the former is fanless, why would I not say that the Surface Pro 6 makes for the best silent portable computer?
There are several smaller reasons and one big reason.
The Big Reason
The big reason is that in the course of having previously owned and used the Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book 2, I’ve discovered that Windows 10 devices make great laptops, but not so great tablets.
I often used the Surface Book 2 to watch videos as a tablet, and that worked fairly well. However, navigating around the OS felt very much like a desktop interface that has touch as a secondary consideration. Tablet-friendly Windows apps also felt quite lacking in functionality and/or user experience. Basically, actually using Windows as a tablet is not that fun.
Since Windows is best used as a laptop instead of a tablet, the keyboard and trackpad inputs are of paramount importance. The Surface Pro series has a pretty nice Type Cover that is probably superior to the majority of keyboard covers out there. However, it still cannot compare to an actual laptop’s keyboard and trackpad, which can be found on the Surface Laptop series. The typing experience of the Surface Laptop 2 is simply superb and doesn’t come with the issues of flex and lapability that the Type Cover does.
That is the major reason why, given that both devices meet the silence threshold, I prefer the Surface Laptop 2. It is simply a better laptop, and I prefer non-Windows devices for my tablet computing needs.
The Other Reasons
There are several smaller reasons for preferring the Surface Laptop 2 to the Surface Pro 6, including the screen, battery life, and speakers.
The Surface Laptop 2 has the same 3:2 aspect ratio as the Surface Pro 6, but the screen is significantly larger at 13.5" versus 12.3". I found the extra screen size to be much more comfortable and pleasant to use as a notebook computer. The resolution of the Surface Laptop 2 (2256 x 1504) is actually lower than the Surface Pro 6 (2734 x 1824), but the dpi difference is less important to me than the physical size of the screen.
The battery life of the Surface Laptop 2 is also slightly higher, rated at 14.5 hours, than the Surface Pro 6, rated at 13.5 hours.
Finally, the speakers of the Surface Laptop 2 seem to have fuller and louder sound than the either the Surface Pro 6 or Surface Book 2. I did some testing in the Microsoft Store, which admittedly is not a great place to do so. However, the stereo separation of the dual front-facing speakers of the Surface Pro 6 and Surface Book 2 give a wider soundstage than the in-keyboard sound of the Surface Laptop 2. Since I decided not to make this my main tablet for media consumption, the larger, more boomy sound of the Laptop 2 works better for when audio is required.
The Silence Threshold
If the Surface Laptop 2 has a fan, how can it be silent? The answer is much like I’ve discovered for silent desktops: if the fans don’t spin up to high speeds, the entire machine is basically inaudible.
With the Surface Laptop 2, Microsoft finally was able to make a device with a fan that doesn’t spin up to create a tornado of noise under most uses! In fact, I have yet to really hear any noise during my usual daily routine of use, including watch videos and using the web.
I think one time, after I paused a YouTube video, I did hear a faint noise that was probably the fan. However, it was so faint that I could hardly notice it, and it went away within a few seconds.
I have to praise Microsoft on their fan noise design here. So far, it seems to have reached a point where my threshold for silent computing can be met. If that changes with further use, I’ll post an update.
Until then, the Surface Laptop 2 is the silent notebook computer I would (and did in fact) get.