Surface Book and Surface Pro 4 problems proliferate

Despite firmware and driver updates, users are reporting persistent problems with Microsoft's three-day-old laptop and tablet

Microsoft's new flagship systems, the Surface Book and Surface Pro 4, shipped on Monday accompanied by an out-of-the-box patch. Judging by the volume of cries on support forums, a substantial number of new owners aren't happy. At least one of the problems, though, has a user-generated fix.

One of the most commonly reported problems is a wildly flickering screen. Poster Jarem on the Microsoft Answers forum puts it this way:

Just got my Surface Book, i7 512GB. Applied all the updates (including the recent firmware). My screen keeps flickering on/off, whether or not the screen is docked. I've tried resetting but the issue still persists. It also seems independent of running apps or focused windows. Adjusting the brightness doesn't resolve the issue.
Here's a video.

Poster plost99 nailed it, saying that disabling Hyper-V fixed the flicker. To do so:

Step 1. Right-click Start and choose Command Prompt (Admin)

Step 2. Copy this line into the command prompt and press Enter:

dism.exe /Online /Disable-Feature:Microsoft-Hyper-V

(note the spaces)

Reader mattdlloyd chimed in:

I have this problem as well. Support is useless, and if I could of, I would of pulled the agent through the text message screen and beat him senseless. I have the surface book and noticed the screen flicker as well. NOT THE AUTO BRIGHTNESS, but an actual flicker. Black back to the screen. It's worse when you detach the screen as you run solely on the intel driver. The work arounds I have come up with is run at 2560*1920 and then it works without issue. If you need the full screen 3000*2000 then go into device mgr and disable the Intel driver. Drawback is you can't disconnect the screen. I discovered this without any help from support again as they are useless. And if they are reading this, I am still waiting for a call back from a supervisor as I was promised. Further if you spend close to 3K on a laptop the support should be there to help and not aggravate you to the point of returning the computer. So fix the issue or I will make it a point to go to every review site and explain the ills of this computer. They almost had a perfect system. And as usual they #$%#$%#$%#

Apparently the Surface Pro 4 tablet has the same problem.

Microsoft is aware of the issue and (we're told) is working on a fix.

In the same thread, poster SeanDP reported a problem that I've seen posted in many places:

I also have another strange issue. When I scroll web pages, the screen appears this light reddish or pink hue color. But when I reach the bottom of the page I am scrolling, it returns to normal color? White on white pages? What gives with that?

I haven't seen any solution to that problem.

There are reports of Surface Book freezes all over the Web.

Tweetium Windows author, former developer at Microsoft and all-around guru Brandon Paddock @BrandonLive had a series of freezes and hangs with the laptop, at least some of which were apparently caused by the Intel graphics card. In a lengthy thread about freezes on the Answers forum, he says:

It has hard hung / locked up 9 times now since it arrived. I am seeing lots of issues traced to the Intel graphics driver (including app crashes where the call stack is in the Intel driver). However, the hangs don't result in BSODs or normal event log entries or memory dumps. I did discover that Reliability Monitor has entries for them though, listed as "Hardware error". Some/most of them have a bucket ID with the Intel graphics driver in the name.
At this point I am unclear if this is an actual hardware defect or a driver/firmware bug. At the moment I'm running with the Intel display adapter disabled (which runs the device on the software MS Basic Display driver - despite being attached to the base with the NVIDIA card). One possibility is that there's a hardware problem that is impacting the Intel graphics (i.e. bad RAM chip). However it could also be a driver or firmware bug. In that case, though, I would expect it to be very widespread. And it is unusual for driver problems to show up in this way (instead of a BSOD, or a driver restart/recovery). Probably not impossible, though.

Paddock took his Surface Book to a nearby Microsoft Store and exchanged it. As of last night, it's still working. Unfortunately, many people report that the Microsoft Stores near them are completely out of the Surface Book.

A poster who identifies himself as "Lance from Surface Support" gives the following advice for curing freezes by wiping out the hard drive and installing a new Win10 image:

He goes on to emphasize:

I FINALLY got the surface book to boot from the USB and this time it looks like the install went correctly. I'll know in an hour if this did it. It's very important that when you go into EUFI that you DRAG THE USB BOOT MODE TO THE TOP OF THE LIST. IF YOU DON'T DO THIS IT WON'T BOOT FROM THE USB! At least it didn't for me until I did that. The other times I tried to do recovery from the partition on the SSD it just did a screwed up install and would hang at 99% complete.

Several people on the thread blame the freezes on the just-released firmware update for the Surface Book. Paddock says it isn't a software problem, and that the only fix he found was to turn in the laptop for a new one -- a process that's easy (but frustrating) if you're near a Microsoft Store and they still have Surface Books in stock, but problematic in any other universe.

Not what you would expect from a $3,000 laptop, eh?

Theo Priestley at Forbes points to a tirade on the Microsoft Surface forums. The link in that article doesn't work, but ericspt's post on the Microsoft Surface forum goes to great lengths "after using it for 4 hours: Dell's 34-inch ultrawide monitor doesn't work with the dock; can't boot while attached to the dock; playing MPEGs while connected to the dock throws an unable to decode error; multiple animations on a web page trigger a black screen that won't come back until you dock or redock; can't detach dock; and more."

Lest you think the problems are confined to the Surface Book, permit me to dispel that notion. The wild screen flicker and the color changes, in particular, have also been observed with new Surface Pro 4 tablets.

Right now, there are many more questions than answers. Yes, it's risky buying a "version 1.0" computer like the Surface Book -- but Microsoft should've ironed out the problems in the Surface Pro line long ago. The fact that both SB and SP4 share the same oddities is little comfort.

Microsoft has released 20 -- count 'em -- firmware patches for the Surface Pro 3 since it shipped 16 months ago. Let's hope we don't see a repeat.

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Woody Leonhard

InfoWorld
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