11 secrets you didn't know about your new Surface Book or Surface Pro 4

We'll tell you about the buttons you might miss, the settings worth seeking out, and some other hidden tricks.

surface book surface pro 4 Microsoft

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Here it is: your shiny new Surface Pro 4 or Surface Book, fresh from the Microsoft store, or pulled out of its package.

There's so much to learn about your new toy. We'll give you a head start, with 11 subtle or well-hidden features you might otherwise miss. Did we overlook anything good? Let us know in the comments. 

11. Customize the pressure sensitivity

The new Surface devices have 1,024 levels of pressure sensitivity that can be tuned for your style. To do that though, you’ll need an app from the Microsoft store. Yes, that means you’ll need to set up an account with the store, but the app itself is free. Once you have an account, search for Surface in the store. The results should show Surface Trackpad Settings and Surface. Skip the Trackpad Settings (it doesn’t work on the new devices) and download and install the Surface app. Click the pen icon, and you can turn the sensitivity up or down and test it too.

If you’re on an older Surface Pro 3 or Surface 3, you can set the pen button functionality, but that’s not available right now for the newer devices.

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A free app from Microsoft will let you change the pressure levels of the Surface Pen.

10. Change the Surface Pen battery

The pen on the Surface Pro 3 and Surface 3 easily unscrewed but the newer Surface pen isn’t quite as straight forward. To pop it open to change out the AAAA battery, grasp the shaft and then turn the end with the pocket clip on it counter-clockwise about an eighth of an inch until it clicks. You should be able to carefully slide out the AAAA cell now.

dsc03178 Gordon Mah Ung

You can indeed remove the AAAA battery from the new Surface Pen by rotating it slightly counter-clockwise until it clicks.

9. There’s a hidden button

The Surface Pen doesn’t look like it has any buttons besides the “eraser” at the top. At the very end of the plastic strip just above where your finger would rest when using it, however, there’s a hidden button that acts as right mouse click.

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The new Surface Pen has a secret button just under the end of the plastic strip.

8. Spaced out

Although Microsoft stores we’ve spoken with say Surface Pro 4 will not work with the older Surface Pro 3 dock, we’ve been told by Microsoft it will. The company has plans to make a spacer to let the the thinner Surface Pro 4 work in the older dock with full functionality. The bad news: The spacer is delayed. You can reserve your place in line by pre-ordering it here.

Surface 3 dock Mark Hachman

Although unclear, Microsoft has said previously it would issue a spacer to let the older Surface Pro 3 dock work with the Surface Pro 4. This is the Surface 3 dock, but you get the idea.

7. Go into the UEFI

If you’re curious about how to enter the system’s UEFI to muck around with the boot order or turn off the cameras, you can do that by shutting down the system. Now press the button to increase the volume and hold it while pressing and then releasing the power button. Keep holding the volume rocker and it should boot directly into the UEFI, where you can see the asset tag, the firmware information as well as the serial number of the laptop. More importantly: you can disable Secure Boot from here too.

Linux Tux Larry Ewing, Simon Budig, Anja Gerwinski

Tux, the Linux mascot

6. Linux? Sure why not?

By going into the UEFI, you can disable Secure Boot, which tells the Surface Book whether to check for a certificate from the OS before booting. You can set it to “Microsoft only,” which obviously limits it only to signed Microsoft operating systems, or “Microsoft & 3rd party CA,” which boots to third-party UEFI software. The final option is “none,” which should let you load any Linux OS of choice. Just remember you’re on the hook to track down the drivers for the Surface device before you proceed. But if you’re a Linux user, you’re probably already in the advanced category, and there is no greater sense of glory than planting a Penguin on a Microsoft-branded device.

5. Clipboarding only

Want to go commando and just bring your Surface Book’s Clipboard on a trip? There may be no USB ports, but you can charge the Clipboard by just plugging the Surface Connector into the bottom of the Clipboard.

Microsoft’s nifty new Surface Dock works with the Surface Book’s Clipboard mode too. That means you can plug the 13.5-inch screen Clipboard into the dock and use the Dock’s gigabit ethernet, USB ports, and Displayports, too.

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You can charge the Surface Book’s Clipboard section directly by plugging the charger into its base.

4. Swap bases

Microsoft doesn’t document it, but you can actually swap the Clipboard section of a Surface Book that came without a GPU onto a base that came with it. That means you can take your cheaper Core i5 model without GPU and swap it with your boss’s Core i7 version that has the GPU. It’ll download a few drivers, and voila, you now magically have a discrete GPU. And since your boss probably doesn’t know the difference anyway, you can, umm, just keep it that way right?

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You can swap bases on the Surface Book between units with and without discrete graphics and it works just fine.

3. The power bricks are different

There seem to be two different Surface power bricks that use the Surface Connector to charge. The Surface Pro 3, Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book without the GPU all appear to use the same 30-watt brick for charging. The Surface Book with the GPU has a larger 60-watt charger. While you can use the 60-watt brick with all of the different models, the 30-watt brick doesn’t have the power to charge the Surface Book with the discrete GPU while under a heavy load. It will only charge it when off or when at idle. 

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The Surface Book with discrete GPU has a slightly larger power brick. They all work, but only the larger brick will charge the discrete-GPU Book while under a heavy load.

2. You can run GeForce Experience

The Surface Book with discrete GPU doesn’t come with Nvidia’s GeForce Experience, but it works just fine. Just download the free GeForce Experience from Nvidia and it can optimize games to run at their best based on Nvidia’s testing and recommendations. Unfortunately, Nvidia’s GameStream, ShadowPlay and Battery Boost don’t work and probably won’t, because only GeForce GTX-class cards support the feature. Also don’t bother with the Nvidia’s reference drivers. We tried installing drivers for the Surface Book using the stock drivers from Nvidia with no luck.

Surface Book GeForce Experience

Yes, GeForce Experience does indeed work on the Surface Book. It just isn’t installed from the factory.

1. Switch from discrete GPU to IGP

On the Surface Book with discrete graphics, it automatically selects whether to run applications and games on the GPU or the integrated graphics (IGP). But what if you want to override the system and run a certain app on the power-hungry GPU, say, instead of the power-sipping IGP? Go into the Surface Book’s control panel, select Hardware and Sound, then click Nvidia Control Panel. (If you’ve installed GeForce Experience you can skip this and just right-click on the desktop and select Nvidia Control Panel). Once there, click Manage 3D settings > Program Settings. You should see a drop-down list of program to select. Just select your app and then set it from auto to either “High-performance Nvidia processor” or “Integrated graphics.”

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You can overide the Surface Book’s control over the graphics adapter if you want to.

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