Though we loved the 13-inch Surface Laptop when it first shipped two years ago, a lot has changed for thin and light premium laptops since then. Now the line just doesn’t stand out the way it once did, even the new 15-inch model. At first, it isn’t clear who the 15-inch Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 is for: Compared to the rest of its many competitors, it’s not particularly light, or fast or feature-packed. It’s not inexpensive or full of cutting-edge tech and it doesn’t have an especially long battery life. But it’s reasonably portable, sufficiently fast, looks pleasantly sleek, is partly upgradeable, and even backward-compatible with previous power supplies sold by Microsoft. So it probably does make sense for one class of laptop buyers: enterprise.
- Microsoft finally adds a USB-C connection to its Surface Laptop line
- The 15-inch model Surface Laptop 3 offers easy opening for storage upgrades.
- Meh battery life for its class
- No Thunderbolt 3 support
- Minimal connections.
We originally reviewed the consumer version of the laptop. Microsoft made a big deal about its AMD partnership for this model — it uses AMD graphics for its Xbox consoles, but this is the first collaboration for laptops — touting the new Surface Editions of the Ryzen 5 and Ryzen 7 processors.
Now we’ve tested the Intel models Microsoft doesn’t don’t talk about much, with Core i5-1035G7 and i7-1065G7 chips. All you have to do is follow the small “Surface Laptop 3 for Business” link. They are identical except for the CPUs, the Wi-Fi and the version of Windows installed. The Intel models come with Wi-Fi 6 and Windows Pro, while the AMD models have Wi-Fi 5 and Windows Home.
It pains me to say, but there’s no reason to buy the AMD model. At all. Because for only a $100 price gap between the two, the Intel version performs better, has better battery life, better Wi-Fi and a more full-featured version of the operating system.
The pricing for the 15-inch model starts at $1,199 (£1,199, AU$1,999) for AMD and $1,299 (£1,279, AU$2,149) for Intel, but that version has only 8GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD. Windows 10 takes 20GB, and if you’re a Microsoft Office shop that will take another 6GB, and with that little memory you’ll run a pretty large swap file. You really can’t run anything on that configuration except maybe cloud-based applications, and even then it’s barely really enough memory to hold Windows and a lot of browser tabs. It’s possible that this configuration was intended to run a lightweight version of Windows rumored to compete with Chrome OS, but who knows.
Our test configuration, with 16GB RAM and a 256GB SSD, is the minimum configuration I could recommend for either model, and even that storage is only enough if you don’t save a lot of files locally or download the video for travel. And that’s a lot to pay for what you get compared with competitors: Laptops like the Lenovo Yoga C930, which is smaller at 14 inches but superior in every other way for hundreds less, or the LG Gram 17, which has a slightly larger footprint (a 17-inch display in a 15.6-inch size) but delivers a lot more for the same money. On sale, it might be a different story, though.
Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 (15-inch)
|Price as reviewed||$1,699 (£1,699, AU$2,799)||$1,799 (£1,779, AU$2,949)|
|Display||15-inch 2,496 x 1,664 (201 ppi, 3:2 aspect ratio) pen and touch display||15-inch 2,496 x 1,664 (201 ppi, 3:2 aspect ratio) pen and touch display|
|PC CPU||AMD Ryzen 5 3580U Microsoft Surface Edition||1.3GHz Intel Core i7-1065G7|
|PC Memory||16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2667MHz||16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2667MHz|
|Graphics||AMD Vega 9||Intel Iris Plus Graphics (64CU)|
|Storage||256GB SSD||256GB SSD|
|Ports||1 x USB-C, 1 x USB-A, headphone jack, proprietary power||1 x USB-C, 1 x USB-A, headphone jack, proprietary power|
|Networking||Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac), Bluetooth 5||Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax), Bluetooth 5|
|Operating system||Windows 10 Home 1903||Windows 10 Home 1903|
|Weight||3.4 lbs/1.5 kg||3.4 lbs/1.5 kg|
The design is essentially the same as the 13-inch Surface Laptop 3, which means it’s basically a bigger Surface Laptop 2, which was essentially just the Surface Laptop. There are two nontrivial differences: A monitor-compatible-via-dongle USB-C port replaces the mini DisplayPort connector and it’s more easily opened, so the SSD can be upgraded (the memory is still soldered and the battery difficult to remove). It also has a metal keyboard deck rather than the odd Alcantara fabric.
It retains the proprietary magnetic Surface Connect port, though at least now it supports fast charging. The connector has a lot of fans, just as the old Apple MagSafe connector did, but as someone who accidentally disconnects it on a regular basis without realizing and then wonders why the battery hasn’t charged, I’m not one of them. And an extra USB-C port with the ability to charge through it might have been nice. Instead, it’s just a single USB-C and a single USB-A; given that it has the same battery as the 13-inch but a bigger chassis, another USB port of any type would have been lovely.
In fact, there seems like a bit of wasted space here altogether. The keyboard is the same as the 13-inch, just with larger empty spaces on the sides and the touchpad is the same size. The keys have 1.3mm of travel, which is typical for its class. It feels responsive but isn’t very quiet.
The 3:2 display, which is just a larger version of the 13-incher’s, is a higher resolution to maintain the same 201-ppi pixel density. I’m a fan of 3:2 aspect-ratio displays since they fit more on a screen than widescreen aspects like 16:9 — unless what you want to fit is video. The screen is nothing to get excited about unless you’re upgrading from an old laptop with a dim screen. Compared to a lot of modern laptops in its price range, it’s just OK. Fine for work, but somewhat washed out for Netflix. There are two color profiles which come with it, a standard sRGB and an “Enhanced” mode, but the latter seems to be the native screen profile and looks like it just increases the contrast.
Unfortunately, Microsoft is pitting the older 12nm AMD Ryzen 5 3580U and Ryzen 7 3780U Microsoft Surface Edition processors against new Intel 10nm Ice Lake-generation Core i5 and i7 silicon and pricing them roughly the same. Intel’s processors also use LPDDR4X memory (the “LP” stands for “low power”) rather than DDR4, and the Wi-Fi 6 in Ice Lake has better power management than the Wi-Fi 5 in AMD’s chipset. So while neither model had terrific battery life, the Intel lasted about an hour longer, 8.7 hours to the AMD’s 7.5 hours on our video-streaming test.
It also performed better by almost every measure on the type of workload this system was intended to handle, even though both the AMD and Intel processors are 4-core/8-thread versions. Plus, both the Intel chips incorporate the highest-end G7 integrated graphics, which at the very least puts the Ryzen 5’s Vega 9 at a disadvantage even if it’s comparable to the Ryzen 7’s Vega 11. The Vega 9 is probably closer to the G4.
|Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 7390||Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 1.3GHz Intel Core i7-1065G7; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 3,733MHz; 128MB (dedicated) Intel Iris Plus Graphics; 512GB SSD|
|Lenovo Yoga C930||Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 1.8GHz Intel Core i7-8550U; 12GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,133MHz; 128MB (dedicated) Intel HD Graphics 620; 256GB SSD|
|LG Gram 14 2-in-1||Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 1.8GHz Intel Core i7-8565U; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,400MHz; 128MB (dedicated) Intel HD Graphics 620; 512GB SSD|
|Microsoft Surface Laptop 2||Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-8250U; 8GB DDR4 SDRAM 1,866MHz; 128MB dedicated Intel UHD Graphics 620; 256GB|
|Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 (15-inch, AMD)||Microsoft Windows 10 Home (1903); 2.1GHz AMD Ryzen 5 3580U Microsoft Surface Edition; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,667MHz; 2GB (dedicated) AMD Radeon Vega 9 Graphics; 256GB SSD|
|Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 (15-inch, Intel)||Microsoft Windows 10 Home (1903); 1.3GHz Intel Core i7-1065G7; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,667MHz; 128MB (dedicated) Intel Iris Plus Graphics; 256GB SSD|
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