This year at Microsoft’s somewhat annual Surface update event, Microsoft surprised everyone by not only announcing a newer and larger Surface Laptop 3, bumping the screen size from 13.5-inches to 15-inches, but also by selecting an AMD processor for the laptop. Though still an incremental shift when looking at the entire Surface lineup, it was a big change for Microsoft, as well as a big win for AMD. Not only is Microsoft now offering a traditional, clamshell laptop in the ever-popular 15-inch form factor, but it's the highest profile laptop yet to ship with one of AMD's APUs.

While there's a lot more to the 15-inch Surface Laptop 3 than just its processor, certainly this is the highlight of the announcement. Up until now, Microsoft has relied exclusively on Intel processors for their entire range of x86 Surface devices. So this marks Microsoft's first departure from their long-time CPU provider, while highlighting a deeper connection between Microsoft and AMD that has grown from their Xbox work. And to be sure, it's beneficial to both parties – Microsoft gets a second supplier of x86 chips with a more graphics-heavy performance balance, and AMD gets a top-shelf laptop vendor that has gone the extra mile to optimize their setup.

Indeed, that optimization is perhaps the most important aspect of this latest partnership. While Microsoft and AMD perhaps go too far in touting the laptop's processor as "semi custom" – it's a specialized bin of AMD's existing Ryzen 3000 series Picasso APUs with a bit more graphics performance – what's not exaggerated is the work that the two parties have put into the final product. As we learned from AMD earlier this month, a great deal of effort has been put into the firmware, the drivers, and the software stack for the AMD-powered Surface Laptop 3, and these days these factors are often as important as the hardware itself, since problems here can lead to bad experiences elsewhere. This is a level of effort and co-design work that goes beyond what's been done for any other Ryzen-powered laptops, and as a result, the Surface Laptop 3 is AMD's chance to show its best foot forward at a critical time.

Meanwhile, for the rest of the laptop, there's a good deal to unpack here as well. The larger design alone represents a significant change for the Surface Laptop family, giving Microsoft a laptop better sized to be used as a true desktop replacement machine. 15 inches means more room for a larger screen, more room for cooling, etc, resulting in a machine that's going to be a bit less portable than the 13.5-inch model, but arguably easier to work with over long periods of time. All the while, it's interesting just how much the new 15-inch model resembles the smaller Surface Laptop – every aspect of the design has been scaled up so that it feels like the same sharp machine as the 13.5-inch model.

For this generation of the Surface Laptop family, the Surface team has also changed one of the defining characteristics of lineup by making a version available without the Alcantara fabric keyboard deck. Discussing this with the designers, they said that owners with the synthetic fabric keyboard deck were overwhelmingly happy with it, despite fears of it getting dirty or damaged; but that they also heard from potential buyers who just prefer a more traditional aluminum feel. So for the 15-inch Surface Laptop 3, it's is aluminum only, available in Platinum or Black. Meanwhile the 13.5-inch model sees some similar changes, offering Sandstone, Black, or Platinum colors with a metal deck, or Cobalt Blue and Platinum colors with the Alcantara deck.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 3
Model Tested: 15-inch Ryzen 5 3580U 16GB 256GB $1499
  13.5-Inch 15-Inch (Intel)
Enterprise Only
15-Inch (AMD)
Consumer
Processor Intel Core i5-1035G7
4C/8T, 1.2-3.7GHz, 6MB L3, 10nm

Intel Core i7-1065G7
4C/8T, 1.3-3.9GHz, 8MB L3, 10nm
AMD Ryzen 5 3580U
4C/8T, 2.1-3.7GHz, 15w

AMD Ryzen 7 3780U
4C/8T, 2.3-4.0GHz, 15w
Memory 8 GB or 16 GB Dual-Channel LPDDR4X-3733 8/16/32GB Dual-Channel DDR4-2400
Graphics Intel Core i5-1035G7
Intel Iris Plus "G7" Graphics (Gen 11, 64 EU)

Intel Core i7-1065G7
Intel Iris Plus "G7" Graphics (Gen 11, 64 EUs)
AMD Ryzen 5 3580U
Vega 9 Graphics (9 CUs)

AMD Ryzen 7 3780U
Vega 11 Graphics (11 CUs)
Display 13.5" 2256x1504 3:2 PixelSense
Touch and Pen support
Individually calibrated panels
15" 2496x1664 3:2 PixelSense
Touch and Pen support
Individually calibrated panels
Storage 128 GB, 256 GB, 512 GB, 1 TB PCIe NVMe 128 GB, 256 GB, 512 GB PCIe NVMe
Networking 802.11ax
Bluetooth 5.0
802.11ac 2x2 MIMO
Bluetooth 5.0
Audio Omnisonic Speakers
Dolby Audio Premium
Battery 46 Wh
60 + 5 W AC Adapter
Right Side Surface Connect Port
Left Side USB Type-A
USB Type-C
Headset Jack
Dimensions 308 x 223 x 14.51 mm (12.1 x 8.8 x 0.57 inches) 339.5 x 244 x 14.69 mm (13.4 x 9.6 x 0.57 inches)
Weight Fabric: 1.25kg
Metal: 1.31kg
1.54kg
Camera Front: 720p Camera and Windows Hello support
Dual far-field Studio Mics
Extras Surface Pen and Dial (sold separately)
TPM 2.0
Pricing 8GB/128GB/i5: $999
8GB/256GB/i5: $1299
16GB/256GB/i7: $1599
16GB/512GB/i7: $1999
16GB/1024GB/i7: $2399
Enterprise Sales Contract 8GB/128GB/R5: $1199
8GB/256GB/R5: $1499
16GB/256GB/R5: $1699
16GB/512GB/R7: $2099
32GB/1024GB/R7: $2799
 

As is typical of the Surface lineup, Microsoft has stuck with the 3:2 aspect ratio which has served them so well, and with the same pixels-per-inch (PPI) of the 13.5-inch model, which results in a somewhat strange sounding 2496x1664 resolution. This is almost exactly 200 PPI, matching the smaller 13.5-inch model, but well short of the Surface Pro and Surface Book devices which come in around 270 PPI. It’s still a sharp display, with over double the density of a “standard” 96 PPI display, so while not quite as crisp as the Surface Pro and Surface Book, it’s still a good resolution and one that should help with battery life.

Microsoft has finally made the jump away from the Marvell network adapters that have been so prominent in their other products. Ice Lake-based devices (including the enterprise-only 15-inch Surface Laptop 3) get Intel's own Wi-Fi 6, while AMD systems get a Qualcomm Wi-Fi 5 solution that we're admittedly less than enthusiastic about. However, the good news is that Microsoft has finally embraced USB-C by supplanting the DisplayPort output with the more modern connector. It does not support Thunderbolt 3, but regardless it’s still a nice addition to the lineup since this was a feature that was certainly lacking from the last couple of generations. This doubles the number of USB ports from just a single USB-A port, to both USB-A and USB-C ports. And of course it still offers the Surface Connect port as well for charging and docking if necessary, further expanding the connectivity.

Design
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  • evernessince - Tuesday, October 22, 2019 - link

    You make it sound like last gen Intel mobile products are such a step back when in fact they are identical to current products on the market and Intel's "next-gen" products as well. The performance gains have piddling at best. 8 and 9th gen products for all intents are purposes are the same architecture and nm process. You also left out the fact that an R5 mid range processor is beating some of Intel's i7 high end processors in CPU performance. Battery life could be better but have you done the calculation of performance per mAH of the battery? Or are you just assuming with considering the size of the battery and the performance being afforded? How do Intel laptops with similar performance characteristics and battery size fare? Like any laptop, battery life is dependent on more then just the chip on the device.

    Your comment is misleading, intentional or otherwise.
    Reply
  • 0ldman79 - Sunday, December 15, 2019 - link

    Nah, AMD's battery life still isn't up to par against Intel's 25th Skylake revision, not even the original release.

    AMD is kicking ass on the desktop but the mobile front is still a bit much. Intel has spent billions making laptops more efficient. They've done well. They got the laptop market under their thumb, even today, while they've effectively lost the performance desktop battle.
    Reply
  • The_Assimilator - Monday, October 21, 2019 - link

    Not sure why AMD had such a hard-on to get a CPU that is evidently not mobile-focused, into an extremely mobile form factor. No support for LPDDR4, no built-in WiFi, and an iGPU that isn't powerful enough to make any tangible difference to an Intel offering, just makes for a "why". Reply
  • Irata - Monday, October 21, 2019 - link

    Oh, Ryzen's iGPU does offer a tangible real life difference if the reviewer choses to include the right benchmarks and also show's the Intel iGPU results for them.

    Tech Report's and Computer Base's Ryzen 2500u review do and they show that the tangible difference is 50 to over 100% better fps, greatly better frame times, i.e. the difference between a game being playable, or not.
    Reply
  • TheinsanegamerN - Tuesday, October 22, 2019 - link

    If you have to include “the right benchmarks” to make your APU look good, your product sucks, and you are engaging in the very behavior you accuse anandtech of. Hypocritical. Reply
  • evernessince - Tuesday, October 22, 2019 - link

    Well that depends. The sample size is this review is rather small. Very small in fact. Adding more certainly wouldn't hurt. It's less about adding the right benchmarks then it is getting a more reliable dataset. If another review is showing data that more appropriately demonstrates the GPU's capability, that indicates that perhaps the test suite used here is not ideal. Reply
  • Irata - Thursday, October 24, 2019 - link

    With "the right" I mean proper benchmarks.

    One of the advantages of having a better iGPU is that it allows you to do things that you cannot do with a weaker iGPU. Casual gaming, particularly e-sports titles come to mind. Same for any GPU accelerated software.

    If you do not include any of those in a review (e.g. just compare them on the basis of surfing the web and watching a few videos), then you are hiding these advantages.

    MS segmented their surface laptops into "business" (Intel) where the better battery life is an advantage when you are using it for email, powerpoint, Word, Excel but most likely not causal gaming or content creation.

    For this you have have the AMD based consumer platform with its faster iGPU - have a look at the PC mark scores to see how it scores there. You can also check other reviews for Laptops with other Ryzen APU to see that they do offer a tangible advantage over Intel's iGPU when it comes to being able to still play a game or not.

    That advantage is paid for with lower battery life in idle / low load situations (not necessarily true for higher load), so it really comes down to what is more important to you. I know that for my work laptop, I would value the extra battery life, for a personal one the ability to do a bit of casual gaming would be worth having a shorter battery life (which is still decent, we are not talking Bulldozer here).

    So not hypocritical imho. Just pointing out that a review should include tests for what it was built for / is aimed at.
    Reply
  • m53 - Wednesday, November 20, 2019 - link

    All the benchmarks I have seen so far, the ice lake iGPU is equal or better than AMD APUs for same TDP. On the otehr hand the CPU is tangibly faster with much better battery life and connectivity (wifi6 built-in). Reply
  • Fulljack - Tuesday, October 22, 2019 - link

    Intel doesn't have built-in wifi either. current offering actually still use smaller RF module, due to Intel CNVi. I don't get why Microsoft doesn't release AMD with latest ax chipset, because Intel AX200 does works on AMD system too. Reply
  • GreenReaper - Tuesday, October 22, 2019 - link

    Surely it's because it costs more, and this is meant to be the more affordable option? Reply

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