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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  • Icehawk - Thursday, October 24, 2019 - link

    I get that we always want the best but I honestly don't know why it's harped on about how this device "only" does ~315 which is about as fast as a SSD can handle anyway - 1G connects for a single machine just don't matter in real life. More important to me is how reliable the connection is, which according to this review is solid. Reply
  • Eliadbu - Monday, October 21, 2019 - link

    I'll give that the GPU is compelling but all other aspects of the APU are mediocre, especially the battery life which worse than average. I would like to see how the ice lake version compares to this APU.
    I think this machine proved why Intel still dominates the low power/thin and light laptops market.
    Reply
  • Irata - Monday, October 21, 2019 - link

    Did you look at the system performance benchmarks? Ryzen 5 does pretty well there (second place overall in PC Mark 10) and the list does not include any Core i5, only core i7.

    The only laptop that has a higher score is the top of the line Surface Book 2 with an i7 plus nVidia dGPU.
    The Ryzen model tested here is the base model, btw.

    Yes, battery life could certainly be better (although they do not test how well it does under load), but Surface Book Ryzen us not the worst - there are Intel based models that do less well.
    Reply
  • phoenix_rizzen - Monday, October 21, 2019 - link

    Yeah, if you consider this is the middle-of-the-road APU (R5) from AMD being benched against the top-of-the-line CPUs (i7) from Intel, it does really well. For most of the CPU benchmarks, it's right in the middle of the i7 pack. For most of the GPU benchmarks, it's better than the iGPU, as good as the MX150 dGPU, although not nearly as good (as expected) as the 1060 dGPU.

    Would be interesting to see how this APU compares to i5 versions of these laptops.

    Would also be interesting to see how the R7 APUs compare to the i5 and i7 versions of these laptops.
    Reply
  • Eliadbu - Monday, October 21, 2019 - link

    this is 8th gen, meaning we are comparing to the past products, you talked about r7 but from what I've seen we are talking 100-200mhz difference (so 5% difference at most ). also the TDP will get up as clock speed goes up which equal to more heat,worse battery life etc. many test that it did perform good is due the GPU as I said it is compelling but is it enough I would say no, and for testing battery life under load I would say while it might have some use cases most people will use the laptop on battery for basic tests like browsing the web, watch videos, edit documents or other light use programs. if the r5/r7 had lower price I would give it more favor but as it stands out it does not give us any discount, it may have been due Microsoft pricing tactics but it does not change the fact. also we need to see how it compares to ICL version of this machine. I would guess it would still have the better GPU but the gap would shrink significantly, and CPU would not be it strong side either. Reply
  • Potato Power - Thursday, October 24, 2019 - link

    Microsoft puts a 46Wh battery inside. That explains why the battery life is only so so. Even my cheapy Zenbook has a bigger battery. Reply
  • sorten - Monday, October 21, 2019 - link

    Decent showing against previous generation Intel options, meaning it wasn't as far behind as I expected. Unfortunately for AMD, Ice Lake offers better than 2x the iGPU performance of 8th gen chips, and there will also be a minor bump on CPU performance, battery performance, and memory speed. Reply
  • Kishoreshack - Monday, October 21, 2019 - link

    People overreacting should understand this is the base model, for a base model it competes very we with top end models of last year
    I would be really excited to see higher end models of surface laptop 3
    AMD VS INTEL COMPARISON
    Felt that surface should have integrated ZEN 2 ARCHITECTURE INTO THESE LAPTOPS
    Reply
  • TheinsanegamerN - Monday, October 21, 2019 - link

    Except this "base" model has worse IRL GPU performance, worse batery life, and worse wifi. It is a step backwards. AMD GPUs are supposed to be better then intel, but the graphs here show that is not hte case unless power isnt a consideration.

    Kind of hard for MS to use ZEN 2 ARCHITECTURE APUs when they refuse to make them. AMD is just crippling themselves here.
    Reply
  • Fulljack - Tuesday, October 22, 2019 - link

    eh, it shows the igpu as the most powerful one, even beating mx150 which is a dgpu on some scenario. too bad the graph still hasn't show Intel gen11 graphics. so I don't get what do you mean by worse irl gpu performance.

    of course, as expected, it won't beat gtx 1060 due to sheer amount of difference both in tdp and die size.
    Reply

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