The Microsoft Surface Book 3 (15-Inch) Review: A Refreshing Dip Into Ice Lakeby Brett Howse on June 3, 2020 9:00 AM EST
The PC industry has introduced some remarkably exciting designs over the last five years or so. Some of those designs, such as the thin-bezel laptop, have been adopted by almost all players in the industry. Microsoft has certainly been an innovator in the space as well, and the Surface Pro series has become the baseline for an entire category that did not exist in any volume before their launch.
But almost certainly, one of the quirkiest designs to come out of the Surface group has been the Surface Book. First launched in 2015, the Surface Book took an unusual approach to convertible laptops, incorporating an electromechanically detachable screen, and putting processors in both halves of the laptop. The original Surface Book was succeeded by the Surface Book 2 in 2017, and recently Microsoft launched the third generation of their most powerful notebook computer.
With Surface Book 2, Microsoft first introduced the 15-inch version of the notebook, and for 2020, the company is continuing to offer both 13.5-inch and 15-inch models. The electromechanically detachable tablet portion is certainly the highlight feature, and one which the entire design hinges on, pun intended. Microsoft’s Dynamic Fulcrum hinge, which expands the footprint of the base as the laptop is opened, is what provides the Surface Book with its very unique look and feel. Fittingly, for Surface Book 3, Microsoft has opted to keep chassis virtually identical to its predecessor.
Instead the Surface Book 3 is all about the internal upgrades, and they are all significant. The new Book gets an infusion of Intel's Sunny Cove CPU architecture in the form of their newest Ice Lake platform. Built on the company's 10 nm process, it is the first major architectural change since 2015's Skylake, and brings with it more performance, better power management, and a much-improved iGPU. Microsoft has also included the latest NVIDIA GPUs targeting laptops in 2020, with the smaller 13.5-inch Surface Book 3 offering an optional GeForce GTX 1650 Max-Q, while the larger 15-inch model sports the GeForce GTX 1660 Ti Max-Q, both of which are nice steps up in performance over the previous generation's GTX 1050, and GTX 1060 offerings. Also in a first for Surface, the new Book 3 is also optionally available with a NVIDIA Quadro RTX 3000, one of the company's professional-focused GPUs.
The move to Ice Lake also means that for the first time, the Surface Book 3 is now available with up to 32 GB of LPDDR4X RAM, double the maximum capacity versus the previous generation. The 16 GB limit was a function of previous Intel laptop CPUs only supporting LPDDR3, and for a laptop that competes against powerful opponents, this is an important addition.
|Microsoft Surface Book 3|
|13.5 No GPU||13.5 GPU||15
As configured: 32GB / 512GB / $2799.99
|CPU||Intel Core i5-1035G7
1.2-3.7 GHz 6MB Cache 15W TDP
|Intel Core i7-1065G7
1.3-3.9 GHz 8MB Cache 15W TDP
|RAM||Up to 32GB LPDDR4X|
|GPU||Intel Iris Plus G7||Intel Iris Plus G7 + NVIDIA GTX 1650 Max-Q 4GB||Intel Iris Plus G7 + NVIDIA GTX 1660Ti Max-Q 6GB|
|Storage||256 GB to 2 TB|
3000x2000 3:2 sRGB
Touch and Pen enabled
3240x2160 3:2 sRGB
Touch and Pen enabled
|Networking||Wi-Fi 6 802.11ax
|Audio||Stereo Speakers (front facing)
Dolby Audio Premium
|Battery||78 Wh / 103 W AC||85 Wh / 127 W AC|
|Right Side||Surface Connect
USB Type-C 3.2 Gen 2 with USB Power Delivery
|Left Side||2 x USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A
SD Card Reader
|Dimensions||312 x 232 x 13-23mm
12.3 x 9.14 x 0.51-0.90 inches
|343 x 251 x 15-23 mm
13.5 x 9.87 x 0.57-0.90 inches
|Cameras||8.0 MP Rear-facing camera with autofocus
5.0 MP front-facing camera with 1080p video
Windows Hello IR camera
|Pricing||Starting at $1599.99 USD||Starting at $2299.99 USD|
Although Microsoft still seems reluctant to include Thunderbolt 3 support, they did add a USB Type-C connector on the previous Surface Book 2. That port is now upgraded to USB 3.2 Gen 2, as are the Type-A ports. The Surface Connect charging / docking connector also gets a substantial upgrade as well, and now finally allows two UHD 60 Hz display connections via the new Surface Dock.
As for wireless connectivity, Microsoft if finally moving away from Marvell network adapters as well. As a result, the Surface Book 3 goes all-Intel, using the company's AX201 adapter with Wi-Fi 6.
Past this, the Surface Book 3 sees a relatively minor refresh for 2020, with no cosmetic changes, but certainly welcome changes under the hood. When the Surface Book first launched, it was one of the most interesting laptops on the market. Now, five years later, let us see how that design holds up with some fresh internals.
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Deicidium369 - Friday, June 5, 2020 - linkI'm saying that Dell builds what sells - they are pretty good at it. I would never buy a Dell desktop or workstation - but for ultrabooks / 2-in-1s and monitors - I am pretty well in the Dell camp
lmcd - Thursday, June 4, 2020 - linkOh come on if you spent more than 10 seconds on Dell's website you'd know why.
Dell is a corporate company through and through and every one of their laptops supports a dock. Dell docks are 90% TB3 docks. Integrating TB3 with AMD is possible but not easy right now. The turnaround time would be impossible for this laptop launch cycle.
Spunjji - Thursday, June 4, 2020 - linkThis reply makes no sense WRT their gaming designs, though.
lmcd - Thursday, June 4, 2020 - linkThat's a fair critique, but the only gaming designs we've seen are ASUS, no? They were the preferred partner. Don't think AMD has enough "preferred partner" teams to hit up every laptop brand.
Retycint - Thursday, June 4, 2020 - linkDid you not read his comment at all? Longer lead times, due to customized components etc. Not to mention the perceived brand differences in average consumers' minds
lmcd - Thursday, June 4, 2020 - linkWhy did you even reply if you can't read the comment? "And premium laptops have a longer lead time than simpler value and gaming designs."
Fataliity - Sunday, June 14, 2020 - linkRenoir only came out 3 months ago. Lead times, especially for redesigning for a new motherboard and all, are about 12 months.
Plus Intel has a lead in the size of their motherboard form factors for devices like this. It's not just the processor.
Spunjji - Thursday, June 4, 2020 - linkMicrosoft put AMD's last-gen chips in some of their premium devices. It's almost like they already very pointedly developed the ability to second-source even when performance leadership wasn't there...
(I can actually understand them not doing so in this specific instance. They barely got their drivers functional for the Intel / Nvidia combo, I don't think they'd have a good time redoing the whole thing for AMD)
We already know that Tiger Lake is a 4-core part at 15W (TDP-down from 28W), so I guess we'll see how things look in a year's time.
Deicidium369 - Friday, June 5, 2020 - linkWould there be significant changes between that APU vs the 4000 series? Can't imagine MS doing it for no reason - but there are pretty long lead times ... that's a bit of a halo (no pun intended)product for MS.
Spunjji - Friday, June 5, 2020 - linkI genuinely don't know the answer to that. The desktop models are going to be compatible with the same socket and chipset, so I wouldn't have thought they'd need to do an extensive redesign moving from 3000 to 4000 series APUs - but then 4000 enables the use of things like LPDDR4X, so I may be entirely wrong.
It's taken MS long enough to refresh this product that I'm sure you're right about the lead times.