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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Icehawk - Wednesday, June 3, 2020 - linkAnd don’t forget if they drain the battery you can’t plug them into a dock to turn it on, you need to use a standalone charger to get it up to 10% or so first. Ugh I am not a Surface fan AT ALL. I’ve supported almost all of the models.
pjcamp - Wednesday, June 3, 2020 - linkI don't give a crap about bezels and I doubt anyone else does either, beyond tech pundits and reviewers who need something trendy to criticize. In fact, for devices to be held in the hands, like phones and tablets, bezels are a feature, not a bug, as they limit accidental activations.
I own an original Surface Book, and I have a few observations about its durability.
In the end, the detachable form factor is not a good idea. It means if you want to get inside, you have to pry off the screen, a dicey proposition. It is fussy and fumbly to switch back and forth, which you really need to do if you need to change between drawing and typing as drawing in laptop mode is made quite difficult by the screen wobbling back and forth. It's best to think of this as a pure laptop.
The build quality is suspect. I've actually owned three of these things due to warranty replacements. Each of the previous ones had a power button that got stuck in the on position.
Also, I don't detach the screen very much, but the connection on all three computers became wonky. Suddenly it no longer sees the keyboard any more and announces that it is in tablet mode.
The memory wire attachment mechanism is clever, but it has gotten to the point that it doesn't work consistently. And the only recourse then is to find the one and only vent hole on the side that allows you to push a paper clip in at a 45 degree angle to force a manual release. That is clearly designed to prevent you from using it.
Batteries are not eternal but at this point my battery life with keyboard attached is down to less than two hours. That seems like an awfully quick degradation, as these things go.
The only thing that is an unmitigated good about these device, and it is a big thing, is the hi res 3:2 screen. If only Microsoft could make Windows scale appropriately instead of relying on each app to do it independently.
Spunjji - Thursday, June 4, 2020 - linkThis pretty much summarises my understanding of the devices, from a support perspective... they're just fussy. Over-engineered would be another way of putting it. Impossible to repair, fragile, and generally not suited to regular use "in anger".
A damn shame, really, as I like the concept.
Deicidium369 - Friday, June 5, 2020 - linkI am not sure about them being fragile - have had 10 or 11 deployed in the field, and they can at times take a beating - no failures in ~2 years - I have had my older model for going on 4, although doesn't get used that much anymore... still no issues.
Spunjji - Friday, June 5, 2020 - linkYour ~11 beats my 2, but of those 2 both failed - and one had intermittent GPU driver issues even when it was working.
amb9800 - Wednesday, June 3, 2020 - linkThe GTX 1660 Ti Max-Q seems to be delivering better performance than expected (especially given it's a 65W part, vs. the 80W GTX 1060 Max-P in the Surface Book 2 15"), so it's not a completely worthless spec bump.
That said, this would've been the perfect use case for the Ryzen 4000 U-series CPUs. Equipping the Surface Book 3 with a Ryzen 7 4800U would've allowed for performance on par with 45W 6/8-core Intel-based 15" competitors but within the Surface's 15-25W TDP budget.
Intel Ice Lake U-series is by far the biggest disappointment on this machine -- it (along with every other premium Intel-powered ultrabook) gets destroyed by the 4700U-powered $650 Acer Swift 3. The performance picture gets even worse when you look at, say, the Asus ROG Zephyrus G14, which ups the ante with the desktop-killing Ryzen 9 4900HS for under $1,500 -- with a 14" screen, solid battery life, and lower weight than even the 13" Surface Book 3.
lmcd - Thursday, June 4, 2020 - linkIt's completely idiotic to compare a part that fits in a tablet form factor with a laptop sporting a 35W CPU. Whether the form factor is dumb or not is a different question.
Worth remembering that Intel has delivered a "true SoC" platform for quite some time now. AMD's past CPUs, by comparison, weren't "true SoC" platforms and weren't even candidates to fit on this size of board. Ryzen 2x00U had an idle power bug across the platform, further removing it from candidacy.
That means the first AMD SoC the Surface Book team might've had the chance to integrate is the 3x00U. Based on how long it took for MS to integrate Ice Lake, the Surface Book 3 wouldn't get the 4700U until Christmas or later. Possibly longer considering that the 4700U is a more substantial change than Ice Lake vs past Intel SoCs.
lmcd - Thursday, June 4, 2020 - linkYea just found this from the Renoir intro:
"AMD’s latest Ryzen mobile product is the first design the company has done that combines CPU, GPU, and IO all on a monolithic die in TSMC’s 7nm process."
Indicating that IO wasn't entirely on-board before. Surface Book 4 could theoretically have a Ryzen design.
Deicidium369 - Friday, June 5, 2020 - linkWould imagine that the 1 AMD design they have would be sporting the 4000 series - wonder how much of a new design was needed to support it. Thermals would be better on the 4000 vs the older design
Spunjji - Friday, June 5, 2020 - linkI think you've misinterpreted that - Renoir is the first AMD SoC that combines all of that *on 7nm*. I'm fairly sure Raven ridge included USB, SATA etc on-die - that's how the A300 Promontory "chipset" in the ASRock A300 does its thing.
Wouldn't surprise me if the SoC had a larger package area than the Intel competitors, though. Intel have been working hard on that aspect for a few generations now.