Microsoft Surface Book 3 Review: The Best Of Both Worlds

Earlier this month Microsoft launched a plethora of new devices in their Surface lineup including Surface Book 3, the Surface Go 2, the Surface Headphones 2, and the Surface Earbuds. I wrote a high-level overview of the launch announcement which you can access here and you can see my Surface Go 2 review here. For this review I am going to be drilling into the Surface Book 3 changes and improvements from the Surface Book 2. I wrote about the Surface Book 2 launch in 2017 which you can access here. The Surface product line is one I always look forward to reviewing. Its been a while since we have seen an iteration of the Surface Book and this one is extremely focused on increased CPU & GPU performance.

Microsoft Surface Book 3
 MICROSOFT

Design

From a design perspective not much has changed since the last generation Surface Book 2. I don’t think that’s a bad thing as there really is no device like it. Sure, I can think of a few improvements like edge to edge displays, but nothing that ever inhibited what I wanted to get done.

The PC is made from the same premium magnesium material that we have become accustomed to in a Surface Book. The 15” display remains detachable and can be used as a tablet separate from the keyboard. This is huge for anyone who needs full PC performance as a tablet and notebook.

In terms of ports and I/O the Surface Book 3 remains consistent and includes 2 USB ports, an SD card reader, a Surface Charging port, a headphone jack, and a USB-C port. The Surface Book 3 has an 8.0MP rear-facing camera and 5.0MP front-facing camera that are both capable of capturing 1080P HD Video which could be a great feature in a time very focused on video and audio conferencing. The design on the Surface Book has aged well. I would like to see more of an edge to edge display in the future compared to the thick black borders around the display that exist now.

Display

The version of the Surface Book 3 that Microsoft loaned me came with a 15” PixelSense™ Display with 3240 x 2160 resolution, 260 PPI, and a 3:2 aspect ratio. The screen was extremely sharp and bright while completed work tasks and occasionally watched videos on YouTube and Netflix. I found myself detaching the display and using it as a portable entertainment station while I accomplished other tasks around the house. It would be nice to have the same kickstand that the Surface Go 2 has for propping the display up on surfaces but you can’t have it all in a single system.

Upgraded Performance

The new Surface Book 3 comes outfitted with Intel’s 10th Gen Core Processors at 15-watts and gives users the choice between NVIDIA GeForce GTX or Quadro RTX discrete GPUs. I think the NVIDIA 1660 Ti will meet the demand of most users that want a Surface Book 3 especially as it is the most power-efficient performance per watt GPU on the market according to Tom’s Hardware.

The Surface Book 3 that Microsoft loaned me came outfitted with a Core i7-1065G7, 32GB RAM, 512GB SSD, and Quadro RTX 3000, a real awesome beast. The high-performance ceiling for gaming and content creation is a nice upgrade that Microsoft says is up to 50% more performance than what the Surface Book 2 offered. Basedon some rudimentary tests, I agree.The Intel Processors at 15W TDP are only four core parts so don’t expect CPU isolated workloads to be drastically higher than what you would get out a typical 15W notebook. It would have been nice to see a Ryzen 4000 Series CPU with 8 cores and 16 threads in a Surface Book 3 for serious CPU transcoding in tablet form factor. I’m sure there were good reasons to go with the Core i7, likely timing and expense of a new design.

When I logged into the system via Windows Hello, I started using it for my normal workflow. I used many web browser tabs for web research and Google Hangouts and used several Office 365 apps for writing, prepping presentations, and running spreadsheets.

Like previous versions of the Surface Book, I enjoyed detaching the display and using it as a tablet for taking quick notes in OneNote with my Surface Pen. Then pen with its 4096 levels of pressure sensitivity remained responsive with every word I wrote on the display. I will admit that my normal workflow isn’t going to tax the system like serious rendering, transcoding or encoding on a creator app like Adobe Premiere Pro would so I can’t fully speak to the performance ceiling of this system. The discrete graphics solutions in the Surface Book 3 allows the system to serve as a tablet, typical notebook, and a serious system for gaming and content creation.

I ran a few web-based FPS benchmarks and the system performed well. I could see users hooking their X-Box controller up to the large 15” display and playing some games that way. With the addition of the Quadro RTX 3000, Microsoft is broadening its targets and adding support for users that want to use professional applications in a consumer-like system. Since it is not likely that consumers will be able to access Studio drivers, I don’t see why Microsoft would separately add the drivers to the Quadro version. That being said, feel free to access and download the drivers from NVIDIA’s site here.

The most recent release adds support for GeForce 1650 and 1660 Ti. To me, The Surface Book 3 looks like a unique consumer system that can be used in a variety of ways including a typical PC, a tablet, or a high-performance system for gaming and content creation. There aren’t many devices that look like the Surface Book 3 does and offers that kind of performance. All of that performance comes at a high price tag with a starting price of $1699.99 for the 13.5” model and $2299.99 for the 15” model.

Microsoft Surface Book 3
 MICROSOFT

Battery Life

The Surface Book 3 comes with an advertised 17.5 hours of what Microsoft deems, “typical device usage.” In recent years most notebooks have measured battery life solely in terms of video playback which isn’t holistically representative of typical use on a system. I had no problem getting through a full day of work and video conferencing on a single charge. Microsoft has done a great job developing a more balanced metric for battery life. The Surface’s new battery life tests:

·        consist of full battery discharge with a mixture of active use and modern standby 

·        web browsing test accessing eight popular websites over multiple open tabs 

·        productivity test utilizing Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and Outlook 

·        a portion of time with the device in use with idle applications. 

·        all settings were default except screen brightness was set to 150nits with Auto-Brightness disabled 

·        Wi-Fi was connected to a network 

I got a full day ise out of the device with enough confidence to leave the charger at home for a night. The only exception is you’re hitting the GPU or CPU hard with modeling or gaming.

Wrapping up

The timing of the Surface Book 3 launch is good. The PC industry is pushing the creator initiative as of late and in my opinion the Surface Book 3 is the most versatile creator tablet/laptops on the market. The PC has a lot of power under the hood with Intel Ice Lake processors and Nvidia GTX 1660 Ti & Quadro RTX 3000, but still offers the ability to enjoy a tablet form factor. The Surface Book 3 is unlike any other laptop of the market due to its powerful performance and ability to switch seamlessly into a tablet. There is a premium price tag that comes with that type of performance ceiling but for the small part of the market that needs that type of power it will serve them well.

Note: Moor Insights & Strategy writers and editors may have contributed to this article.