Microsoft Surface Book 3 review: Graphics unleashed

by birtanpublished on November 28, 2020

This is Luke with Digital Trends and today I've got a review of the brand-new surface book 3 from Microsoft and this is the 15 inch model and I really think this might be the most interesting laptop in the entire surface family here's why now the surface line has never been about power I'm not saying that's always been a weak point it's just not the focus the surface is really all about innovative new designs that combine tablet and laptop in new form factors and new experiences and the surface book 3 continues to do that still but that does put this laptop in particular in kind of a weird position

Because Microsoft touts this the 15-inch model has having powerhouse performance or a workstation like performance so I mean is that really true of this thing I mean it's a pretty thin laptop and like I said it puts that two-in-one design first this unit looks pretty much identical to the first surface book and the surface book to nothing on the outside has really changed still has that kind of soft light gray exterior it has the dynamic fulcrum hinge which leaves that awkward little space in between the two halves of the laptop when you close it it's all really unique

And it's kind of become an iconic design in the small little world of the surface and none of that has changed what has changed is the internals and here you're getting an updated tension Intel processor and a NVIDIA GTX 16 60 TI for your graphics now I'll admit when I first heard about this laptop and saw the spec sheet I was a little disappointed in a little skeptical at Microsoft claims that this has powerhouse performance he uses the same 15 watt u series processors that you get in small little laptops like the XPS 13 or like the 13.5 inch version of this

Same laptop the service book 3 so not only does that cut some of the power out of this laptop it also limits the amount of cores you get because those processors are limited to just 4 cores and 8 threads whereas those 45 watt processors that are in you know kind of thicker bigger more powerful laptops let's go all the way up to 8 cores and 16 3 and what that means is that the process or specific performance of the surface book 3 is pretty limited options like the XPS 13 or even the 13-inch MacBook Pro that new one both of those are gonna

Be slightly more powerful computers at least in terms of the processor I found that out not only in benchmarks but also in applications like handbrake that exclusively use the CPU this thing is way behind those other laptops despite how large it is and that's really the pickle that Microsoft has been put in because when you see a 15-inch laptop I expect some extra power there not just a bigger screen well fortunately Microsoft does have an ace of its sleeve which is where this whole review has been going because the interesting design of the surface book 3 with the detachable

Tablet which is really just the screen of this laptop there also comes with an interesting internal design that can contribute to some really good performance and it's specifically what I'm talking about is that the GPU here again the gtx 1660 TI is located in the base of the laptop whereas all the other components are up here in the tablet of course that makes sense when you remove the tablet from the rest of the base you want to still be able to do things with it but when you attach it to the base of the laptop you get that extra power from my graphics card and what's cool is

Because that GPU has so much air to breathe it's not you know in the same physical space as those other hot components it can actually be pushed really hard and I saw that in a number of different tests that I did I'll start with probably the most impressive thing which was a video rendering test I do in Premiere Pro with all these powerful laptops or at least laptops that claims to be powerful it's a two minute video clip 4k and basically I export it into pro res 42 and kind of see how long it takes and to my complete surprise the surface book 3 finished this test in

Under five and a half minutes which is a really really fast especially given where my expectations were at now I've tested a couple laptops that are faster than that's like the fifteen or a couple other thicker laptops with eight core processors and discrete graphics but I gotta say I'm really impressed by how this system can push the GPU to accomplish certain tasks like video editing and video rendering options like the razor blade or the MacBook Pro are nowhere near this fast it's really really impressive and of course powerful graphics also make for a

Great gaming experience which the surface book 3 surprisingly delivers the jump from the gtx 1060 which is what the surface book to use up to this 1660 T I proved myself to be a pretty meaningful leap ahead and no problem getting up to around 60 frames per second in games like Battlefield 5 or fortnight and that's with settings maxed and resolution at 1080p but beyond performance there's really not much else that's new here and that might be a problem for Microsoft this is the fourth year of this exact same chassis that they're using and I'm not gonna say that

It's getting outdated or starting to feel stale it's just I remember when this design first came out and it really really was captivating and really interesting what Microsoft was doing with this whole you know fulcrum hinge and the tablet and all that and I and I wish that they would bring some of that innovation and experimentation into the future of the surface book line because I'm interested in what they'll do next but what we have today is still a really solid laptop two-in-one type experience obviously have these soft silver light gray exterior the fulcrum hinge and a

Really really great typing and touch pad experience there's one of my favorite keyboards on a laptop primarily because the keycaps stick out of the chassis a little bit and that gives a really nice tactile feel to the typing and the touchpad is glass it's excellent which it was a little bit bigger you could definitely fit it on the keyboard deck of ass laptop but not going to complain because this is one of the better touch pads you can get on a laptop now the 15-inch screen is definitely one of the highlights of the surface book 3 it's really sharp and crisp the contrast is

Really really high and color accuracy is really really low my one nitpick about the surface book three screen is the color game and I wish it was a little bit wider it's not quite up to par with something like the MacBook Pro and you know that might be kind of a a problem if you're a professional photo edit or something like that but I really think for the majority of people the screen on the surface 4:3 is a big big highlight and then there's the tablet experience now this is a laptop first surface device more than any other surface device is unlike the surface pro

Or the surface go those are kind of tablet first devices this is a laptop first so the tablet experience is more supplemental than anything and it's proven mostly by even just the battery life really gonna get a few hours of battery life on this thing before you have to plug it in and recharge it you know it's probably good enough for watching movie before bed but really nothing more than that also works well is a nice little clip board you can use it with the surface pen of course the surface pen doesn't come bundled in with the device but if you have one or you

Want to buy one it does work well as a clip board because the tablet itself is pretty light it's only one point eight pounds a little heavier than an iPad pro but given that it's a 15-inch screen it really does feel light for the size of it now I'm not gonna get too far into the Windows 10 tablet experience because we all know that I'm not a big fan of it and there's a lot that Microsoft could do with it they haven't really touched it in years and obviously they're working on a lot of future stuff that could resolve this issue Windows 10x even this weekend build they announced a

Thing called Project reunion that could be another attempt to resolve this whole app unification problem that they have on their platform but for now this is the the experience that we get when you buy these for Facebook 3 today and it's it's really not great I mean suffice to say it's no iPad experience in terms of gesture support and app ecosystem and things like that I can forgive it a little more with the surface book 3 than I can with the other service devices because again this is a laptop first device and the tablet is more supplemental than anything the port

Selection is really where you start to see how old this chassis is because you're getting some kind of legacy ports you have two USB a ports a single USBC port a full-size SD card slot and the surface connect now the thing that's missing here is obviously Thunderbolt 3 just about every other laptop that is at this price range or really even a lot cheaper than this includes Thunderbolt 3 these days and I don't know why you would release a laptop that's supposed to be performance driven that doesn't have the best fastest ports available that's just kind

Of gonna be something that these surface products lack for now because Microsoft doesn't really seem interested in supporting it for whatever reason and we need to talk about battery life because for some reason on the surface book 3 I'm not getting as good of battery life as I would have on the surface book to size of the battery hasn't changed there's still two of them one in the base and one in the tablet and that usually resulted in really really great battery life we're talking like 20 hours of video playback but this is getting nowhere near that I'm getting around 8

To 8 and a half hours of daily usage which is enough to get me through a workday but it's really nowhere near what the service book 2 could do and my guess is that there's some kind of a firmware problem here I reached out to Microsoft I haven't heard back yet about this problem in particular but I'm hoping that it can get resolved because there's really no reason this device shouldn't be getting as much battery life as the previous version did and finally we really really need to talk about price because this 15 inch version starts at 2,300 dollars again that comes

With the gtx 1660 TI in the configuration it comes with 16 gigabytes of ram but it only comes with a 256 gigabyte SSD which is really really painful for that price even the MacBook Pro starting at 2,400 dollars comes with a 512 gigabyte SSD so I really don't know the justification for that because I really think if you're spending this much on a device you should have enough storage for your creative applications and your big files and whatnot to bump up to 512 you actually have to also add another 16 gigabytes of RAM to get up to 32 and that's not really needed for

Everyone either so there are some just kind of frustrating limitations in terms of what configurations you can get of course you can also go down to the 13.5 inch version of the service book 3 which is a you know a totally adequate laptop it doesn't have the same performance capabilities but if you like this design you like the idea that the tablet and great battery life and all that that's also an option for you now the 15-inch surface book 3 is really still a niche device especially at that price and with some of those limitations in terms of like the processor and some

Of those configurations it's really not for everyone but I don't think Microsoft would debate me on that I think they would tell you that themselves it's a unique one-of-a-kind experience that you can really only get in the surface book line but what I've learned after testing this thing is that there are some practical uses for the surface book 3 especially with that performance bump that it gets in that GPU under heavy crank it's really impressive the kinds of things you can do with a laptop this thin and this kind of experimental 2 and ones are not really typically known for

Performance like I said up top none of the surface devices are and what Microsoft has succeeded at doing with the surface book 3 is bringing a new level of performance to this device that I didn't think was really possible in a two on one like this one so should you go out and buy it if you're looking strictly for a just video editing machine something like an XPS 15 is a a much better more reliable choice that doesn't have so many different factors and limitations to what you can do with it but I think again the surface book 3 does something that no other laptop can

Really do and that makes it unique and stand out and one of a kind in the choices of laptops that are out there so I hope that Microsoft continues to innovate on this product and eventually we'll see the next leap ahead in terms of experimentation and form-factor but for now the surface book 3 is a very capable laptop surprisingly powerful for what it is you

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