Microsoft launched its Surface Book 3 today, with a big promise of 50 percent more performance than its predecessor from more than two years ago. There are no big design changes this time around, and there will still be two size options: a 13.5-inch model or the larger 15-inch version. It’s disappointing to not see any design tweaks, but there are some important changes under the hood that should improve performance all around.
The 13.5-inch and 15-inch Surface Book 3 laptops look exactly the same as the last models, and there aren’t really any surprising new features. You can still pop out the screen with the touch of a button, mount it backwards on the keyboard base, or just use the display as a very large tablet. And their touchscreens are still perfect matches for the Surface Pen, making them useful for artists and anyone who needs a stylus handy.
The Surface Book 3 will ship with Intel’s latest 10th Gen processors, with the base 13.5-inch model starting at $1,599 for a quad-core Core i5, and the 15-inch version using a quad-core Core i7 processor priced starting at $2,299. While the most basic 13.5-inch model will include Intel’s built-in Iris Plus graphics, there will be an option to move up to an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 Max-Q model (starting at $1,999). The 15-inch model ships with a GTX 1660Ti or businesses can upgrade to a Quadro RTX 3000 GPU starting at $3,499.
Microsoft is more limited than other PC makers because it also wants to make the Surface Book 3 a tablet. That means it has to place the CPU inside of the detachable display, while the dedicated graphics sits in the keyboard base. That’s not a limitation any competitors have to deal with. Microsoft has certainly done some clever engineering work to make the Book 3 possible, but if it wants to compete with genuine workhorse PCs, it’s going to need a whole new design that can handle faster CPUs.
Microsoft has made some upgrades specifically aimed at developers. “What’s changing with Surface Book 3 is that it now comes with up to 32GB of RAM, which is really important for running virtual machines or things like Kubernetes,” explains Seiler. The Surface Book 3 will also ship with the fastest SSD Microsoft has ever shipped: an M.2 2280 in the 1TB and 2TB models. “This is one of the biggest asks we’ve had from coders, who need it for compiling, source control, package management,” says Seiler.
The SSD, RAM, and GPU bumps aren’t matched by processor performance bumps, though. Microsoft is still using 15W Intel processors here (the Core i7-1065G7 to be precise), while Apple makes use of 45W chips in its MacBook Pro.
Unfortunately, the focus on performance and power also doesn’t extend to Microsoft’s port selection on the Surface Book 3. There’s still no Thunderbolt 3 support, which will disappoint a lot of professionals hoping to make use of it for external drive storage or even to hook up a more powerful GPU. You’ll still get two USB-A ports, a single USB-C port with USB Power Delivery 3.0 support, a full-size UHS-II SD card reader, and a Surface Connect port. Additionally, the company notes that you can expect 17.5 hours of battery life (the Book 2 lasted nearly 21 hours with our benchmark, so we might see even more).
The Surface Book 3 is available to preorder starting at $1,599 today, and ships in the US and Canada on May 21st. It will roll out to other markets “in the weeks to follow,” and the Surface Dock 2 will start shipping on May 26th, priced at $259.99.