Wireless

If there’s been an Achilles heel of the Surface lineup, it has been Microsoft sticking to low quality wireless adapters. Surface devices have almost exclusively utilized Marvel AVASTAR wireless, which has been not only slow, but unreliable. Over the years, the reliability has improved, but the overall solution was never up to where an Intel wireless adapter would perform in terms of both performance and reliability. The only time the Surface team has leveraged something other than Marvell was with their LTE devices, which would use a Qualcomm wireless adapter. Unfortunately, it wasn’t really any better than the Marvell one.

Luckily that has changed for the current generation of Surface devices. For the Intel-based devices, Microsoft has adopted Ice Lake's semi-integrated Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) solution. Unfortunately AMD doesn't offer an equivalent here, so Microsoft is using a Qualcomm wireless adapter in the AMD-based 15-inch Surface Laptop 3.

WiFi Performance - TCP

The results are not great. While there haven’t been any reliability issues at all, the performance of the Qualcomm wireless was frankly terrible. It is almost 2020, and we have wireless networking solutions that can reach over 1 Gbps with just a 2x2 configuration, but the 15-inch Surface Laptop 3 achieved a meager 313 Mbps.

Audio

Microsoft has outfitted the Surface Laptop 3 with Omnisonic speakers featuring Dolby Audio Premium, and while the pairing does not get excessively loud, the sound quality is fantastic, with much better low-end than you’d get on most laptops of this size.

At around 76 dB(A) measured one inch over the trackpad, there’s enough volume for most situations, and the improved sound quality is a great trade-off over really high dB speakers with no range.

There are two far-field microphones as well, enabling Cortana interactions if desired.

Thermals

The advantage of a larger laptop like the 15-inch Surface Laptop 3 is that it should not have much of an issue cooling a 15-Watt TDP, and the laptop was stress tested to find out if that was the case.

Interestingly the CPU on its own only pulls 9-10 Watts under sustained load, with a brief peak of a hair over 15 Watts. This is well under a typical Intel 15-Watt CPU which can pull well over 30 Watts for burst and sustained power draws can be over 15 Watts if the cooling system can handle it. Despite the lower than expected power draw under load the CPU is still able to maintain 3 Ghz or higher.

The cooling solution is very solid, and unless you are really working the laptop it stays silent for most of the time. Meanwhile if you do need to use everything the laptop has, the fan only gets up to 46 dB(A) measured one inch over the trackpad, which is not very loud. The tone of the air movement is a bit harsh though, but never gets to be a problem.

Software

As is typical of a Surface device it comes with very minimal software. There is the normal Windows apps, some of the Windows crap-ware that all machines ship with, and the Surface App, which lets you adjust the pen pressure, see the battery of connected Bluetooth devices, such as the pen, and get support if needed.

One thing that is absent though is the AMD Software Center, so you can’t adjust any of the typical AMD settings. Trying to download this from the AMD website will result in a “no valid hardware found” message. This is unfortunate, since you won’t be able to easily disable things like AMD’s Vari-Bright, which automatically lowers the screen brightness on battery. AMD let us know that they won’t be bringing this to the Surface Laptop 3 either, so if you are a fan of the AMD Software Center, don’t expect it anytime soon on this AMD powered device.

Battery Life and Charge Time Final Words
POST A COMMENT

91 Comments

View All Comments

  • Icehawk - Thursday, October 24, 2019 - link

    I get that we always want the best but I honestly don't know why it's harped on about how this device "only" does ~315 which is about as fast as a SSD can handle anyway - 1G connects for a single machine just don't matter in real life. More important to me is how reliable the connection is, which according to this review is solid. Reply
  • Eliadbu - Monday, October 21, 2019 - link

    I'll give that the GPU is compelling but all other aspects of the APU are mediocre, especially the battery life which worse than average. I would like to see how the ice lake version compares to this APU.
    I think this machine proved why Intel still dominates the low power/thin and light laptops market.
    Reply
  • Irata - Monday, October 21, 2019 - link

    Did you look at the system performance benchmarks? Ryzen 5 does pretty well there (second place overall in PC Mark 10) and the list does not include any Core i5, only core i7.

    The only laptop that has a higher score is the top of the line Surface Book 2 with an i7 plus nVidia dGPU.
    The Ryzen model tested here is the base model, btw.

    Yes, battery life could certainly be better (although they do not test how well it does under load), but Surface Book Ryzen us not the worst - there are Intel based models that do less well.
    Reply
  • phoenix_rizzen - Monday, October 21, 2019 - link

    Yeah, if you consider this is the middle-of-the-road APU (R5) from AMD being benched against the top-of-the-line CPUs (i7) from Intel, it does really well. For most of the CPU benchmarks, it's right in the middle of the i7 pack. For most of the GPU benchmarks, it's better than the iGPU, as good as the MX150 dGPU, although not nearly as good (as expected) as the 1060 dGPU.

    Would be interesting to see how this APU compares to i5 versions of these laptops.

    Would also be interesting to see how the R7 APUs compare to the i5 and i7 versions of these laptops.
    Reply
  • Eliadbu - Monday, October 21, 2019 - link

    this is 8th gen, meaning we are comparing to the past products, you talked about r7 but from what I've seen we are talking 100-200mhz difference (so 5% difference at most ). also the TDP will get up as clock speed goes up which equal to more heat,worse battery life etc. many test that it did perform good is due the GPU as I said it is compelling but is it enough I would say no, and for testing battery life under load I would say while it might have some use cases most people will use the laptop on battery for basic tests like browsing the web, watch videos, edit documents or other light use programs. if the r5/r7 had lower price I would give it more favor but as it stands out it does not give us any discount, it may have been due Microsoft pricing tactics but it does not change the fact. also we need to see how it compares to ICL version of this machine. I would guess it would still have the better GPU but the gap would shrink significantly, and CPU would not be it strong side either. Reply
  • Potato Power - Thursday, October 24, 2019 - link

    Microsoft puts a 46Wh battery inside. That explains why the battery life is only so so. Even my cheapy Zenbook has a bigger battery. Reply
  • sorten - Monday, October 21, 2019 - link

    Decent showing against previous generation Intel options, meaning it wasn't as far behind as I expected. Unfortunately for AMD, Ice Lake offers better than 2x the iGPU performance of 8th gen chips, and there will also be a minor bump on CPU performance, battery performance, and memory speed. Reply
  • Kishoreshack - Monday, October 21, 2019 - link

    People overreacting should understand this is the base model, for a base model it competes very we with top end models of last year
    I would be really excited to see higher end models of surface laptop 3
    AMD VS INTEL COMPARISON
    Felt that surface should have integrated ZEN 2 ARCHITECTURE INTO THESE LAPTOPS
    Reply
  • TheinsanegamerN - Monday, October 21, 2019 - link

    Except this "base" model has worse IRL GPU performance, worse batery life, and worse wifi. It is a step backwards. AMD GPUs are supposed to be better then intel, but the graphs here show that is not hte case unless power isnt a consideration.

    Kind of hard for MS to use ZEN 2 ARCHITECTURE APUs when they refuse to make them. AMD is just crippling themselves here.
    Reply
  • Fulljack - Tuesday, October 22, 2019 - link

    eh, it shows the igpu as the most powerful one, even beating mx150 which is a dgpu on some scenario. too bad the graph still hasn't show Intel gen11 graphics. so I don't get what do you mean by worse irl gpu performance.

    of course, as expected, it won't beat gtx 1060 due to sheer amount of difference both in tdp and die size.
    Reply

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now