This year at Microsoft’s somewhat annual Surface update event, Microsoft surprised everyone by not only announcing a newer and larger Surface Laptop 3, bumping the screen size from 13.5-inches to 15-inches, but also by selecting an AMD processor for the laptop. Though still an incremental shift when looking at the entire Surface lineup, it was a big change for Microsoft, as well as a big win for AMD. Not only is Microsoft now offering a traditional, clamshell laptop in the ever-popular 15-inch form factor, but it's the highest profile laptop yet to ship with one of AMD's APUs.

While there's a lot more to the 15-inch Surface Laptop 3 than just its processor, certainly this is the highlight of the announcement. Up until now, Microsoft has relied exclusively on Intel processors for their entire range of x86 Surface devices. So this marks Microsoft's first departure from their long-time CPU provider, while highlighting a deeper connection between Microsoft and AMD that has grown from their Xbox work. And to be sure, it's beneficial to both parties – Microsoft gets a second supplier of x86 chips with a more graphics-heavy performance balance, and AMD gets a top-shelf laptop vendor that has gone the extra mile to optimize their setup.

Indeed, that optimization is perhaps the most important aspect of this latest partnership. While Microsoft and AMD perhaps go too far in touting the laptop's processor as "semi custom" – it's a specialized bin of AMD's existing Ryzen 3000 series Picasso APUs with a bit more graphics performance – what's not exaggerated is the work that the two parties have put into the final product. As we learned from AMD earlier this month, a great deal of effort has been put into the firmware, the drivers, and the software stack for the AMD-powered Surface Laptop 3, and these days these factors are often as important as the hardware itself, since problems here can lead to bad experiences elsewhere. This is a level of effort and co-design work that goes beyond what's been done for any other Ryzen-powered laptops, and as a result, the Surface Laptop 3 is AMD's chance to show its best foot forward at a critical time.

Meanwhile, for the rest of the laptop, there's a good deal to unpack here as well. The larger design alone represents a significant change for the Surface Laptop family, giving Microsoft a laptop better sized to be used as a true desktop replacement machine. 15 inches means more room for a larger screen, more room for cooling, etc, resulting in a machine that's going to be a bit less portable than the 13.5-inch model, but arguably easier to work with over long periods of time. All the while, it's interesting just how much the new 15-inch model resembles the smaller Surface Laptop – every aspect of the design has been scaled up so that it feels like the same sharp machine as the 13.5-inch model.

For this generation of the Surface Laptop family, the Surface team has also changed one of the defining characteristics of lineup by making a version available without the Alcantara fabric keyboard deck. Discussing this with the designers, they said that owners with the synthetic fabric keyboard deck were overwhelmingly happy with it, despite fears of it getting dirty or damaged; but that they also heard from potential buyers who just prefer a more traditional aluminum feel. So for the 15-inch Surface Laptop 3, it's is aluminum only, available in Platinum or Black. Meanwhile the 13.5-inch model sees some similar changes, offering Sandstone, Black, or Platinum colors with a metal deck, or Cobalt Blue and Platinum colors with the Alcantara deck.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 3
Model Tested: 15-inch Ryzen 5 3580U 16GB 256GB $1499
  13.5-Inch 15-Inch (Intel)
Enterprise Only
15-Inch (AMD)
Processor Intel Core i5-1035G7
4C/8T, 1.2-3.7GHz, 6MB L3, 10nm

Intel Core i7-1065G7
4C/8T, 1.3-3.9GHz, 8MB L3, 10nm
AMD Ryzen 5 3580U
4C/8T, 2.1-3.7GHz, 15w

AMD Ryzen 7 3780U
4C/8T, 2.3-4.0GHz, 15w
Memory 8 GB or 16 GB Dual-Channel LPDDR4X-3733 8/16/32GB Dual-Channel DDR4-2400
Graphics Intel Core i5-1035G7
Intel Iris Plus "G7" Graphics (Gen 11, 64 EU)

Intel Core i7-1065G7
Intel Iris Plus "G7" Graphics (Gen 11, 64 EUs)
AMD Ryzen 5 3580U
Vega 9 Graphics (9 CUs)

AMD Ryzen 7 3780U
Vega 11 Graphics (11 CUs)
Display 13.5" 2256x1504 3:2 PixelSense
Touch and Pen support
Individually calibrated panels
15" 2496x1664 3:2 PixelSense
Touch and Pen support
Individually calibrated panels
Storage 128 GB, 256 GB, 512 GB, 1 TB PCIe NVMe 128 GB, 256 GB, 512 GB PCIe NVMe
Networking 802.11ax
Bluetooth 5.0
802.11ac 2x2 MIMO
Bluetooth 5.0
Audio Omnisonic Speakers
Dolby Audio Premium
Battery 46 Wh
60 + 5 W AC Adapter
Right Side Surface Connect Port
Left Side USB Type-A
USB Type-C
Headset Jack
Dimensions 308 x 223 x 14.51 mm (12.1 x 8.8 x 0.57 inches) 339.5 x 244 x 14.69 mm (13.4 x 9.6 x 0.57 inches)
Weight Fabric: 1.25kg
Metal: 1.31kg
Camera Front: 720p Camera and Windows Hello support
Dual far-field Studio Mics
Extras Surface Pen and Dial (sold separately)
TPM 2.0
Pricing 8GB/128GB/i5: $999
8GB/256GB/i5: $1299
16GB/256GB/i7: $1599
16GB/512GB/i7: $1999
16GB/1024GB/i7: $2399
Enterprise Sales Contract 8GB/128GB/R5: $1199
8GB/256GB/R5: $1499
16GB/256GB/R5: $1699
16GB/512GB/R7: $2099
32GB/1024GB/R7: $2799

As is typical of the Surface lineup, Microsoft has stuck with the 3:2 aspect ratio which has served them so well, and with the same pixels-per-inch (PPI) of the 13.5-inch model, which results in a somewhat strange sounding 2496x1664 resolution. This is almost exactly 200 PPI, matching the smaller 13.5-inch model, but well short of the Surface Pro and Surface Book devices which come in around 270 PPI. It’s still a sharp display, with over double the density of a “standard” 96 PPI display, so while not quite as crisp as the Surface Pro and Surface Book, it’s still a good resolution and one that should help with battery life.

Microsoft has finally made the jump away from the Marvell network adapters that have been so prominent in their other products. Ice Lake-based devices (including the enterprise-only 15-inch Surface Laptop 3) get Intel's own Wi-Fi 6, while AMD systems get a Qualcomm Wi-Fi 5 solution that we're admittedly less than enthusiastic about. However, the good news is that Microsoft has finally embraced USB-C by supplanting the DisplayPort output with the more modern connector. It does not support Thunderbolt 3, but regardless it’s still a nice addition to the lineup since this was a feature that was certainly lacking from the last couple of generations. This doubles the number of USB ports from just a single USB-A port, to both USB-A and USB-C ports. And of course it still offers the Surface Connect port as well for charging and docking if necessary, further expanding the connectivity.

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  • Ryan Smith - Monday, October 21, 2019 - link

    Ice Lake is next on the list. But it'll be a Dell.

    A Surface vs. Surface comparison is an interesting idea though. So you'll have to stay tuned for that.
  • m53 - Wednesday, November 20, 2019 - link

    We are eagerly waiting for the 15 inch surface (AMD custom ryzen) vs 15 inch surface Business (Intel ice lake) vs 13 inch surface (Intel ice lake) comparison.
  • pjcamp - Monday, October 21, 2019 - link

    Correction: I have an original Surface laptop. It has two USB ports, not one.
  • pjcamp - Monday, October 21, 2019 - link

    My mistake. I saw Surface Laptop and read Surface Book. Not the same thing.
  • Irata - Monday, October 21, 2019 - link

    It would have been interesting to post benchmarks for e-sports titles. My kid can play Fortnite very well on my Matebook D with a Ryzen 2500u @1080p resolution and medium details.
    I am sure there are many similar titles like Overwatch and others.

    This would have been much more interesting than testing games where using the iGPU practically comes to to a slide fest even at low resolutions, i.e. they are unplayable regardless if you get 17 or 25 fps avg.

    This would also have allowed you to include Intel iGPU results in more games.
  • Icehawk - Thursday, October 24, 2019 - link

    Yeah, I don't get the sample games a lot of sites use. I want a spread - from simpler stuff all the way to the latest. Great, can't play Doom 9 but can I play Plants vs Zombies?
  • ToTTenTranz - Monday, October 21, 2019 - link

    What I don't get is why they didn't take advantage of what should be a tiny PCB, since Picasso is a full-fledged SoC, to at least put a massive >70W.h battery in there.

    It's a 15" 3:2 large laptop, RAM is soldered, SSD uses the tiny 2230 M.2 form factor and they're using a SoC with no need to eGPU, southbridge, USB controllers, etc.
    Yet Microsoft managed to put in there a small battery even for 15" standards.

    Also, what exactly are the optimizations made on the hardware level, other than just ordering APUs with one extra CU enabled?
    Actual hardware tweaks should have included support for higher clocked DDR4, like all those 1.2V DDR4 3000-3200 modules being sold right now. As it stands, the extra CU in there makes little difference since it's bandwidth starved. 128bit DDR4 2400 is giving it almost the same bandwdth as the Snapdragon 855 smartphones.

    All of this could be excused if this was a low-budget device, but the cost is way too high to fail on these things, IMO.
  • isthisavailable - Monday, October 21, 2019 - link

    Couldn't agree more.
  • edzieba - Monday, October 21, 2019 - link

    While they save some space by bringing the GPU on-package, they lose it again with an off-package chipset. Intel's Y and U series bring that on-package, which saves a lot of overall PCB space (and have an on-die GPU anyway, albeit a smaller one until Ice Lake).
  • ToTTenTranz - Tuesday, October 22, 2019 - link

    Picasso is a SoC with all I/O embedded in it. There's no need for southbridge or chipset as you're calling it.

    That's why there are PCBs with Raven Ridge / Picasso with the size of a credit card.

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