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
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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.
    Reply
  • 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. Reply
  • pjcamp - Monday, October 21, 2019 - link

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

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

    Couldn't agree more. Reply
  • 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). Reply
  • 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.
    https://www.computerbase.de/2018-02/amd-apu-ryzen-...
    Reply

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