System Performance

As with its predecessors, the Surface Book 3 packs the main CPU/SoC, RAM, SSD, wireless controller, and one of its batteries into the display section, serving as a detachable tablet. This provides the Book’s unique design feature, though it's a choice that does come with some compromise, as the nature of the device locks Microsoft into the 15-Watt processor options. On the smaller 13.5-inch, that’s not such a bad thing, since almost all other notebooks in that range also feature 15-Watt platforms. But the larger 15-inch model, as a productivity and performance targeted device, is going to be competing against devices which normally offer a 45-Watt CPU design. In CPU bound tasks, this is going to be a disadvantage.

The advantage of the Surface Book design though, with two separate thermal loads, is that Microsoft can fit a much larger dGPU in the base, since it does not need to share the thermal capacity with the CPU, and the Surface Book 3 15 ships with the NVIDIA GeForce 1660 Ti in Max-Q configuration. So despite the less-powerful processor options, if your work is GPU accelerated, this could be an advantage for the Surface Book. And if you need even more performance and want to spend even more money, the Quadro RTX 3000 is an even larger GPU, plus it offers the Turing architecture’s RT Cores, which the GeForce GTX does not provide.

Microsoft has chosen to go with Intel’s latest Ice Lake platform for their CPU option. A couple of years ago, there would be no debate about this at all, but in 2020 there are three viable choices for this notebook. Microsoft certainly has more experience with Intel's SoCs, so it is not too surprising to see them stick with Ice Lake for this notebook, even though AMD could have offered twice the CPU cores and threads with Ryzen. It would have also been interesting to see them go with the Comet Lake based Core i7-10710U, which offers six cores, since the GPU duties can be fulfilled with the NVIDIA GPU when needed. But the Core i7-1065G7 found as the only option on the 15-inch model is no slouch either.

To see how the new Surface Book 3 performs, it was run through our recently updated laptop suite. For comparison devices, there will be a mix of devices to see where the Surface Book 3 performs compared to new Ice Lake devices, the latest AMD Ryzen 4000, and of course the older Surface Book 2. The older Dell XPS 15 9560 was also included to compare against a 45-Watt CPU and dGPU. Dell has refreshed this recently, but the new model has not been sampled yet. Our scores are pulled from our Online Bench Database and if a device was reviewed before a new test was added, there will be no data from that device. Please feel free to check out Bench if you’d like to compare the Surface Book 3 to any other device we’ve tested.

PCMark 10

PCMark 10 - Essentials

PCMark 10 - Productivity

PCMark 10 - Digital Content Creation

PCMark 10 - Overall

UL’s PCMark suite attempts to replicate real-world tests, and runs through several scenarios such as office work and content creation. It also measures app loading time and more and can take advantage of the GPU for some of its workloads. The Surface Book 3 slots in with the other Ice Lake devices, although is down slightly in the Essentials test. Most of the tests only leveraged the Iris Plus GPU, and the GTX 1660 Ti was only used for the photo editing portion which is quite short, so it does not impact the overall scores too much.


Cinebench R20 - Single-Threaded Benchmark

Cinebench R20 - Multi-Threaded Benchmark

Now on version R20, Cinebench offers both single-thread and multi-thread runs for its computationally bound workload. The Ice Lake powered Surface Book does well here, although Intel is certainly at a core disadvantage compared to the new Ryzen 4000 platform, which powers the Acer Swift 3 with eight CPU cores.


x264 HD 5.x

x264 HD 5.x

The x264 test transcodes video to H.264 using the CPU. It will be phased out as we move to a new Handbrake based benchmark, but we have a tremendous backlog of data so until we flesh out the Handbrake results a bit more we’ll continue to include it. The Surface Book 3 once again does well, although the extra cores of the Ryzen 7 4700U make a big impact on this multi-threaded test.


Handbrake Transcoding (Software)

Handbrake Transcoding (Hardware)

We use Handbrake to test not only software transcoding, but also hardware-based thanks to the media block support in Handbrake. The GTX 1660 Ti adds a lot more grunt here, putting the Surface Book 3 in the lead when using the hardware encode.


7-Zip Compression

7-Zip Decompression

7-Zip is an open source file compression and decompression tool, and we log the results of its built-in benchmark. The Surface Book 3 is once again in-line with the other Ice Lake results.

Web Benchmarks

The Surface Book 3 is the first laptop we’ve tested which ships with the new Chromium-based Edge as the default web browser. Web benchmarks are highly dependent on the browser due to the reliance on the scripting engines, so this is a perfect time to drop some of the web tests we were doing and move on. We’ll be adding the Speedometer 2.0 test, as well as keeping WebXPRT 3.

Speedometer 2.0


The Acer Swift 3 and Surface Laptop 3 were re-tested with the new Edge as well. Going forward, this will be our new standard. Be aware though that browser speeds change over time as the browsers get updated. Each score will be a snapshot in time.

Storage Performance

When Microsoft announced the Surface Book 3 they said it had the fastest SSD they’d ever put in a laptop. They offer up to a 2 TB SSD now, with the 2 TB model being a Samsung, however the review unit arrived with a Toshiba-based 500 GB PCIe SSD.

We’ll also be updating our storage testing, moving away from peak read/write and over to the PCMark 10 Storage test, which tests traces of actual workloads including booting Windows 10, many Adobe applications such as Photoshop and Lightroom, and more. For a full guide on the test, please check out the PCMark 10 technical guide.

PCMark 10 System Drive Benchmark Bandwidth

PCMark 10 System Drive Benchmark Average Access Time

PCMark 10 System Drive Benchmark Score

Although the Surface Book 3 can ship with the fastest SSD Microsoft has ever put in a notebook, that was not the case for the review unit, which was actually slower than the 256 GB SSD in the Surface Laptop 3.

Design GPU Performance


View All Comments

  • Icehawk - Wednesday, June 3, 2020 - link

    And don’t forget if they drain the battery you can’t plug them into a dock to turn it on, you need to use a standalone charger to get it up to 10% or so first. Ugh I am not a Surface fan AT ALL. I’ve supported almost all of the models. Reply
  • pjcamp - Wednesday, June 3, 2020 - link

    I don't give a crap about bezels and I doubt anyone else does either, beyond tech pundits and reviewers who need something trendy to criticize. In fact, for devices to be held in the hands, like phones and tablets, bezels are a feature, not a bug, as they limit accidental activations.

    I own an original Surface Book, and I have a few observations about its durability.

    In the end, the detachable form factor is not a good idea. It means if you want to get inside, you have to pry off the screen, a dicey proposition. It is fussy and fumbly to switch back and forth, which you really need to do if you need to change between drawing and typing as drawing in laptop mode is made quite difficult by the screen wobbling back and forth. It's best to think of this as a pure laptop.

    The build quality is suspect. I've actually owned three of these things due to warranty replacements. Each of the previous ones had a power button that got stuck in the on position.

    Also, I don't detach the screen very much, but the connection on all three computers became wonky. Suddenly it no longer sees the keyboard any more and announces that it is in tablet mode.

    The memory wire attachment mechanism is clever, but it has gotten to the point that it doesn't work consistently. And the only recourse then is to find the one and only vent hole on the side that allows you to push a paper clip in at a 45 degree angle to force a manual release. That is clearly designed to prevent you from using it.

    Batteries are not eternal but at this point my battery life with keyboard attached is down to less than two hours. That seems like an awfully quick degradation, as these things go.

    The only thing that is an unmitigated good about these device, and it is a big thing, is the hi res 3:2 screen. If only Microsoft could make Windows scale appropriately instead of relying on each app to do it independently.
  • Spunjji - Thursday, June 4, 2020 - link

    This pretty much summarises my understanding of the devices, from a support perspective... they're just fussy. Over-engineered would be another way of putting it. Impossible to repair, fragile, and generally not suited to regular use "in anger".

    A damn shame, really, as I like the concept.
  • Deicidium369 - Friday, June 5, 2020 - link

    I am not sure about them being fragile - have had 10 or 11 deployed in the field, and they can at times take a beating - no failures in ~2 years - I have had my older model for going on 4, although doesn't get used that much anymore... still no issues. Reply
  • Spunjji - Friday, June 5, 2020 - link

    Your ~11 beats my 2, but of those 2 both failed - and one had intermittent GPU driver issues even when it was working. Reply
  • amb9800 - Wednesday, June 3, 2020 - link

    The GTX 1660 Ti Max-Q seems to be delivering better performance than expected (especially given it's a 65W part, vs. the 80W GTX 1060 Max-P in the Surface Book 2 15"), so it's not a completely worthless spec bump.

    That said, this would've been the perfect use case for the Ryzen 4000 U-series CPUs. Equipping the Surface Book 3 with a Ryzen 7 4800U would've allowed for performance on par with 45W 6/8-core Intel-based 15" competitors but within the Surface's 15-25W TDP budget.

    Intel Ice Lake U-series is by far the biggest disappointment on this machine -- it (along with every other premium Intel-powered ultrabook) gets destroyed by the 4700U-powered $650 Acer Swift 3. The performance picture gets even worse when you look at, say, the Asus ROG Zephyrus G14, which ups the ante with the desktop-killing Ryzen 9 4900HS for under $1,500 -- with a 14" screen, solid battery life, and lower weight than even the 13" Surface Book 3.
  • lmcd - Thursday, June 4, 2020 - link

    It's completely idiotic to compare a part that fits in a tablet form factor with a laptop sporting a 35W CPU. Whether the form factor is dumb or not is a different question.

    Worth remembering that Intel has delivered a "true SoC" platform for quite some time now. AMD's past CPUs, by comparison, weren't "true SoC" platforms and weren't even candidates to fit on this size of board. Ryzen 2x00U had an idle power bug across the platform, further removing it from candidacy.

    That means the first AMD SoC the Surface Book team might've had the chance to integrate is the 3x00U. Based on how long it took for MS to integrate Ice Lake, the Surface Book 3 wouldn't get the 4700U until Christmas or later. Possibly longer considering that the 4700U is a more substantial change than Ice Lake vs past Intel SoCs.
  • lmcd - Thursday, June 4, 2020 - link

    Yea just found this from the Renoir intro:

    "AMD’s latest Ryzen mobile product is the first design the company has done that combines CPU, GPU, and IO all on a monolithic die in TSMC’s 7nm process."

    Indicating that IO wasn't entirely on-board before. Surface Book 4 could theoretically have a Ryzen design.
  • Deicidium369 - Friday, June 5, 2020 - link

    Would imagine that the 1 AMD design they have would be sporting the 4000 series - wonder how much of a new design was needed to support it. Thermals would be better on the 4000 vs the older design Reply
  • Spunjji - Friday, June 5, 2020 - link

    I think you've misinterpreted that - Renoir is the first AMD SoC that combines all of that *on 7nm*. I'm fairly sure Raven ridge included USB, SATA etc on-die - that's how the A300 Promontory "chipset" in the ASRock A300 does its thing.

    Wouldn't surprise me if the SoC had a larger package area than the Intel competitors, though. Intel have been working hard on that aspect for a few generations now.

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