GPU Performance

The Surface 3 with the Atom x7-Z8700 pairs the Intel Gen 8 Graphics from Broadwell with the Airmont CPU cores of Atom. Unlike the Broadwell cores though, the Surface 3 SoC only has 16 execution units (EUs) as compared to 24 in Core M. The maximum frequency is also reduced to 600 MHz for these cores, as compared to up to 900 MHz in Core M. This is all necessary to keep the x7-8700 in the 2 watt SDP.

So performance will be a step back compared to Core M, but really this should be no surprise. The interesting comparison will be how it compares to Surface Pro 3 with Haswell Gen 7.5 graphics and of course to Bay Trail equipped tablets.

We will start with some synthetic tests and then move on to DOTA 2 to see how it performs on a real world game.

3DMark Tablet

3DMark 1.2 Unlimited - Overall

3DMark 1.2 Unlimited - Graphics

3DMark 1.2 Unlimited - Physics

The GPU upgrade is a big improvement over the ASUS T100's Bay Trail graphics, but the Atom GPU still can not compete with the fastest tablet SoCs out there.

3DMark Notebook

Futuremark 3DMark (2013)

Futuremark 3DMark (2013)

Futuremark 3DMark (2013)

Futuremark 3DMark (2013)

Futuremark 3DMark (2013)

Futuremark 3DMark (2013)

Futuremark 3DMark 11

Comparing the Surface 3 to PC class hardware puts it in a pretty poor light when looking at GPU performance. Our 3DMark tests have the Surface Pro 3 with the Core i3 on average 40% faster than Surface 3. Comparing it to the Dell Venue 11 Pro with Core M, we find the Core M GPU is on average 47% faster, which is quite a gap. Let’s not forget though that the Surface 3 is a mere 2 watt SDP, whereas Core M is a 4.5 W TDP and the Haswell-Y in Surface Pro 3 is an 11.5 W TDP.

GFXBench Tablet (OpenGL)

GFXBench 3.0 Manhattan (Offscreen)

GFXBench 3.0 T-Rex HD (Offscreen)

As with the 3DMark scores, the GPU upgrade is significant, but still a ways back of the best tablet GPUs out there. Intel still has some work to do on this front.

GFXBench Notebook (DirectX)

GFXBench 3.0 Manhattan Offscreen 1080p

GFXBench 3.0 T-Rex Offscreen 1080p

GFXBench 3.0 Alpha Blending Offscreen 1080p

GFXBench 3.0 ALU Offscreen 1080p

GFXBench 3.0 Driver Overhead Offscreen 1080p

GFXBench 3.0 Fill Rate Offscreen 1080p

GFXBench 3.0 Render Quality (High Precision)

GFXBench 3.0 Render Quality (Medium)

We see a similar story with GFXBench on the notebook side. The 16 EUs in our Atom SoC just cannot compete against the larger and faster GPUs in Core.

Moving on to a real-world game, we use a custom DOTA 2 benchmark for our lower powered devices. It is a very popular battle-arena game, and the GPU requirements are not too demanding.

DOTA 2 Value

The GPU in the Surface 3 is really not enough to play most games, and even on our value settings, the Surface 3 is not a great experience for DOTA 2. The higher TDP of Core M lets it do ok in this test, but overall the Surface 3 is a long way back of even the Surface Pro 3 Core i3.

Storage Performance

Like most tablets, the Surface 3 utilizes eMMC storage rather than the SSD storage found on higher priced laptops and Core M tablets. It costs less, it is less complex, and it works. So expectations are that it will not be able to compete with the fastest solutions out there. But as a tablet, workloads should be less complex, at least in theory.

Unfortunately Microsoft shipped me the 64 GB version of the tablet, and due to PCMark 8 requiring a large amount of free space in order to perform its tests, it was unable to be run on this device. But we have run into this issue in the past, and we can turn to a couple of other tools to get a feel for how the storage performance is. Even though eMMC is slower than a good SSD, there is still different levels of performance based on the NAND in use and the controller.

I ran CrystalDiskMark over a 4 GB span and the results are below.

Surface 3 eMMC Storage (left) vs Surface Pro 3 Core i3 SSD (right)

Compared to a true SSD, the eMMC performance leaves a lot to be desired. In fact, most of the time when I was using the tablet and I found it slow, such as installing software, or loading programs, it was mostly disk bound. There are faster eMMC options available, but I will refrain from comparing it to other tablets since we do not have the same benchmarking tools for both.

System Performance Display


View All Comments

  • Alexvrb - Monday, May 4, 2015 - link

    Actually in many regards the Surface 3 has the superior display. Sorry! Also in terms of SoC performance, the CPU side of the x7 is great and very competitive. If you're looking for 3D performance it's not as impressive but this would not be the best device for that workload - you'd be better off with a laptop/hybrid or a Surface Pro! Reply
  • Speedfriend - Tuesday, May 5, 2015 - link

    "And people buy it because it doesn't run windows, too."

    Increasingly people don't buy the Ipad if the plummeting sales are any indication. My iPad stay on the sofa for basic web browsing, email and videos. Anything else I have to get my laptop for, becuase the iPad is basically pretty useless. And having recently bpought a cheap Android tablet to carry to work to watch movies on, I have realised that an iPad offers nothing that a cheap Android tablet can't do. I will never buy another iPad, it is just an overpriced toy. I wil buy a Surface though as it can actually replace my laptop for almost every task.
  • romprak - Tuesday, May 5, 2015 - link

    The iPad is showing its lack of utility even in Apple's lineup, where large phones handily do most of the stuff an iPad used to be relied upon, and cheap tablets do web browsing as well as an iPad. Tablets are great for families, but why buy a $500 tablet for your child, when devices that can do almost as well are available for much, much less - and your children are unlikely to care too much whose logo is on the device?

    Apple is in trouble with the iPad, they need to either update the OS or come up with something killer for it.

    In contrast, my family can use a Windows machine for all sorts of stuff - from programming (my 10 year old son is programming now), all the way to playing games on Steam. So, why iPad? Seems superfluous.
  • akdj - Tuesday, May 12, 2015 - link

    I wouldn't call the 'slack' quarter sales of 17 million iPads 'trouble for Apple'. They sold more iPads then every Surface sold in aggregate, since its birth....last ¼ Alone! And that's six months post release.
    I like the SP3 Pro, I think MS nailed it. Surface 3 looks like a very nice step forward. That said, Apple HAS updated the OS and as an ambidextrous user or both Windows and OS X, I've found the continuity/handoff features built into iOS 8/OS X 10.10 to easily be the biggest advancement in some time --- especially between devices; phone, tablet and desktop or notebook.
    Funny thing, I've got a ten year old as well. Also coding right now --- and I'm learning with him. He's building a cross platform app for his science fair.
    He's coding on iOS only. Although he's got access to the iMac and MacBook Air, he's much happier learning both Objective C/Swift on iOS, using the free university lectures, notes and information along with a couple very excellent 'touch' coding 'apps'

    It's funny to listen to rehashed arguments about the iPad and how it's for the couch potato only. I've flown 22 hours since Saturday morning, around Alaska with tourists looking to fish, shoot stills or motion, capture audio or wrap production in other areas of the state. My iPad is my kneeboard; plans my flights and files my plans, distributes weight and balance of the A/C, shows me real time weather, traffic, and up to date Jep charts and plates. It's been invaluable as a 'display' for small field edits, using as a remote viewfinder to capture sketchy wildlife and there's never a concern with battery life.

    I do enjoy reading on the iPad, creating, invoicing clients or paying my utilities. I can take calls, use MS Office (whoever said it's a stripped version obviously hasn't used iOS Office, it's amazing!) Dropbox or iCloud, Box or Google Drive (I've found many Google apps to be better on iOS than my Android devices, currently using a Note 4), as well a plethora of powerful apps like iMovie, GarageBand, Pages Numbers and Keynote...all optional, none are bloated. iOS takes up a ½ dozen GBs, not two dozen! And if the RT3 suffers this much graphically, there's a LIMIT on 'all those X86' programs that actually WILL run on the rig
    Sure, you'll be able to run CS3 efficiently and it sounds like games from a decade ago might work, but Iike the iPad, you're not gonna be manipulating 50megapixel Raw images nor creating killed effects in AE or transcoding video any faster. There's a trade off either way and IMHO, it's cool to see this significant a jump in performance on the new RT
    I was also impressed with the SP3. That said, the iPad Air 2 is one helluva tablet at one pound and using TCAS and ADS-B with three dimensional moving maps with weather and traffic, GPS and nav aids that were easily 50-60 pounds for each pilot to carry around or avionics to add... Now in less than a one pound package, it's definitely NOT in trouble.
    I think it's such an excellent device --- my original as well as iPad 2 are working great and the kids love them...most folks aren't updating them like phones. They're still selling nearly a 100,000,000 a year! That's hardly trouble. Even if the slip YoY spooks you, just remember how many are already out there, that the mini is only two and half --- 1 ½ with retina, and the Air 2 was the tick. Not that tock...yet they've managed to sell more in their worst quarter than every other tablet manufacturer combined! (Not to mention their mind blowing 6 & 6s sales, I'm sure their just fine canabalizing their own iPad sales with 6 and 6+ sales which are also pocket computers).
    Times have changed and 'most' folks have everything they need in today's tablets. Today's smartphones. Regardless of which OEM they've decided on. Once they're happy, it's kind of a pain to 'change over' and these are extremely personal devices when compared to the home computer

    Sorry about the length. But I enjoy and love using both OS X and (one of about six or seven dolts that enjoy using) Win 8.1. I've also used Android since 08 (still have my Xoom!) and iOS since '07. I currently use a Note 4 and 6+. Biz. Personal. As much as I enjoy Windows, OS X is certainly the 'go to OS' in our house.

    Not to mention, OS X comes complete with training wheels for someone like romprak. It's called Bootcamp and you're welcome to install any OS you'd like. Unlike Windows.
  • bobjones32 - Monday, May 4, 2015 - link

    For your claim of better performance, how well does the iPad run Win32 apps? Reply
  • mkozakewich - Tuesday, May 5, 2015 - link

    That's not performance, that's functionality. If the exact same chip magically supported dual-booting x86 Win10, I'm sure it would do slightly better. That's not the power of Atom, though. It wasn't designed to blow everything else out of the water. (I'm sure it'll get better power characteristics on heavy load tests, for instance, because of its conservative power use.)

    What it all boils down to: This is a great device. It's different than an iPad, though, and different people will need different things from it. I feel a premium tablet can live at $500-$600, but a slightly-compromised tablet that runs Windows and is only truly complete with a $120 accessory will need to sweeten the deal to have obvious value to the common consumer.

    It's a close game, but Surface needs a nudge. I suppose it'll get that in a couple months when it goes on sale for a bit.
  • MrTetts - Tuesday, May 5, 2015 - link

    I never understand people who say this device is overpriced.. I just don't. For what it does, I would say it is very well priced. Reply
  • Stevegt87 - Thursday, May 7, 2015 - link

    While the surface 3 is more capable than an ipad. A new ipad runs 100% of ipad software perfectly. Surface 3 is low on cpu/gpu/ram/disk for much of the desktop experience that it enables. Reply
  • Stevegt87 - Thursday, May 7, 2015 - link

    Game are made to run perfectly on an ipad. Games will humble surface3 Reply
  • augiem - Monday, May 4, 2015 - link

    This thing is already $100 cheaper than a 128GB Air 2, does WAY more, has more memory, etc. How cheap is cheap enough? Would you really want them to sacrifice something like build quality, screen quality, or other necessities to reach a price point lower than this? They do have to stay in business after all. Running full Windows in the tablet space is completely unheard of and adds far more than $50 worth of value to this product compared to its competition. Reply

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