Surface Book 3 will never be the most powerful laptop you've ever seen — here's why
Some people think they want the Surface Book 3, but what they really want is a non-existent Surface Laptop Pro.
Microsoft recently revealed the new Surface Book 3, the first refresh since late 2017. The powerful 2-in-1 gets the latest Intel and NVIDIA silicon making it a more modern device with a reported 50 percent boost in performance. While the lack of design changes and features are unfortunate, others are lamenting that it "only" has a quad-core processor and is not something ... more.
I get it. I am sure Microsoft does, too. No, the Surface Book is not – and never will be – the most powerful laptop. It is, however, the most potent convertible because there is no other laptop like it. There is no other PC that has a detachable display that acts as a standalone tablet computer.
But because of this design, there are substantial limits on its capabilities.
The new Surface Book 3 uses an Intel Core i7-1065G7. That is a U-series chip (read: Ultrabook) that requires 15 watts of energy, although Microsoft can run it up to 25 watts of thermal design power (TDP). Many 13-inch laptops run that CPU model, but Microsoft is likely to get better performance due to the slightly higher TDP.
Intel has more powerful H-series chips like the Core i7-10750H. That is a 45-watt processor with six cores and twelve threads. There's also the beefier Core i7-10875H with eight cores and sixteen threads found in the new Razer Blade 15.
If U-series chips are four-cylinder car engines, then H-series are bigger V-8s and V-12s.
So, why doesn't Microsoft drop these mighty chips into the Surface Book 3? It seems so obvious!
The primary reason is just physics. Because the Surface Book 3 has a detachable display, the processor is behind the screen (along with the RAM, the SSD, and the motherboard). The fan and heat piping also must be a part of that along with a battery. That is a lot of stuff to put behind a touch display. It also limits how hot the processor can get, which is further constrained by the cooling system and desired fan noise.
Notice how no other laptop does this.
For one, it is incredibly hard to engineer (and expensive to design). The other reason is it is simpler to put the processor in the base of the computer where there is physically more space for cooling, larger heat pipes, and bigger fans. The heat can also go higher as the risk to ruining the delicate display components is non-existent (excessive heat can damage the glue that binds the display layers together).
Surface Book 2 vs. Surface Book 3: Which is a better buy?
There are other reasons, too, why putting a 45-watt chip into the Surface Book 3 would be a bad idea (even if it were possible). It'd undoubtedly drive up the price, and the Surface Book 3's battery life would take a massive hit (especially for the tablet portion).
But what about AMD?
AMD's new Ryzen chips look outstanding, but if Microsoft wanted those in the Surface Book 3, it's not as simple as dropping in the chip. The entire board, wiring, battery, memory system, and Wi-Fi chipsets would all have to be redesigned, swapped out, and rebuilt for the Surface Book 3's chassis.
This design issue is a sticking point for AMD, who loathes when PC makers do base swaps with Intel-based laptops. AMD knows that to make the most of its chips, you need to design the computer from the ground-up for AMD Ryzen. AMD calls this "cooperative design," and it is part of its AMD Assured Program for working with manufacturers. The new AMD-based ASUS ROG Zephyrus G14 is an example of this partnership.
It is undoubtedly feasible that for a Surface Book 4, which by current pacing would arrive sometime in 2022, could be built around an AMD Ryzen architecture to capitalize on its potential. That could happen.
And maybe Microsoft should have rebuilt the Surface Book 3 from scratch for 2020, but quite a few companies follow this "iterate once and let it ride for a few years" engineering style, including Dell and Apple. But Surface Books (like Surface Studio) are low-volume drivers and it may not make financial sense to re-engineer something just to keep tech nerds happy.
Either way, my point remains. You can't just swap out to an AMD system, and using a 45-watt chip (whether Intel or AMD) is currently not feasible with the design of the Surfaced Book.
The bottom line: You probably want a different laptop
The Surface Book is, first and foremost, a convertible laptop PC. It is the only kind with a detachable display, and because of that decision, it has stringent design limitations compared to typical workstation laptops like the XPS 15 or Razer Blade 15.
We could debate about the usefulness of that detachable display, which is fair. Still, the fact is Surface Book 3's current hardware and design is likely maxed out (although NVIDIA GeForce RTX options would have been attractive).
This brings me to my final argument: I think what some people really want is not the Surface Book, but a mythical "Surface Laptop Pro." That device is one built from the ground up as a non-convertible laptop with a 45-watt processor and the most powerful graphics on the planet.
Microsoft has not made "Surface Laptop Pro", yet. Maybe it will. But until then, people need to stop trying to make the Surface Book something it is not. Just like you cannot shoehorn a V-12 engine into a Honda Civic without significant consequences, you cannot just slap in a 45-watt processor in the Surface Book either.
And if you do want a tablet PC with a massive, heat-inducing Core i9-9980HK and a desktop-class NVIDIA RTX 2080 GPU, well, it is already here. It is called the ASUS ROG Mothership. It weighs 10 pounds (4.5 kg) and it costs $6,500.
So, what's stopping you?
Two in one
Power on the go
The refreshed Surface Book 3 for 2020 gets new Intel 10th Gen processors, more powerful GTX graphics, and much better Wi-Fi, SSD, and RAM options making this one powerful 2-in-1 convertible PC.
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Daniel Rubino is the Editor-in-chief of Windows Central, head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been covering Microsoft since 2007 when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, laptops, next-gen computing, and for some reason, watches. Before all this tech stuff, he worked on a Ph.D. in linguistics, watched people sleep (for medical purposes!), and ran the projectors at movie theaters because it was fun.
By Jez Corden
now the new ones don't come with a pen but are still quite more expensive.
even if they'd just taken out the pen to maintain price parity that would have been better.
original base SB including pen, windows pro and complete care was about 1500
now base SB3 with no pen, and just windows home starts at 1600... complete care tacks on another $250!
If all you care about is performance and tbolt than there are lots of alternatives for lower prices. Even if you want one with a pen there is the Acer ConceptD 7 Ezel (i am surprised Daniel not mentioning this one). The only downside I can think of is the 16:9 panel, but at the same time is that really such an issue on a 15 inch panel? Especially compared to 16:10 the difference is not that big.
Alienware Area 51-M with i9-9900k, NVIDIA® GeForce RTX™ 2080 8 GB GDDR6, 64GB,2+1 TB ssd/sshd (you can have 4hdd's). If you want to stick to Dell but now for serious work you could opt for the the Precision 7740 Mobile Workstation with Intel XeonE2286m. Nvidia Quadro RTX 5000 w/16GB GDDR6, 128gb 2666Mhz DDR4 ECC, M.2 2tb NVMe ssd +3 additional HDDs and you can even further beef it up.
Is it Touch Screen? No
Does it have the same color accuracy?
As light? No
Equal battery life?
Pen Support? No
Windows Hello? No
As thin? No
Camera Front and back? No Basically all you did was vomit specs without any of the features or reasons why people buy an SB, thus proving Daniel's point
I keep telling people... pound for pound, the SB3 is the fastest 2in1 out there. And as for the 13 inch form factor... nothing compares. Nothing even exists at that size that has inking and also a discrete GPU like the 1650 in it. And guess what, pop the top off and you've got a svelte 1.6lb tablet instead of a hulking 2in1.... you just can't compare it to anything else.
- Were never going to buy it anyways Saying the style hasn't changed yet the MacBook Pro and other devices haven't had a major change in almost 5 years is not really necessary until processors get more efficient. This is a really unique device giving you a 13.5 or 15" tablet with a fully working laptop.
Some design alteration in kickstand so that it doesn't fiddle with keyboard base.
I'd rather have a Surface product for my work laptop but here I am on my Dell XPS 15 simply because it has thunderbolt.
1) the lack of a Thunderbolt port, specifically for game /VR/AR developers. If you are going to improve the graphics card and jack the RAM to 32GB, why not add Thunderbolt to allow it to connect to systems like the Vive.
2) SD Card slot should be on the tablet and not on the keyboard. This presents a problem for graphic designers who have content on the SD card and want to use the tablet/pen interface.
P.S: I also own a Surface Go and an SP7
I am a huge fan of this product category. But I'll pass on the SB3
2. That would just be adding even more to the tablet part.
2) My Surface Pro 7 (slot) includes an SD card slot
3) My Surface Go (tablet) includes both an SD card slot and a SIM card slot
How many Ryzen A10 apu configured laptops do you see? How many Ryzen 9 laptops do you see? Yes there's other factors, like the fact AMD is a fraction of the size of Intel, therefore they can't flood the market with chips and chipsets like Intel does, along with lack of partners and supply chain relationships, but the "Because their chips aren't good" argument has been false for over s decade now
All these people above moaning about 35/45 watt cpu's but than forgetting were are talking about a tablet + keyboard dock here.
SB 2 15 inch owner here. I envisioned (back when we had trains, and commuting) doing work on the train and then yanking the tablet part off to continue on in a more mobile way on foot or on bus after that. The truth is that the 15 inch tablet is gigantic, unwieldy, and a lot of the apps I fire up will try to use the dGPU... making it very cumbersome to switch to the integrated one. I have to do weird workflows like: shut down apps... in order to detach the screen, and then re-open the apps again... now running the integrated graphics. Stuff like this makes it quite hard to get behind the form factor itself. Which is the whole point of slowing down the CPU But yeah; a kickstand. And connectivity. Killer features. What I want is a Surface Pro 7, with a keyboard base that has a GPU, Surface Dock of ports, and battery.