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Surface Book 3 15-inch review: More of the same — and that's (mostly) a good thing

Surface Book 3 gets refreshed hardware after two years, but is it enough to make it a great laptop?

Surface Book 3 Logo Profile
(Image: © Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

Windows Central Recommended Award

Microsoft's Surface Book 3 remains one of the most unique laptops available, with effectively no real competition. There are very few convertible 2-in-1 laptops that support inking and have such a powerful GPU. While this latest version does not mess with the formula, it's easy to lose sight of how powerful this laptop has become since it first debuted in 2015.

But how does Surface Book 3 fair on its own merits as a mobile, convertible workstation? Surprisingly well. While some will criticize Microsoft for not even making minor changes to the chassis, it's also easy to appreciate just how amazing this laptop is with the right silicon.

Pricing on Surface Book 3 has not shifted much since its release in June 2020 as it holds steady at $1,400 for the entry-level 13.5-inch model, though Microsoft periodically has better savings on the higher-end models. There is no Surface Book 4 arriving for 2021, and this laptop likely won't be refreshed until sometime in 2022 at the earliest, making it a safe purchase today.

TL;DR for 2020

Microsoft Surface Book 3: What's new and specs

Surface Book 3 Lead

Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

While a lot of focus is on the refreshed CPU and GPU for Surface Book 3 (both 13.5-inch and 15-inch models), there are quite a few other updates to the internal hardware that complete the overall package. Here is a condensed list of what changed between Surface Book 2 and Surface Book 3:

CategorySpec
Wi-FiIntel Wi-Fi 6 + Bluetooth 5.0 (instead of Marvel)
RAMUp to 32GB LPDDR4x
StorageFaster, up to 2TB (15-inch only)
CPU10th Gen Intel Core
GPUGTX 1660 Ti Max-Q (15-inch)
Quadro RTX 3000 (15-inch)
Charger127W (15-inch)
AudioDolby Atmos
Power50 percent more powerful
BatteryHalf hour longer

The larger charger — now at 127 watts versus just 102 previously — may seem minor, but it matters a lot. When maxing out Surface Book 2 for CPU and GPU, say during video gaming, it was possible to drain the battery while plugged into the wall. The new 127-watt charger fixes this problem.

Surface Book 2 could only be purchased with 16GB of RAM max, but developers and engineers demanded more. With Surface Book 3 15-inch, 16GB is now the lowest model, and it is only available in one of the four models, with the other three being 32GB configurations.

Wi-Fi 6 (ax) is standard these days in most new laptops, so it being here is not remarkable. But since Intel is the predominant maker of Wi-Fi 6 laptop chips, it is an excellent move away from Microsoft's previous supplier Marvel. The Marvel Wi-Fi hardware was a problem in the past with instability issues for some users.

Surface Book 3 Hero

Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

Here is a full spec comparison between Surface Book 2 and Surface Book 3.

Surface Book 2 (15)Surface Book 3 (15)
Processor8th Gen Intel Core i7-8650U10th Gen Intel Core i7-1065G7
RAM8GB or 16GB LPDDR316GB, or 32GB LPDDR4x
Storage256GB, 512GB, or 1TB256GB, 512GB, 1TB, or 2TB
Display size15 inches
Touch
15 inches
Touch
Display resolution3240 x 2160
3:2 aspect
260 PPI
3240 x 2160
3:2 aspect
260 PPI
GraphicsIntel UHD Graphics 620
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060
Intel Iris Plus
GeForce GTX 1660 Ti (Max-Q)
NVIDIA Quadro RTX 3000
PortsTwo USB Type-A 3.1 (Gen1)
One USB Type-C w/ video, power in/out and USB 3.1 (Gen1) data
Full-size SDXC card reader (UHS-II)
Headphone jack (3.5mm)
Two Surface Connect ports (1 in tablet, 1 in keyboard base)
Two USB Type-A 3.1 (Gen1)
One USB Type-C w/ video, power in/out and USB 3.1 (Gen2) data
Full-size SDXC card reader (UHS-II)
Headphone jack (3.5mm)
Two Surface Connect ports (1 in tablet, 1 in keyboard base)
ConnectivityMarvel Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
Blueooth 4.1
Xbox Wireless
Intel Wi-Fi 6 802.11ax
Bluetooth 5.0
Xbox Wireless
Camera5MP Front-facing 1080P
8.0MP Rear-facing AF 1080P
5MP Front-facing 1080P
8.0MP Rear-facing AF 1080P
BiometricsIR cameraIR camera
Battery80WHr
Up to 17 hours
80WHr
Up to 17.5 hours
Charger102W127W
Dimensions343 mm x 251 mm x 15-23 mm (L x W x D)
13.5 in x 9.87 in x 0.57 to 0.90 in
343 mm x 251 mm x 15-23 mm (L x W x D)
13.5 in x 9.87 in x 0.57 to 0.90 in
Weight4.20 lb (1,905 g) including keyboard4.20 lb (1,905 g) including keyboard

The SSD used for storage is also now faster, as the benchmarks below reveal. You can also now top it off at 2TB instead of just 1TB with Surface Book 2.

Surface Book 3 15 Consumer

SKUPrice
10th Gen Intel Core i7, 16 GB RAM, 256GB, GTX 1660Ti$2,299
10th Gen Intel Core i7, 32 GB RAM, 512GB, GTX 1660Ti$2,799
10th Gen Intel Core i7, 32 GB RAM, 1TB, GTX 1660Ti$2,999
10th Gen Intel Core i7, 32 GB RAM, 2TB, GTX 1660Ti$3,399

Surface Book 3 15 Commercial

SKUPrice
10th Gen Intel Core i7, 16 GB RAM, 256GB, GTX 1660Ti$2,399
10th Gen Intel Core i7, 32 GB RAM, 512GB, GTX 1660Ti$2,899
10th Gen Intel Core i7, 32 GB RAM, 1TB, GTX 1660Ti$3,099
10th Gen Intel Core i7, 32 GB RAM, 2TB, GTX 1660Ti$3,499
10th Gen Intel Core i7, 32 GB RAM, 512 GB, Quadro RTX 3000$3,499
10th Gen Intel Core i7, 32 GB RAM, 1TB, Quadro RTX 3000$3,699

The wire mechanism that controls the display detaching is reportedly two times faster and quieter than Surface Book 2, a minor change. While it is difficult to judge the speed difference, it is quicker than Surface Book 2.

Don't mess with a good thing

Surface Book 3 15 design

Surface Book 3 Review Side Ports Type C

Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

There is nothing new with Surface Book 3's design compared to Surface Book 2. While one could argue Surface Book's iconic and future-forward design is unmatched, it would have been nice to see some minor changes, akin to Surface Laptop 3, which at least gained a larger trackpad.

The magnesium chassis of the Surface Book 3 15 is stable, smooth, and very durable. Since there is no paint — unlike the Surface Laptop in various colors — there is only concern over light scuffing rather than paint scratches. There are no creaks or weak points due to the unibody design. That also means, however, there are no entry points for repairs on the Surface Book 3 nor any way to upgrade internal components.

Surface Book 3 does more than any other convertible.

The claim to fame with Surface Book is the ability to press a release button on the keyboard that separates the display from the main laptop body. Microsoft achieved this by putting all the PC innards — CPU, RAM, storage, Wi-Fi/Bluetooth, and some battery — into the display, while the base acts as a larger battery and houses the full NVIDIA GPU. It's a fantastic feat of engineering; no other laptop has this design.

The display removed from the base can act as a standalone PC tablet with about an hour of battery life. It can also be reversed to bring the screen closer to the user (when watching a movie) or lay down flat ("studio mode"), which simulates a drafting table. It's not a practical design when compared to laptops with simple hinges, but it also means Surface Book 3 does more than every other convertible.

Surface Book 3 Review Tablet

Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

I wouldn't, however, describe Surface Book 3 as rugged. The power and volume keys are located on the top of the display, making sense for the tablet portion. But this design leaves those critical buttons exposed and prone to damage. It is also possible to dent the chassis, especially the top display half, where there is some empty space. The fulcrum hinge, which expands the base of the laptop when opened, has not changed from its predecessor. There is still the iconic "gap" when the Surface Book is closed, giving the device its book-like shape. The display can also be opened one-handed and is easy to do with the massive front notch.

At 4.2 pounds (1,905 grams), the Surface Book 3 15 is below the average weight for 15-inch laptops with touch displays and discrete graphics.

As a tablet, the Surface Book 3 15, while a bit large to hold one-handed, weighs 1.8 pounds (817 grams). Considering there is a full, quad-core Core i7 processor with (up to) 2TB of storage and 32GB of RAM behind that display, the tablet is quite remarkable.

For ports, Microsoft provides the bare minimum for a competitive experience. Two Type-A (USB 3.1 Gen 2) ports flank the left side along with a full SD card reader, both of which are becoming rarer. On the right side is a single Type-C (USB 3.1 Gen 2) port with Power Delivery, display out (DisplayPort 1.4), and it can be used to charge the Book 3 slowly. Near that Type-C port is the Surface Connect port for charging, data, and connecting to Surface Dock 2 for port and display expansion (up to two 4K displays at 60Hz).

As expected, there is no Thunderbolt 3 with Surface Book 3, with security concerns being one of the reasons why, according to Microsoft.

A delight to behold

Surface Book 3 display and inking

Surface Book 3 Review Inking

Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

Microsoft did not improve upon the 3240 x 2160 PixelSense LCD touch display for Surface Book 3. It still has a 1600:1 contrast ratio and 3:2 aspect. There is no anti-reflective layer, making this display quite glossy. Likewise, there is no support for HDR or Dolby Vision, which is disappointing. There is no difference in color calibration, either, with 97 percent sRGB, 72 percent AdobeRGB, and 72 percent DCI-P3 in our tests. While these results are good, nearly every other premium laptop in this range has similar or even better scores.

Brightness peaks at 411 nits with the display set to 100 percent, and it can reach as low as three nits at the lowest end. For comparison, the MacBook Pro 16 gets a comparable 420 nits of brightness. Microsoft provides an auto-brightness sensor, which was disabled for these tests. And like all other Surface PCs, it has the controversial "adaptive contrast" function, which can be disabled with an Intel utility.

Inking is also the same as Surface Book 2, with 4,096 levels of pressure and tilt support. There is a mere 21-millisecond latency thanks to Microsoft's custom PixelSense Accelerator chip, which works with its $99 Surface Pen (opens in new tab).

Surface Book 3 Hero

Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

In the upper bezel of the display sits a 5MP front-facing camera with dual microphones capable of 1080P video in Microsoft Teams, Skype, or Zoom calls. Surface Pro X, Surface Go 2, Surface Pro 7, and Surface Book 3 easily have the best cameras around on any laptop. That camera area also houses the Windows Hello infrared facial recognition system, like all other Surface PCs. Instant-on, the ability to resume quickly, is also excellent.

Some will lament the "thick" bezels of Surface Book 3, which have not changed in years. That's somewhat fair, but since the display can be used as a tablet, those bezels help with usability. When using Book 3 as a laptop, the bezels never bothered me, nor did I notice them.

Best typing

Surface Book 3 15 trackpad and keyboard

Surface Book 3 Review Keyboard Trackpad

Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

Microsoft's Surface line nearly always has the best keyboards and trackpads for Windows PCs, and that holds especially true with Surface Book 3.

Not much has changed with the Book 3's keyboard, which is a good thing. Key travel is still 1.55mm, which is deep compared to many other laptops. The all-silver and metal keys are excellent at hiding dirt and oil. Typing is roomy, quiet, and features exceptional response and return metrics. Due to the 3:2 display aspect, there is plenty of room for your palms and wrists to rest on the keyboard deck (although if you wear a watch or bracelet, it may scrape up against the chassis). Three-stage backlighting (manually enabled via F1) lets you type in the dark.

You'd be hard put to find a better keyboard on a Windows PC.

There are some very minor alterations to Book 3's keyboard. On the F4 and F8 keys, there are now little tactile nubs for better detection, likely for accessibility reasons. The top-row function keys also have had a few features moved around, similar to what we saw on Surface Go 2.

Microsoft makes a superb trackpad, and there is little to complain about with the Book 3's. It is glass, smooth, uses Microsoft Precision drivers, and it has a very good (and quiet) click to it. Microsoft did not make the trackpad larger for this year, as it did with Surface Laptop 3. Right now, the trend is exceptionally large trackpads, which, when combined with excellent palm rejection, give users what they want. Why Microsoft could not even bother with this simple modification is baffling.

Dolby Atmos

Surface Book 3 15 audio and speakers

Surface Book 3 Top Vent Buttons

Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

Two speakers flank the display on Surface Book 3, which are nicely hidden in the somewhat large display bezels. The speakers are about 4/5s of the way up and are front-facing, delivering audio that lines up nicely with your ears. Again, no other laptop does this, as they typically all have speakers in the keyboard base. But with Surface Book 3, since the display becomes a detachable tablet, they must be in the top half.

New this year are some software enhancements with Dolby Atmos. While users cannot adjust its properties, Dolby Atmos provides much better spatial performance with the two speakers letting it "surround" you. When combined with the well-tuned speakers of Book 3 and their position, watching movies or a YouTube video is quite an experience.

However, Surface Book 3 is missing a subwoofer for deeper bass. With only two speakers, Microsoft has less range than systems with four speakers, and as a result, audio is not nearly as rich as some other laptops.

Much power

Surface Book 3 15 performance, battery, and heat

Surface Book 3 Games

Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

So far, this review has been mostly a recap of Surface Book 2 with some minor modifications. But the heart of this hardware refresh is the CPU, GPU, and SSD, which, when combined, make Surface Book 3 the most potent version to date.

The new, but commonly used, 10th-Gen Intel Core i7-1065G7 is nothing particularly exciting. This version of the quad-core 15-watt processor gets a somewhat higher Thermal Design Power (TDP) setting that temporarily boosts to 25-watts. That doesn't make this Core i7 any faster than other Ultrabooks. It does mean that as long as the system's heat is being adequately dissipated, Book 3 can maintain extended turbo performance.

Geekbench 5

Geekbench 5.0 (CPU) (Higher is better)

DeviceCPUSingle coreMulti core
Surface Book 3 15i7-1065G71,2984,511
Surface Book 2 15i7-8650U1,1303,602
Samsung Galaxy Book Flexi7-1065G71,3174,780
Dell XPS 13 (9300)i7-1065G71,2844,848
Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 7390i7-1065G71,2093,571
Surface Laptop 3 15i7-1065G71,3364,893
HP Elite Dragonflyi7-8665U1,1252,942
Surface Laptop 3 13.5i5-1035G71,1774,413
Lenovo Yoga C740i5-10210U1,0943,767
HP Spectre x360 13i7-1065G71,0063,402
Surface Pro XSQ17252,819
Surface Laptop 3 15Ryzen 57692,720
Surface Pro 7i5-1035G41,1914,441

Geekbench 4

Geekbench 4.0 (CPU) (Higher is better)

DeviceCPUSingle coreMulti core
Surface Book 3 15i7-1065G75,16618,743
Surface Book 2 15i7-8650U5,03614,237
Surface Book 2 13i7-8650U4,86214,694
Surface Laptop 3 15Ryzen-53,98512,079
Surface Laptop 3 15i7-1065G75,72719,593
Surface Laptop 3 13.5i5-1035G75,26517,345
Surface Laptop 2i5-8250U4,20313,233
Surface Laptopi5-7200U3,7257,523
Surface Pro 7i5-1035G45,24517,350
Surface Pro 6i7-8650U5,03713,864
Surface Pro 6i5-8250U4,28714,031
Surface Pro 5i5-7300U4,3028,482
Surface Pro 5i7-7660U4,5139,346
Surface Pro 4i5-6300U3,3196,950
Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 7390i7-1065G75,45919,097
Razer Blade Stealthi7-8565U5,13916,339
Dell Latitude 7400 2-in-1i7-8665U5,46915,800

PCMark

PCMark 10

DeviceScore
Surface Book 3 154,393
Surface Book 2 154,228
Surface Laptop 3 15 (AMD)4,006
Surface Laptop 3 15 (Intel)4,604
Surface Laptop 22,748
Surface Pro 7 i53,992
Surface Pro 6 i73,644
Surface Pro 6 i53,501
Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 73904,427
Dell XPS 15 75905,521
Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 73904,427

GPU

Geekbench 4.0 CUDA (higher is better)

LaptopGPUScore
Surface Book 3 15GTX 1660 Ti233,528
Surface Book 2 15GTX 1060132,785
Surface Book 2 13GTX 105075,665
Razer Blade 2017GTX 1060138,758
XPS 15GTX 105075,636
Surface BookGTX 965M59,945

SSD

CrystalDiskMark (Higher is better)

DeviceReadWrite
Surface Book 3 512GB2,370 MB/s1,458 MB/s
Surface Book 2 1TB2,428 MB/s730 MB/s
Surface Book 1TB1,018 MB/s967 MB/s
Surface Laptop 3 152,028 MB/s806 MB/s
Surface Laptop 3 13.52,338 MB/s1,583 MB/s
Surface Pro 72,040 MB/s809 MB/s
Surface Pro 61,632 MB/s814 MB/s
Samsung Galaxy Book Flex3,376 MB/s2,983 MB/s
Dell XPS 13 (9300)3,000 MB/s1,217 MB/s
HP Spectre x360 (Optane)2,092 MB/s515 MB/s
Dell XPS 13 2-in-12,400 MB/s1,228 MB/s
HP Elite Dragonfly (Optane)2,124 MB/s548 MB/s
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme (Gen 2)3,416 MB/s3,016 MB/s
Lenovo ThinkPad P533,567.23 MB/s2,813.25 MB/s
Lenovo ThinkPad P523,120 MB/s1,551.5 MB/s
Dell XPS 15 75903,000 MB/s2,796 MB/s
MSI PS63 Modern3,300 MB/s1,875 MB/s

.

The NVIDIA GeForce GTX-1660 Ti is an interesting choice. While Microsoft eschewed using a more modern RTX 2060 with Max-Q Design, the GTX 1660 Ti, by comparison, gets about 15 percent less performance — minus any ray-tracing ability compared to it. When likening to Surface Book 2's GTX 1060, the newer GTX 1660 Ti is about 20 percent faster. None of those numbers are impressive on their own, but when you toss in 32GB of LPDDR4X RAM and a slightly faster SSD, you get excellent performance.

I was able to play DOOM Eternal (PC) at native resolution (3240 x 2160) and high graphics, while getting 57 to 60 frames per second (FPS). But Surface Book 3's performance is also very much dependent on how cold (or hot) your room is during strenuous and prolonged usage of the CPU and GPU. A more realistic DOOM Eternal experience in a 70 degrees Fahrenheit (23 degrees Celsius) area is ~ 60 FPS but at a lower 1872 x 1248 resolution with graphics presets on high.

On Destiny 2, playing at 2500 x 1600 on medium presets also yields an auspiciously fun 60 FPS. The popular game Rocket League can be played at 1620 x 1080 with high-quality settings and SMAA anti-aliasing while still easily hitting 60 FPS (V-Sync).

Yes, you can game on Book 3.

To be clear, Microsoft does not call Surface Book 3 a gaming laptop, and in no way would I classify it as such. Microsoft does claim Surface Book 3 is the best Surface for gaming, which is bolstered by the native Xbox wireless controller support found in the 15-inch model. That ability lets you get haptic vibration and wireless audio over the controller (so you can plug headphones into it).

I can tell you that gaming on Surface Book 3, including the just-released Minecraft Dungeons, is excellent. This laptop though, is still better suited for someone who likes to game on occasion versus all the time. The thermals are just not there for sustained 60 FPS if you want to leverage the full display resolution. (Dropping to full HD, however, is very doable.)

Surface Book 3 Review Vent

Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

On 3DMark's Time Spy Stress Test, which loops through Time Spy 20 times, Surface Book 3 earned a 99.4 percent passing rating for FPS stability.

Estimating battery life is tricky, as it depends on how bright you run the display and how much of that GPU you use. Microsoft claims an extra half hour of usage with the new 10th-Gen Intel processor. Using the Windows 10 battery report, I ranged from seven to 10 hours of regular usage. Considering the potential power of Book 3, these are great results.

But battery reports and real-world experiences are one thing, and synthetic tests are another. PCMark 10's battery rundown test (which loops through running Office, web pages, video conferencing and work apps) revealed a stark contrast between Surface Book 2 and Book 3 (both Core i7, 15-inch models at 45 percent display brightness):

PCMark 10 Battery (Modern Office)

DeviceTimeBattery
Surface Book 37 hours, 15 minutes20 percent left
Surface Book 25 hours, 40 minutes20 percent left

Some of that difference is likely attributable to the newer 10nm CPU platform used with Surface Book 3 (versus the previous 14nm one), and increased efficiency from the LPDDR4x RAM. Of course, were you to lean on that GPU, those high battery numbers would drop.

Finally, heat and fan noise are quite good. The fan rarely kicks on (if at all) during normal usage, and when it does, it is comparatively quiet with little of the "hiss" that older Surface products were known for. Having the CPU behind the display in a vertical orientation is useful for heat dissipation compared to jamming it under the keyboard with horizontal fan vents.

Temperatures peak at around 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius) behind the display near the center, while the base is a bit lower around 102 degrees Fahrenheit (39 degrees Celsius). These temperatures are in the normal range and never too hot to touch or uncomfortable in your lap. Impressively, after gaming for 20 minutes while playing DOOM, Surface Book 3 cooled down, and the fans turned off in just a minute.

What else is out there?

Surface Book 3: The competition

Surface Laptop 4 Amd 2021 Hero

Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

The Surface Book 3 is a one-of-a-kind laptop. It's a 2-in-1, but it's not a tablet first, laptop second. It's a laptop first, with the ability to remove the display and use it as a tablet, and there really isn't anything else out there like that at the moment. Including the fact that the Surface Book 3 has a dedicated NVIDIA GTX 1650 or 1660 Ti in the base, the Surface Book 3 quickly becomes the most powerful 2-in-1 with a GPU on the market.

The only close comparisons you can make are to products that aren't 2-in-1 devices, like the Dell XPS 15 with its 10th generation 6-core processors and NVIDIA graphics. Or, you could compare it to Microsoft's newest Surface Laptop 4, as the company is now touting that as its most powerful laptop.

The Surface Laptop 4 features Intel's 11th-generation or AMD Ryzen 4000 chips, up to 32GB RAM, 1TB storage, and is available in a range of colors. The newer chips are certainly more powerful than those found in the Surface Book 3, but the Surface Laptop 4 still only has integrated graphics. The Surface Book's GPU will blow the Surface Laptop 4 out of the water.

That said, if you're the kind of person who is only looking at the Surface Book to use as a laptop, maybe the Surface Laptop 4 is a better buy. You get more for your money, and even though you don't get a dedicated GPU, the integrated GPU on the Laptop 4 is actually pretty good. If you do need to do GPU work or need to detach the display or use inking, the Surface Book 3 is still the one to get.

If it ain't broke …

Surface Book 3 15 feels a bit old but is still one of a kind

Surface Book 3 Logo Grass

Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

Enthusiasm around Surface Book 3 has been tempered compared to previous Surface devices. With a design going on five years old, it is easy to look at the under-the-hood changes with some disappointment. At the very least, some advancements around display color accuracy, HDR, anti-reflective coatings, or a larger trackpad would have gone a long way to keeping Surface Book 3 fresher in 2020.

Surface Book 3 is truly one of kind; there is nothing else like it.

Besides the older technology criticism with the display, trackpad, and the lack of richer bass for audio, I also still occasionally had the tablet-detachment mechanism fail when activated. A message popped up and said, "Latch failed to open," although I could still remove the display from the lower half. The audio also began to crackle when playing a YouTube video and detaching the tablet as well but went away after the process was complete.

The fact is, there is no other laptop in the world that does what Surface Book can do. This conclusion is more valid for the 13-inch model as there are very few Ultrabooks in that range that also have a beefy discrete GPU (Razer's new Blade Stealth comes to mind). Plus, Microsoft gives you a choice between a 13.5-inch model or a larger (and slightly more powerful) 15-inch option.

None of that would matter, however, if Surface Book 3 was a lousy laptop. But it's not. At all. That GPU is good enough to do some serious gaming, but it is even better for developers, architects, designers, scientists, or anyone who needs to do more work than a standard Ultrabook allows for. Developers will benefit from that 32GB of RAM, while engineers will appreciate the new NVIDIA Quadro option. Battery life is also better than average for this category.

Typing, the web camera, audio, Windows Hello, and even that small-ish trackpad are still best compared to other laptops in this class.

However, I would not mind seeing Microsoft embrace AMD's latest Ryzen Mobile 4000 processors to deliver even more power. Questions remain on thermals, pricing, and just how much redesign would be required, but AMD's new chips seem like a perfect match for this laptop's goals.

The lack of Thunderbolt 3 here is a negative for some people, but I think the powerful port is also overrated. Many tech geeks have fantasies of buying and using eGPUs, but while that tech has been on the market for years now, it remains an expensive and super niche demographic. The fact is, for most people buying Surface Book 3, the Type-C 3.1 Gen 2 port handles most needs.

The bigger question that you need to answer: Do you need what Surface Book 3 offers? Many people do not and would be better served with the non-convertible but more powerful and affordable Dell XPS 15. But for those who want inking, a detachable tablet PC, and a respectable GPU, the Surface Book 3 is king. There's nothing else like it.

Daniel Rubino is the Executive Editor of Windows Central, head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been covering Microsoft here since 2007, back when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, Microsoft Surface, laptops, next-gen computing, and arguing with people on the internet.

40 Comments
  • Great review Dan. I like the fact that you actually sit down and really test out a device. I saw other reviews come out only after a few days of SB3 release that virtually gave out the same information as the Microsoft specs page. Also wanted to know if you manage to test charging times to see if there was any fast charging added?
  • Edited: Thanks, re; fast charge, I actually need to verify that. Right now, I have it at 30% battery and it says ~90 mins to fully charge. That's less than the ~80 percent in an hour for Pro X, Laptop 3, etc. The dual battery situation here adds some complication to a full quick charge solution.
  • You're buttering him. 1. No Dolby vision? Lol who is looking for this. 2. Has excellent Built quality? Seen this thing on eBay sagging innards on the gap because of the hinge. Seen the hinge cover pop open too. Go ahead place an order you'll love it. 😄
  • Seen this thing on eBay, cover pops, yada yada yada... I've had a SB2 since it was released more that 2.5 years ago. It's used every day in different scenarios, including dual screen monitors for CAD, tablet mode during walk through inspections, notes in meetings, a hub for presentation of ideas to clients, good 'ol YouTube viewing. The only thing I haven't tried is gaming as I have no interest, but I would purchase something else if I wanted to game. Not a single problem to date (touch wood!) and given the SB3 fixes the shortcomings of the SB2, it's still the laptop to beat in today's market. It even took over the role of my desktop computer when that had issues and I constantly forgot that I was working form the SB2 until I finally got round to fixing the desktop computer. Nobody who buys the SB3 gives a rats ass about Dolby Vision or other gimmicks. Put in an OLED and make it a better product, reduce the price of the Quadro card options (I can dream) and make it a better product. Unless you have used this beast everyday and contribute with personal experience, good and bad, why do you cherry pick some obscure issues others have had? Did their SB magically break on its own without any form of distress? No.
  • We've had four original Surface Books and... they've done well. No popping of anything. Other than the batteries starting to show their age, they're still hanging in there. You'll have issues with any model.
  • I know you're trolling but I'll pretend you're not for a moment. The HDR/anti-glare thing is real for a device that is going to be used as a tablet. When a device is right up against your face, you notice all the strengths and weaknesses of the screen. Glare is a big one, and so is resolution. This thing has the resolution, but could be better in other respects. Also, who the hell buys laptops on eBay?
  • Daniel!! I miss your video reviews, my man!
  • Good comprehensive review. The cpu + gpu combination is great for gaming, especially if you have one of those fans attached to the tablet part and/or undervolt it. (Most games are more heavy on the gpu) Personally I cannot do anymore without touch/pen support so this and 15 inch 2-1 laptops (zenbook 2-1, spectre etc) are the only laptops I keep an eye on. (until probably 1 or 2 generations further with Ryzen apu's will bring more to table.)
  • Microsoft should make a “Surface Book Pro.” Just do away with the detachable base.
  • They do, I think it's called laptop.
  • Though with Surface Laptop, there is no "Pro" in a sense that none have dedicated GPU option. This leaves Surface Book still a strong option for those who need it like me. Though personally Surface Book form factor is perfect. It may not be a workstation laptop level performance, but it's got pretty much everything I need and want. I just hope for AMD Ryzen option, Thunderbolt and hopefully they improved the pen further in regards to drawing performance (lines can be jittery still).
  • Except unfortunately the laptop doesn't have a dGPU
  • Thanks for the excellent review, Daniel! Sure not helping with my internal debate in upgrading from the SB2, tho!
  • Speaking of Surface.. I know a lot of you here are also interested in the upcoming Surface Duo, and we really want this new device to become successful.. Nothing can help more than its presence on social media. Here is a link to our Surface Duo Facebook Group. We already have 399 subscribers, and I'm confident that we are already the go to SD group on Facebook. Please feel free to share the link, and spread the word. Like I said, this can only help SD. Please join! https://www.facebook.com/groups/397641020931176/?ref=share
  • Love it Rodney! I’m in.
  • Even the 13" is an incredible machine
  • Despite my Alienware Are51-M for the heavy (mobile) lifting I decided to go for the SB3 in view of the fact the MS Neo is delayed for at least 1-2 year and I need a versatile mobile and stylish "good enough until Neo arrives" MS Courier kind-off device. I choose the 0.5 TB version as the 1 TB version was not available in Benelux (no need for the Quadro as I have plenty of Quadro in my Dell workstations).
  • They should make a gaming laptop with a touchscreen. There are so few of those.
  • My thoughts exactly. Touchscreen option on Gaming Laptops / Mobile Workstations should be "The Norm" in 2021. It sucks that you have to dig deep to find a decent option, since the feature is not well advertised. I LOVE touchscreen, and can't imagine using a laptop without one for productivity and consumption. So, here you go. All the RTX-Class laptops with touchscreen and decently-sized battery that I can think of, although most are VERY expensive: - Surface Book 15 - up to RTX 2060 Max-Q
    - HP Envy 15 - up to RTX 2060 Max-Q
    - HP ZBook Create / Studio 15 - up to RTX 2080S Max-Q
    - Dell XPS 17 - up to RTX 2060 Max-Q
    - MSI Creator 15 - up to RTX 2070S Max-Q
    - Razer Blade 15 - up to RTX 2080S Max-Q
    - Razer Blade Pro 17 - up to RTX 3080 Max-P
    - Asus ZenBook Pro Duo 15 - up to RTX 3070 Max-P
    - Asus ROG Flow X13 - GTX 1650 Max-Q inside, up to RTX 3080 Max-P with mobile eGPU
    (I included the last one because the eGPU is portable and part of the laptop design, unlike a typical TB eGPU, and also because it's my current laptop 😉) *I could be wrong about Max-P and Max-Q in some models, TGP matters more IRL. Hope you find this useful.
  • "Design is getting old" Does a Ferrari's design is getting old?
    Does an Aston Martin's design getting old?
    Does the Eiffel tower's design is getting old? My point is, when the design is good, it doesn't get old per se, it becomes an ageless reference point of its time.
    So you may be fed up of the Surface Book's design but it doesn't make its design less stunning and appealing to the eyes.
  • Design itself is still cool indeed. I think Daniel was referring to the bezels here, which could have been trimmed a bit (e.g. to the size of the Go 2 bezels without sacrificing the ability to hold the tablet).
  • I love those bezels on my SB2! They are not original Surface Go thick, but just enough to hold a tablet without issue (for me anyway).
  • Small bezels are deal-breakers. Makes the tablet impossible to hold.
    My 2-in-1 convertible laptop has this exact issue, and it's really uncomfortable, almost to the point I'm considering returning it.
    Thick bezels are UNIQUE to the Surface line, because MS engineers know what they're doing.
  • My thoughts exactly. All the tech reviewers happily adopted this meme for the Surface Book 3. The design is iconic and is NOT dated. We can debate about the track pad not being larger, the audio quality and the port selection and the internals, but there is no reason to change the design. Like the cars you mentioned, you either like them or you don't.
  • I think track pad should have been at the very least updated to a larger size. Especially for 15 inch, that track pad is kinda small in proportion to the laptop size. Still great Touchpad, but it could have been better. Bezels is less bothersome, but if they can slim it down, which can benefit having slightly bigger screen size with same chassis size, the better.
  • Surface Book 3 is undoubtedly an awesome machine, but yeah, just feels old design wise. For one thing I wish they'd address the pen. I'm loving these new featherlight project Athena machines coming out with rechargeable pens included, and dockable, in the chassis. The Samsung Galaxy Book Flex is a great example, and is probably my next machine. Basically, if I'm spending that much money on a device I want to enjoy looking at it, I want it to be light, and I don't want to lose the pen when I take it with me on the road. And the gorgeous Galaxy Book Flex does that whereas SB3 not so much.
  • Great review -- I appreciate the nuance and clarity. I have a Surface Book 2 15". Not ready for an upgrade yet, but I'm glad to see the SB line advancing. I agree that the SB is unique, and also not for everyone. For me, it's perfect -- enough cpu power for my music production work, gpu for vr/3d/multi-media projects, huge 4:3 screen, perfect keyboard, detachable screen when needed and solid laptop form otherwise. Pen support for digital art/annotation/music notation/etc. All that at a surprisingly pedestrian-friendly weight.
  • Will we have to wait another 18 months to get a book refresh? I was hoping for more of a redesign. Would a surface Pro 7 and an external graphics card be a better solution?
  • You are most correct that the design is dated. I really think what is needed to refresh the form factor is a mobile "Go" model. Starting specs: . 12.4" detachable screen
    . Slim Pen docker built into the base
    . i5 11th gen
    . 8GB DDR4 and higher
    . 128GB SSD and higher
    . GE Force GTX 1050 (2GB) and higher
    . Fingerprint reader
    . Facial recog cameras
    . 5G ready eSim
    . Platinum or Black A Surface Book Go would refresh the line!
  • That does sound cool. But I think it makes sense to put this kind of design in the highest tier (which goes from Surface Go/Laptop Go -> Surface Pro / Surface Laptop -> Surface Book, ignoring the Surface Studio which isn't portable). But yeah ... I'd buy it.
  • I completely concur with your observations about the continuing excellence of the Surface Book, even in its somewhat aging (but still interesting) and minimally changed new configuration. A few months ago I moved out of a 15" Book 2 that I didn't seem to be using much and passed it along to a daughter who had an immediate need for a powerful mixed-purpose device. Within not many weeks at all, I realized I had underestimated my reliance on that Book and replaced it with a new 15" SB3, moving up to max ram and max storage; I had skimped on those with the previous Book. I saved a couple of hundred bucks by buying this monster from Amazon, and then -- my bad for not noticing -- had to spend a hundred more to upgrade to the Pro edition of Win 10. It hadn't occurred to me that Microsoft would even think about putting Windows Home on one of their most powerful devices. Anyway, I'm glad to have again on hand a device I was slow to realize had become central to the way I use my mix of desktop, laptop and tablet devices. The new SB3 matches the capacity and slightly exceeds the performance of the original Surface Studio. For all practical purposes, it can be considered a Laptop/Studio Hybrid, or even a Studio Go. This is my fourth SB . My only problem with any of them involved my original Gen 1 unit that bricked itself during a routine system update. The tech guys at the Microsoft Store didn't want to mess with it. They gave me a warranty replacement for the unit, which was probably the fastest and least expensive solution from their point of view.
  • Thanks for this detailed review, Dan. I have a SB2 15" and love the device with the strong exception of it's battery. The drain on my device has been signiifiant. I can no longer really use the tablet without the base for more than 15-20mins. It is a durable workhorse and I agree with one of your key points: there really is nothing else like it.
  • Perfect timing of a review in terms of the comparison with the SL4 which was a question that I've been asking myself. It's almost as if you could read my mind.
    Cheers Dan!
  • Nice update to your original review here. 2022 is fine for me for a Surface Book refresh, as by then it'll probably have 12th-gen Intel (and who knows what else!) and I'll be much closer to being in the market for a device again. As someone whose power needs have been growing but who needs a tablet for inking too, the Book might be the right device for me in the future. What I'm most curious about is what they'll do for the processor in the "clipboard" half. If they pull it off, it'll be the ultimate 2-in-1 (though arguably it already is).
  • Nice review! Pretty much covered everything, with only the pen performance seems missing. Though nothing were announcened by Microsoft for any improvements to its pen, so I assume whatever from the SB2 is the same. Since I also use Surface Book for drawing, pen performance is important. Currently it's good, but there is still to improve with its line jitter stability, which was significantly improved on SB2, but it's still there, just less noticeable. For note taking, this is pretty much unnoticeable. Surface Book is definitely a great note taking tool once you detach it's Clipboard. For me, Surface Book remains the perfect device. It's a laptop first that can be a tablet for some use cases. It's still a better device to use as a tablet than any convertible laptops that are too bulky due to having whole laptop bulk with you. Still powerful machine than most ultrabooks due to having dedicated GPU. Which is great for occassional gaming, 3D modelling, VFX, video editing and any that can make use of the GPU. There is nothing like it and which is kinda a shame in the industry since there is no other choice. Which is why I really do hope they won't go away from this laptop with detachable tablet part design. What I just at least wish is for them to update the trackpad. Make it bigger especially for 15 inch. Improve Surface Pen performance. Maybe reduce the bezels a bit to gain some bit more screen size, but I don't expect any XPS level bezel due to the fact that there is speaker grill on front and camera that has larger sensor with array of sensors for facial recognition. AMD option would be great, might gain more performance and battery efficiency from that. Lastly Thunderbolt, though with AMD that can be but more difficult, but not impossible. Since there already AMD motherboards that also supports Thunderbolt, but they have to add additional controller for it.
  • Ignore him, he’s just a sad little man, he’s got strong form being a troll (& not a very good or intelligent one), it’s in his nature, mustn’t be a nice person IRL.
  • What I'm hoping for in the next generation Surface Book 4: - AMD Ryzen 5000HS (5, 7, 9) - The most NEEDED boost, not getting this upgrade would be a Major deal-breaker.
    - Nvidia RTX 3000 (3050, 3060, and 3070 Max-Q) / AMD's equivalent graphics.
    - USB 4 ports, HDMI 2.1, and UHS-iii SD reader
    - 4K 60fps Webcam and noise-cancelling, far-field Quad Microphones
    - Factory-Calibrated miniLED or OLED Display, at the same resolution, at 120+ Hz refresh, 100% aRGB
    - MacBook Pro 13 and 16's Quality Speakers
    - Removable M.2 PCIe Gen 4 SSD, like the rest of the Surface Lineup
    - Upgraded Pen that is suitable for Professional Art work ... Aaannd, that's it! It's time to step-up, Microsoft 😊
  • If only it came with 2 or 4TB of storage in Europe, I would have probably bought one. I opted for a Dell XPS 17 mostly because of this (but also because it's more powerful overall). I currently have 3TB on it and plan to upgrade as times goes on.
  • Yup, MS needs to put a M.2-2280 PCIe 4.0 NVMe SSD that can easily be upgraded up to 10TB per stick.
    On other Surface devices, M.2-2230 is just fine, but not on the Flagship Surface Books.
  • I have a Surface Book 2 15" and love it. I'm expecting I'll be ready for an update when SB4 comes along. The SB2 is probably the best computer I've ever had. I agree with the point in this article -- there's nothing else like it. I wish Windows could improve its native audio. One reason I'd like to see Thunderbolt is that I could then upgrade the audio interfaces I connect to it. Also usb throughput was the reason I can't use a Vive vr headset with my SB2 -- not sure if that's still true with the SB3, but if not, another project for the SB4! (Especially now that Windows vr is kaput -- sadly, because I thought it was a fantastic vr development environment). WASAPI audio has improved greatly over the years -- but it'd be really nice to have better native performance without requiring third-party ASIO drivers to get top performance when you're not connected to an audio interface.