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Surface Laptop 3 13.5-inch first impressions: Powerful CPU, improved trackpad impress

(Image credit: Windows Central)

The Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 in both 13.5 and 15-inch versions is now available. I reviewed the 15-inch one featuring an AMD chip , but the original 13.5 has also been refreshed. Microsoft didn't send us a loaner review unit, so I trekked to our local Microsoft Store to buy one and give it a spin. It has been less than 24 hours, so I'm not ready for a full review, but here are some quick thoughts and early benchmarks.

What's new with Surface Laptop 3 13.5?

Surface Laptop 3 13.5

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

In a similar case to the Surface Pro 7, many of the changes to Surface Laptop 3 13.5 are on the inside, where they actually make a big difference. But there are also a few on the outside that are interesting.

Here is what we know and have noticed so far:

  • Intel 10th Gen 10nm processor.
  • DDR4x RAM (low-power version of DDR4).
  • 20 percent larger trackpad, also quieter.
  • Platinum Alcantara is now significantly darker.
  • Intel Wi-Fi 6 AX201.
  • Bluetooth 5.
  • Toshiba BG4 for SSD (some models).
  • Instant-On technology.
  • AC Fast Charge.
  • Dual Studio Mics.
  • USB Type-C 3.1 Gen 2.
  • Replaceable SSD.
  • Antenna lines are now hidden.

There's a lot to unpack there if you are new to the Surface Laptop or are coming from a previous model.

I picked up the Core i5 model with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. The total price is $1,300 without tax.

The processor is an Intel 10th Gen Core i5-1035G7, which is a slight change from the Core i5-1035G4 found in the Surface Pro 7. The G7 has a slightly higher base-clock of 1.20 GHz, versus 1.10 GHz found in the G4. The G7 also has a slightly beefier GPU with 64 execution units versus 48 in the G4.

The updated Surface Laptop also comes in a darker platinum colored Alcantara fabric, which is a subtle but significant change. Not only does it look better with higher contrast, but it stays cleaner looking, too. The outside platinum chassis, however, is the same as previous models.

CategorySurface Laptop 3 (13-inch)Surface Laptop 3 (15-inch)
Operating systemWindows 10 HomeWindows 10 Home
Display13.5-inch PixelSense, 3:2 aspect ratio, 2256x1504 (201 PPI)15-inch PixelSense, 3:2 aspect ratio, 2496x1664 (201 PPI)
ProcessorIntel 10th GenAMD Ryzen 5 or Ryzen 7 custom CPU
GPUIntel IrisAMD Vega 9
AMD Vega 11
Memory8GB or 16GB LPDDR4x8GB, 16GB, or 32GB LPDDR4
Storage128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB SSD (replaceable)128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB SSD (replaceable)
Front camera720p720p
SecurityWindows Hello face authentication camera, Firmware TPMWindows Hello face authentication camera, Firmware TPM
ConnectivityWi-Fi 6
Bluetooth 5.0
Wi-Fi 5
Bluetooth 5.0
Ports1x USB-C, 1x USB-A, 1x Surface Connect, 3.5 mm headphone jack1x USB-C, 1x USB-A, 1x Surface Connect, 3.5 mm headphone jack
BatteryUp to 11.5 hours
Instant On
Up to 11.5 hours
WeightUp to 2.79 lbsUp to 3.4 lbs
ColorsSandstone metal, Matte Black metal, Platinum w/ Alcantara, Cobalt Blue w/ AlcantaraPlatinum metal, Matte Black metal

DDR4x is a big deal, because while it is not appreciably faster than DDR4, it does consume about 30 percent less power by many estimates. That's important for laptops and mobile devices. Microsoft is now using DDR4x in Surface Laptop 3 13.5, Surface Laptop 3 15 (with Intel), and Surface Pro 7 with the unfortunate omission in Surface Laptop 3 15 (AMD) which only has DDR4.

Microsoft is continuing to shift away from Marvel for wireless to Intel across its lineup (except for AMD Surface Laptop 3 15, which is Qualcomm Atheros). By going with Intel, Microsoft can utilize next-gen Wi-Fi 6 (802.11 ax) and Bluetooth 5, which help with connectivity and power improvements.

Surface Laptop 3 13.5

Source: Windows CentralSurface Laptop 2 (left) vs. Surface Laptop 3 (right) reveals the darker color grey and larger trackpad. (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

The Larger trackpad offers quite the experience on the 13.5 model. It is massive. It's not Apple-huge, but you certainly notice it. Microsoft also took away the loud "click" that came when pressing down on previous models. It is now significantly quieter and gentler.

Geekbench 5

Geekbench 5.0 (CPU) (Higher is better)

DeviceCPUSingle coreMulti core
Surface Laptop 3 13.5i5-1035G71,1774,413
Surface Laptop 3 15Ryzen 57692,720
Surface Laptop 3 15i7-1065G71,3364,893
Surface Laptop 2i5-8250U9093,372
Surface Pro 7i5-1035G41,1914,441
Surface Pro 6i7-8650U1,1133,519
Surface Pro 6i5-8250U9043,440
Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 7390i7-1065G71,2093,571
Dell XPS 15 7590i9-9980HK1,1767,624

Geekbench 4

Geekbench 4.0 (CPU) (higher is better)

DeviceCPUSingle coreMulti core
Surface Laptop 3 13.5i5-1035G75,26517,345
Surface Laptop 3 15Ryzen-53,98512,079
Surface Laptop 3 15i7-1065G75,72719,593
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
HP Spectre x360 15i7-9750H4,96818,790
HP Spectre x360 15i7-8565U5,24616,272
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

GPU

Geekbench 5.0 OpenCL (higher is better)

DeviceGPUCompute score
Surface Laptop 3 13.5Iris Plus9,811
Surface Laptop 3 15Vega 911,334
Surface Laptop 3 15Iris Plus10,497
Surface Laptop 2Intel UHD 6205,514
Surface Pro 7Iris Plus7,613
Surface Pro 6Intel UHD 6205,396
Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 7390Iris Plus10,406
HP Spectre x360 15GTX 1050Ti82,576
HP Spectre x360 15MX15047,284
Dell Precision 3541NVIDIA Quadro P62012,469

SSD

CrystalDiskMark (Higher is better)

DeviceReadWrite
Surface Laptop 3 13.52,338 MB/s1,583 MB/s
Surface Laptop 3 152,028 MB/s806 MB/s
Surface Laptop 21,509 MB/s811 MB/s
Surface Laptop486 MB/s244 MB/s
Surface Pro 72,040 MB/s809 MB/s
Surface Pro 61,632 MB/s814 MB/s
Surface Pro 5847MB/s801 MB/s
Surface Book1,018 MB/s967 MB/s
Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 73902,400 MB/s1,228 MB/s
Huawei MateBook X Pro (new)3,416 MB/s2,779 MB/s
HP Spectre x360 13t3,085 MB/s1,182 MB/s
LG gram 14 2-in-1558.1 MB/s523.1 MB/s

.

The Toshiba BG4 (ball grid) for the 256GB SSD is noteworthy. Ball-grid storage is a smaller form factor that has been around for a while, but the Toshiba BG4 is brand new. It was announced at CES 2019 but only became available this quarter, earning strong reviews. I only mention this because Microsoft sourced SK Hynix for the Surface Laptop 3 15. Sourcing different SSDs is quite common for manufacturers, but at least, in this case, the Toshiba gives a significant boost in performance, especially in write speeds, over the SK Hynix (both are 256 GB).

The Type-C 3.1 Gen 2 port replaces the Mini DisplayPort of previous Surface Laptops. It can transfer data, power two 4K displays at 60Hz (DisplayPort 1.4), and it supports Power Delivery (PD). PD lets users charge the Laptop 3 with a Type-C charger, including anything from a phone charger (slower charge) up to rarer 90W or 100W chargers with fast-charge support.

Finally, Instant-On is a huge deal. This advancement is part of Intel's Project Athena that focuses on mobility. What it means is the Surface Laptop 3 (only Intel versions) never really hibernates. As such, every time you open the lid, the display turns on instantly, and Windows Hello is ready to log you into Windows 10. Currently, almost every other laptop enters a "deep sleep" state after a few hours, and it can take up to 30 seconds to resume. With Instant-On, the Surface Laptop 3 behaves more like your smartphone or iPad than a traditional PC.

Surface Laptop 3 ... so far, so good

Surface Laptop 3 13.5

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

I'll dive deeper into the Surface Laptop 3 13.5 in my full review, but so far, I adore the changes. That's noteworthy, because I definitely am not blown away by the 15-inch version.

Battery life seems good, with the laptop only losing three percent battery overnight even with that Instant-On working. The audio sounds the same with the Surface Laptop 2 – that is, excellent – and it is better than Surface Laptop 3 15. Whether that has to do with Alcantara or not, I am not sure.

On that note, I like Alcantara. That said, I am glad Microsoft is offering it as a choice this year, as I understand the criticism and concern.

The processor is noticeably quick, and while I don't yet have a Wi-Fi 6 router, I like the idea that this is ready for one.

Some of my complaints about the Surface Laptop 3 15 and Surface Pro 7's displays being too glossy, or not supporting HDR, still stand. I'll have color gamut details in the full review.

Finally, there is just a size difference. I find the 13.5-inch form factor nearly perfect, which is one reason I disliked the 15-inch version for my use – it felt a bit too large, with no tangible benefit besides that slightly bigger display (the battery sizes are the same, for example).

Overall, though, I really like where Surface Laptop 3 13.5 is going. Leave me a comment on what you want to know about this laptop for the review.

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.

28 Comments
  • Hey guys, I would like to make a suggestion regarding benchmarking. The suggestion is that you guys should switch for real world benchmarks like rendering a video, render a 3D scene in blender (or using cinebench), compress and uncompress a file and run a game's benchmark for GPU performance. I doubt that the results would change much but it would be much more accurate.
  • We'll look at doing that for future reviews. This was a quick hit because we already have a lot of Geekbench data and it's easy to do (this isn't a full review, just impressions). We have to balance the technical nitty-gritty stuff vs. return on investment e.g. are people bothering to read them, really gain anything from it? There's a spectrum of reviews out there from WSJ "it feels fast!" to Notebookcheck "Here are six pages of benchmarks" where we have to figure out where we land. Appreciate the feedback though 👌
  • Looking forward to your full review. Is there any difference between fan noise on the i5 and i7 models?
  • I would be interested in seeing the battery life difference (productivity related..i.e. "normal use") between this 13.5-inch Intel version and the 15-inch "Business" Intel version. I know that the 15-inch version will get less battery life due to a bigger screen and same battery size, so the question is HOW MUCH less (and while we're at it how much more or *gasp* less than the 15-inch AMD Ryzen one)...so people can more accurately decide between bigger screen vs. give or take 1-2 hours more battery life vs. not joining the Intel "cool kids" because they want Vega graphics.
  • Checking one out at my Microsoft Store, I noticed one other minor appearance improvement from my first gen laptop. The antennas appear to have been relocated as the plastic inserts on the sides of the lower case are no longer visible. Not a big deal, but another bit of attention to detail.
  • Oh, good point! Yes, you are right on that. Adding to list, thx.
  • Looking to return my Surface Laptop 3 15 AMD in favor of the i5 15" version.
  • The whole SL3 15" thing has not ended up being a very good advertisement for AMD.
  • If I'm not mistaken the thunderbolt 3 controller is integrated into that icelake chip. Can you just plug an eGPU in and see what happens?
  • In theory, it can be, but doesn't have to be if the OEM doesn't want it. Shorter answer: there is no TB3 here. Microsoft didn't want to have TB3 in some devices (Pro 7, Laptop 3 13) but not others (Pro X, Laptop 3 15).
  • That’s really a shame as no Surface device is compatible with the majority of docking stations in use. The large corporation I work for only has TB3 docks for example. Microsoft is really shooting themselves in the foot with business users. That’s a huge reason why our IT has said we cannot get any Surface device, instead having to choose between Dell or HP.
  • Think there will be any black Friday sales for this?
  • Dan, are you going to try to disassemble it for "servicing"? Interested to know if the battery is replaceable...on long lasting laptops (and phones) one of the main reasons people seem to "need" to upgrade is waning battery life - so a replaceable battery would make these longer-term investments, no?
  • Sadly one of the most difficult components to replace. https://www.ifixit.com/Teardown/Microsoft+Surface+Laptop+3++(13.5-inch)+Teardown/127330
  • Hey... iFixit already did a teardown of the SL3 13.5 inch model. You can find it on YouTube. It's a breeze to open up, some parts are easy to replace (SSD) and others are not (the battery for instance). Go check it out, it's very informative
  • I'm very interested in the fan noise, battery life, backlit keyboard, and if possible i5 vs. i7 performance. I'm looking to replace my Matebook X Pro i7 model.
  • Not sure we'll have i7 numbers, unfortunately, but it vs. MateBook X Pro is certainly interesting and will have those numbers.
  • Hey Daniel. If possible, I would also be interested by fan noise and battery life tests, and also sound quality tests. (I would so love Microsoft to sell a fanless Core i5 option as Surface Pro 7) In my opinion, the Huawei Matebook X Pro and the Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 are the 2 best Windows laptops with sleek design on the market right now. Also both of them have very little to no bloatware installed. I think I have a small preference for the Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 due to the convenience of instant-on, and also instant sign-in with Windows Hello camera, and it seems the fan was a bit noisy in Matebook X Pro (1st gen).
  • Hi Daniel,
    Can you show a side-by-side of the platinum Alcantara of the SL2 compared to the SL3? You're the first reviewer that I heard mention the color difference. The lighter platinum always kept me away from it, a darker platinum Alcantara color can mean it's now a real contender! Not having to go for the more expensive blue or black options makes a big difference for me.
  • That photo is posted above below the specs chart ;) But I'll have more photos for the review/video.
  • Thanks! When I first read the article on my cell phone, for some reason I overlooked it. My bad.... This darker color looks much more stain-resistant. Great :-)
  • I'm shocked that MS released the AMD models- it makes both of them look bad. I just wish they were able to reduce the bezel size and get the 13.5 inches up to 14!
  • Dan, thanks for sharing your initial thoughts here. For some reason, I had assumed the SL3 i5 wouldn't have Iris Graphics (as is the situation with the Dell XPS 2 in 1) so it's nice to see here that it does. I think I'm going to snag that base i5, 8 gb RAM, 128 gb version with my educational discount then do an upgrade to a 512 gb hd myself (looks to be about $90 or so on eBay). Total out of pocket cost of the laptop + self hd upgrade with tax = @ $1038. Sounds good to me.
  • (Just noticed that a similarly equipped Macbook Pro 13 with last gen, albeit 28w processor, would be almost $700 more than that).
  • Welcome! And yes, it has now been confirmed you CAN upgrade the SSD yourself with little hassle, so your plan will work 👍🏼
  • I just purchased a 13" i7/16gb/256gb black model on Friday, which replaced my 1st gen Surface Laptop. I have to say I love the aluminum deck. The Alcantara was nice, but for some reason the aluminum gives it a more premium feel. One thing I noticed right away is the key travel. It seems to be less on the new model, and I'm not sure I like it. I'd love to hear Dan's comments on this.
  • How is it possible that at the end 2019 there is not yet usb-c thunderbolt 3 in any Surface laptop for this price?
    And just only one port :/
    No eGPU possible, no super fast storage, Usb-c hub limitations etc.
  • Dan, you had some issues with the sound on 15". How does the 13" with Alcantara compare to Laptop 2 and the 15" laptop 3?