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.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
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)

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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)

Swipe to scroll horizontally
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)

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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)

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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

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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
Editor-in-chief

Daniel Rubino is the Editor-in-chief of Windows Central. He is also the 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 watches. He has been reviewing laptops since 2015 and is particularly fond of 2-in-1 convertibles, ARM processors, new form factors, and thin-and-light PCs. 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.