Surface Laptop 3 15-inch rumored to feature AMD, but I'm not sure why that's great

For a few months now, rumors have been building that Microsoft could start to use AMD chips in some of its newer Surface devices. These follow reports that we may also see a Snapdragon-powered Surface PC as well. The claims make sense as Microsoft likely wants to spread some of the Surface-love around to its major chip partners instead of exclusively using Intel.

The funny thing is while AMD is experiencing a deserved resurgence on desktop and gaming PCs, I'm not quite sure why this would be important for laptops. AMD's mobile presence is only simmering, but not on fire.

Surface Laptop 3 15-inch with AMD: the rumors

The current rumors reported at come from various sources, including Twitter user @TUM_APISAK and editor of WinFuture Roland Quandt, who tweeted about a "a pretty official-looking price/spec list (cut-out) for what seems to be the new Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 15-inch model based on AMD Ryzen."

The rumors are unverified at this point and should be taken as such.

If true, however, the purported processors used would be Ryzen 5 3550U and Ryzen 7 3750U. More interestingly, models will reportedly come with 8GB, 12GB, or 16GB of RAM with those Ryzen CPUs scaling with four-core, six-core, and even eight-core variants matching those RAM configurations. The weird part is there is technically no eight-core mobile Ryzen CPU yet.

These models will reportedly let Microsoft scale pricing for the 15-inch Surface Laptop 3 from $1,000 up to $2,400 giving plenty of leeway for consumers.

All these reports are plausible, but even the 15-inch Surface Laptop 3 currently is uncorroborated.

So why AMD, anyway?

The thing I am trying to wrap my head around is what does AMD get us in a laptop in 2019 over Intel. That sounds like a loaded and maybe even trolling question, but it's not.

When I speak with PC manufacturers I almost always ask about AMD – specifically why are their mobile chips not being used. Many of the top manufacturers tell me the first-gen Ryzens were just not that good, but these latest ones show more promise. Performance in some cases outperforms a similar Intel configuration, but battery life suffers too with on average about a one-hour loss in longevity.

There is a cost savings to consider, albeit modest. I'm told AMD mobile chips cost around $50 cheaper than Intel. For big companies placing an order for 1,000 business laptops, that $50 represents a significant saving. That difference can then be used elsewhere or used to sink back into those laptops (e.g. more RAM).

For consumers, though, I'm not quite sure that $50 adds up to that much, especially when premium Surface products are on the table.

Moreover, I don't understand why an AMD mobile experience is necessarily better than Intel – but I'm willing to be convinced. It will be exciting – if these rumors are true – to see what AMD gets us over an Intel/NVIDIA-based system and why Microsoft went that route.

AMD and competition are a good thing

Putting aside my skepticism, one thing we all can agree on is processor competition is excellent for the industry and consumers. Intel has been riding the Ultrabook category – which it started – for a long time. Qualcomm's entrance and now AMD's seem to be again lighting a fire under Intel, which is why its 10th Gen series looks so compelling. New Wi-Fi 6, native Thunderbolt 3, Bluetooth 5, and optional LTE bring a serious feature package that companies like Lenovo, Dell, and HP find hard to resist.

Perhaps what is more intriguing is AMD and Microsoft already have a long history. Specifically, the silicon in the Xbox One, One S, One X, and next-gen Scarlett series are all custom AMD solutions. That raises the prospect that a 15-inch Surface Laptop 3 could have some "special sauce" for its processor and (presumably) Vega GPU.

Finally, it's worth pointing out just how fun all of this is these days. In a world where major tech announcements are leaked days, weeks, and months in advance, it's refreshing to have so much mystery around Microsoft's October 2 event.

But back to AMD, why do you think it would be a good thing to have their chips in a Surface device? What makes them so much better than Intel? Let me know.

Daniel Rubino

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.

  • There seems to be more scope for actual budget devices with AMD. My MateBook D, for example, cost £550 which is several hundred less than a Surface Laptop, despite having 4c/8t, 8GB of RAM, metal build etc. Even the likes of HP with the Envy 13 and 15 with Ryzen, they're convertibles and still cheaper than a Surface. Ultimately I think it matters more to the likes of us who live and breathe this stuff than joe public. I can't tell where my MateBook is lesser than the Intel version, and I'm supposed to know this stuff. Also still need to see how good the new Intel iGPU is, but AMD's absolutely kicks the pants off everything else in the lineup.
  • "Also still need to see how good the new Intel iGPU is, but AMD's absolutely kicks the pants off everything else in the lineup."
    There are some numbers out now.
    "AMD has reasons to worry. Intel Ice Lake represents the biggest leap in performance for the Core U series since Kaby Lake-R in 2017. Our preliminary numbers reveal significant GPU gains over the old UHD Graphics 620 while maintaining a 15 W envelope... Intel has managed to squeeze significantly more GPU power over the aging UHD Graphics 620 to be competitive against the <35 W AMD RX Vega 10 all while staying within a smaller 15 W TDP envelope — an impressive feat on its own right."
  • @Dan typo in the article "Moreover, I'm don't understand why an AMD... " Should probably say "Moreover, I don't understand why an AMD..."
  • And that's even more significant because Kaby Lake-R was a *big* boost. Intel generations tend to be small and iterative but 8th gen made such a significant impact to everyday computing, it's important to remember that. 10th is looking promising.
  • The only reason 8th gem was such a big boost was because the got forced into introducing more core because of AMD. IPC was still just iterative. Intel has been on 14nm for far too long and they are still relying on it for a good portion of current Gen chips. Ice lake is not even a new architecture. Just a die shrink with a new gpu. Clocks on them are not great.
  • Ice Lake is more or less a Turkey.
  • TechEpiphany is doing real-world tests with publically available consumer hardware and so far, Intel's iGPUs are still significantly behind AMD's. I feel like the numbers given about Intel gpus are kind of like the whole principled technologies benchmarks wrongly claiming that Intel 9th gen was hugely faster than amd, then it was later found that amd had half of the cpu cores disabled among other things.
  • Update: New video out that clearly does a side-by-side comparison. AMD is still faster at graphics.
  • For me it's two fold. 1) Intel and Microsoft are not best of buddies. Hence the support thrown behind Qualcomm. Microsoft wants to show OEMs to go with Amd and that they are good enough to put into their laptops. 2) Graphics. The integrated graphics that are in Amd chips far outperform Intel graphics. If you want more graphics performance you get a discreet card but then you get less battery life than a similar Amd solution.
  • re: 1) I'm not sure I'd say that. Microsoft works quite closely with Intel and early reports on 10th Gen have been vary favorable from OEMs. re: 2) I think that was the case with UHD, but 10th Gen Iris Plus is no slouch comparing favorably to AMD, e.g. "The 15 W SKU offers similar CPU performance to the Core i7-8565U and slightly better GPU performance than the more demanding AMD RX Vega 10 while the 25 W SKU is within 10 percent of the Core i5-9300H in raw processing power. The GPU still needs some work for more consistent performance across games that will surely be improved over time with driver updates." from Notebookcheck (see link above) That said, I could see the more cores and GPU still being better with AMD. Issue is, right now we have no real evidence that is the case, as it's all just possible. I'm sure if MS chose AMD they have good reason to do so, I'm just wondering what those reasons are.
  • The problem with the new Icelack chips is low supply. That why you are still seeing so many 14nm new chips in laptops. Just because Intel and Microsoft work close together doesn't mean they like each other. Right now they absolutely need each other. So even if the Icelake chips end up finally catching up to to the Ryzen mobile 3700 (which is still based on Zen 1) if you have to pay so much more for it due to low supply than AMD is a great choice.
  • But the Iris Plus is not in every Ice Lake chip, it is meant for the more expensive versions. The uhd graphics still suck.
  • There is danger in "Wintel" being the sole laptop solution. It exposes Microsoft to whatever lunacy Intel may come up with. Having an AMD laptop and encouraging their OEM partners to do the same may give Microsoft and alternative in case Intel launches a dud that would otherwise tank the market. Remember the bug about a year ago that affected Intel processors that Microsoft and Apple themselves had to fix. Imagine if that happened on Intel's current offering and everything running Windows was built on it. Microsoft's Windows sales would pretty much dry up until Intel fixed it or until the market started to trust Intel again. So, IMO, I think this is nothing more than risk spreading. Two healthy desktop/laptop processor companies is better than one for Microsoft.
  • "Remember the bug about a year ago that affected Intel processors that Microsoft and Apple themselves had to fix."
    Meltdown and Spectre? That affected Qualcomm and AMD too though. As to the rest, definitely. Microsoft sees value in working with its partners and making sure everyone gets a slice of the pie. It's a healthier industry when that happens. That's an easy argument thoguh, I just want to know why AMD is suddenly better than Intel 10th Gen in this one device.
  • One of Meltdown and Spectre (forgot which one) did use an Intel-specific/Intel-proprietary processor technology.
  • Spectre affects (still) all three designs. Meltdown impacted Intel and ARM, although with slightly less catastrophic results on ARM.
  • What about SPOILER, MDS, RIDL, Zombieload and fallout?
    There was something else recently called NETcat (it's xeon exclusive though) as well.
    Intel probably knew about these flaws and released their chips with them anyway. That's way more unethical than amd's 5Ghz 😂. The reason for going AMD is probably because of lack of supplies rather than this though.
  • No meltdown did not affect AMD or at least it is not proven yet. You are confusing it with Spectre. Source ->
  • Maybe they'll release the AMD variant for Enterprise and keep the consumer option Intel? Is that even a thing lol. I ask because of the obvious cost savings you mentioned when buying 1000 laptops.
  • "Intel 10th Gen" doesn't necessarily mean new 10nm Ice Lake parts: "Intel’s low-power processors for this generation are going to be a mix of both 14nm parts based on their venerable Skylake CPU architecture, as well as 10nm Ice Lake parts incorporating Intel’s new Sunny Cove CPU architecture, with the 14nm Comet Lake parts filling in the gaps that Ice Lake alone can’t meet."
  • Yeh I don't understand the AMD move either. If it is for price reasons, then doesn't that go against what the surface was initially meant to be? A slightly expensive (not too cheap), premium, halo device not meant to eat into the sales of MS partners? Though i will accept times do change, and I have seen an uptick of surface devices being used these past few years (especially here in sydney)
  • To allow MS to release a premium laptop with ok balanced performance (so not a bad uhd igpu bottlenecking certain things) for an ok price. There are not many premium touchscreen devices (especially with a 3:2 screen) on the market with a good enough igpu that are payable for the masses. I guess it also serves as an example to OEM partners to implement AMD systems.
  • This is one of those things where I'll wait to see what happens before speculating as to the why. It could be a case where Microsoft has been working with AMD on 3rd gen Ryzen mobile and this is the debut product (possible, but not probable). Perhaps Microsoft in order to improve their partnership with AMD on the Xbox side of things decided to offer a Surface option with an AMD APU. Maybe Microsoft has just been getting enough customer demand for an AMD option, they're just giving that subset of customers what they want. Perhaps AMD is offering Microsoft a sweet deal on the hardware because AMD is angling for a high profile mobile device (their numbers have been less than excellent in that space). It's hard to say. I'm thinking we'll know more on the 2nd. Personally, to answer the question as to why I think AMD in a Surface would be great really goes to competition. It's why I stick with AMD when it comes to processors (plus they tend to be a tad cheaper). Having diversity in this space makes it better. I don't think the 10th Gen Core processors would be as good as reported if not for Ryzen. Assuming there is an AMD Surface, this is the main reason I'd get it over the Intel options.
  • All god points.
  • Very good points. Since Microsoft have support for Apple and Android why not have support for Intel, AMD and Qualcomm. These three will give consumer a wider range of products which is a good thing. Microsoft do need to keep Windows Mobile and develop for it I mean calling it Windows Lite have a ring like Windows Low Fat doesn't make any sense whatsoever while Windows 10 Mobile is far more logical.
  • All very good points.
  • AMD offers better GPU performance without a dedicated GPU and slightly cheaper pricing for consumers. I personally think this should be the lineup... Surface Go... Snapdragon 7cx & 8cx
    Surface Pro...Core i5 & i7
    Surface Laptop... Ryzen 3550U & 3750U
    Surface Book... Core i5 & i7
  • Not an expert here, but I was hoping for 10th gen Intel chips, because don't they have a Thunderbolt integration?
    This leaves me hopeless about Microsoft integrating TB.
  • Microsoft has telemetry data on how many windows users utilize TB. I'm pretty sure the usage does not warrant the added cost per device to pay licensing fees. Why exactly do people want TB support? External GPUs & TB storage are niche markets at best
    TB monitors are 3-4x more expensive than Displayport/HDMI monitors and 2x more expensive than USB-C monitors
    Need multi-monitors? You can set up 3-6 monitors with the lowly Surface Go via it's USB-C alternate mode support with a dock & hdmi adapters for 1/2 the cost of daisy chained TB monitors.
  • Intel no longer charges licensing fees for Thunderbolt 3. They made it free to use to encourage adoption. I don't buy the niche argument. Surface has never shied away from niche; if they did, they would never have developed Centaurus or the original Surface. Surfaces are aspirational devices; they have and should embody the premium experience for Windows Devices.
  • Yes they still do charge for thunderbolt certification. They gave all the tech to be implemented in usb 4. But to be usb 4 you don't need to implement all the tech in thunderbolt. So if you want to be absolutely certain you have it all you still have to look for Thunderbolt Certified (which compabies pay for) devices.
  • AMD systems with thunderbolt is still possible, Asrock managed it too.
  • If AMD had a Ryzen 3rd gen at 7nm and pciE4 mobile chip then putting it in the surface is a perfect idea if they pair it with a pcie4 SSD. If they were first to the punch then they could advertise having the fastest laptop.
  • Daniel Rubino, The problem with the AMD, Intel questions that you ask when it comes to the OEMs, boils down to the segment or level that they spec the machines and what they use. The cost savings that you mention in the article, are almost always when you do see AMD laptop, they are usually spec'd with entry to medium level AMD hardware. You almost never see flagship level AMD hardware in laptops, though you will often see it in Desktops. One of the reasons I'm intrigued as a Team Red guy, is since the Surface is a premium brand, I would expect that Ryzen 7 or maybe even Ryzen 9 chips would be included. As far as the power consumption argument. That's alleviated if the OEM ops for the APU, rather than the traditional CPU/GPU combo that exists in most hardware. Don't forget that AMD right now is the only chip maker, making chips at 7nm, which is still smaller that Intel's most recent chips at 10nm. This means that AMD chips when set at the right voltage will have a lower TDP and better efficient. This is proven in benchmarks testing the power of AMD's most recent 7nm Navi GPUs, and there 3rd Gen Ryzen processors. However, by bringing the CPU and GPU together on one die, which is what the APU does, you save even more power and create even better efficiency, and APUs overall out perform even the best iGPUs from Intel. The sum of those things makes the argument for having this in a Surface, very compelling. The next component is USB 3.2. It's non-proprietary, and has the same data bandwidth as Intel's Thunderbolt Gen2 USB 3.1. So MS can easily go with AMD and support the latest and fastest USB tech
  • So, I know 7nm is a smaller number than 10nm, but the reality of chip fabrication is far more complicated than that. A typical node now includes features at multiple sizes, with chiplets AMD chips include both 7nm and 14nm components, and spacing between features is different between AMD and Intel. I have not yet seen an analysis of actual transister/logic density on Intel 10th Gen as compared to Ryzen 2, but I look forward to it (I run a 2700X in my desktop and Ice Lake i7 in my new Dell XPS13 2-in-1). One other note: I have noticed in the comments and articles comparisons between Intel's wattage and TDP and AMD's. They measure them significantly differently, and AMD's numbers are more 'honest' than Intel's at least per people's expectations. The issue of power consumption is very nuanced and both companies have chosen a specific measurement methodology that won't turn out the same results even if they were measuring each other's CPU's. I prefer AMD's though because again it sets expectations to what the market would think the number would mean. Edit: I did a bit of searching, and as I suspected Intel's transistor density at 10nm is actually higher (100.8 MTr/mm squared) than TSMC and Samsung's at 7nm (96.5 MTr/mm squared). This is slightly complicated by the fact that Intel edges out TSMC on SRAM but the inverse is true for logic. Overview here: Edit #2: Reading a little deeper, TSMC has several 7nm processes. 7nm FF/FF+ achieve the 96.49 that was quoted above, however the Zen 2 architecture relies on 7nm HPC which is only 66.7 MTr/MM squared. Presumably there are differences in that production process that make it worth it to take the hit on density, it may handle heat or power better than the denser process. This also means however that Intel's 10nm does pack significantly more transistors into the same space, which can have cost and power savings of its own (but may increase issues with heat spots and crosstalk among other things). This could also explain the issue with yields that has kept this process delayed so long, but that's just speculation. Note that while this is not as nice a gain as Intel's 10nm, its a 50% gain in density over Intel's 14nm+++ process which is why they took such a significant leap forward.
  • Sorry Dan but I think you partly missed the point of why AMD in Surface Laptops is great, it is because you will get a decent all around chip (that also means a good igpu) for a relative budget price (besides less issues like Meltdown). The good Intel igpu's are iris plus igpu's (or whatever they are named now) and they are not in all Intel Ice lake chips, only the more expensive i5/i7 ones. "with four-core, six-core, and even eight-core variants", also I don't think this rumor is correct. aren't these coming from amd cpu's that have no igpu? So that seems unlikely to use those in the SL. Also the part about battery life is slightly outdated, Picasso has pretty decent battery life and this slightly new upgrade is supposed to have better battery life as well (rumor).
  • It might also serve as an example to OEM partners to implement AMD procs in their laptops. And forgot the mention that battery life is highly dependent on how the OEM implemented AMD procs and other parts in their laptops, e.g. Huwawei did manage to get good battery results when using an AMD proc while the battery was fairly standard in size. I think many OEMs just treat AMD versions of their laptops as low budget / trash and are not yet motivated enough to invest in it when designing the laptops.
  • What about software? There was a time when software took advantage of certain instruction sets that were specific to a processor (namely, Intel) to deliver some performance advantage. For instance, how some games are designed to perform better with an Nvidia or Radeon GPU. This is different from synthetic benchmarks, right? Does this kind of thing still hold today?
  • Meltdown, Spectre, SPOILER, MDS, RIDL, Zombieload and fallout happened, but we never heard much about them other than Meltdown and Spectre, that too nearly (or more than?) a year after they were discovered.
    Intel is the chief supplier of chips for most OEMs and if the word got out, they are more likely to suffer than intel itself because they already got laptops with intel chips to sell.
    This time around even after newer vulnerabilities being discovered at the rate of like one vulnerability in 2 months or so (lol), there wasn't much of a panic. Intel and the OEMs probably managed to prevent that by influencing the media? I mean most people probably heard about the exaggerated vulnerabilities ryzenfall and chimera which turned out to be for stock manipulation, but real vulnerabilities like SPOILER and RIDL went rather unnoticed.
    You can't be certain that this would always stay the same, so it's wiser for any OEM to look for alternatives than stick to intel for everything.
    So if intel messes up again, they can just advertise their amd based laptops.
    It would be good for Microsoft to develop the ARM based devices more as well.
    Apple doesn't need to do the same, the loyalty of apple customers is blind admiration fueled by vanity.
    They would buy it even if the sell a paper book with just pictures for a £1000.
  • Similar CPU performance. Better GPU performance than Intel integrated GPUs. Economical than Intel+Nvidia solution. Competition is good and consumers win.
  • Wasn't there a big issue with the Intel chips in the Surface Pro 3 or 4 (mainly power issues)? Diversifying away from Intel-only seems like a good idea, and better for the entire hardware ecosystem (remembering that Surface is supposed to be a design leader).
  • Why not in the 13inch version?
  • They could be in the 13 inch. We're not sure yet.
  • In my opinion, having AMD in a surface device is amazing. AMD's first gen 14nm parts have graphics power that competes favorably with Intel's bleeding-edge 10nm graphics, so if AMD innovates at all with 7nm, AMD may remain ahead in laptop graphics. Having a laptop that doesn't need a discrete GPU but can still play games is perfect, especially for the Surface Laptop, which slots between the Surface Pro (ultra portability) and Surface Book (high power). Additionally, Intel is a tragically anti-consumer, anti-competitive company, that would rather remove competitors from the market so they can stagnate, than actually innovate and move technology forward. Intel has a history of paying off OEMs and dragging AMD through litigation so that they hold their market position. Putting AMD in a premium device keeps the market healthy.