Surface Laptop 3 vs MacBook Pro: Which should you buy?

Surface Laptop 3 15
Surface Laptop 3 15 (Image credit: Windows Central)

The Surface Laptop 3 and MacBook Pro are for very different target audiences. The Surface Laptop 3 is not targeted at the serious power user. The MacBook Pro has the hardware for that type of buyer, with the bonus of being able to boot into Windows 10 as well.

While the Surface Laptop 3 is in contention to be the best Windows laptop right now, Apple's 13-inch MacBook Pro will always be a contender in this market. The 13-inch laptop space has some of the finest notebook computers you can buy, so competition is fierce.

Now is an excellent time to be buying, though, as we enter the holiday shopping season. The next big event is Black Friday, and it's worth keeping an eye out for deals, especially if you're still leaning towards a MacBook Pro. Apple is notorious for avoiding discounts on its hardware, but that doesn't stop authorized resellers like Amazon offering cuts. If you see a discount on the MacBook Pro spec you want on Black Friday, snap it up.

Surface Laptop 3 vs MacBook Pro basic tech specs

Swipe to scroll horizontally
CategorySurface Laptop 3 (13-inch)Surface Laptop 3 (15-inch)MacBook Pro (13-inch)MacBook Pro (16-inch)
Operating SystemWindows 10Windows 10macOSmacOS
Display13.5-inch Pixelsense, 3:2 aspect ratio, 2256x1504 (201 PPI)15-inch Pixelsense, 3:2 aspect ratio, 2496x1664 (201 PPI)13.3-inch Retina 2560 x 1600 (227 PPI)16-inch Retina 3072 x 1920
ProcessorIntel 10th GenAMD Ryzen 5 or Ryzen 7 custom CPU8th Gen Intel Core i5
10th Gen Intel Core i5
10th Gen Intel Core i7
Intel Core i7 6-core
Intel Core i9 8-core
GPUIntel IrisAMD Vega 9
AMD Vega 11
Intel Iris Plus 645
New Intel Iris Plus
Intel UHD 630
AMD Radeon Pro 5300M 4GB
AMD Radeon Pro 5500M 4GB
AMD Radeon Pro 5500M 8GB
Memory8GB or 16GB LPDDR4x8GB, 16GB, or 32GB LPDDR4x8GB 2133MHz LPDDR3
16/32GB 3733MHz LPDDR4X
16GB/32GB/64GB
Storage128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB SSD (replaceable)128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB SSD (replaceable)Up to 4TB SSDUp to 8TB SSD
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 jackUp to 4x Thunderbolt 3 , 3.5mm headphone jack4 x USB-C Thunderbolt-3, 3.5mm headphone jack
BatteryUp to 11.5 hoursUp to 11.5 hoursUp to 10 hoursUp to 11 hours
WeightUp to 2.79 lbsUp to 3.4 lbs3.1 lbs4.3 lbs

Surface Laptop 3 is a significant upgrade

The Surface Laptop is one of our absolute favorites, and the latest incarnation doesn't change any of that. For the first time, we have a little choice when buying, with both a 13- and 15-inch model now. The experience of using each is mostly the same, with the most significant change coming underneath. The 15-inch version is exclusively available to consumers with a customized AMD Ryzen Surface Edition APU.

That packs four cores and eight threads on the Ryzen CPU portion, and either a Vega 9 or Vega 11 integrated GPU. Both of these have an additional GPU core over the Vega that AMD would put in other Windows laptops, giving it a little added grunt.

Even on the smaller version, the performance takes a serious bump from the Surface Laptop 2, with Intel's 10th Gen processors and all-new Iris Plus graphics on the table. The Surface Laptop 3 isn't targeted at professional applications or creators, but the added horsepower certainly means you can get some good mileage in such areas.

Oh, and it has USB-C now, as well. So you don't need to buy a dongle. Hallelujah!

MacBook Pro has some superior specs

Even though there are no longer any legacy ports on the MacBook Pro, it has one fairly significant advantage over the Surface Laptop 3. It has Thunderbolt 3 support on top of USB-C, and Thunderbolt 3 opens up a world of possibilities. You can attach high-resolution displays to it, connect fast external storage, and perhaps most exciting of all, hook up an eGPU, putting a full desktop graphics card into your MacBook Pro.

Besides this, the MacBook Pro has six-core processors from Intel right up to a Core i9, options for dedicated graphics that go up to AMD's Radeon Pro graphics, up to 64GB of RAM, and up to 8TB of storage. In all cases, the AMD graphics options for the MacBook Pro are stronger than the Vega 9 or Vega 11 you're able to get on the 15-inch Surface Laptop 3.

Different laptops for different people

The Surface Laptop 3 is generally a closer match to Apple's MacBook Air in the sense that they're both highly portable yet capable Ultrabooks and they appeal to the same type of laptop buyers.

The MacBook Pro targets a different class of buyer. It's a pro-grade laptop with many powerful options, much better graphics capabilities, and if your wallet will go far enough, a ridiculous Core i9 processor. There's also the little matter of Apple's software and services. If you're already using or want to start using apps like Final Cut and Logic Pro, there's no fully like-for-like substitute experience on Windows.

The Surface Laptop 3 does come in two sizes for the first time, though, and they're both touch-enabled, something you don't get on any MacBook, with pen support for digital inking. The 15-inch model with AMD Ryzen and Vega inside is the better choice there, but the MacBook Pro can still offer more outright power.

If you're already looking at the Surface Laptop 3 as something you think you'd like to buy, get it. The MacBook Pro isn't a direct competitor, and you're going to end up spending a lot of money on the Mac to get anything significantly better than the Surface Laptop.

Richard Devine is an Editor at Windows Central. A former Project Manager and long-term tech addict, he joined Mobile Nations in 2011 and has been found on Android Central and iMore as well as Windows Central. Currently you'll find him covering all manner of PC hardware and gaming, and you can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.