Surface Book 3: Strong graphics, but high price

The Surface Book 3 is the 2020 refresh of Microsoft premium convertible. Faster processor, more powerful graphics card, more RAM and Wi-Fi 6: Upgrades are available in practically every area. But that also costs Microsoft a lot of money. In the test, we considered which target group the 15-inch Surface Book 3 could be suitable for.

Microsoft Surface Book 3 Review: Design, display and input devices

The Surface Book 3 looks very similar to its predecessors. With its sturdy magnesium housing, the convertible is neither particularly heavy nor lightweight: it weighs 1.9 kilograms. The device consists of a screen that serves as a Windows tablet when removed (817 grams), as well as the so-called base with the keyboard and a graphics card inside. To remove the display, you have to hold down a button on the keyboard briefly; disconnecting and connecting takes a few seconds.

There were occasional problems with the mechanism in the test, the tablet did not always recognize the graphics card in the base. Once the lock could not be opened at first. We were able to solve these problems by disconnecting and reconnecting.

The display measures exactly 15 inches and has a resolution of 3,240 x 2,160 pixels, which results in an extremely sharp image. The touch screen is also bright enough for use in the sun. The rather high 3: 2 format offers advantages when working with documents and graphics. Image and video editing, Office programs such as Word and Excel as well as the design of 3D models with CAD software are some of the typical applications of the Surface Book 3. Due to the powerful graphics card, it is also suitable for gaming in full HD resolution but that’s more of a sideline given the professional target audience.

The relatively wide display frame compared to current laptops could be criticized on the screen. However, since the screen is also used as a tablet, the holding frame fulfills a practical function. The glass trackpad impresses with its precision and good click feedback. It’s big enough, but some competitors like the MacBook Pro 16 and Dell XPS 15 (2020) have passed with even larger trackpads.

The three-level white illuminated keyboard is one of the best laptop keyboards. Due to the greater travel distance compared to many competitors, you have to press the buttons in correctly to trigger them. Then they give a quiet, audible and noticeable feedback.

The Surface Book 3 offers exemplary workmanship, a sharp, bright display and high-quality input devices. The design has hardly changed since the first Surface Book.


Technology and equipment: With USB 3.2 Gen 2, but without Thunderbolt 3

The Surface Book 3 is switched on using the power button at the top of the screen element. The volume rocker sits next to it. The tablet also has a headphone jack on the top right and a Surface Connect port on the bottom that connects the screen to the base. On the left side of the base there are two USB 3.1 Gen 2 ports and an SD card reader. On the right there is the Surface Connect port for charging and for the optional docking station as well as a USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type C port.

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Thunderbolt 3 for external graphics cards is missing. Microsoft considers the port to be a security risk, but many competitors bring it with them. Also worth mentioning are Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.0 for fast and stable wireless connections.

The optionally available docking station Surface Dock 2 supplements the connections with four USB-C ports, two of which can be connected to external 4K monitors at 60 Hertz. There are two further USB-A ports as well as Ethernet, a headphone port and a Kensington lock for locking the ports. Unfortunately, the Surface Dock 2 costs a hefty 300 euros. The Surface Pen is also optionally available. The active input pen is suitable for technical drawings and the use of Photoshop in tablet mode.

The 15-inch Surface Book 3 is available from 2,500 euros, the different configurations differ only in the size of RAM and SSD. We had one of the top configurations in the test. Our model uses the Intel Core i7-1065G7 along with 32 GB of RAM and a 512 GB SSD. The integrated graphics unit Iris Plus Graphics G7 in the tablet element takes care of the graphics performance. It is already quite fast and is on a similar level to the entry-level GeForce MX150 GPU. The GTX 1660 Ti in the base is even sufficient for current games in Full HD resolution.

Unfortunately, it is difficult to recognize the name of the tenth Intel generation, but: The processor belongs to the energy-saving U series and is content with roughly the performance of the Core i7-8650U, which is known from its predecessor. If you need a laptop with a particularly high CPU performance, the Surface Book 3 is out of place. The chips from Intel’s H series or AMD Ryzen 7 4800H are recommended here. For example, the Apple MacBook Pro 16 (Intel Core i9-9980H) and the current Dell XPS 15 (Intel Core i7-10750H) are much faster.

The Surface Book 3 feels fast in everyday use, programs start quickly, surfing the Internet works quickly, and games load in seconds. The differences to stronger processors should only be noticeable in CPU-intensive applications such as 4K video editing. The battery life is sufficient for one day, but the tablet only lasts a few hours.

Thunderbolt 3 will miss some users, otherwise the selection of connections is consistent. The processor performance is convincing for a convertible, but there are significantly faster laptops.

Graphics performance: Equipped for full HD gaming thanks to the GTX 1660 Ti Max-Q

The performance highlight of the Surface Book 13 is undoubtedly not the processor, but the graphics unit. They are mainly used for CAD programs and other 3D graphics software for developers, but the GPU is also suitable for computer games. However, the GTX 1660 Ti cannot cope with gaming with the native screen resolution. Even “Age of Empires: Definitive Edition”, the new edition of Microsoft’s real-time strategy classic, bobbed around with 10 to 20 frames per second (FPS). As a gaming system, the Surface Book 3 is more at home with Full HD resolution and high graphics settings. “Resident Evil 2 Remake” and “Shadow of the Tomb Raider” ran smoothly across the screen with 60 FPS.

Modern games can be played smoothly on the Surface Book 3 with the GTX 1660 Ti with Full HD resolution and high settings.


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Micros, loudspeakers and cameras: the video conference machine

The two speakers sit in the tablet element and radiate towards the front. They sound good and offer a certain amount of bass, but could be a little louder. Alternatively, headsets can be connected via Bluetooth 5.0 or a jack input. Thanks to the two far-field microphones, the Surface Book 3 also captures speech well from the other side of the room, as our test with the Audacity recording software showed.

Sensors for Windows Hello are attached above the display, and Windows can be easily started via face unlock. The 5-megapixel webcam for video conferences makes clear, well-lit images thanks to the HDR function, the quality of which is well above the laptop average. The main rear camera can also be used for decent pictures; it is roughly on par with a mid-range mobile phone camera.

The Microsoft Surface Book 3 is very well equipped for video conferences.


Microsoft Surface Book 3 Conclusion: Premium Windows convertible for a small target group

Despite the minor design changes, the third Surface Book is also convincing as Microsoft’s flagship convertible. The processor performance is very good for this device class, but laptops without a removable touch display such as the Dell XPS 15 (2020) and the MacBook Pro 16 offer significantly more CPU power. The Surface Book 15 comes with the GTX 1660 Ti Max-Q, a fully-fledged graphics card that makes the device suitable for games in Full HD resolution.

The Surface Book 15 is also ideally suited for video conferences, as is generally the case for business use. The pen-compatible tablet should come in handy for architects and designers. However, some will miss Thunderbolt 3, for example to further increase the graphics performance with an external GPU.

All in all, the Surface Book 15 is a convincing premium convertible at a premium price of at least 2,500 euros. Those who can afford it and belong to the target group do nothing wrong. There is no other device of its kind with such high graphics performance. Those who have low demands on the GPU will also be happy with the significantly cheaper Surface Pro 7.


Microsoft Surface Book 3 Pros:

  • + Excellent workmanship
  • + Very good input devices
  • + Very suitable for video conferences
  • + Can be used as a Windows tablet
  • + High graphics performance for a convertible

Microsoft Surface Book 3 Cons:

  • – Premium price
  • – Design has practically not changed
  • – Occasional problems connecting the tablet
  • – No Thunderbolt 3

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