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Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 (15-inch, Intel) review

The Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 is best with an Intel CPU inside

Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 (15-inch, Intel) review
Editor's Choice
(Image: © Tom's Guide)

Our Verdict

The Surface Laptop 3 is a light and elegant laptop, and you want the Intel version, not the AMD models.

For

  • Faster performance than AMD version
  • Sleek minimalist aluminum design
  • Comfortable keyboard
  • Good battery life

Against

  • No Thunderbolt 3
  • Minimal security and privacy perks
Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 (15-inch, Intel): Specs

CPU: 10th-Gen Intel Core i7-1065G7 ( or Core i5-1035G7)
RAM: 16GB
Display: 15-inch touch-screen display, 2496 x 1664
Storage: 1TB SSD (128GB, 256GB, 512GB also available)
Ports: 1x USB-C, 1x USB-A, Surface Connect port, headphone jack
Battery life: 9:32 (tested, web surfing) | 11:30 (Microsoft's claim)
Wireless: Wi-Fi 6/Bluetooth 5.0
Dimensions: 13.4 x 9.6 x 0.6 inches
Weight: 3.4 pounds

The Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 offers users a choice: AMD or Intel? Yes, as the particularly savvy may know, AMD has been catching up with (and sometimes beating) Intel. But which Surface Laptop is best, and how do they stack up against Dell and Apple's best bigger-screen laptops? We've tested both the Intel version(starting at $999) and AMD version (from $799) of the 15-inch Surface Laptop 3 to find out.

As this Surface Laptop 3 review will explain, this round goes to Intel. While both laptops have good to very good CPU performance, the Intel-based Surface Laptop 3 beats its AMD-based brother on battery life and a few other Tom's Guide tests, including our video editing and storage speed benchmarks. Add in a comfortable keyboard and solid speakers and you have one of the best laptops you can buy. 

Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 (15-inch, Intel): Pricing and availability

We tested the Intel version of the 15-inch Microsoft Surface Laptop 3, which Microsoft brands as the "Surface Laptop 3 For Business," while the regular Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 is an AMD-based laptop. Specifically, our model costs $1,799 (currently on sale at $1,599), and packs a 10th Gen Core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD. The 15-inch Intel Surface Laptop 3 starts at $1,299 ($999 on sale), in a Core i5, 8GB of RAM and 128GB SSD config. The maxed out version costs $2,199 and is our test unit, but with a 512GB SSD. 

The AMD-based Surface Laptop 3 is more affordable, starting with the $899 model (normally $1,199) that packs a Ryzen 5 3580U CPU, 8GB of RAM and 128GB of SSD storage. More affordable Intel-based options include the $1,099 13.5-inch Surface Laptop 3 (Core i5/8GB of RAM/128GB SSD). Multiple configurations are available at Microsoft.com, Best Buy, Amazon and other retailers. 

Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 (15-inch, Intel): Design

The Surface Laptop 3 is a sleek bit of minimalism that almost looks like nothing at all. The 15-inch Surface Laptop 3 is sold in two colors: black and aluminum. Ideally, Microsoft would also offer it in the Sandstone (kinda gold-ish) hue the 13.5-inch Surface Laptop 3 comes in. Still, this wedge-shaped laptop delights without aping the MacBook Air (the most famous laptop that's tapered this way), by using harder angles for the corners.

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

And at 3.4 pounds and 0.6 inches thick, the Surface Laptop 3 is light for a big screen laptop, weighing less than the Dell XPS 2020 (4 - 4.5 pounds depending on battery, 0.7 inches) and the 16-inch MacBook Pro (4.3 pounds, 0.6 inches).

Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 (15-inch, Intel) review

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The Surface Laptop 3 does not have an IPX durability rating for how much it can endure. You might not be familiar with this code that explains how much damage and elemental chaos a laptop can survive, but it's table stakes for business PC laptops.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 (15-inch, Intel): Ports and security

Microsoft touts the Intel Surface Laptop 3 as its 'business' laptop, and we respectfully think its ports situation doesn't match up. It's got a USB-A port, a USB-C port, a headphone jack and a Surface Connect port. The first notable absence is the SD card reader, which the XPS 15 packs.

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

We'd prefer the Surface Laptop 3 to have Thunderbolt 3 ports, not just standard USB-C, so your display expansion options wouldn't be limited out of the gate. A second USB Type-C port would also help it match the MacBook Pro (which has four) and the XPS 15 (which has 3). 

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Also, a business-level laptop should have more security and privacy options, beyond Surface Laptop 3's IR webcam for Windows Hello. Lenovo and HP stock their laptops with webcam shutters and privacy modes for their screens, and practically every business PC has a vPro chip for remote management by IT departments. 

The absence of vPro is annoying, but Microsoft likely had to choose between 10th Gen CPUs and vPro, as that generation of Intel chips didn't have vPro at that time.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 (15-inch, Intel): Display

Watching the trailer for The Boys Season 2 on the Surface Laptop 3's 15-inch, 2496 x 1664-pixel touch display, I noticed the panel was OK at reproducing color, but that its brightness maxes out at a slightly darker point than I wanted. So while the reds of The Homelander's cape and the Blues of A-Train's chest plate looked accurate, the bar these flawed heroes were sitting in looked even darker than it should.

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

To check out how sharp the screen is, I sampled a 4K video of the wildlife in Costa Rica, and the wisps of clouds and scales of a lizard were so crisp, I started to think about booking airfare (until I realized that meant going on a plane).

According to our colorimeter, the Surface Laptop's screen produces 104.5% of the sRGB spectrum. That's just a hair above the AMD Surface Laptop's 101% rating, but below the 132.2% mark from the XPS 15 and the 113.9% from the MacBook Pro.

Our light gun clocks the Intel Surface Laptop 3 at producing up to 366 nits of brightness, which is just a tad less than the 380-nit Surface Laptop 3 (AMD). The screens on the XPS 15 (434.2 nits) and the 16-inch MacBook Pro (429 nits) are considerably brighter. As I watched this panel from all angles, I noticed that its colors lost only a bit of their intensity when viewed from 45 degrees to the left or right.

The Surface Laptop 3's 15-inch touchscreen display accurately and speedily accepted my taps as I navigated Windows 10. It also smoothly processed my swipes and scrolling gestures as I moved through pages in Chrome.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 (15-inch, Intel): Keyboard and touchpad

The Surface Laptop 3's keyboard is a joy to type on, with keys that provide just enough (but not too much) feedback, letting you know you've clicked so your fingertips can float to the next keys. Taking it out for a ride on the 10fastfingers.com typing test, I breezily clicked my way to 74 words per minute on my first try, which isn't too far from my 80wpm average. 

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The 3 x 4.5-inch glass touchpad has a nice soft coating to it that felt great against my fingers as I swiped to navigate Windows 10. I also noticed no lag as I used pinch/pull gestures to magnify and shrink web pages in Edge.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 (15-inch, Intel): Audio

I wrote this part of the Surface Laptop 3 review while Jay-Z and Linkin Park's "Numb/Encore" blasted from the notebook’s speakers. The laptop produced Shawn Carter and Chester Bennington's vocals accurately, while providing a proper amount of kick in the track's bass. Turned up to 100, the Surface Laptop 3 produced enough sound to fill a large room, but I would turn to my UE Megaboom 3 bluetooth speaker if I wanted to provide a lot of sound for a party.

If you poke around the Start Menu, you'll find that the Surface Laptop 3 has the Realtek Audio Console app for sound adjustments. I recommend you ignore this app, though, as the only important setting it has — Dolby Audio — is on by default and should stay that way. Turning it off took all the timbre out of Jay-Z's voice and made the sound's instruments sound muted.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 (15-inch, Intel): Performance

Armed with an Intel Core i7-1065G7 CPU and 16GB of RAM, the Intel Surface Laptop 3 has enough horsepower for a solid amount of multitasking. I saw no lag as I split my screen between a 1080p YouTube video and a dozen Chrome tabs, including my character profile at DNDBeyond.com and the Google Doc for this review. 

The Intel Surface Laptop 3 posted an okay result on the Geekbench 5 test, with a 4,883 score that trails the XPS 15 2020 (10th Gen Core i7-10750 processor, 32GB of RAM, 512GB SSD). Dell’s laptop posted a score of 6,174. The 16-inch MacBook Pro (Core i9, 32GB RAM) also did well here, scoring 7,250. 

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

It's not surprising to see the XPS 15's Core i7 CPU win, as that chip is the Comet Lake hexa-core processor from this year and the Surface Laptop 3 has a quad-core Ice Lake processor released the previous year. We expect the Surface Laptop 4 to bring the thunder with a more modern processor.

On the multi-core Geekbench 4 general performance test, the Intel Surface Laptop 3 scored 19,298, high above the 11,612 from the AMD Surface laptop (Ryzen 5 3580U, 16GB of RAM). The XPS 15 2020 posted a much higher score of 25,934. 

That's not a win to brag about, as the Ryzen 5 and Core i7 chips are practically in different weight classes. If you need a Surface laptop now, you should get the Intel model, but if you can wait, we expect the 4000-series AMD processors will have the power to beat Intel, in more similar face-offs.

However, the Intel Surface Laptop 3 beat its AMD-based brethren in the other categories as well. Its 256GB NVMe M.2 SSD duplicated 4.9GB of files in 10.2 seconds, for a speed of 508.9 MBps, while the AMD Surface Laptop 3's 256GB SSD posted a time of 282.7 MBps. The 512GB SSD in the XPS 15 2020 beat them both, with a time of 708.9 MBps. 

The Intel Surface Laptop 3 took home another win over AMD on our movie file conversion test, transcoding a 4K video to 1080p in 17 minutes and 18 seconds, more than 3 minutes less than the 20:33 time from the AMD Surface Laptop 3. The XPS 15 2020 (10:06) and 16-inch MacBook Pro (8:00) cleaned both of their clocks.

The Intel Iris Plus graphics in the Intel Surface Laptop 3 enabled some decent scores, including a score of 112,670 on the 3D Mark Ice Storm Unlimited test. The AMD Surface Laptop 3 (with an AMD Radeon Vega 9 Microsoft Surface Edition) fell slightly below, with an 100,522. 

The Intel Surface Laptop 3 ran the modestly demanding Dirt 3 racing game at 60 fps (at 1080p), and 37 fps at 4K, while the AMD Surface Laptop 3 hit 56 fps. The XPS 15 2020 thrived again, with a 134 fps rate at 1080p and 69 fps at 4K.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 (15-inch, Intel): Battery life

If endurance on a single charge helps dictate your buying decisions, this is the Surface Laptop for you. The Intel Surface Laptop 3 lasted 9 hours and 32 minutes on our laptop battery test (web surfing at 150 nits), beating the 8:00 time from the AMD Surface Laptop 3. The 16-inch MacBook Pro (10:55) lasted longer while the 4K XPS 15 (8:01) fell short. 

Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 (15-inch, Intel): Heat

As I tested the Surface Laptop 3 in my own lap, I noticed its underside get a little warm, but it stayed within comfortable limits. After we streamed 15 minutes of HD video on the notebook, our heat gun agreed, capturing a temperature of 93 degrees on the underside, which slides under our 95-degree threshold for comfort. The readings taken from the keyboard (85 degrees) and touchpad (79 degrees) were much lower.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 (15-inch, Intel): Verdict

It's not exactly surprising how much of a difference a different processor can make. AMD has gained ground on Intel, but the Microsoft Surface Laptop 3's Intel version is clearly the better model. Plus, its minimalist design brings it on par with the MacBook Pro. If only its screen were a little brighter and it packed a Thunderbolt 3 port. 

You can save $100 and get a lot more speed by getting a comparably spec'd 4K XPS 15, but its battery will conk out an hour and a half earlier. But as this Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 review has shown, this is the laptop you want if you're searching for a great big screen laptop that's light in your bag.