Microsoft’s Surface Book 3 is the most powerful 2-in-1 on Earth, and it’s the only Surface portable to feature a dedicated NVIDIA GPU. But it’s an incredibly expensive device, it’s a bit heavy, and it still doesn’t have Thunderbolt 3. The Surface Book 3 is worth buying, but only if you need the 2-in-1 form factor.
We’re about to take an in-depth look at the Surface Book 3. But because its such a spec-driven laptop, I want to take a second to list out the raw specs and configuration options:
- CPU: 10th Gen Intel Core i5 and i7 Chips
- RAM: LPDDR4x RAM in 8 GB, 16 GB, and 32 GB Configs
- Storage: PCIe SSD in 256 GB, 512 GB, 1 TB, and 2 TB Configs
- GPU: Integrated Iris Plus (Base Model), GeForce GTX 1650, GeForce GTX 1660 Ti, Quadro RTX 3000 (Businesses Customers Only)
- Display: 13.5-inch 3000 x 2000 (267 PPI), 15-inch 3240 x 2160, (260 PPI)
- Ports: USB-A (2), USB-C (Not Thunderbolt 3), headphone jack, full-sized 2 TB SD card reader, Surface Connect ports (2)
- Cameras: 5.0-megapixel HD selfie camera, 8.0-megapixel HD rear camera with autofocus
- Wireless Cards: Bluetooth 5.0 and Wi-Fi 6
- Weight: 3.38 pounds (13.5-inch model), 4.2 pounds (15-inch model)
Alright, let’s get into it. The Surface Book 3 looks pretty similar to its predecessor, so what’s new? Did Microsoft fix any of the Surface Book 2’s problems, or is this just an internal spec bump?
What’s New in the Surface Book 3?
Externally, the Surface Book 3 is indistinguishable from its predecessor. Microsoft threw a 10th gen Intel Core i5 processor into the base 13.5-inch Book 3, and every other configuration runs on a speedy 10th gen Core i7. That’s a major leap from the Surface Book 2’s 7th and 8th gen Intel Core processors, which are noticeably slower than their newer counterparts.
Microsoft also replaced the Book 2’s LPDDR3 RAM with new LPDDR4x modules in 8 GB, 16 GB, and 32 GB flavors. Paired with the Book 3’s 10th gen Core processors, you’ve got yourself a serious multitasking machine. And, like the Book 2, the Book 3 comes in 256 GB, 512 GB, and 1 TB PCIe SSD storage configs, with a fancy 2 TB option for the 15-inch model.
Zooming in on the tiny details, you’ll see that the new Surface Book 3 packs Bluetooth 5.0 and Wi-Fi 6 chips, along with an updated 17.5-hour battery life and improved 127-watt charging. Some Book 2 owners complained that their laptop would lose its charge while plugged in during heavyweight tasks—an issue that should be resolved with the additional 20 watts of charging speed.
Finally, there’s the GPU options. The base 13.5-inch Surface Book 3 has integrated Intel Iris Plus graphics, which is decent but not good enough for AAA titles. Every other configuration of the Book 3, including the base 15-inch option, pack NVIDIA graphics cards. You’ll find the GeForce GTX 1650 chip in upgraded 13.5-inch models and the slightly-faster GeForce GTX 1660 Ti in 15-inch models. Businesses can order a 15-inch Surface Book 3 with a Quadro RTX 3000 GPU, and it’s a shame that Microsoft doesn’t offer this model to the public.
Surface Book GPUs are installed in the keyboard dock, so they aren’t active while in tablet mode. That said, the Book 3’s 10th gen Intel CPU has decent integrated graphics that should handle most design software and lightweight games while undocked.
In Microsoft’s words, the Surface Book 3 is the most powerful 2-in-1 laptop available on the market today. And the company is absolutely correct. But if you saw it on a shelf at Best Buy, you wouldn’t be able to tell the Surface Book 3 apart from its slower forebear, the Surface Book 2. Externally, the Book 3 is nearly identical to its predecessor. If you weren’t a fan of the Surface Book 2’s weight and port selection, then prepare to be bummed out.
Like its predecessor, the 13.5-inch Surface Book 3 weighs about 3.5 pounds, and the 15-inch model weighs about 4.2 pounds (with some variation depending on hardware configuration). Nearly of that weight goes into the detachable tablet, which may limit tablet usability for some people. For reference, the iPad Pro weighs just 1 pound, and premium laptops like the Dell XPS 13 weigh around 2.5 pounds.
Despite its heft, the Book 2 is universally praised for its display and keyboard—both of which are featured in the new Book 3. The 13.5-inch model sports a 3000 x 2000 panel, while the 15-inch model pushes a 3240 x 2160 resolution. Windows Hello also makes a return, along with the same high-quality 5 MP HD front facing camera and 8 MP HD rear camera as the Book 2.
Port selection remains unchanged, too. Like the Book 2, the Book 3 has two USB-A ports, a USB-C port, two Surface Connect charging ports, a headphone jack, and a full-sized SD card reader for up to 2 TB of additional storage. Despite the Surface 3’s price tag, its USB-C port isn’t up to the Thunderbolt 3 standard, which has faster data transfer rates and greater accessory support than basic USB-C. Thunderbolt 3 is available in most computers at this price, but Microsoft avoids the technology for security purposes—something that may be important to enterprise or government customers. Despite the lack of Thunderbolt 3, you can still use with Surface Book 3 with two external monitors by pairing it with the Surface Dock 2.
The only external change that you might notice here is the addition of a second built-in microphone. The new Surface Go 2 features this dual-microphone array, and if early reviews are any indication, it’s a major step forward for voice recording and video calls.
Which Size Is Right for You?
Picking between the 13.5-inch and 15-inch Surface Book 3 isn’t nearly as easy as it should be. Both sizes have nearly identical specs, with the only difference lying in the GPU. Can you justify spending an extra $400 for the 15-inch Book 3’s large display and slightly faster GeForce GTX 1660 Ti graphics card?
If you’re a professional, a creative, or a gamer, then the answer might be yes. The 15-inch Surface Book 3 will provide a decent speed boost to visual design tools—especially video-editing or rendering software. And, while I wouldn’t suggest using the Surface Book 3 as a dedicated gaming machine (cheaper gaming laptops are more powerful), the GeForce GTX 1660 Ti GPU is capable of pushing most games to high graphics settings.
But if you just want a high-performing 2-in-1, then the 15-inch Book 3 might not be worth the extra money. The base 13.5-inch model will run most software like a champ, and has decent integrated graphics for older or lightweight video games. Bumping up to the $2,000 13.5-inch model grants you an i7 processor, along with a dedicated GeForce GTX 1650 GPU. It’s not as fast as the 15-inch model’s graphics card, but it’ll provide reliable performance for video software and run most AAA games at mid and high graphics settings.
While we’re comparing the Book 3’s sizes, you should take a moment to think about tablet mode. The 15-inch Book 3 weighs more than its little brother, and has a display that’s larger than most conventional tablets. If you’re interested in using the Book 3 as a conventional tablet, then the cheaper 13.5-inch model might feel a lot more comfortable than the larger 15-inch unit. That said, the 15-inch model might work better for artists or business-people who want a giant touchscreen display, and people with big strong hands might find its 15-inch display comfortable for everyday tablet use.
Don’t plan to use the Book 3 in tablet mode? Then why bother buying it? The Surface Book 3 may be the most powerful 2-in-1 on the planet, but it’s hardly the most powerful laptop. There’s a ton of laptops to choose from in the $1,000 to $3,000 price range, and they all come in configurations more powerful than the Surface Book 3.
I’ve mentioned this a few times already, but the Surface Book is significantly less powerful than other laptops in the $1,500 to $3,500 price range. Its base model, with a 10th gen i5 processor, integrated Iris Plus graphics, and 8 GB of RAM, offers performance that’s comparable to the $700 Dell Inspiron or the $800 Lenovo ThinkPad L13 Yoga. When you buy a Surface Book 3, you’re paying extra for the 2-in-1 form factor and Surface aesthetics.
The Surface Laptop 3 is the closest low-cost alternative to the Surface Book 3, although it isn’t a 2-in-1, and it doesn’t have a dedicated GPU. Still, it’s probably the best choice if you don’t need the beefier GPU or a convertible. If you’d prefer an enterprise-grade work machine with a dedicated GPU, then I suggest buying a maxed-out Dell XPS 15 instead. It has the same specs as the $3,400 Book 3 but costs about $950 less.
The only issue here is that the XPS 15 runs on a GeForce GTX 1650 GPU, which is slightly slower than what you’ll find in 15-inch Book 3. That said, the XPS 15 has two Thunderbolt 3 ports that can hook up to external graphics cards, so your graphics card options are technically limitless. You could even use the cheaper $1,200 XPS 13 with an external graphics card and spend your leftover money on a regular tablet.
If you’d prefer a super-fast internal GPU for dedicated gaming or graphics processing, then you could always wait for the XPS 17, which Dell plans to sell with a super powerful RTX 2060 GPU configuration. Or, you could just buy a gaming laptop. The $1,800 Razer Blade 15 is one of the best gaming laptops available today. It packs a speedy RTX 2070 GPU, with configuration options for the faster GeForce RTX 2080 or Quadro RTX 5000 chips.
And finally, if you’re more concerned with form-factor than performance, you could always buy a Surface Pro 7 or a Surface Book 2. The Pro 7 is a reliable laptop with configuration options that can compete with the Book 3, so long as you don’t mind working with integrated graphics. And the Surface Book 2, while slower than the Book 3, is still a pretty powerful device and starts at around $1,000.