Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 15” Review: AMD The Way to Go?
Updated: Aug 19, 2021
Written by Soon Kai Hong
If you’re into laptops, you’ll have definitely heard of Surface from Microsoft. This is their latest version of their Surface Laptop, the Surface Laptop 3, the 15-inch model powered by an AMD Ryzen CPU.
Now just a little bit about myself, my personal everyday laptop is actually a Surface Laptop, the very first generation, and it’s been great. Still is. It’s honestly a really good experience.
So, I’ve been using the Surface Laptop 3 for a couple of weeks, I have to say, the overall experience was great, but… it wasn’t as stellar as I hoped.
For now, let’s get the specs out of the way, and this is what’s unique about the 15-inch Surface Laptop 3.
Our unit comes equipped with an AMD Ryzen 5 3580U, 16GB of RAM along with a 256GB SSD.
If you want something a little more powerful, you can also opt for the higher-end Ryzen 7 3780U that comes with a more capable RX Vega 11 graphics as well.
First up, let’s start with the good. The build quality. The Surface Laptop 3 is made up entirely out of aluminium and it feels great. It’s premium to the touch, and thanks to the smooth matte finish, it doesn’t get as many fingerprints as compared to, say, a Razer Blade. Without a doubt, the build quality is excellent.
For the display, we get a 15-inch IPS display with an aspect ratio of 3 by 2. It is also fully touch-capable and does, in fact, support the Surface Pen should you want to use that. It’s a fantastic display, with nice and vibrant colours, pretty deep blacks and great viewing angles. Watching content or playing games on this, you won’t be disappointed.
You also get a 720P webcam, with support for Windows Hello, which I still believe is the best way to unlock your laptop.
You do get a new option for the keyboard deck, which is basically the same aluminium as the rest of the body instead of the familiar Alcantara fabric which the Surface is known for. To note, only the 13.5-inch Surface Laptop 3 has the option for the Alcantara, while the 15-inch is only available with the aluminium keyboard deck.
The keyboard itself provides a really comfortable and enjoyable typing experience. The keys are nice and tactile and does require a little bit of force to press, which I like since it makes the keys feel solid. All your important keys are nice and big, like Shift, Enter and Backspace. It’s just a great typing experience, and it was that exact reason that I bought the Surface Laptop in the first place.
You do not get a numpad however, despite this being a 15-inch device. So if you’re into that, well, there isn’t the option here.
Moving down, we have the trackpad which has been improved compared to the last generation. It’s now slightly larger, which is nice, considering the larger form factor. And as for its performance, I would say it’s right up there with the trackpad on the Razer Blade, and really close to that of the MacBook Pro. It’s definitely good, no doubts about it.
For the Surface Laptop 3, they’ve also upgraded the speakers, which supports Dolby Audio Premium. It does sound great, with a little bit more kick on the low end, and I would say it’s one of the better speakers out there on the market.
For ports, you get the Surface Connect on the right, which I actually do like because it’s magnetic, and on the left, you get a standard USB, a USB-C port which unfortunately does not support Thunderbolt 3 but does support charging, and lastly a headphone jack.
For a 15-inch device, it’s relatively light on ports. Personally, I would’ve liked to see an SD card reader, and perhaps another USB-C port, which supports Thunderbolt 3.
One interesting feature which Microsoft touts with the Surface Laptop 3 is the ability to swap out the SSD. Though it’s not a common form factor, it can be done, so that’s neat. And as for the speed of the included drive, it’s not too bad, with overall good read and write speeds.
So now, we come to performance… and this is where the Surface Laptop 3 falls a little short, but is also kind of interesting.
As mentioned at the start, this laptop is powered by the AMD Ryzen 5 3580U, which runs on the Zen+ architecture.
The first thing that you’ll lose out on, compared to the 10th-gen Intel chips, is support for Wi-Fi 6. Now to most people out there, the average consumer, this is probably not something you’ll notice. But if you’re planning on buying a laptop, you would want it to last you at least a good couple of years. By then, most of our infrastructure will have support for Wi-Fi 6, so with this laptop, you’re on the losing end right from the start.
The second thing to touch on is the performance, and this is where it’s a little surprising.
Performance, in my case and with the things that I do, was actually pretty decent.
Running Cinebench R20, the laptop scored 1537 on the Multi-Thread test, and 357 on the Single Thread test. Comparing this with my previous review of the Asus UX434 with the Intel Core i7-8565U, the performance is rather similar.
For video editing, if like us, you’re using DaVinci Resolve, results were actually rather surprising.
Our standard 10 minute 1080p edit took 23 minutes and 20 seconds to complete, while the 15 minute 4K edit took 57 minutes and 33 seconds to complete. Compare that to our previous results with the Intel Core i7-8565U on the Asus UX434, the render times are actually noticeably faster.
Now perhaps DaVinci Resolve is faring better on AMD hardware, and considering the fact that the new MacBook Pros are also running AMD, I suspect that optimization is a lot better on DaVinci compared to running Adobe.
With that said, however, scrubbing through timelines will still chug along slowly and playback in 4K will still drop frames, so do take note.
Now if you’re talking about gaming, the Vega 9 Graphics in this Ryzen 5 chip actually does a pretty decent job if you’re doing light gaming.
Games like CS:GO will run comfortably over 60 frames per second at 1080p, and you can even technically run the game at the laptop’s native resolution and still get around 45 frames per second.
If you’re into Dota 2, you can also get a decent experience at 1080P High settings, which will net you around 40 frames per second.
Though for games like PUBG, it’ll struggle, with 1080P medium getting you roughly 20 frames per second and even after dropping down to 720p, it’s still less than 30 frames per second.
In short, it’ll handle light titles relatively well, but anything AAA, or slightly more graphic intensive like PUBG, just don’t play it at all.
The third and last thing… is battery life. The battery life on the AMD powered Surface Laptop 3 is not fantastic, far from it. Using it on the better battery setting, along with keeping the brightness at 50% with the backlit keyboard off, I’ve only managed to squeeze 6 hours and 3 minutes on a single charge.
Now, I do not have the Intel-based Surface Laptop 3 to compare with, but I did use the Asus ZenBook UX434 previously, which was running an 8th-gen Intel Core i7-8565U, and that lasted me nearly 8 hours. My own daily driver, the 1st generation Surface Laptop with an Intel i7-7660U also lasts just as long.
And these CPUs are the older generation. With the Intel-based Surface Laptop 3 running 10th-gen Ice Lake, you can pretty much expect much better battery life.
Now I wouldn’t say 6 hours is bad, you can still get by a day without your power brick for the most part. But given that this is a 15-inch laptop, I wished Microsoft put in a bigger battery instead of keeping it the same as the smaller 13.5-inch model.
To sum up, the 15-inch Surface Laptop 3 is a really well-built device with a nice, minimalistic design that offers great user experience. But if you’re looking for a more versatile option, you might better off getting the smaller 13.5-inch Surface Laptop 3 with the Intel Ice Lake chips.
You get better battery life, you get access to Wi-Fi 6, and most creative applications are much better optimized for the Intel chip.
But if you just want a good 15-inch laptop, for general productivity and perhaps some light gaming, the Surface Laptop 3 might be a good choice for you. Especially so if you’ve always been waiting for a bigger version of the Surface Laptop, it’s finally here.