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Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 15-inch: A Microsoft-endorsed AMD experience

Written by Chris Duckett, Contributor on
surface-laptop-3-6.png

Microsoft Surface Laptop 3

7.5 / 5
Excellent

pros and cons

Pros
  • Metal appearance is far better than cloth
  • 3:2 display
  • Points for giving AMD a run
  • Nice keyboard
Cons
  • Disappointing battery life
  • One side vacant of USB ports
  • Editors' Review
  • Specs
surface-laptop-3-thumb.png

This was meant to be it. After working with AMD on Xbox, Microsoft was going to unleash an AMD-powered laptop that would blow the figurative doors off every laptop held back by having Intel silicon.

But this laptop isn't it, we are not in that timeline.

Instead, what we have is a nice looking, fairly standard 15-inch light mid-range laptop with a nice aspect ratio.

Everything else surrounding this laptop is politics.

Cloth be gone

When the original Surface Laptop appeared two years ago, the device introduced the Alcantara fabric cutout that has since become the line's signature.

At the time I wrote:

Microsoft said in briefings that it is looking to target university students with this device and provide a single laptop for a student's entire tertiary experience. After using this device for around a week, I wonder how this fabric would stand up to three years of sweat, bad foodstuffs being dropped on it, coffee spills, cask wine incidents, as well as some stamped in cigarette ash and a pouring of bong water over it.

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Redmond says the fabric is able to handle the abuse, but in my experience, that university life stains like nothing else.

In the years since, I've had no reason to reverse these thoughts -- particularly as increasing areas of North America legalise marijuana, and the real-life examples that I have seen being rather manky.

Therefore the metal appearance of the Laptop 3 is a welcome change. This laptop looks good.

The keyboard of the Surface Laptop 3 has no great faults, which puts it above its Apple-labelled brethren, and being properly housed is most definitely better than the Surface Pro 7 keyboards I have tried.

Helping the Laptop 3 in the looks department is its display. Microsoft offers a 201 pixels-per-inch 2496x1664 resolution panel that has a 3:2 aspect ratio. This means the display is far better than the entry level Full HD displays that vendors usually put at the lower end of the market, and for business users, the aspect ratio is just a better one to work with.

In absolute terms, it only offers an extra inch or two of vertical height, but it distinguishes the laptop as one that is meant to be used for work, instead of being a 16:9 mobile Netflix station.

See also: Review: Microsoft's Intel-based Surface Laptop 3: Third time's the charm

Ports to the left

One area where Microsoft has let itself down is in terms of the ports it has placed on the Laptop 3.

The entire port list is: One USB-C port incapable of Thunderbolt 3, a USB-A port, a Surface Connect port, and a headphone jack.

For reasons best known to Microsoft, all but the Connect port are on the left hand side. It's been four years since Apple provided a lesson in going too far with port minimalism, yet Redmond has decided in its wisdom that a USB port on either side is not a good thing.

For a laptop that is meant to target business users, the decision on the number of ports and where to place them is baffling.

I got A-M-D, oi, oi, oi

In 2019, the CPU space got juicy again. AMD was back with a new range of chips that would take the fight to Intel in a way the company had not been able to since the Athlon glory days.

And if you don't think Intel has been ruffled by AMD's re-emergence, feast your eyes on the 50% price cuts Intel rolled out in early October. Just like that, Intel sliced off a bunch of very fatty profit margin -- it's good to be the profit king when all the usurpers are in strife.

At the same time, Microsoft's new Surface lineup and the choice of AMD's Ryzen chips gave AMD a chance to fix its Achilles heel -- its AMD and ATI machines throughout the years -- which possessed the eventuality that users would find a program that either was incompatible or loved to crash because the machines were not an expected combination of Intel and Nvidia hardware.

The new laptops were supposed to descend from the Surface-version of Mount Sinai and show everyone how it should be done.

That hasn't happened though, as the performance of the Laptop 3 with AMD's Ryzen 5 3580U is best described as middling.

There are four cores capable of running eight threads on the CPU, and nine compute units available on the GPU, but at the end of the day, it is silicon made for a 2019 laptop performing at exactly that specification. This results in the Laptop 3 remaining firmly placed in ultrabook territory rather than being capable of desktop replacement.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 15-inch

While the device is nice and light, it has a problem with battery usage. Microsoft claims the Laptop 3 will get "up to 11.5 hours of typical device usage", but that is dead wrong.

Unless "typical" is defined as having brightness all the way down and barely asking the device to compute anything, that's just not going to happen.

This is not an all-day device. In our testing, the laptop consistently sucked down 15-20% of its battery over an hour, whether that be streaming video or browsing the web.

Give this thing a decently powered game, or some video rendering to crunch, and that battery percentage will drop very quickly.

In the end, the decision to use an AMD-powered laptop is not based on performance, but politics.

If you want make your own small blow against the Intel behemoth in the most capitalistic way possible, then dropping anywhere between AU$2,500 to AU$4,400 for a 15-inch Laptop 3 is certainly an option.

Also, if you'd simply prefer a larger 15-inch version of a Surface Laptop, then this device also fits that bill too.

Related Coverage

Microsoft Surface Laptop 3: A cheat sheet (TechRepublic)

Here's everything you need to know about the third version of Microsoft's Surface laptop, available in both 13.5-inch and 15-inch models.

Microsoft's Surface Laptop 3: What business pros need to know (TechRepublic)

Microsoft introduced a new laptop that includes expandable storage and a larger trackpad to appeal to enterprise customers.

Microsoft will sell an Intel-based 15-inch Surface Laptop 3 for business users only

Microsoft is offering business users a version of its just-announced 15-inch Surface Laptop 3 with Intel inside.

Surface Laptop 3 teardown: iFixit lifts lid on Microsoft's 'easy to repair' claim

Surface Laptop 3's score of 5 out of 10 on repairability is five more points than its predecessor got from iFixit.