We tested and compared the Microsoft Surface Book 3 versus Surface Book 2 in terms of Performance, Price, Battery life, Displayw Quality, Portability and more.
Above you can see the ranking with the results and below you will find the in-depth reports of each Microsoft Surface Book test.
Ranking First: Microsoft Surface Book 3
- Much better Performance than Surface Book 3
- Great Display with touchscreen
- Long battery life
- More expensive than Surface Book 2
The general concept of Surface Book 3 is still great. However, there is too little innovation in Microsoft’s most expensive notebook.
The removable display, the segmented folding hinge and powerful hardware in a relatively compact case: With these points, the Surface Book has been able to convince as – at least in our opinion – one of the best notebooks for several years.
The already third generation of the Surface Book offers even more of the well-known formula. Can the device still convince in 2020? We would say: The decision is at least more difficult.
Because we are still impressed by how much functionality is actually in Microsoft’s most expensive notebook. We can use it as a tablet, write on it, edit pictures, draw and even play the odd game for in between.
However, we think that the notebook would have benefited from more changes to the chassis, even though we still consider the keyboard and the quality of workmanship to be among the best on the market.
The device looks very similar to its predecessor, Surface Book 2 (review). There is still a USB port (3.2 Gen2) with power delivery. On the left side there are two USB A 3.2 Gen1 ports and a full size SD card reader. The latter could be useful for transferring photos from a camera when using SD cards as storage media.
The notebook is primarily charged via the magnetic surface dock port. Microsoft also finally provides a 102 watt power supply, so that the notebook doesn’t discharge itself in mains operation. This was still the case with the 90-watt power supply of the predecessor.
If we place the Surface Book 3 right next to current light devices, such as the Dell XPS 13 or the HP Spectre Folio, we quickly notice that it looks quite clunky and outdated in some places. In recent years, more and more manufacturers have made the transition to the thinnest possible display edges and flat cases.
Not so Microsoft: Here, the same 1.3 cm thick edges are present as five years ago. Of course these are practical in tablet mode, but devices like the iPad Pro show that thinner edges are also possible with pure tablets. We would have liked to see that here in the meantime.
Because the tablet part also has an additional battery, processor, RAM and mass storage integrated, the Surface Book 3 is still a bit unusually balanced. The lid is comparatively heavy, which allows the entire device to tip backwards more quickly when used on the lap or in the hand.
In general, the device does not exactly weigh little for a 13.5 inch notebook: about 3.61 lbs. A somewhat more compact chassis would certainly save a few oz here.
Microsoft has made some improvements when removing the tablet from the keyboard part. The undocking process has been noticeably accelerated, so that we can already remove the tablet after about one to two seconds after pressing the button.
The mechanism with which motorized clamps lock the display to the keyboard is still as fascinating as before. The two parts can’t be separated even with force. However, the system is still not error-free.
For example, we had the entire system crash and freeze when we released the tablet during program installations and active downloads. By the way, this hasn’t happened with – admittedly somewhat simpler – devices like a privately used Surface Pro 6.
Once we have detached the display from the keyboard, we can use it as a large 13.5-inch tablet weighing 1.57 lbs. Here we can say that there is hardly a better touch device with Windows 10, as there is also a pen digitizer integrated for the excellent Surface Pen. But the pen itself is not included with the device, which seems strange considering the purchase price of at least 2,500 Dollars.
Due to the rubberized tip of the pen and the nice big display, the Surface Book 3 is perfectly suitable for digital sketches. We could not detect any input latencies or unpleasant parallaxing, a position difference between the virtual pen tip and the real pen tip, which makes writing and sketching all the more pleasant.
Only the folding stand of the Surface Pro is missing. Alternatively, we can also simply use the notebook’s keyboard dock by turning the display 180 degrees and putting it in there.
Due to the 3:2 format, the display resembles the dimensions of a DIN-A4 sheet of paper and also still resolves with quite high 3.000 x 2.000 pixels. It also shines brightly enough, although it unfortunately still has no anti-reflective coating.
We measured a maximum of 353 cd/m², which is noticeably less than the average high 450 cd/m² of the 15 inch model, which other publications have already tested. Nevertheless, the panel is sufficient to detect content in rooms flooded with light. But be careful with direct sunlight. They can annoy you with the reflective display.
The IPS display shows weaknesses in the color space coverage. It can display about 68.4 percent of the DCI-P3 color space, with a maximum deviation Delta E of 2.18. This is slightly above the recommended value of 2, but should hardly be noticed. We should still use an external screen for professional image editing.
The illuminated keyboard of the Surface Book 3 was directly taken over from its predecessor. We find the typing feel on the flat and large keys, which have a tight and well defined pressure point, correspondingly excellent.
Keycaps don’t wobble and therefore feel especially high-quality. We actually only know something similar from devices like the Surface Laptop or the current Macbook Air.
However, we like the keyboard a little better. The pleasantly large trackpad has also remained the same, which we can use comfortably and as an alternative to the touchscreen. However, we would have liked a larger version here.
The – mostly unfortunately completely soldered and glued – hardware of the Surface Book 3 is designed for almost all purposes.
The fact that the Surface Book 3 is suitable as a portable writing instrument, apart from its heavy weight, which takes getting used to, is once again shown by the good battery life. In everyday use with almost exclusively writing work, we reach about 11 hours with a brightness of about 200 cd/m².
In the benchmark PCMark8, which also takes casual gaming and video conferencing into account, about 5:53 hours of battery life are still possible with the same brightness, which is a bit behind expectations, though.
Nevertheless, this value is higher than in the 15 inch Surface Laptop with AMD chip (test), which comes to about 5:23 hours in the identical scenario. The notebook’s two batteries add up to 69 watt hours – 18 watt hours in the tablet and 51 watt hours in the keyboard dock.
In games and in image editing, the performance of Surface Book 3 has increased once again. This is due to the combination of Intel Core i7-1065G7 with eight threads and the dedicated Nvidia-GTX-1650-Max-Q-GPU. We could already try this out in the gaming notebook Razer Blade Stealth 13.
It’s not surprising that the Surface Book 3 also delivered quite satisfactory results in the games Borderlands 3, The Division 2 and Shadow of the Tomb Raider.
However, we should reduce the resolution and adjust to low details so that games remain playable. Moreover, the device generally lags behind the rates we measured in the very similarly equipped Razer Blade Stealth 13.
This is probably due to the GPU not constantly exhausting its 35 watt power budget in games, as the notebook prefers a moderate operating temperature and volume of pure power.
In fact, the device does indeed rustle audibly under full load, but the noise isn’t very noticeable – especially in full offices. We also observe this behavior on the CPU, which doesn’t get particularly hot at around 60 degrees Celsius, but only clocks at around 1 GHz.
Microsoft may be trying to avoid overheating the hardware. The Surface Book 1 had to struggle with inflating batteries and deformed cases. Such behavior is accelerated by enormous heat.
In Borderlands 3 we were able to achieve 59 frames per second in a 3:2 resolution of 1,620 x 1,080 pixels and low detail settings.
In The Division 2 this value drops to 41 fps at identical resolution and low detail settings. Shadow of the Tomb Raider is also relatively demanding. Here, a maximum and just about acceptable 32 fps is possible – with the same resolution and low graphics details.
On a small 13.5-inch screen, however, the lower resolutions, blurred textures and particle effects are less noticeable. However, the pixel reaction times of the IPS panel are a bit high, so that we notice slight delays especially during fast movements in CS:GO, which by the way runs at 85 fps in low details and 1080p resolution. If necessary, we can also simply connect the device to an external monitor.
In the multi-core benchmark Cinebench R20, the Ice Lake U chip Intel Core i7-1065G7 achieves good rates, at least for a CPU limited to 11 watts. We measured 1,193 points in the first run and an average of 1,062 points in several runs.
The processor clocks at a noticeably higher 1.6 GHz in this test and the temperature settles at around 65 degrees. As long as the dedicated GPU isn’t used, the system is also very quiet and the fan can hardly be heard, even under unrealistic full load.
However, Microsoft’s own Surface Laptop 3 is clearly ahead when it comes to pure processing power. The identically constructed processor of the 15-inch unit is set at 15 watts and therefore achieves 1,631 Cinebench R20 points in the Golem.de test. The CPU’s performance thus scales almost linearly with a higher performance budget.
The compromise between pure computing power and dedicated GPU should be considered here. It is also advisable to decide how much LPDDR4X memory we need before buying: 8, 16 or 32 GByte. This is, like almost everything on a notebook, not changeable.
Storage / SSD
Microsoft has actually already shown a better reparability with the Surface Laptop 3. We would have liked to have seen the same with the new Surface Book 3.
However, people who want to retrofit their device later are completely wrong here. Not only are important components such as the RAM soldered, but the entire chassis has been assembled with glue.
Opening the notebook is therefore hardly or not at all possible. Why Microsoft nevertheless installs a plugged NVMe-SSD remains uncertain. Maybe it is simply cheaper to exchange it during production depending on the equipment.
By the way, the SSD is fast enough. This is the popular BC501 from SK Hynix, which scores 2,065 MByte/s in sequential reading and 804 MByte/s in sequential writing in our test.
But that doesn’t stop the device from sometimes showing strangely long loading times, especially in games. In general, opening files, copying large amounts of data or editing large images is no problem.
The Surface Book 3 is and remains an all-rounder with which we can do many things efficiently. The chassis is once again excellently finished. We notice the price of the machine already here. However, this was already the case when the first Surface Book was released in 2015. And here lies the problem of the third generation: lack of innovation.
Even after five years, the notebook is still quite heavy and has a display with centimeter-thick edges. Here we would have liked Microsoft to follow the current trends a bit and catch up with competitors like Dell, HP and other manufacturers.
Of course, we will still get the still excellent keyboard and the good trackpad, which still give pleasure when writing and clicking. We also still find the notebook’s docking mechanism fascinating, especially since Microsoft has accelerated the decoupling process by a few seconds.
The tablet dock can be used individually as a very good drawing device in 3:2 format and a resolution of 3,000 x 2,000 pixels. However, Microsoft still does not include the expensive Surface Pen in the notebook, which is very questionable in view of the price beyond $2,500.
The combination of Intel Core i7-1065G7 and Nvidia Geforce GTX 1650 Max-Q can convince in games like Shadow of the Tomb Raider, The Division 2, Borderlands 3 and CS:GO, as long as we lower the resolution and graphic details.
Dedicated gaming notebooks like the similarly equipped Razer Blade Stealth 13 achieve better rates here, just as Microsoft’s own Surface Laptop 3 computes faster with identical CPU in Cinebench R20.
The Surface Book 3 tries to balance too many parameters at once. In this case some performance is lost to ensure a smooth and not too warm operation. The device is quiet in any case, which we welcome. Also, the battery life of the Surface Book is still good. For about 11 hours we manage without a power outlet.
What we like less: opening the device or even exchanging components is hardly or not at all possible due to the glued and soldered parts. Microsoft has taken the right direction with the Surface Laptop 3 – a missed opportunity.
As long as there are no real competitors for this niche, the third Surface Book 3 will remain a very good choice for people who want to use their device for as many things as possible, be it drawing, writing, rendering or playing, which is why the Microsfot Surface Book 3 ranks first vs Microsoft Surface Book 2.
Ranking Second: Microsoft Surface Book 2
- Comfortable keyboard
- Better Price than Surface Book 3
- Still good performance with more demanding software
- High power consumption
- Quite loud under heavy load
The Surface Book 2 is an ultra-mobile notebook, can be used as a tablet and is even intended to replace a gaming laptop. What this all-rounder is capable of, the test will clarify.
The Surface Book 2 can do everything – says Microsoft: It is an ultra-mobile notebook, can be used as a tablet and is even intended to replace a gaming laptop.
Immediately after unpacking, the immaculate design will inspire you: The matt-grey magnesium case is insensitive to finger bath pressure, and thanks to a notch in the front, the notebook can be opened with one hand. The large palm rest provides a comfortable place for the hands while typing, and the touchpad is also pleasantly voluminous.
A magnet on the front closes the lid and case reliably: The Surface Book 2 also doesn’t open when you place it upright in a bag or backpack. However, there is a gap in the back, where the display and case base meet, due to the semicircular docking mechanism.
This hasn’t changed compared to the first Surface Book: To remove the display and use it as a tablet, you first have to press a button on the keyboard or an icon in the task bar. After a short wait, a green LED on the unlock button lights up and you can remove the display. However, this mechanism only works when the notebook is receiving power.
You can also remove the display while the notebook is running, as long as no program is running that uses the GPU that is located in the base of the case. In this case, after pressing the unlock button, a message appears indicating that the corresponding program must first be closed and the button LED lights up orange-red.
The display can also be placed in the housing facing away from the keyboard: In this presentation mode the screen then faces outwards.
A problem that many 2in1 devices have, even Microsoft cannot solve with Surface Book 2: The notebook is top-heavy, due to the heavy display it tends to tilt backwards when standing on an uneven surface – for example when you place it on your thighs. Microsoft has tried to curb this behavior in Surface Book 2 by not allowing the screen to open very much beyond 90 degrees.
The undocked screen lies very comfortably in the hand in tablet mode: Although it is comparatively heavy at 1.57 lbs, the weight is well distributed.
The Microsoft notebook has lavish computing power on board: in the system benchmarks such as PC Mark 8 or PC Mark 10, it is ahead of notebooks with a core processor from the U series, but behind gaming laptops that use a quad core from the HQ series with 35 watts TDP.
The Core i7-8650U sits in Surface Book 2: it is part of the new Kaby-Lake-R series and is thus one of the first 15-watt CPUs with four cores. Thanks to Hyper-Threading it processes eight threads.
In Cinebench R15 it is thus about twice as fast as the previous Core i7 with two cores and about five percent weaker than a Core i7-7700HQ. It can’t fully exploit its performance in Surface Book 2, though: It almost never reaches the possible turbo frequency of 4.2 GHz.
It clocks up to a maximum of 3.2 GHz under load – and even that only for a short time. If the system is under load for several minutes, the CPU slows down in order not to get too hot – then the clock rate fluctuates between 1.6 and 1.3 GHz.
Larger gaming laptops have more room to spread the CPU heat, so a quad core can run there longer at a higher clock rate. That’s why the Surface Book 2 lags far behind other quad-core laptops, especially for tasks with high CPU load such as video editing and rendering.
For all applications where CPU power is less important, the Surface Book 2 keeps up well. But then its lead over laptops with dual-core CPUs is also smaller. The SSD used is a Samsung PM961 as an M.2 plug-in card, which is connected via PCI Express and uses the NVMe protocol.
It is currently one of the fastest notebook SSDs and clearly overtakes SATA SSDs in Crystaldiskmark – even if they are connected in Raid 0, as in the Acer Travelmate P648. However, the same SSD in the Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Carbon is even faster than in the Microsoft notebook.
But the strongest hardware in Surface Book 2 is the Nvidia GPU Geforce GTX 1050, which works with 640 cores and a clock rate of 1354 MHz (1493 MHz boost clock).
It can also be found in many gaming notebooks for around 1000 Dollars, like the Asus ROG Strix GL753VD. In most gaming notebooks, the GPU has 4 GB GDDR5 on the side, while Microsoft only gives you 2 GB GDDR5.
Nevertheless, it’s fast enough for many games in Full HD resolution: For example, the Surface Book 2 achieves 34 fps in high detail settings in Rise oft he Tomb Raider. Battlefield 5 runs at 39 frames per second with ultra details. However, Microsoft slows down the Surface Book 2 a bit, because the power scheme is set to “Longest battery life”.
With the setting “Best performance”, four to nine frames per second more jump out, depending on the game. Older games, such as GTA5, also run absolutely smoothly in the native resolution of 3000 x 2000. However, in current games, no more than Full-HD works, unless you reduce the detail level considerably.
The 15 inch model of the Surface Book 2, which is currently only available in the US, made negative headlines because of its high power consumption during gaming: namely, the battery discharges during elaborate games in the “Best Performance” setting, even when the notebook is connected to the power supply.
Our test device with the GTX 1050 doesn’t show this behavior, but it can be different in other games and graphic settings. In any case, the adapter’s performance is very tight in view of the computationally strong components.
However, there is a clear difference in the fan’s volume between “Best performance” and “Longest battery life”. In the maximum setting, the fan makes a loud noise with about 2 sone, while in the reduced setting it is clearly audible but not disturbing. As long as the GPU is not used, the Surface Book 2 almost always works silently.
And the Surface Book 2 also only heats up noticeably during gaming – but only on the back of the display, not on the keyboard or underside. The GTX 1050 doesn’t only bring more performance in games: multimedia programs that can use the graphics card also accelerate the GPU.
In Tablet Mark 2020, for example, the Surface Book 2 is around 30 percent faster in notebook mode, in which the GPU is active, than in tablet mode, where only the processor graphics are used.
Not only the GPU is in the notebook base, but also a battery with 57 watt hours. Together with the battery in the display part, the Surface Book 2 has a total capacity of 69 watt hours: This is enough for over 11.5 hours of battery life in the WiFi test – a new runtime record.
However, the tablet alone only lasts for 2.5 hours. With 3.61 lbs, the Surface Book is not an ultra-mobile lightweight like 12 or 13 inch notebooks, but remains under the weight of many 14 inch business notebooks despite the powerful components.
As with its predecessor, the 13.5-inch screen displays a resolution of 3000 x 2000 pixels and uses the reader-friendly 3:2 page format. It shows an outstanding brightness of over 400 cd/qm, which is why the display is always very easy to see even under changing light conditions.
The contrast is a strong 1270:1, colours are displayed very naturally. Thanks to the high dot density of 267 ppi, details also come out very well in photos.
The keyboard also deserves high praise: The keys have a clear pressure feedback, the stroke is sufficient for pleasant typing, and the keyboard stays quiet even when typing fast. The large touchpad offers enough space for multi-finger gestures, reacts quickly and reliably to input and gives a clear feedback when clicking the mouse.
The excellent keyboard has only one flaw: As long as it’s not completely dark, the keyboard illumination is more disturbing than it uses. This is because it makes the key labeling more difficult to read, as it hardly stands out from the bright keys. So, if it’s not absolutely necessary, you should switch off the lighting.
The Surface Book 2 is the first Microsoft mobile device with USB type C – the narrow socket is located on the right side of the base housing. It transmits at USB 3.0 speed, outputs video signals and is used to charge the notebook. More would have been possible with Thunderbolt 3, but Microsoft did without it. However, the included power supply cable only fits the Surface Connector socket, which is also located on the right.
As there is no longer a display output, you need an adapter for connecting an external monitor – Microsoft offers a type C HDMI dongle or the Surface docking station.
For standard peripherals there are two USB 3.0 sockets on the left in standard size and a slot for SD cards. A LAN port is missing, the Surface Book 2 is connected to the network via 11ac WiFi (2×2 configuration), a model with LTE is not available.
The front camera supports Windows Hello for face recognition login. Other accessories include the Surface Pen, an active input pen for around $100, and the Surface Dial – a rotating control module that you place on the display to make supported programs such as Photoshop easier to use.
The Microsoft Surface Book 2 with a 13.5 inch display deserves a good grade in the test because it combines everything that notebook users want: It is an ultra-mobile work tool with outstanding battery life, a great display and a great keyboard.
And it is also a gaming machine. Does it make sense to pack everything into one device? It doesn’t matter – the Surface Book 2 shows that it really works. But at a higher price than a decent gaming laptop and an ultra-mobile work notebook would cost together.