Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 vs Apple MacBook Air 2020

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Winner
Apple MacBook Air (13-inch Retina Display, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD Storage) - Space Gray (Previous Model)
Best Price
Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 – 13.5" Touch-Screen – Intel Core i7 - 16GB Memory - 256GB Solid State Drive (Latest Model) – Platinum with Alcantara
Model
MacBook Air 2020
Surface Laptop 3
Test Result
Test Result 9.6/10 Excellent July 2020
Test Result 9.4/10 Very good July 2020
Manufacturer
Apple
Microsoft
RAM
8 GB
16 GB
CPU
Intel Core i3
Intel Core i7
Graphics Card
Intel Iris Plus Graphics
Intel Iris Plus Graphics
Storage Capacity
256GB SSD
256GB SSD
Battery Time
Value for money
Weight
2.80 lbs
2.80 lbs
Pros
  • Best Performance for Office / Study use
  • Improved speakers + excellent case
  • Long battery runtimes
  • Bright, well calibrated display
  • Better Price than MacBook Air 2020
  • Very quiet in office mode
Cons
  • More expensive than Surface Laptop 3
  • Not many ports / no Thunderbolt 3
Winner
Apple MacBook Air (13-inch Retina Display, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD Storage) - Space Gray (Previous Model)
Model
MacBook Air 2020
Test Result
Test Result 9.6/10 Excellent July 2020
Manufacturer
Apple
RAM
8 GB
CPU
Intel Core i3
Graphics Card
Intel Iris Plus Graphics
Storage Capacity
256GB SSD
Battery Time
Value for money
Weight
2.80 lbs
Pros
  • Best Performance for Office / Study use
  • Improved speakers + excellent case
  • Long battery runtimes
Cons
  • More expensive than Surface Laptop 3
Best Price
Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 – 13.5" Touch-Screen – Intel Core i7 - 16GB Memory - 256GB Solid State Drive (Latest Model) – Platinum with Alcantara
Model
Surface Laptop 3
Test Result
Test Result 9.4/10 Very good July 2020
Manufacturer
Microsoft
RAM
16 GB
CPU
Intel Core i7
Graphics Card
Intel Iris Plus Graphics
Storage Capacity
256GB SSD
Battery Time
Value for money
Weight
2.80 lbs
Pros
  • Bright, well calibrated display
  • Better Price than MacBook Air 2020
  • Very quiet in office mode
Cons
  • Not many ports / no Thunderbolt 3

We tested and compared the Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 (2020) versus Apple MacBook Air (2020) in terms of Performance, Display Quality, Price, Portability, Battery life, Keyboard / Touchpad & more.

Above you can see the Ranking with the test results and below you will find the in-depth reports of the two Laptops from Microsoft & Apple.

Ranking First: Apple MacBook Air 2020

Apple MacBook Air 2020 review

Pros

  • Best Performance for Office / Study use
  • Improved speakers + excellent case
  • Long battery runtimes

Cons

  • More expensive than Surface Laptop 3

MacBook Air is perhaps the most exciting Mac of our time. That’s because it’s had some really great years and some really bad years in its history. In 2020, Apple presents a winning device.

When you ask people to imagine a Mac, most of them either think of an iMac – or MacBook Air. Both have not changed much in appearance for more than a decade, much less in leaps and bounds. MacBook Air is likely the more popular Mac, since laptops outperform desktops in many ways and are the right choice for the majority of potential buyers.

The history of MacBook Air is one of ups and downs and clear change. When Steve Jobs pulled the first MacBook Air out of an envelope in 2008, he basically presented a laptop for frequent travelers who had enough money to afford a second mobile computer.

Apple MacBook Air 2020 design

After all, this MacBook Air was often overburdened with even the simplest image-editing tasks, so it was not recommended as a primary work tool in good conscience. It was also expensive.

As the price dropped over the years, MacBook Air found more and more fans. And they remained loyal to the Air even after Apple practically dropped it and didn’t give it any significant updates – and most importantly, didn’t give it a retina display – for years.

Now MacBook Air is no longer expensive and weak-chested, but relatively inexpensive and powerful. It is, in a manner of speaking, the “MacBook SE”, following the development in Apple’s mobile phone division.

Features

In 2018, MacBook Air took a real leap forward with the addition of a high-resolution retina display. Of course we could still complain: The choice of processors was limited, the quality of the keyboard questionable.

This year Apple starts with a 1.1 gigahertz fast dual-core i3 processor from Intel, 8 gigabyte RAM and 256 gigabyte SSD memory at a price of $999 US dollars.

Apple MacBook Air 2020 design closed view

As a second standard variant, Apple offers the MacBook Air with an i5 processor also clocked at 1.1 GHz, but with four computing cores. In addition, the price of $2000 includes 512 GB SSD memory, while the main memory remains at 8 GB.

If you want to buy the top model, you have to add another $500. For $2500, however, you also get a quadrupling of the SSD memory to a full 2 TB, a doubling of the RAM to 16 GB and another processor upgrade to a quad-core i7 processor with a frequency of 1.2 GHz.

But at this price point, the MacBook Pro line is definitely worth a look.

MacBook Air features two Thunderbolt 3 ports. And thanks to the Iris Plus Graphics chip, you can now drive 6K displays. That’s right, you can connect your Apple Pro Display XDR to a MacBook Air. Unfortunately, we don’t have a suitable display available at the editorial office, but we’re willing to bet that MacBook Air could become quite warm and loud with this workstation configuration.

As one of the last current Apple devices, MacBook Air has a headphone jack on the side of the device opposite the Thunderbolt 3 connectors. There’s not much more to say about it – except that the headphone jack is a blessing in times of constant video conferencing.

Apple MacBook Air 2020 side view

In the editorial office, we are regularly in such virtual meetings these days and slowly can’t stand one thing anymore: participants who don’t have their equipment under control.

Our tip: Do the other participants of the next conference a favour and do without Bluetooth headphones and headsets – especially if they are of inferior quality. Often they don’t work at all and only need to be reconfigured before each meeting and usually they simply sound much worse than wired devices. And yes, that’s also true of Apple’s AirPods.

Apart from that, it’s worth mentioning that the MacBook Air 2020, like its predecessors, can be charged via USB-C. The laptop itself comes with a 30-watt power adapter, but you can use any other power adapter that meets the specifications printed on the original. Most importantly, you can use the original Apple power adapter at home and carry a cheaper power adapter in your backpack when you’re on the go.

We would like to point out once again the somewhat chaotic situation that the respective plugs of Thunderbolt 3 and USB C cables look the same on the outside, although the cables have completely different functions.

In all brevity: Thunderbolt 3 supports all functions of USB-C, the other way around this is not the case. And even when charging batteries, USB-C is not equal to USB-C: the pure USB-C can charge with a maximum of 15 watts at a voltage of 5 volts and a current flow of maximum 3 amps.

Apple MacBook Air 2020 display

But if you buy a USB-C-PD cable and power supply (where the “PD” stands for “Power Delivery”), voltage values between 5 and 20 volts at 5 amps are possible, so that these power sources can charge devices with up to 100 watts.

And once you get a Mac with Thunderbolt 3 connectors, you’ll want to buy only classified cables so you’ll never be faced with an obvious mystery.

Display

We have nothing to complain about with the display. Apple has built in a razor-sharp retina display that only lacks the MacBook Pro’s P3 color space. But those who attach (or have to attach) greater importance to such (supposedly for everyday use) details should perhaps simply reach for a Pro device.

Apple MacBook Air 2020 display review quality

It might be a bit irritating for less knowledgeable buyers that Apple states the display’s resolution with 2,560 by 1,600 pixels. By default, MacBook Air is set to only a 1,440-by-900-pixel equivalent.

But if your eyesight is fine, you should change it to at least 1,680-by-1,050-pixel resolution in System Preferences as soon as possible so that the items on the desktop appear at a decent size.

Keyboard & Touchpad

One of the most important features of MacBook Air deserves a completely separate section: the new keyboard.

Last year, Apple introduced the Magic Keyboard for MacBooks – or more precisely, for the 16-inch MacBook Pro. The MacBook Air models, also redesigned in 2019, stuck with the third-generation butterfly keyboard.

The name comes from the fact that years earlier, Apple had replaced the tried-and-tested scissor-like mechanism under each key on mobile Macs with a more space-saving new development that resembles the flapping of a butterfly’s wings more than the snapping of scissors.

Apple MacBook Air 2020 keyboard test

Above all, this step has split frequent writers into two camps: Those who like the new keyboard with its direct touch and those who strictly reject it. Most buyers of the Butterfly MacBooks probably didn’t care about the conflict.

What did not matter, however, was that these keyboards were extremely vulnerable: Dust, crumbs and other dirt could easily get caught under the keys and then, in the worst case, make them unusable.

Some of these problems could be solved with a juicy push from the compressed air bottle, but often the whole keyboard had to be replaced.

Apple has revised this keyboard model twice: We haven’t actually heard anything bad about the third generation of Butterfly keyboards, such as those used in the MacBook Air from 2019. Nevertheless, this was our warning to potential buyers in the review of last year’s MacBook Air models: “The keyboard seems to be okay, but we won’t know for sure for another six months. So think twice before you make that bet.”

In the meantime, Apple itself had also noticed that too much trust had been destroyed by the “butterfly escapades” and proudly presented the above-mentioned Magic Keyboard for the MacBook Pro in 2019; a return to the tried and tested scissor mechanism, which Apple, however, claims to have reworked anyway and thus was able to make it more space-saving – although not as space-saving as the butterfly keys.

The Magic Keyboard has a one-millimeter keystroke and, above all, not only brings back the arrow keys in the arrangement of an upside down “T”, but also a real escape key ([esc]). It is also noticeably quieter than the Butterfly Keyboard.

Apple MacBook Air 2020 back view

In terms of typing feel, it seems to us a reasonable compromise that promises to reconcile the two camps. Above all, however, we hope that the spook of bad keyboards at Apple is over for good.

A keyboard peculiarity of the MacBook-Air models is that they (have to) get by without a touchbar – another point that divides Mac customers into two smaller camps of fans and opponents and a third, significantly larger camp of the shoulder-shrugging ones.

Many are celebrating the Touchbar for its flexibility and the possibilities it offers. Others despise it for not being on all the time and for the fact that especially basic functions are often more difficult to access.

We can understand all sides in this discussion and are ourselves torn back and forth sufficiently often, so that we cannot and do not want to make a clear judgement for or against Touchbar – the benefits of this technology are too subjective.

Everyday’s use

Last year, Apple let those willing to buy choose between different dual-core variants and memory configurations. This year there are also quad-core models that change everything. Ultimately, they’re leading to making MacBook Air a true recommendation, making photo retouching and rudimentary video work fun, too.

But even the standard version, with its ascetic-looking 1.1 gigahertz dual-core processor, is well equipped for most people’s everyday life. We can say that, because on exactly such a device, for example, this very text is created.

Apple MacBook Air 2020 video editing

But if you can somehow fit it into your budget, we recommend one of the quad-core variants. For the simple reason that you will enjoy it longer.

The problem is, of course, that the costs add up. With MacBook Air, you can’t trade anything for anything afterwards: You can’t add new memory or even SSD capacity. So you have to decide what you want before you press the buy button. And with MacBook Air, we encourage you to make the most of your budget.

And our benchmark tests underscore this: At Geekbench in version 5, our MacBook Air achieves a single-core rating of 937 and a multi-core rating of 2006, making it even surpassed by an iPhone XS. Of course, the comparison is misleading, because both systems are based on a fundamentally different processor architecture – but still.

In everyday use, MacBook Air in our configuration quickly reaches its limits. When Photoshop is open in addition to the standard applications such as Mail, Messages, Safari with a few open tabs and a text editor, the fans start to turn up noticeably.

Apple MacBook Air 2020 gaming benchmarks fortnite Apex legends

This is not only due to the comparatively weak processors (compared to the MacBook Pro, for example), but also to the super compact design of the MacBook Air. We hear similar things from colleagues who have chosen a quad-core model.

A real malus, but one that applies to all Macs, is the built-in camera. We’ve complained about it extensively in recent years. But at a time when many people are in video conferencing every day, it’s clear once again just how underground the quality of FaceTime cameras is once the lighting conditions are no longer ideal.

We hope that Apple will make improvements here for the next Mobil Mac generation. Because Apple can build pretty good cameras, as they regularly prove in the iPhone and iPad.

In general, the iPad Pro in particular would currently be the better device for video conferencing – if the camera wasn’t mounted in the wrong place.

Apple MacBook Air 2020 package unboxing

As with all iPads, the camera is located on the narrow side of the device, so when you’re working with the keyboard, it’s usually on the left or right, so that you always look a little strange for other conference topics, even though you’re looking directly into the camera.

Verdict

Since 2018, MacBook Air has been the standard Mac recommendation for anyone who doesn’t consider themselves “pros” and would therefore drive better with the appropriate devices. So MacBook Air is actually the new MacBook – even more so than the previous MacBook.

Too complicated? We feel the same way. Because Apple’s portfolio currently lacks a mobile Mac without a modifier. The “Air” was the lighter alternative to the MacBook, the “Pro” the more powerful version of the same.

This series was dissolved by the introduction of the “MacBook” (with only one port), which Apple has since abolished. It is clear to us that Apple can’t simply delete the suffix “Air” – the brand has become too powerful in the meantime. Nevertheless: The current line-up is odd with regard to the names.

On the other hand, the purchase recommendation is very simple this time: If you are flirting with a MacBook Pro, you are probably better off with a Pro device. If you don’t know what the advantages of the Pro class could bring you in everyday life, you’re well advised to take the Air.

And this year there are no footnotes to that verdict: The display is great, the performance is sufficient for most people, and the keyboard is pleasant and reliable, which is why the Apple MacBook Air 2020 is ranking first vs Microsoft Surface Laptop 3.

Ranking Second: Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 (2020)

Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 (2020) review

Pros

  • Bright, well calibrated display
  • Better Price than MacBook Air 2020
  • Very quiet in office mode

Cons

  • Not many ports / no Thunderbolt 3

With the latest generation of its Surface Laptop, Microsoft has done a lot more than simply maintain the product, with manufacturers simply updating the hardware from time to time.

So from now on they also install Ryzen processors from AMD and have completely redesigned the case, but still keep the noble and simple look of the mobile everyday companion. However, this minimalism is also evident elsewhere, as our review of the Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 shows.

For some years now, Microsoft has not only left the hardware field to its partners, but also builds its own devices, which are sold within the Surface family and of course rely on the in-house software around Windows 10 and Office 365.

They are usually more than just sample devices for the manufacturers and are enjoying growing popularity among users, which is constantly reflected in the quarterly figures.

In October, Microsoft introduced the latest generation of its Surface Pro and Surface laptops. While its popular Convertible was more of a product update and only the hardware interiors were brought up to date, the changes to the Surface Laptop 3 were more extensive.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 (2020) design

The third generation of this noble consumer notebook now features a high-quality metal case and can even be equipped with the new Ryzen processors from AMD, which have been rather unpopular with manufacturers and were hardly ever seen.

The Surface Laptop 3 is initially available in two different versions: One with a 13-inch screen and the other in a larger version with a 15-inch display, both of course capacitive and with a rather unusual 3:2 format. But there are also differences in the hardware equipment. While the small model is exclusively operated by Intel CPUs of the tenth core generation, the larger sister models can also be equipped with AMD’s Ryzen processors.

Specifically, one relies on the Intel Core i5-1035G7, the Core i7-1065G7, as well as the AMD Ryzen 5 3580U and Ryzen 7 3780U. The solution integrated in the processor takes care of the 3D acceleration and thus either an Intel Iris Plus Graphics or a Vega 9 to 11.

There is also up to 32 GB (LP) DDR4(X) memory and a fast PCI Express SSD with capacities ranging from 128 GB to 1 TB. Connectivity ranges from USB Type C to WiFi 6 and Bluetooth 5, although this is partly platform dependent.

A chiclet keyboard with white LED backlighting, a touchpad with a glass surface, a webcam for Windows Hello and a powerful battery, which is said to provide runtimes of up to 11.5 hours, are also part of the basic equipment of the Microsoft Surface Laptop 3.

Features

Microsoft packs all this in a noble metal case, which is available in either matt black or platinum colour. The company has thus moved away from the much criticized Alcantara surface, although this is still available in the entry-level 13-inch version.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 (2020) design

In terms of price, you have to put at least $700 on the counter, but you can also pay over $3,000 for the top model – the Surface Laptop is virtually the MacBook from Microsoft.

For our test, Microsoft provided us with the commercial version of the 15-inch variant with Core i7 processor, 256 GB SSD and 16 GB RAM, which cost around $1700. How the noble everyday companion performs in practice can be seen in this Hardwareluxx test on the following pages.

The core of our commercial version of the Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 is the Intel Core i7-1065G7. It already originates from the tenth core generation and comes off the production line in 10 nm, with whose manufacturing technology Intel still has to struggle.

Specifically, this processor model is a representative of the Ice Lake family, with which Intel switched to the new Sunny Cove cores after many years of optimizing the Skylake architecture, thus integrating a wider front end as well as a deeper back end, which provides numerous optimizations such as new instruction sets and a native Thunderbolt 3.

Specifically, the Intel Core i7-1065G7 offers four CPU cores that can process eight threads simultaneously thanks to SMT support. They get down to work at a speed of 1.3 to 3.9 GHz and can access an 8 MB L3 cache.

Because Microsoft has eliminated a dedicated graphics solution in its Surface Laptop 3, the GPU integrated in the Ice Lake CPU is used. The Gen11 graphics unit represents an intermediate step towards the first, truly new GPU architecture called Xe in the coming year, and offers up to 64 execution units running at a maximum clock speed of 1.1 GHz, which can achieve a processing power of 1.12 TFLOPS for FP32 calculations, or 2.25 TFLOPS for simple accuracy.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 (2020) side view

This maximum configuration is actually used in the Intel Core i7-1065G7. However, the Intel Iris Plus Graphics 950 squeezes its video memory directly from the main memory, which is 1,024 MB as standard in our test device, whereby the sample offers a total of 16 GB LPDDR4X memory with a fast 3,733 MHz with dual channel mode.

Windows 10 Pro is pre-installed by Microsoft on a 256 GB M.2 SSD, which is of course connected via fast PCI Express and thus promises particularly high data transfer rates. In the entry-level solutions, Microsoft sometimes uses only half of the memory, in the top models there is up to 1 TB. Microsoft, like Apple, is willing to pay dearly for storage upgrades. There is no room for an additional data grab in 2.5-inch format in the Surface Laptop 3.

The display measures 15 inches in its diagonal and has a resolution of 2,496 x 1,664 pixels, making the laptop slightly less high-resolution than the convertibles of the Surface Pro series. However, it also offers touch capabilities for up to ten fingers, allows the use of the Surface Pen and thus enables handwritten notes and sketches.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 (2020) versions

Of course, Microsoft relies on an angle-stable IPS panel, which is intended to achieve large color spaces, high contrast values and brightness. A 45.8 Wh battery, which is permanently installed, is available for the power supply on the road. We were presented with the Surface Laptop 3’s matte black color version.

All this currently costs around $700 in the free trade. Although Microsoft also sells the devices itself, the prices in the company store are usually much higher. A look at the price comparison can therefore be worthwhile.

Design & Ports

Apart from the slightly reflective Windows logo on the screen lid, Microsoft has dispensed with other optical gimmicks, making the Surface Laptop 3 a real design minimalist. All in all, the chassis can convince with its noble and simple look, which is otherwise kept in matt black.

However, the 15 inch version is also offered in a platinum-like color variant, which is significantly brighter. There are no large ventilation slits, on the contrary: the case is completely sealed, and the air exchange is handled by the cooling over the area between the top case and the display and on the underside there – similar to what Apple is doing with its current MacBook devices in unibody design.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 (2020) ports

There is no maintenance flap for quick and easy access on the Surface Laptop 3, but the entire underside can be removed more easily than on its predecessors. The necessary screws are hidden under the small rubber feet. It’s a pity that Microsoft has soldered the memory firmly, which makes its replacement almost impossible.

The workmanship is on the highest level: stability problems, sharp edges or uncleanly worked out gaps don’t exist in our sample. In addition, the 15 incher can be opened easily with only one hand, but the hinges are still stable.

The top case also remains minimalistic. Especially the keyboard labeling is limited to the most necessary, dedicated keys for the left or right mouse click or even a fingerprint sensor like in the Surface Pro series’ clip-on keyboards aren’t available. The backlight is kept in white and can only be adjusted in three brightness levels. Microsoft has also done without annoying stickers.

The Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 is not only very minimalistic in its appearance. The Redmonders also keep a low profile in terms of connectivity and only give their newest notebook offspring four ports. These are, on the one hand, a type C port on the left side of the device, as well as a regular USB type A interface including a 3.5 mm jack socket for connecting headphones.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 (2020) design closed back view

This almost makes the use of an additional docking station necessary and forces the user to buy expensive accessories. But beware: despite the Ice Lake CPU, the type C port doesn’t support Thunderbolt 3.

At least: the device could be charged via this port, but Microsoft has provided its proprietary surface connector for this purpose. An integrated card reader might also be painfully missed by some productive users.

Microsoft has missed the chance to do a lot better than its direct competitor in terms of connection variety.

Keyboard & Touchpad

For the keyboard, the Surface Laptop continues to rely on simple chiclet keys, which have a short stroke of 1.3 mm, and although they prove to be very smooth in practical tests, they provide a crisp and precise typing feel.

Although Microsoft has opted for a standard layout with simple lettering, the arrow keys have been moved close together and the power button is also placed unusually next to the Enft key, which always causes confusion in everyday use.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 (2020) keyboard lit up

Despite the 15-inch alignment, there is no separate number pad, whereas the keys are comparatively large with 16 x 16 mm and are placed at a generous distance of usually 4 mm.

The touchpad has become about 20% larger in generational comparison and now measures 115 x 76 mm. Thanks to the only slightly roughened glass surface, the gliding characteristics are almost perfect, the implementation of inputs up to complex multi-touch gestures is fast and precise. Microsoft relies on a simple click pad and thus does without separate mouse buttons. The pressure point is significantly firmer than on the keyboard.

It is also a pity that a fingerprint sensor is missing. However, a HD webcam compatible with Windows Helo is integrated in the upper edge of the display.

Display

The Surface Laptop 3 is available with either a 13 or 15 inch screen. Our test device has the larger screen diagonal and thus offers the higher resolution, because the panel has a native resolution of 2,496 x 1,664 pixels and thus achieves a pixel density of 201 ppi.

The rather square image format with a ratio of 3:2 is noticeable, which according to Microsoft should provide a better overview, especially in productive work use. However, unlike many other devices in this price and performance class, it offers comparatively wide screen margins.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 (2020) display quality review test

In our test, the viewing angle stable IPS panel achieves a very bright 417 cd/m² and is thus also very suitable for outdoor use and particularly bright environments, but the illumination could be better, as the homogeneity is only just over 82% – a proud 74 cd/m² separate the brightest and darkest values.

Especially towards the bottom the display gets a bit dark, but is always above 300 cd/m². On the other hand, the contrast ratio is very good at 1.326:1.

The Sharp display, which by the way is used in all surface laptop 3 model variants with 15 inch, has good color temperatures overall. We measured an average of 6,604 K, which is almost the optimum value of 6,500 K. The same applies here: Towards the bottom, the display not only gets darker, but also cooler in color.

There aren’t any other special features like adaptive sync or a high refresh rate, which is to be expected considering the target group, though.

Software

Apart from a 30-day trial version of the Office 365 office suite, the Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 comes off almost naked, as you will look in vain for further software tools on our test device. There is also no tool for controlling the individual hardware components or for reading the temperatures and utilization values of CPU, GPU and network.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 (2020) active pen test review

Intel’s new Command Center would certainly have been very helpful here. All in all, Microsoft has decided on a very clean installation of Windows 10 Pro.

But beware: The Pro version with extended remote functions is only available in the commercial version, the model variants of the consumer range with AMD processor have to make do with the slightly slimmed down home version.

Temperature & noise levels

The Intel Core i7-1065G7 is very efficient with its configured TDP of a frugal 15 W and there’s also no dedicated graphics solution in the Microsoft Surface Laptop 3, which means that the temperatures aren’t really high, especially on the surface of the metal case.

Inside, however, temperatures of up to 93°C prevail. On average, we measured up to 32.4 °C under absolute full load, which we simulate as usual with Prime95 and Furmark, and at the peak it’s around 41 °C. The warmest spot is, as so often, in the second quadrant at the bottom.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 (2020) office setup

The temperatures are a bit lower with an average of 30.1 and 30.3 °C in idle, whereby the case cools down only very slowly. The maximum temperatures here are only around 33 °C, though. Even if the Ice Lake CPU gets very hot, it can call up its maximum performance almost continuously.

The four computing cores get to work in the worst case at a speed of 1,200 MHz, which is only slightly below the specified performance level of 1.3 GHz. The integrated GPU still works at 800 MHz under full load.

However, the comparatively high hardware temperatures benefit the volume, because during our tests the ultrabook remains comparatively quiet with 43.8 dB(A) in everyday use, but can reach almost 46 dB(A) in extreme situations, which makes the 15 incher clearly audible.

The noise is pleasant, though, because the cooling doesn’t constantly turn up and down like in many other devices, but works at a constant speed.

Also praiseworthy: Until a certain temperature level is reached, the Microsoft Surface Laptop works passively and thus completely silently – even when working in the office.

Battery life

At first glance, the Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 may appear to be weakly equipped with 45.8 Wh on the battery side. In practice, however, high runtimes are achieved and the at least 11.5 hours promised by the manufacturer are even exceeded. In the simple idle test, our test sample lasts for a full 900 minutes at a screen brightness of about 120 cd/m², which corresponds to almost 15 hours.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 (2020) keyboard touchpad

It’s still just over 14 hours in the office test of the current 3DMark benchmark. The energy saving techniques of the advanced Ice Lake CPU seem to be completely effective here.

However, if the hardware is fully loaded, the runtimes decrease considerably. Then the screen of the Surface Laptop 3 already turns black after 162 minutes, which corresponds to a runtime of just under three hours.

The battery is charged via an external 65 W power supply and is fully operational again after about one and a half hours. However, there is also a quick-charging function, which allows the battery to be brought to a capacity of 80% within one hour.

In idle, the 15 incher draws about 7.2 W from the mains and thus proves to be extremely economical, which underlines the above runtimes. The hunger for energy can reach almost 66 W under load, which just about meets the adapter’s requirements. These rates are okay for an Ultrabook of this performance class.

Verdict

The Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 is a true minimalist. And not only with regard to the simple but very noble casing, but also with regard to the variety of connections. Here Microsoft has missed the chance to do much better than its direct competitor.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 (2020) design closed logo

One USB type A and type C port each are clearly too few and make additional accessories, which one sells expensively oneself, a must. In addition, the type C port doesn’t handle Thunderbolt 3 and is therefore less flexible. After all, the device could be charged with a suitable power supply unit, but Microsoft provides its own surface connect port for this.

Apart from that, only a 3.5 mm jack socket is offered for connecting headphones – the omission of the integrated card reader is probably missing for many users, especially in productive use.

On the hardware side, the device is convincing all along the line. The Intel Core i7-1065G7 and the integrated Iris-Plus-Graphics are well equipped for everyday life and more intensive tasks and allow very long runtimes thanks to their good efficiency. Depending on the scenario, the 45.8 Wh battery quickly runs out of breath under load.

The main memory is extremely fast, as is the reading speed of the PCI Express SSD, whereby the write performance is clearly below the read performance, which is less disturbing in everyday life. Only gaming is not possible with the Surface laptop.

At the same time, the device remains extremely quiet and usually works passively and therefore completely silently.

The display is very high resolution, high contrast and bright, but could be better illuminated. The color temperatures are right for that, which speaks for a good pre-calibration. On top of that, the screen is capacitive, supports the surface pen with its 4,096 pressure levels and thus allows handwritten notes and sketches to be made.

However, the high performance, the good surface temperatures, the quiet noise level and the very good workmanship have their price: Microsoft wants around $1430 for our commercial version with Core i7 processor, 16 GB RAM and 256 GB SSD.

Above all, the memory upgrade prices have high surcharges – here, too, the MacBook competition is equaled. With better connectivity, the company could have clearly set itself apart, which is why the Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 (2020) is ranking behind versus Apple MacBook Air 2020.


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