Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 vs Surface Pro 7 (2020)

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Winner
Microsoft Surface Pro 7 – 12.3" Touch-Screen - Intel Core i7 - 16GB Memory - 256GB SSD (Latest Model) – Matte Black (VNX-00016)
Best Price
Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 – 13.5" Touch-Screen – Intel Core i5 - 8GB Memory - 128GB Solid State Drive (Latest Model) – Platinum with Alcantara
Model
Surface Pro 7
Surface Laptop 3
Test Result
Test Result 9.6/10 Excellent July 2020
Test Result 9.4/10 Very good July 2020
Manufacturer
Microsoft
Microsoft
RAM
16 GB
8 GB
CPU
Intel Core i7
Intel Core i5
Graphics Card
Integrated
Intel Iris Plus Graphics
Storage Capacity
256GB SSD
128GB SSD
Battery Time
Value for money
Weight
1.7 lbs
3.40 lbs
Pros
  • Best Performance & short-term higher Turbo Boost compared to last year's model
  • Finally, a USB-C port with Power Delivery
  • Long battery runtime + Silent
  • Powerful processor
  • Cheaper than Surface Pro 7
  • Great design with kickstand & good Surface Pen
Cons
  • More expensive than Surface Laptop 3
  • Display frame too thick
Winner
Microsoft Surface Pro 7 – 12.3" Touch-Screen - Intel Core i7 - 16GB Memory - 256GB SSD (Latest Model) – Matte Black (VNX-00016)
Model
Surface Pro 7
Test Result
Test Result 9.6/10 Excellent July 2020
Manufacturer
Microsoft
RAM
16 GB
CPU
Intel Core i7
Graphics Card
Integrated
Storage Capacity
256GB SSD
Battery Time
Value for money
Weight
1.7 lbs
Pros
  • Best Performance & short-term higher Turbo Boost compared to last year's model
  • Finally, a USB-C port with Power Delivery
  • Long battery runtime + Silent
Cons
  • More expensive than Surface Laptop 3
Best Price
Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 – 13.5" Touch-Screen – Intel Core i5 - 8GB Memory - 128GB 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
8 GB
CPU
Intel Core i5
Graphics Card
Intel Iris Plus Graphics
Storage Capacity
128GB SSD
Battery Time
Value for money
Weight
3.40 lbs
Pros
  • Powerful processor
  • Cheaper than Surface Pro 7
  • Great design with kickstand & good Surface Pen
Cons
  • Display frame too thick

We tested and compared the Microsoft Surface Pro 7 vs Surface Laptop 3 in terms of Performance, Price, Display Quality, Battery life, Portability & more.

Above you can see the Ranking with the Results and below you will find the in-depth reports of the two Microsoft Laptops.

Ranking First: Microsoft Surface Pro 7

Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 review

Pros

  • Best Performance & short-term higher Turbo Boost compared to last year’s model
  • Finally, a USB-C port with Power Delivery
  • Long battery runtime + silent

Cons

  • More expensive than Surface Laptop 3

Evolution instead of revolution. Actually, the Surface Pro 7 does not offer enough innovations compared to the Surface Pro 6 to justify an increase by a whole number. As long as you don’t put more emphasis on the USB-C port or the Iris-Plus graphics upgrade, the model from last year is more than sufficient.

The Surface Pro range is now well known to almost everyone who is interested in this class of devices. Microsoft’s high-end device family is so successful in its niche that “Windows Tablet” and Surface are now almost synonymous.

Therefore, direct competitors like the HP Elite x2 1013, Lenovo’s Miix 520 and the Dell Latitude 5290 2-in-1 have a hard time meeting the high expectations of the Surface series.

The Surface Pro 7, introduced at the beginning of last month, has the same removable type-cover keyboard as the Surface Pro 6 and the case design also remains almost unchanged. Since the paragraphs on case stability, key feedback, display quality and other physical characteristics also apply to the Surface Pro 7, we recommend a look at our existing review of last year’s model.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 test

The biggest changes are inside; the Surface Pro 7 is equipped with Intel’s newest Ice Lake U processor, whose integrated graphics solution is significantly faster in comparison to the outdated UHD Graphics 620.

Our current test machine has the mid-range four-core Core i5-1035G4 processor and costs around $900 to $1300, depending on the RAM and memory configuration.

Design & Ports / Interfaces

Since the Surface Pro 7 has the same chassis design as the Surface Pro 6, we refer here to our passed test of the Surface Pro 6 for more information about the physical properties. The biggest differences to last year’s model are as follows:

  • standard WiFi 6 support thanks to Intel AX201
  • Ice Lake U options replace Kaby Lake R on all models
  • Mini-DisplayPort was replaced by USB Type-C PD
  • the internal Toshiba BG3 memory solution from the previous year was replaced by the newer and faster Toshiba BG4

The tablet itself weighs 1.7 lbs, or a bit more if you choose the Core i7 model. Together with the removable type cover it weighs about 2.42 lbs.

Microsoft has replaced the Mini DisplayPort with a more versatile USB-C port. External monitors can now be connected here or the tablet can be charged via USB-C. Thunderbolt 3 is still not supported, which is probably due to the fact that Microsoft wants to sell their own (and expensive) Surface Dock. Those who had hoped for at least one more USB-A port will be disappointed.

The spring-loaded MicroSD card reader is still under the stand, which has advantages and disadvantages. The transfer rates have not improved compared to last year’s model.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 setup office

In contrast to the Surface Pro 6 from last year, which was equipped with the WiFi 5 module Marvell AVASTAR 802.11ac, the Surface Pro 7 uses the newer Intel module AX201 and offers WiFi 6 functionality thanks to 802.11ax WiFi 6. Provided one is in possession of a corresponding WiFi 6 router, transfer rates of up to 2.4 Gbps are possible.

The standard, limited one-year warranty applies.

Keyboard & Touchpad

The removable type cover with ClickPad (~10.2 x 5.3 cm) remains unchanged except for some new color options. Therefore, our existing remarks about its typing feel also apply here.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 keyboard

The key feedback appears softer than in most Ultrabooks, which is mainly due to the more flexible base and is common for detachable keyboards.

As with any new laptop, you’ll probably have to get used to the keys and the small ClickPad for a few days.

Display

For the Surface Pro 7, Microsoft relies on the exact same LG-Philips-IPS panel LP123WQ112604 as for the Surface Pro 6 and Surface Pro 5, so with the latest Surface Pro you get the same visual experience as with Microsoft’s two-year-old Surface Pro 5.

Optimistically, this is a good thing, as the sRGB color space coverage of ~95 percent, the good contrast ratio and the relatively bright backlighting help the Surface Pro produce a good image. On the other hand, it’s disappointing that Microsoft hasn’t tried to improve the display even further, possibly to make it stand out from the competition.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 display test review

Faster response times, higher refresh rates and factory calibration options could have made the Surface Pro 7 more appealing to owners of previous Surface Pro models.

The color space coverage is approximately 93 percent and 60 percent in terms of the sRBG and AdobeRGB standards respectively.

For full AdobeRGB coverage, one should look at ultrabooks from other manufacturers, such as the XPS 13, Blade Stealth or the Gigabyte Aero series. Also the latest Surface Laptop 3 offers about the same color space coverage as the Surface Pro 7.

Further measurements with an X-Rite colorimeter uncover the inaccurately displayed gray scales and the too cool color temperature. Through our calibration, we were able to visibly improve the display and lower the average grayscale and ColorChecker-deltaE values from 5.9 and 5 to just 2.2 and 2.4, respectively.

We recommend users who do not calibrate the display of the Surface Pro 7 themselves to install the ICM profile linked above.

Outdoor readability and viewing angles are identical to those of the Surface Pro 6 or Surface Pro 5, as all models are equipped with the same LG-Philips IPS panel.

The HP EliteBook x360 and also the Surface copy Chuwi UBook Pro offer brighter displays and therefore better readability in the sun.

Performance

The biggest difference between Surface Pro 6 and Surface Pro 7 is the availability of Intel’s new Ice-Lake-U range in the Surface Pro 7, whose processors are based on the 10nm process, replacing the 12nm-based Whiskey-Lake-U/Kaby-Lake-R CPUs.

As described here, Intel’s Ice Lake-U should be able to offer significantly higher iGPU performance than the outdated UHD Graphics 620. In practice, however, this lead may vary considerably, as graphics driver support for Intel’s latest platform is only slowly progressing.

It should also be noted at this point that although the Core i3 and Core i5 models are passively cooled, an internal fan is used in the Core i7 model.

By default, the Surface Pro 7 is equipped with 8 GB Dual Channel RAM, but users can choose memory configurations of up to 16 GB if desired. LatencyMon shows no problems with the DPC latencies when the wireless connection is enabled and disabled.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 display review test benchmarks

You shouldn’t expect too much from a passively cooled processor. If Cinebench R15 Multi-Thread is run in a loop, the scores start at a promising 685 points. However, as the diagram below shows, this result drops to up to 497 points over time if you run the test 50 times in a row.

This corresponds to a loss of performance of about 27 percent. So, as the processor can’t maintain the high Turbo Boost clock rate permanently, a single Cinebench R15 run gives an inaccurate picture of the Surface Pro 7’s actual performance. In the worst case, the performance is comparable to that of a Core i5-8350U, and at best to that of a Core i7-8650U, taking throttling into account.

We will go into this in more detail in the stress test paragraph below. If Microsoft had given the Core i5 model a fan, it could probably maintain the faster Turbo Boost clock rates longer.

In comparison to the cheaper Core i3-1005G1 model, a theoretical performance increase of about 40 to 60 percent is achieved, whereas – based on our experiences with the XPS 13 7390 2-in-1 – an additional performance of 20 to 40 percent can be expected for the Core i7-1065G7 model.

The high original Turbo Boost performance is still useful, as applications can be started faster and multitasking is more fluid. However, you can’t expect this level of performance under permanently high loads.

More information and benchmark comparisons can be found on our Core i5-1035G4 page.

In the PCMark benchmarks, our Core i5-Surface-Pro-7 is ahead of all other Surface-Pro models in our database, among which there are also Kaby-Lake models with the Iris-Plus-640 GPU. Except for a loose contact in the charging connection, which we were not able to reproduce regularly, there were no problems with our test device.

Microsoft has replaced the internal M.2-SSD Toshiba BG3 of the Surface Pro 6 from last year’s Surface Pro 7 with the new Toshiba BG4. Both the read and write rates have improved as a result and the sequential write rates are now almost twice as high. Nevertheless, the Toshiba BG4 can’t keep up with the Samsung PM981 found in laptops like the Razer Blade 15.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 performance test

The latest Intel driver (26.20.100.7463) for the Iris-Plus graphics of the Ice Lake U-SoC, which was the latest at the time of testing, was released on November 14, 2019. Our Surface Pro 7 tester had a graphics driver from August 6th pre-installed (25.20.100.7101).

Attempts to update the driver or run certain 3DMark benchmarks fail, Microsoft is aware of the problem that the Surface Pro 7 is currently stuck with drivers that are several months old.

Although Microsoft has already announced a new graphics driver, the Surface Pro 7 is currently stuck with outdated graphics drivers, so the results of our GPU benchmarks should be taken with caution.

In 3DMark 11 and Time Spy, the Iris Plus G4 falls about 25 to 30 percent behind the Iris Plus G7 in the faster Core i7-1065G7 configuration. Nevertheless, the graphics performance is about 25 to 40 percent better than the Iris Plus 640 in Surface Pro 5.

In popular games with low requirements such as Overwatch, Rocket League, Starcraft II and Fortnite, acceptable frame rates of over 30 fps can be achieved on the lowest settings. Since the frame rates can vary greatly, we recommend using V-Sync.

Noise & temperature levels

Since the Core i3-/i5 models do not have internal fans, they are virtually silent in operation. Unfortunately, our test device suffers from coil beeps or electronic noise.

The surface temperatures are always a few degrees higher on the back than on the front. The upper half of the tablet can get up to 48°C under high load. For high loads, it is recommended to use the tablet in laptop mode. On the positive side, you don’t have to worry about inadvertently blocking the ventilation slits of fanless models.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 stand test

In order to test it for potential throttling and possible stability problems, we expose the system to synthetic loads. When running Prime95, the CPU clocks up to 3.3 GHz for the first few seconds and then reaches a core temperature of 94°C.

The clock frequency and temperature then drop to 2.3 GHz and 67 °C respectively. However, since there is no fan, the core temperature rises steadily again afterwards. As soon as the CPU reaches 76 °C, the clock frequency drops again for the third and last time, it then drops to 2 GHz and allows a cooler, constant core temperature of 68 °C.

Our screenshot below illustrates the entire process, the results of which correspond to the step-like course of the diagram for our Cinebench loop test above.

In battery mode, the performance is not limited. A 3DMark-11 run delivers physics and graphics scores of 8,534 and 3,365 points respectively in battery mode, and 8,319 and 3,228 points respectively in mains operation.

Energy consumption

Similar to the Surface Pro 6, between 4 and 10 W are consumed on the desktop when idle. Increasing the screen brightness from minimum to maximum increases the consumption by about 5 W.

In 3DMark 06, between 42 W or 44 percent more power is consumed than last year’s Surface Pro Core i7 model. The higher graphics performance is thus at the expense of energy consumption.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 design review colors display

The maximum power consumption required by the small (9 x 5 x 2.5 cm) 65 W power supply during Prime95 is 63.5 W. This consumption peak is more than 20 W higher than that of the Surface Pro 6, which indicates that the Surface Pro 7 can offer higher clock frequencies, at least in the short term.

However, the consumption peak does not last long, as the consumption then drops to 41 W and after approx. 90 seconds finally to 32 W. This behaviour corresponds with our Cinebench loop test and the observations of the Prime95 test above.

Battery life

Although the battery capacity is identical to that of the Surface Pro 6, we could measure about 1.5 hours longer runtimes in the Surface Pro 7. Altogether, one can expect almost 10 hours of practical WiFi usage in the newest Surface Pro tablet with a brightness of 150 cd/m² (or 30 percent).

Fully charging the empty battery takes about 1.5 hours, similar to most ultrabooks.

Verdict

Well, that is the end of my Microsoft Surface Pro 7 test. As I said, I consider it to be the best Windows Tablet on the market today. The design is an old one, but I still like it very much. It’s built to a high standard and the folding stand is very useful.

The nice thing is that we finally got a USB C connection. Sure, the display frames could be a bit thinner. But I don’t think that’s too bad.

The display, the surface pen and the type cover are as good as last year. And the performance of the new Intel processors has improved a good bit. Not so much that it is worth upgrading from a Surface Pro 6 – but compared to the Surface Pro 5 you will notice significant differences.

I can recommend the Microsoft Surface Pro 7 if you are looking for the best Windows tablet and are not price sensitive. It is a very good notebook replacement.

I replaced my notebook with it for this test and it behaves just like any other Windows computer, but at the same time can be used as a pure tablet for Netflix or to write handwritten notes, which is why the Microsoft Surface Pro 7 is ranking first vs Surface Laptop 3.

Ranking Second: Microsoft Surface Laptop 3

Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 review
Microsoft Surface Laptop 3

Pros

  • Powerful processors
  • Cheaper than Surface Pro 7
  • Great design with kickstand & good Surface Pen

Cons

  • Display frame too thick

With the Surface Laptop 3, Microsoft once again shows what a lifestyle Windows notebook should be like. Great workmanship, good components and if desired without the Alcantara surface. But not everything has improved.

Microsoft’s Surface product line has always played a special role, and the Surface Laptop 3 is no exception. It is one of the few notebooks with a 3:2 aspect ratio display and is fully compatible with Microsoft input accessories such as the Surface Pen, the Dial or the Surface Dock for expansion.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 varients design color test comparison

With a USB-C port that can also be used for charging, the latest 10th generation Intel processors (Ice Lake) and metal finish instead of Alcantara as an option, the third generation of the Surface laptop brings a few innovations.

In the past weeks I’ve been working a lot with a first generation Surface laptop and that’s what this review is about: Is an update useful for a first generation Surface user?

Design & Ports / Interfaces

Microsoft’s laptop sets the design crown on itself, both in terms of appearance and functionality. If one refers to the minimalist design, Apple’s MacBook family comes very close to the Surface, but Microsoft’s eye for detail remains unmatched.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 design

For example, the perfectly crafted display lid protrudes slightly so that Microsoft can open it without a dent in the chassis. The glass inside extends to the edge on three sides and also leaves less space on the bottom than a MacBook Air. It doesn’t have a rubber rim, and the magnets pull it gently onto the base. All we can do here is pull the hat for the designers.

Like all Surface devices, the new Laptop 3 is superbly crafted. For example, the gaps are very small and absolutely even. All edges also have this tiny bevel and thus give the impression of an extremely precisely manufactured workpiece.

How much has changed in the outer design, however, also depends on the colour of the machine. In the colours platinum and cobalt, the change takes place largely under the hood. In these colours, the Surface Laptop 3 still has the Alcantara surface around the keyboard and palm rest.

In the colors matt black and sandstone on the other hand, Microsoft uses an aluminum body – and it feels very good. Together with the large trackpad, the thought of a MacBook Air also comes to mind from time to time.

Microsoft kicks the Mini DisplayPort for the new Surface devices and replaces it with the more universal USB type C connector – not a Thunderbolt 3. For a device costing more than $900, that could have been in there already. Meaning: If you have a Mini-DisplayPort to DisplayPort cable from an old Surface laptop, you can’t use it any more.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 design review test

On the left side, there is a 3.5mm jack connector next to the new type-C port and the well-known USB type-A connector.

On the right side is the connector for the Surface Dock Connector. Old Surface chargers can therefore still be used. Further connections are not available.

So Microsoft is releasing a Surface Laptop again, which fortunately doesn’t put you in front of complete connection facts. Other manufacturers only use USB type C/ Thunderbolt 3 and then you have to watch how you get the old USB stick in the university or at the customer’s site. Hopefully the dongle is in the bag. Greetings to Cupertino.

Display

But when I look at the screen, the thought of a MacBook is gone. Like its predecessors, the Surface Laptop 3 features a 3:2 aspect ratio touch display. Personally, I haven’t been a fan of notebook touch screens for a long time, but now that I’ve been using it for a while, I see some real advantages.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 3display

Especially scrolling through long lists feels more natural. Also the fast zooming has become so common with smartphones that it now feels more natural to me than on a trackpad. The catch is that the display of the Surface Laptop 3 is highly reflective and can easily be used as a make-up mirror.

The illumination of the display is also on a very high level. The difference between the brightest and the darkest spot is not even 10% and that’s not visible to the naked eye. The brightest spot in the middle reaches 350nits.

Performance

The “small” 13.5-inch version of the Surface Laptop 3 uses Intel’s latest Ice Lake processors. Specifically, the focus is on the power-saving U versions. In the case of our test model, it’s an Intel Core i5-1035G7. Especially in comparison to the first Surface Laptop with its i5-7200U, the performance increase is clearly noticeable.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 side view

The performance of the Surface Laptop 3 is sufficient for everyday tasks. Even programs like Photoshop and Lightroom run much more smoothly, even if you work on complex images with many layers or RAW photos.

For video editing, I would certainly prefer a notebook with a dedicated graphics unit, but still, Microsoft’s latest version of the lifestyle notebooks can do much more than just look good.

Battery life

Microsoft has made a blunder here. I simply took the Surface Laptop 3 as my main work tool for a few days and did my daily office work on it. In my case, that means various office applications, surfing and image editing with Photoshop and Lightroom.

The display was set to about 200nits and the energy saving options were set to “balanced”. Nevertheless, after six hours of use, there was only about 20% battery left – even on days without image editing.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 back view closed

A darker display and more aggressive battery management would get more time out of it, but all in all I think eight hours is too little for such a product. As powerful as the new processors from Intel may be, this is where I see the biggest weakness of the Surface Laptop 3.

The first generation still has a good ten hours of battery life in normal use. Microsoft seems to be aware of this and is giving the Surface Laptop 3 QuickCharge. If you have to charge then at least it will be fast.

If you want to charge via USB-C, the power supply or the Power Bank should provide at least 40 watts, like the HP-USB-C Power Bank.

Noise & temperature levels

The extent to which noise and heat disturb a notebook is always dependent on the individual. Personally, I find both extremely annoying.

A great strength of the first Surface laptop is that it always kept its mouth shut, no matter what the task. Even more than 30 minutes of stress tests do not bother him. Yes, the fan is running, but even when I press my ear to the device, there is hardly more than a whisper.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 review test

Unfortunately, the latest generation can’t say that about itself. In the stress test the Surface Laptop 3 is audible after 15 minutes. The same happens when using demanding programs intensively.

Of course, the new model has considerably more power, but it’s a pity that Microsoft also fails to make silent use possible with Ice Lake CPUs. However, those who only do light tasks should not have any problems with the fans.

There is nothing to complain about in terms of heat generation. Both the new wrist-rest and the entire keyboard stay nice and cool. Also the temperature on the bottom of the Surface Laptop 3 never exceeds the range of “hand-warm”.

Upgradability

Previous Surface models could not be upgraded. Even the attempt to open the notebook inevitably led to the destruction of the unit. After opening the laptop, one also notices that the RAM and SSD are soldered.

With the Surface Laptop 3, Microsoft allows the devices to be officially upgraded for the first time. This work should of course only be done by trained Microsoft employees and I also advise caution here.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 color varients

Have a look at tutorials to see how to carefully get under your feet and get exactly the right place. Make sure that you have a suitable Torx screwdriver and that you bought your new SSD in the right format (NVMEe M2 2230).

So you should really only take action here if you know what you are doing. Microsoft has also published a guide on how to replace the SSD on the Surface Laptop 3. However, Microsoft would like to point out again that this guide is intended for corporate customers.

Sound

Sound in notebooks is often like sound in monitors – awful. Due to the lack of a resonance chamber and cheap speakers, 98% of all notebooks sound awful. Including distorting highs and non-existent mids and basses.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 design test review comparison

Basses aren’t present on the Surface Laptop 3 either, but very good highs and balanced mids. The sound is a bit flat, but otherwise convincing. On top of that, the notebook’s speakers reach a very good volume in order to be able to provide sound for a small kitchen party if necessary.

Keyboard & Touchpad

Here the Surface Laptop 3 scores, which is one of the best keyboards for notebooks, as long as you are standing on a direct stroke. The key stroke is pleasantly short and even long texts are real fun to play with the keyboard.

Only the butterfly keyboard of a MacBook is even more direct. In return, the chances of a keyboard failure are much lower with the Surface.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 keyboard test review

The new trackpad has grown by about 20% in comparison to its predecessor and you can clearly see that. There are now a few millimeters more in all four directions. The typical gestures are also precisely recognized and implemented.

To make it short: Apart from a small deadzone at the edge, the Surface Laptop 3 has one of the best trackpads on the market.

Verdict

When it comes to naming a reference product for a Windows notebook, my choice would be the Surface Laptop 3. The workmanship is great, the performance fits and the keyboard and trackpad are among the absolute top in the notebook sector.

The device loses a few points due to the battery life and the poorer cooling – compared to its predecessor, which is why the Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 is ranking behind vs Surface Pro 7.

The Surface Laptop 3 is cheaper than the Surface Pro 7 and performs still great for its’ price class, so if you want to save some money and don’t need the performance of a Microsoft Surface Pro 7, we would recommend you to buy the Surface Laptop 3.

For First generation Surface owners: A change is worthwhile for owners of a first-generation Surface laptop, as the increase in performance is clearly noticeable after two generations. Owners of second generation laptops, on the other hand, must check to what extent they benefit from USB type C.


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