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Microsoft Surface Book 3 Review

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Microsoft’s Surface line is the last thing I think of when gaming comes to mind, but as we kind of saw with the Surface Go 2 – gaming on a Surface is not only possible, but it’s also a solid experience.

Indeed, the Go 2 is the worst-case scenario and not something I would recommend someone buy strictly for gaming. But the Surface Book 3, on paper at least, should be an exceptional 2-in-1 laptop with a sprinkle of gaming prowess, right? Well, kind of.

Surface Book 3 - 2

For the past week, I’ve been using the Surface Book 3 with Nvidia’s GTX 1660 Ti, and while the experience hasn’t been entirely smooth, it makes for one of the most enjoyable gaming laptops I’ve used. Let me explain.

Specs

The Surface Book 3 comes in 13.5-inch or 15-inch models, with varying configurations. You can build a system ranging from an Intel Core i5-1035G7, 8GB of memory, and 256GB of storage on the 13.5-inch model for $1,599 all the way up to a 15-inch with an Intel Core i7-1065G7, Nvidia GTX 1660 Ti, 2TB PCIe SSD, and 32GB of memory for $3,399. Microsoft sent me something that’s more in line with what most creators and gamers would order, but still on the high end, priced at $2,799.

Here are the specifications of the Microsoft Surface Book 3 I’ve been testing:

  • Model: Microsoft Surface Book 3 15-inch (1899)
  • Display: 15-inch PixelSense (3240×2160)
  • Processor: 10th Gen Intel Core i7-1065G7 1.3GHz (8M Cache, 3.0GHz Max Turbo)
  • Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1660 Ti 6GB GDDR6 Max-Q
  • Memory: 32GB 3733Mhz LPDDR4x
  • OS: Windows 10 Home
  • Storage: 1TB SSD
  • Webcam: 5MP webcam, Windows Hello face authentication camera
  • Ports: 2 x USB 3.1 Gen 2, 1 x USB-C 3.1 Gen 2 with Power Delivery 3.0, 3.5mm headphone jack, 2 x Surface Connect ports, SD card reader
  • Connectivity: WiFi 6 802.11ax, Bluetooth 5.0, Xbox Wireless built-in
  • Dimensions: 13.5 x 9.87 x 0.9-inches (WxDxH)
  • Weight: 4.2 pounds
  • Price: $2,799

Design

The Surface Book 3 uses the same overall design as the two Books before it. The 15-inch model is a giant slab of dull silver. The same unique hinge that allows you to detach the display from the base deck where the keyboard, trackpad and majority of ports are located, is also back.

The first thing I noticed when opening the Book 3 is how much empty space there is around the keyboard. The trackpad is centered on the housing, below the keyboard, and it’s flanked on both sides by absolutely nothing. I would have loved to see a much bigger trackpad take advantage of what looks like wasted space.

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Thankfully the stunning 15-inch PixelSense display caught my attention. Seriously, this screen is mesmerizing with its 3240 x 2160 resolution. I normally shy away from using the “touch” functionality of touchscreen laptops because of fingerprints, but even after a week of use and switching between tablet and laptop modes, I have yet to notice any lingering fingerprints. That said, the display is very reflective and you’ll find yourself moving and adjusting the screen to find the sweet spot.

Above the screen is the 5-megapixel webcam and the Windows Hello face authentication camera. The camera is helpful for those of us who are staring at Zoom calls for far too many hours a week now, and the Hello authentication stuff is quick and reliable as always.

As far as ports go, the right side of the base has Microsoft’s proprietary Surface Connect for charging and connecting the Surface Dock accessory to the Book. Next to it is a lone USB-C port that sadly lacks Thunderbolt connectivity, so you can’t use it to connect to a compatible display or storage device.

Surface Book 3 - 3

On the left side are two standard USB 3.1 Gen 2 ports and an SD card reader. Not microSD, but a full-on SD card. On the tablet/screen portion of the housing is a 3.5mm headphone jack, and when you undock the screen from the base, there’s another Surface Connect connector.

Surface Book 3 - 4

The keyboard is backlit and is one of the most enjoyable keyboards I have had the pleasure of using. There wasn’t any sort of adjustment as is usually the case with using a new keyboard. I was able to sit down and just type. There’s a smoothness with each keypress that’s reassuring, especially when typing long bits of text.

I still prefer a mechanical keyboard with taller keys and larger keycaps for gaming, but I didn’t hate using the Book 3’s keyboard for gaming.

Detaching the display from the base converts the Book 3’s screen into a giant tablet that’s light and portable, but its overall size is a little awkward at first. I didn’t spend too much time using it in tablet mode, but for the short time I did, it’s clear that creatives who want a giant sketchpad will be more than content.

Performance and Gaming

Performance and gaming is where the Surface Book 3 gets into the gray area. On its own, as a standard laptop, this build of the Surface Book 3 is capable enough for anyone who wants to edit video, photos, and use it for daily computing tasks. As a gaming device, it does just… okay. Here, look at the benchmarks before I dive into my experience:

benchmarks

The Book 3’s performance isn’t even half of what the Predator Helios 300 or Legion Y545, both of which had a 1660 Ti and an Intel Core i7-9750H at 2.6GHz. The Book 3, on the other hand, has an Intel Core i7-1065G7 at 1.3GHz.

I didn’t measure the base or boost clock speeds of the 1660 Ti in the Y545 or Helios 300, but took a peek at the Max-Q tuning of the Book 3’s 1660 Ti and found that it’s tuned to 1,245MHz base and 1,425MHz boost clock speeds.

The end result? Overall performance that’s slightly faster than a GTX 1650.

When gaming, that translates to an average frame rate of 58 fps in Modern Warzone with all settings on High and 71 fps in Battlefield V at Ultra according to Xbox Game Bar. Both games were played at 1080p.

I did get into some Minecraft Dungeons during my time with the Book 3, at full (3240×2160) resolution, and saw an average of 46 fps. I played Dungeons with an Xbox One controller. Pairing the controller took two seconds, following the normal Bluetooth pairing procedure, without any additional adapters.

None of those numbers necessarily blew me away, but the combination of the PixelSense display, the gentle purr of the cooling system, and respectable performance all things considered, I truly enjoyed gaming on the Book 3.

Surface Book 3 - 6

But, it wasn’t a perfect experience. Currently, the 1660 Ti is using Studio drivers released in February, and there’s no Game Ready driver available. So, in theory, gaming performance could get better, but it’s impossible to know right now.

Also, I would randomly experience an issue with the Book 3 failing to recognize or use the Nvidia GPU. Instead, it would fall back on Intel’s integrated Iris graphics. Adding to the confusion, there was no real way to know when this was happening outside of opening a benchmarking app or game and monitoring fps.

A quick reboot of the Book 3 would get everything back to normal, but it was puzzling and frustrating. At first, I assumed it was due to me improperly seating the tablet into the base, since the Book 3 defaults to integrated graphics in tablet mode, but I had it happen randomly without any recent undocking.

Normally this is the part of the review where I include a picture of the bottom case removed, innards exposed, and discuss which components you can swap out on your own. However, there’s no way I’m getting into the Surface Book 3. I can’t even find a single screw where I would begin to attempt to take it apart. And neither will you. Whatever you order is what you’re going to have to be ready to deal with.

Battery Life

Microsoft estimates the battery life of the Surface Book 3 15-inch to be 17.5 hours of typical device usage, which is more than enough for a day, maybe two, worth of work. Putting the Book 3 through IGN’s battery life benchmark that consists of playing a video on loop with the display brightness set to 50% and all extraneous connections and lighting turned off, the Book 3 lasted 563 minutes or 9 hours and 23 minutes.

That’s exactly 200 minutes longer than the Razer Blade 15, which up until now, held the top spot for battery life out of all gaming laptops I’ve tested for IGN.

In normal use consisting of browsing, email, streaming video and listening to music, battery life was good enough to get through a normal full work down and have enough juice leftover to browse Reddit into the night. Your mileage may vary, but you should have no issues getting through a full day of use on the larger Book 3.

Software

As with all Surface devices, there’s no bloatware or unnecessary programs on the Book 3. Outside of the Surface app that you can use to troubleshoot issues, run diagnostics, and control settings for accessories like the Surface Pen.

Purchasing Guide

The Surface Book 3 comes in 13.5-inch or 15-inch models, with specs ranging from a Core i5-1035G7 for $1,599 up to an i7-1065G7 CPU, GTX 1660 Ti, 2TB SSD, and 32GB RAM for $3,399. The various configurations can be found on Amazon or at the Microsoft Store.

This article was originally published by IGN.COM

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