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Microsoft’s Surface Laptop 3 comes in two sizes and with two different processors

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The latest Surface Laptop expands on the inside and the outside

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Microsoft just announced the new Surface Laptop 3, an update to the Surface Laptop 2 from last year. The Surface Laptop 3 is very similar to the prior models, with two big exceptions: it’s now available in two different sizes, and the larger model comes with an all-new processor co-developed with AMD. The smaller 13.5-inch Surface Laptop 3 starts at $999, while the 15-inch model starts $200 higher at $1,199. Both are available for preorder starting today, October 2nd, and they will ship on October 22nd.

The 13.5-inch Surface Laptop 3 is obviously the most similar to the prior Laptop models. It has the same overall design and shape, with the same 13.5-inch, 3:2 aspect ratio Pixel Sense touchscreen. Microsoft did make the touchpad 20 percent larger, but otherwise, all of the other dimensions are the same.

The big external design change is the addition of a USB-C port in place of the Mini DisplayPort that was found on prior Surface Laptops. This is a USB-C 3.1 port, so it can be used for charging, data, and video out. But it does not support Thunderbolt 3, which means you can’t plug in an external GPU to the Laptop 3. That feels like a bit of a miss, as many other laptops in this price range support Thunderbolt 3. Otherwise, the Laptop 3 has the same single USB-A port, 3.5mm headphone jack, and Surface Connector as before.

The Laptop 3 is available in four colors: black, silver, gold, and blue. The red model from last year is gone, and the black and gold models ditch the Alcantara fabric that’s been a bit of a signature for the Surface Laptop line since its debut in 2017 in place of a traditional aluminum deck. (The fabric is still available on the silver and blue colors.) General manager of Surface devices Robin Seiler says that Microsoft made this change because “people have different opinions in terms of style, plus some of our commercial customers have specific requirements to be able to remove germs and sanitize.” The aluminum models are slightly heavier than the fabric-covered ones, at 2.89 pounds versus 2.76 pounds.

Inside the 13-inch model is Intel’s latest 10th Gen Core processors, in either Core i5 or Core i7 form. Another new feature is improved repairability, which has been a point of concern for the Surface Laptop line since its debut. It’s not possible to repair the Laptop 3 yourself, but authorized service centers can replace parts, including the SSD, much easier than with prior models.

But the real new thing with the Laptop 3 is the 15-inch model. Not only is it larger — it has a 15-inch screen and weighs 3.4 pounds — but it also has a brand-new processor for Microsoft’s Surface computers. The new chip is an AMD-based Surface Edition of the Ryzen 5 or Ryzen 7, with an extra core on the graphics processor over the standard Ryzen chips. It can be paired with up to 32GB of RAM, which is 16 more than the maximum you can get in the 13-inch model. Oddly, the storage options top out at 512GB. (The 13-inch model can be equipped with up to 1TB of storage.)

This is the first time Microsoft has used an AMD chip in the Surface line, and the company says it did so because it expects customers of the 15-inch model to perform heavier graphical work over the 13-inch version, and the AMD chips have an advantage over Intel’s offerings in this area. The 15-inch Surface Laptop 3 can use its greater graphical power to improve performance with 3D rendering applications, Photoshop, and even some light video editing. But it’s not a gaming laptop, and you shouldn’t expect high frame rate performance in AAA gaming titles from it. We’ll have to see just what kinds of games it can handle when we get it in for our full review.

Otherwise, the 15-inch version is very similar to the 13-inch model. It has the same selection of ports — including the new USB-C port (still no Thunderbolt 3, however) — and the same overall wedge-shaped design. Microsoft is offering the 15-inch Laptop 3 in either black or silver. Neither model has the Alcantara fabric; it’s all aluminum for this one.

Microsoft is claiming up to 11.5 hours of battery life for both models, and it has a new fast charging feature that can get the battery from 0 to 80 percent in less than one hour. We’ll, of course, have to see how well those battery life claims hold up in the real world when we perform our full reviews in a few weeks.

In terms of design, the updates for this year’s Surface Laptop are rather minor, but that’s not a bad thing. The Surface Laptop was always an excellent traditional clamshell laptop, and the updates this year to (finally) include a USB-C port and give an option for a larger size only enhance its appeal. The pricing is also rather aggressive, though those starting prices are certain to have 8GB of RAM and just 128GB of storage, so you can expect to pay a few hundred dollars more for configurations that will last a few years.

It will be interesting to see how well the 15-inch Laptop 3 stands up to the 15-inch MacBook Pro, which remains the workhorse of choice for content creators, despite the litany of problems Apple has had with its laptops over the years. It will also be interesting to see if the 15-model eats into Microsoft’s own Surface Book sales, as it is likely nipping at the heels of the Surface Book in terms of performance.

We expect to answer all of these questions and more once we get a chance to spend some proper time with the new Surface Laptop 3 and fully evaluate it, so stay tuned for that.

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