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The Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 (15-Inch) Review: AMD Ryzen Surface Edition
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This year at Microsoft’s somewhat annual Surface update event, Microsoft surprised everyone by not only announcing a newer and larger Surface Laptop 3, bumping the screen size from 13.5-inches to 15-inches, but also by selecting an AMD processor for the laptop. Though still an incremental shift when looking at the entire Surface lineup, it was a big change for Microsoft, as well as a big win for AMD. Not only is Microsoft now offering a traditional, clamshell laptop in the ever-popular 15-inch form factor, but it's the highest profile laptop yet to ship with one of AMD's APUs.

While there's a lot more to the 15-inch Surface Laptop 3 than just its processor, certainly this is the highlight of the announcement. Up until now, Microsoft has relied exclusively on Intel processors for their entire range of x86 Surface devices. So this marks Microsoft's first departure from their long-time CPU provider, while highlighting a deeper connection between Microsoft and AMD that has grown from their Xbox work. And to be sure, it's beneficial to both parties – Microsoft gets a second supplier of x86 chips with a more graphics-heavy performance balance, and AMD gets a top-shelf laptop vendor that has gone the extra mile to optimize their setup.

Indeed, that optimization is perhaps the most important aspect of this latest partnership. While Microsoft and AMD perhaps go too far in touting the laptop's processor as "semi custom" – it's a specialized bin of AMD's existing Ryzen 3000 series Picasso APUs with a bit more graphics performance – what's not exaggerated is the work that the two parties have put into the final product. As we learned from AMD earlier this month, a great deal of effort has been put into the firmware, the drivers, and the software stack for the AMD-powered Surface Laptop 3, and these days these factors are often as important as the hardware itself, since problems here can lead to bad experiences elsewhere. This is a level of effort and co-design work that goes beyond what's been done for any other Ryzen-powered laptops, and as a result, the Surface Laptop 3 is AMD's chance to show its best foot forward at a critical time.

Meanwhile, for the rest of the laptop, there's a good deal to unpack here as well. The larger design alone represents a significant change for the Surface Laptop family, giving Microsoft a laptop better sized to be used as a true desktop replacement machine. 15 inches means more room for a larger screen, more room for cooling, etc, resulting in a machine that's going to be a bit less portable than the 13.5-inch model, but arguably easier to work with over long periods of time. All the while, it's interesting just how much the new 15-inch model resembles the smaller Surface Laptop – every aspect of the design has been scaled up so that it feels like the same sharp machine as the 13.5-inch model.

For this generation of the Surface Laptop family, the Surface team has also changed one of the defining characteristics of lineup by making a version available without the Alcantara fabric keyboard deck. Discussing this with the designers, they said that owners with the synthetic fabric keyboard deck were overwhelmingly happy with it, despite fears of it getting dirty or damaged; but that they also heard from potential buyers who just prefer a more traditional aluminum feel. So for the 15-inch Surface Laptop 3, it's is aluminum only, available in Platinum or Black. Meanwhile the 13.5-inch model sees some similar changes, offering Sandstone, Black, or Platinum colors with a metal deck, or Cobalt Blue and Platinum colors with the Alcantara deck.
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