Is the Surface Book 3 a Macbook Pro Killer?

Is the Surface Book 3 a Macbook Pro Killer?

The newly announced Microsoft Surface Book 3 is reportedly their most powerful laptop ever. So could it be good enough to destroy the competition? Namely, the new Apple Macbook Pro 2020. Photographers and creatives alike love Apple products for editing workflows, but could this be the beginning of the end for Apple's domination of the creative market?

The Surface Book 3 kicks things up a notch in the ultra-portable laptop market, and features a 10th gen quad-core Intel Core processor that can turbo boost up to 3.9GHz, but at first glance it would seem Apple's new 13" Macbook Pro has an advantage as it has the same processor but claims a turbo boost up to 4.1GHz. Round one to Apple then.

Microsoft Surface Book 3 comes in three configurations with 13.5" i5 and i7 variants as well as a 15" i7 version. Image used with permission by Microsoft

However, the Surface Book 3 has something the new Macbook Pro doesn't have - a graphics card. That is, as long as you don't get the base model 13.5" version which runs Intel Iris Plus graphics. The 13.5", and 15" models though both have an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1650 with Max-Q Design (15" with GTX 1660 Ti), and boast 4GB GDDR5 and 6B GDDR5 graphics memory respectively. Round two to Microsoft.

How do the screens stack up? Well Microsoft has opted for a densely packed 3000 x 2000 resolution in its 13.5" PixelSense Display which gives a 267 PPI pixel density, whereas Apple are using a 2560 x 1600 resolution for its 13.3" Retina Display, which equals roughly 227 PPI. It may seem that the Surface Pro 3 has the upper hand here, and indeed it might, but it's important to remember that the more pixels a screen has, the harder the graphics card has to work to keep things rendered. Microsoft also takes things a step further and offers a 10-point multi-touch touchscreen which may be why they're throwing in a Surface Pen with all pre-orders.

The Surface Book 3 can hold up to 32GB 3733MHz RAM for faster performance when editing images in Photoshop and Lightroom

Both machines match up in terms of RAM, giving 16GB, and 32GB 3733MHz memory configurations. Apple is claiming the 32GB option gives up to 50 percent faster performance when editing gigapixel images in Photoshop, but real world benchmark tests are yet to be carried out to confirm this. The Surface Book 3 has up to 15.5 hours of battery life in the 13.5" model, going up to 17.5 hours for the 15" model for "typical device usage" but once Photoshop, and Lightroom are up and running we could see this reduce. 

Could you carry this laptop all day while shooting on location? Well, being ultra-portable you'd hope so. The Surface Book 3 weighs in at 1,534 g (3.38 lb) including the keyboard for the base 13.5" model, or 1,642 g (3.62 lb) for the i7 version. However, keep that keyboard at home and you're looking at something incredibly light that you probably won't even notice tucked away in your camera bag. The Surface Book 3 retails for 

The Surface Book 3's lightweight design makes it desirable to work with on location

So with the Surface Book 3 matching or outperforming the Macbook Pro 2020 specs, it looks like Microsoft leads for photographers, and creative professionals wanting a portable, lightweight device that can handle all the multimedia tasks they can throw at it. They also have a 15" version for those that need a little extra space when editing, and viewing shots.

Images used with permission of Microsoft

Jason Parnell-Brookes's picture

Jason is an internationally award-winning photographer with more than 10 years of experience. A qualified teacher and Master’s graduate, he has been widely published in both print and online. He won Gold in the Nikon Photo Contest 2018/19 and was named Digital Photographer of the Year in 2014.

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The OS and the device are only half of the story. However, I think both ecosystems have their own advantages and disadvantages, liked by their respective customer base. Sometimes people do crossover due to frustration with a particular ecosystem and the OS usability. Half of them return back to the more familiar territory, but the rest stay back.

Why does every new product have to be a "killer" of an existing product? Why can't it just be a product "competitor" or a product "alternative"?

So true. And as far as I can tell, the Mac/PC divide is pretty entrenched. Most people are invested in the broader platform (more true of Mac/iOS) and Macs have the added capability of a boot camp Windows installation. However, the unique hardware proposition of the Surface Book and it's accessories are pretty compelling. Love my Surface Book 2.

Right, I have the Surface Pro and love it, but I also have the Macbook Pro and run Windows on my Mac via Parallels. There is room for various platforms.

It's articles like these from Fstoppers, with inflammatory, click-bait statements right in either the title or opening paragraph, that discredit much of the content here...

Also, I've lost count how many times Fstoppers has published blatantly conflicting articles even on the same day, it's a bit of a joke.

--"Also, I've lost count how many times Fstoppers has published blatantly conflicting articles even on the same day, it's a bit of a joke."

From the same author? You are aware Fstoppers authors have differing opinions and experiences? Yes? Some may prefer Windows some Macs. Some RAW some JPGs. Some 35mm some 85mm, etc, etc, etc.

Because it gets clicks. Thats why.

I have a Book 2 at work and I am pretty unhappy with it. When you unplug from the Dock and plug back in, most of the time the screen setup gets messed up. It also constantly complains about lack of USB resources. Windows is also not very good at handling multi screen setups with different resolutions. My Mac does this much better. We also see hinges failing after one or two years of use. It’s a nice concept but I feel Microsoft needs a few more years to learn how to build good hardware.

Where I'm currently contracted, the CEO uses a Book 2 as well - Never has those issues. Same goes for several area managers. Perhaps there's more to why the issues are happening for you? Also you really should be using a good USB-C dock - We use Dell WD15 docks. They're cheap and reliable.

What in particular don't you like about Win10's handling of different resolutions?

"Also you really should be using a good USB-C dock - We use Dell WD15 docks. They're cheap and reliable.

I am using the Microsoft Dock. It's expensive and unreliable :-)

Regarding screen resolution. I have a dual monitor setup with a large screen that has 2560 x 1440 resolution. The Book has higher resolution so so by default lints on the laptop screen will be very small. No problem, just adjust the font scaling. The problem is that Windows often forgets the scaling when you unplug the external monitor or the machine sleeps so I spend a lot of time constantly adjusting screen resolution. It gets really annoying. My MacBook handles this much better.

I had a HP ZBook before and this machine was much more reliable (and faster). Not very elegant but it actually works.

Yeah, font scaling isn't the best in Windows land...


Betteridge's Law of Headlines: "Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no."

Yes, I'm fully aware that it's a humorous "law", but man the number of times it proves to be true....

No cause Macbook Pro kills itself years ago.

And here with the have the winner for most ignorant statement today, congrats!

It''s only got one problem from making it a Macbook Killer. It's running Windows.

Nice to see all the Windows fanboyz downvoting you for saying that, so typical...

I have the gen 1 and love it, will consider upgrade to gen 3 once available.

I’ve suffered through my Surface Book 2 for the past couple of years. Fairly buggy machine IMO and the reviews on Microsoft’s website would seem to support that more or less. Personally switching over to a desktop system as I do 99% of my editing at home anyway at this point. Will probably get another laptop in the future, but will wait to see the longer-term reviews this time around.

I have owned the Surface Book 2 for about 18 months now and I find it to be wonderfully equipped for photography as I do much of my work on location and on long trips. However, I would recommend that Microsoft look at a way in which the two halves of the computer can operate undocked from each other through a cable.

The reasoning is this: I find it difficult to edit on the screen while both halves are docked together in the laptop orientation. And when I reverse the screen, the keyboard is no longer functional. Why not allow for the 2 halves to still work together by simply introducing a cable between the 2? This way, the top half acts like a true tablet while giving it the power of the GPU in the lower keyboard half?

I can't see how this would be an engineering issue as the connectors exist already for the 2 halves to come together.

Otherwise, for artists and photographers, the Surface Book 2 or likely the 3rd version are perfect in my view.

I also own the iPad Pro 12.9 inch... and love it but I am not big on Affinity Photo for iPad and Adobe has been slow on rolling out a fully functional photoshop for the iPad.