Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 vs. Dell XPS 13

The third generation of the Surface Laptop 3 is preparing to launch on Oct. 22, and brings a couple of impressive new features with it.

Standing in the way of the 13-inch Surface Laptop 3’s way is the newest Dell XPS 13, which maintains its class-leading form factor and updates to Intel’s latest 10th-gen CPUs. Which of these two premium laptops is worth your hard-earned cash?

Design

Microsoft Surface laptop 3
Joel Chokkattu / Digital Trends

The XPS 13 looks the same from the outside this time around, and that’s just fine — there wasn’t much to improve. It’s an attractive laptop that sports its trademark tiny bezels and diminutive chassis built around a 13.3-inch display. The Surface Laptop 3 is similar to its predecessor, being the same size — with the same larger bezels surrounding the 13.5-inch 3:2 display — but with some minor aesthetic changes.

For example, the red color from the previous model is no longer available and there are four color options including black, gold, silver, and blue. The black and gold models skip the Alcantara fabric that was the laptop’s trademark and instead have aluminum keyboard decks.

You won’t find fault with either of these laptops build quality. The XPS 13 has the same metal and carbon fiber materials, while the Surface Laptop 3 is all-aluminum except for the models with Alcantara fabric. Microsoft has answered one complaint from the previous versions, specifically that the laptop was impossible to repair or upgrade. Now, service centers (not users) can remove the keyboard tray and access the components inside, including the solid-state drive (SSD). The XPS 13 is similarly expandable and more accessible to users.

The XPS 13 has the same snappy keyboard that’s was in its most recent versions, and its excellent with sufficient travel and a precise mechanism. The Surface Laptop 3’s keyboard was updated from the previous models, now with 13mm of travel, 19mm of pitch between keys, and sculpted keycaps.

We haven’t had a chance to try the new version, but the previous keyboards were excellent. Both laptops have well-sized Microsoft Precision touchpads — the Surface Laptop 3’s is 20 percent larger — with support for the full gamut of Windows 10 multitouch gestures. Like all Surface devices, the display is touch-enabled and supports the Surface Pen, while the XPS 13 has both touch and non-touch display options.

Both laptops offer excellent displays. The XPS 13 offers more choice, including touch and non-touch Full HD (1,920 x 1,080) resolution displays with good contrast and colors, and a superior 4K (3,840 x 2,160) touch display with excellent colors and contrast. The Surface Laptop 3 benefits from a larger 13.5-inch display in the productivity-friendly 3:2 aspect ration, and has a high resolution of 2,256 x 1,504. Past Surface displays have also had excellent contrast but average color support, and we expect the same this time around.

Finally, the XPS 13 comes with two USB-C with Thunderbolt 3 ports and a single USB-C 3.1 port to go with a microSD card reader. The Surface Laptop 3 finally adds in a USB-C 3.1 port, which unfortunately doesn’t support Thunderbolt 3, along with a USB-A 3.1 port and the Surface Connect port for charging. Microsoft did not build in an SD card reader. Both laptops support the latest Wi-Fi 6 standard and Bluetooth 5.

Performance

Intel recently released two new 10th-gen lines of laptop CPUs. The XPS 13 and Surface Laptop 3 are two of the first to implement them, choosing between them becomes a challenge.

First, the XPS 13 is built around the Comet Lake 10th-gen processors, which use the older 14nm architecture and provide increased core counts and clock speeds. Importantly, the XPS 13 will eventually be configurable with the top-level, six-core Core i7 Comet Lake part. The two extra cores should provide a meaningful advantage in multithreaded performance — important for anyone who runs demanding apps like video editing.

The Surface Laptop 3, on the other hand, uses Intel’s new Ice Lake 10nm processors. These CPUs focus on providing increased IPC (instructions per core) via some new instructions that leverage parallel operations to run legacy programs faster. In addition, Ice Lake uses Intel’s new Iris Plus integrated graphics — bringing Nvidia MX150-level graphical performance.

We haven’t fully tested the laptops yet to make a direct comparison, but it will be interesting to see which has the advantage. It’s likely that each CPU, and therefore each laptop, will perform some tasks faster and some slower. There will likely be power efficiency differences as well. Stay tuned for more.

Portability

Surface Laptop 3
The Surface Laptop 3 13-inch and its 15-inch cousin Joel Chokkattu / Digital Trends

In terms of size and weight, the XPS 13 comes in at 0.46 inches thick and 2.7 pounds compared to the 13-inch Surface Laptop 3 at 0.57 inches and 2.84 pounds. That means the XPS 13 is smaller and lighter, but the Surface Laptop 3 is easy enough to carry around.

We don’t yet know how these laptops will perform in terms of battery life, which is an important consideration for portability. We suspect that the XPS 13 will offer a longer-lasting version thanks to its Full HD display option, but we’ll have to wait for our full reviews to know for sure.

The Surface Laptop 3 puts up a fight, but the XPS 13 wins out

Dell XPS 13 2019 review (9380)
Riley Young/Digital Trends

The Surface Laptop 3 starts at $1,000 for a Core i5, 8GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD. The 13.5-inch model maxes out at $2,400 for a Core i7, 16GB of RAM, and a 1TB SSD.

The XPS 13 is also a premium laptop, starting at $1,000 for a Core i3, 4GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD, and a Full HD non-touch display. Yuu can spend $1,950 for a Core i7, 16GB of RAM, a 1TB SSD and a 4K UHD touch display.

Ultimately, the XPS 13 is smaller, lighter, offers a power-saving Full HD option, and remains our favorite 13-inch laptop. We won’t be able to say for sure until the Surface Laptop 3 launches, but right now, we have our money on the XPS 13.

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