Microsoft’s Surface Book line saw immense improvements with the Book 2 model, but some flaws remained. Now it’s time to start thinking about the Surface Book 3, and what Microsoft has planned.
It hasn’t been officially announced, but that hasn’t stopped us from reading between the lines of patents and rumors. Here’s everything we know, and everything we hope Microsoft announces, about the Surface Book 3.
Price and release date
We expect Microsoft to leave the pricing of the Surface Book line largely the same. Right now, the 13.5-inch Book 2 model starts at around $1,200 and the 15-inch model at around $2,500, scaling up to higher prices based on spec choices. According to reports from Brad Sams at Petri.com, the pricing on the Surface Book 3 could also be in the same ballpark, starting at around $1,400 for baseline configurations.
This is already a fairly high baseline, and one Microsoft probably doesn’t want to change. In fact, there are signs that Microsoft wants to make pricing more flexible, if possible. The company recently offered new options to buy a 15-inch model without discrete Nvidia graphics, at only $2,000, an acknowledgment that there’s a demand for the larger screen at a lower price.
As for a release date, Microsoft could be announcing the Surface Book 3 and the Surface Go 2 at an event in New York City this spring, but the coronavirus is likely to force those plans to change. That doesn’t mean these products won’t get launched in some way around this same time. The timing is a bit similar to what Microsoft did in April 2019 when it refreshed the Surface Book 2 with an option for the eighth-generation quad-core Intel Core i5-8350U processor.
Same design, but new charging ports
Microsoft is planning to release the dual-screen Surface Neo and Duo in late 2020, but evidence suggests that the Surface Book 3 might not be as drastically different as we hoped. As per Sams of Petri.com, a reliable Microsoft reporter, the Surface Book 3 won’t look much different from its predecessors. It’s believed that Microsoft will instead focus on the internal aspect of the Surface Book 3, with “slight” modifications to the exterior. That might include a new charging port, though the Surface Book 2 already included two USB-A ports, a USB-C port, and Microsoft’s proprietary Surface Connect port.
Previous patents, though, have hinted that the Surface Book 3 could pick up some sort of secondary display. Filings at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office show Microsoft was playing with adding a secondary touchscreen to the keyboard half of a device, with a detachable screen that looks just like the Surface Book 3. The patent goes into details of how the touchscreen could sit next to the trackpad on the keyboard deck, or sit on the entire rear-half of the detachable keyboard, to be used for inking.
Of course, patents are only patents, and this is now all unlikely. But,other laptop makers have already found a way to embed touchscreens into keyboard decks. The trackpad on the Asus ZenBook Pro 15, for example, can also be used in an “Extension Display mode” that lets you use it as a secondary screen. It would be nice to see this come to a Surface Book 3 as well. A second screen might also suggest a Surface Book that runs with Windows 10X rather than standard Windows 10.
Tiger Lake processors?
The 8th-gen Intel CPUs and Nvidia GTX 1050 GPU in the Surface Book 2 are now quite outdated, but judging from recent leaks and rumors, the Surface Book 3 could be quite a beast, with options for 10th-generation Intel processors. Intel Tiger Lake CPUs are also not out of the question.
Intel’s Ice Lake processors have already made their appearance in Microsoft’s other Surface products like the Surface Laptop 3 and the Surface Pro 7, and according to previous reports, the Surface Book 3 will pick up a similar chipset. However, it is not clear if the part will come from Intel’s Comet Lake or Ice Lake lineup. Either way, the 10nm Ice Lake CPU line has a number of benefits over its 8th- and 9th-generation predecessors, most notably in integrated graphics performance.
Fueled by a Geekbench listing found by chipset leaker @Rogame, it also was indicated that there could be another Surface Book 3 model out in the wild with Intel Tiger Lake CPUs. This is a next-generation CPU meant to as the follow up to the Ice Lake processors and could be coming in the fall of this year. Such listings can be manipulated, but if anything, this might suggest that Microsoft could perhaps launch the Surface Book 3 in the fall. Knowing that Tiger Lake comes with faster and more efficient CPU and GPU cores, Microsoft could perhaps go with Intel’s latest processors to ensure the Surface Book 3 is a bit more powerful for content creators.
More powerful graphics
As for the more powerful Nvidia GPU, it would be much appreciated. The Surface Book 2 included several nods to Xbox players, including easy wireless controller support and an increased focus on Play Anywhere titles. But with options for Nvidia 16-series GTX GPUs, the Surface Book 3 can become a better gaming device. The upgrade to the Nvidia 16 series GPUs is quite disappointing compared to the 2060 series already shipping in most new laptops, but it is still a better chip than the GTX 1050 in benchmarks.
Microsoft could also be planning a Surface Book 3 model with Nvidia Quadro series graphics cards. According to reports, this option will be for more professional use and high-end computing needs. It’s not clear if this will be reserved for a larger 15-inch model, but it will be great for content creators, graphic designers, and professionals in the artificial intelligence field.
But the issue here is that moving to a full Nvidia GPU is one of the things that’s likely to increase the already steep price of the Surface Book line, something that Microsoft may be loath to do. The other issue is the thermals. Microsoft would have to take a serious step forward in cooling if it hopes to make the Surface Book 3 a serious option for creative professionals, given how small the system currently is.
Elsewhere, the Surface Book 2 offered up to 1TB of SSD storage and up to 16GB of RAM. That’s more than enough for most tasks you’d want to use the laptop for, from work to play. However, reports indicate the Surface Book 3 could one-up that with options for up to 32GB of RAM. That is a serious upgrade, making the Surface Book 3 a machine for gaming and beyond.
An improved Surface Pen
The Surface Pen makes an excellent companion to the Surface Book series if you plan on drawing or doodling — and this is another device that Microsoft has improved. The new Surface Pro X comes with what Microsoft is calling a “Surface Slim Pen,” and our bet is that this pen will also eventually work with the Surface Book 3. It’s much slimmer, and features tilt support and can also be wirelessly recharged.
Patent reports, however, show a couple of different enhancements that Microsoft could make in future versions of the Surface Pen. One of them would actually let the touchscreen sense where the Pen is about to touch and enhance sensitivity to that area. Other, older patents indicate that Microsoft has even worked on an OLED touchbar on the Pen to quickly shift settings and control apps that you are interacting with. We’re hoping the next Surface Pen could have these technologies.
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