Surface Laptop 3 15 vs MacBook Pro 15: Which is better?

The Surface Laptop 3 has been called a MacBook killer. Which is really better?

When it comes to buying a laptop, there are two big brands to consider — Apple and Microsoft. Apple has long been famous for its MacBook Pro lineup, but Microsoft has also planted a flag in the laptop world with the introduction of the Surface Laptop in 2017.

Microsoft is now back with the new Surface Laptop 3, and in a larger 15-inch form factor. The comparisons to the 15-inch MacBook Pro was our first reaction, both in terms of design and function. In this side by side specs comparison, we’ll give the design, performance, and portability of the two devices a look, helping you decide which one is right for you.

Design

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Both the MacBook Pro and the Surface Laptop 3 feature a sturdy aluminum finish. That is new for Surface Laptop as it is now moving away from the more divisive, Alcantara keyboard fabric that has plagued it in the past.

In terms of dimensions, the MacBook Pro measures in at 13.75 x 9.48 x 0.61 inches. The Surface Laptop 3, meanwhile, comes in at 13.4 x 9.6 x 0.57 inches. That makes Surface Laptop slightly smaller and thinner than the MacBook Pro. It’s also lighter at 3.4 pounds, over the 4.02 pounds on the MacBook Pro.

Naturally, both devices also stay true to the form factors as clamshells. However, Surface Laptop 3 has the added benefit of a 10-point multi-touch screen and support for the Surface Pen. It comes in at 15 inches and with 2,496 x 1,664 resolution, or 201 PPI. The MacBook Pro, meanwhile, sports a 15-inch screen with 2,800 x 1,800 resolution, or 220 PPI. The MacBook Pro sports more pixels and is known for its highly-accurate screens, tailor-made with photographers and content creators in mind.

There’s also a difference in these screens’ aspect ratio. The MacBook Pro uses a 16:10 panel, while the Surface Laptop 3 has even taller 3:2 shape. The extra vertical space of the Surface Laptop 3 makes it a great productivity machine.

Other design areas worth considering are the keyboards and touchpads. The latest MacBook Pro still uses the controversial butterfly mechanism keyboard, known for its low key travel and iffy long-term reliability. The Surface Laptop 3, sports a more responsive keyboard with 1.3mm of travel that we prefer.

The MacBook Pro features a larger and more precise touchpad though that we still consider to be the best you can buy.

Of course, the MacBook Pro also has its signature TouchID sensor and integrated Touch Bar, while the Surface Laptop 3 boasts its Windows Hello IR camera for facial recognition.

Performance

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Riley Young/Digital Trends

Moving on to performance, there are some significant differences between the two. On the 15-inch MacBook Pro 15, you have options for either the six-core Intel Core i7-9750H or even the 8-core Intel Core i9-9880H processors. There’s even an option for the fully-unlocked Core i9-9980HK that can turbo boost up to 5.0GHz. These are some incredibly powerful processors stuffed into the thin chassis of the MacBook Pro, making for an impressive content creation device.

Apple also has some decent graphics options, range from the AMD Vega Pro 20, or the 555X, 560X, and Vega 16.

The Surface Laptop 3, however, flips that. For the first time ever in a Surface device, there are options for AMD’s chips, customized specifically for the Surface Laptop 3. This includes both the AMD Ryzen 5 3580U with Vega 9 graphics or the Ryzen 7 3780U with Vega 11 graphics. The Vega 9 has nine graphics cores, and the Ryzen 7 a total of 11 graphics cores.

We haven’t yet tested the new AMD chipsets inside the new Surface Laptop 3, so it’s hard to judge the performance differences. Microsoft said it worked with AMD to assure performance was optimum, but there are no testing results to prove that. Surface chief Panos Panay also hinted that these devices could run Fortnite. We did some analysis, and believe that the processors inside are tweaks of the Ryzen 5 3500U and the Ryzen 7 3700U. We think this might not make good enough for gaming, but we need more time to test before coming to a full decision on performance.

In the end, the Surface Laptop 3 likely won’t be able to compete with the high core count of the MacBook Pro’s Core i9.

Portability

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You can expect the MacBook Pro 15 inch to last you around 10 hours, but we got around 8 hours in our standard web browsing testing.

As for the Surface Laptop 3, Microsoft is claiming around 11.5 hours with typical productivity usage. That would be around the same which we’ve experienced with Intel-based devices like the Dell XPS 15. However, again, more testing will be needed to confirm these claims.

Now, for ports. Both devices are well connected, but one has an advantage over the other. The MacBook Pro 15 inch features four Thunderbolt 3 USB-C ports and a headphone jack. As we mentioned before, Thunderbolt 3 is a plus, as it means you can connect an external PU to the device.

That gives it a slight edge over the Surface Laptop 3, which sports an older USB-A port, one USB-C port, and the Surface Connect Port and headphone jack. This makes charging easy, as you can charge either via the magnetic Surface Connect or with USB-C when on the go. It also means that you won’t need to embrace dongles, as one older USB-A port can be used to connect USB drives, printers, and more.

Unless you need serious power, get a Surface Laptop 3

Microsoft Surface laptop 3
Joel Chokkattu / Digital Trends

Right now, the MacBook Pro is the only one of these options that’s available today. However, we’d recommend holding off until the Surface Laptop 3 launches on October 22. Based on the specs and pricing, the Surface Laptop 3 looks to be the more affordable route for those who just need additional screen real estate.

At the cheapest, the MacBook Pro 15 comes configured with a Core i7 processor, Radeon Pro graphics, 16GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD for $2,400. Configuring the Surface Laptop 3 to such a degree will be easier on your wallet, at almost half the price of a MacBook Pro.

The one exception is for content creators who need the extra power. The Surface Laptop 3 won’t be able to compete with the eight-core Core i9 and discrete graphics that the MacBook Pro can be configured with.

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