Surface Laptop 4 vs Surface Book 3: Showdown of the Microsoft notebooks!

Surface Laptop 4 vs Surface Book 3: Showdown of the Microsoft notebooks!

Microsoft makes two different laptops — the Surface Laptop 4 and the Surface Book 3. Moreover, they both come in 13.5- and 15-inch sizes with 3:2 screens. They’re both premium PCs, and it’s hard to say one is better than the other. As usual, Microsoft makes different PCs for different use cases, and we’re here to compare and get to a conclusion on which device suits which needs better!

Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 and Surface Book 3: Specifications

Surface Laptop 4 13.5Surface Laptop 4 15Surface Book 3 13.5Surface Laptop 3 15
CPUIntel Core i5-1135G7
Intel Core i7-1185G7
AMD Ryzen 5 4680U Surface Edition
Intel Core i7-1185G7
AMD Ryzen 7 4980U Surface Edition
Intel Core i5-1035G7
Intel Core i7-1065G7
Intel Core i7-1065G7
GPUIntel Iris Xe
AMD Radeon
Intel Iris Plus Graphics
Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 with Max-Q Design 4GB GDDR5
Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660 Ti with Max-Q Design 6GB GDDR6
Body12.1×8.8×0.57” (308x223x14.5mm)13.4×9.6×0.58” (339.5x244x14.7mm)Core i5: 12.3×9.14×0.51-0.90″ (312x232x13-23 mm)
Intel Core i7: 12.3×9.14×0.59-0.9″ (312x232x15-23mm)
13.5×9.87×0.568-0.90″ (343x251x15-23mm)
WeightAlcantara – 2.79 pounds (1,265g)
Aluminum – 2.84 pounds (1,288g)
Aluminum – 3.4 pounds (1,542g)Core i5: 3.38 pounds (1,534g)
Core i7: 3.62 pounds (1,642g)
4.2 pounds (1,905g)
DisplayScreen: 13.5” PixelSense Display
Resolution: 2256 x 1504 (201 PPI)
Aspect ratio: 3:2
Surface Pen enabled
Touch: 10 point multi-touch
Screen: 15” PixelSense Display
Resolution: 2496 x 1664 (201 PPI)
Aspect ratio: 3:2
Surface Pen enabled
Touch: 10 point multi-touch
Screen: 13.5” PixelSense Display
Resolution: 3000 x 2000 (267 PPI)
Aspect ratio: 3:2
Contrast ratio: 1600:1
Touch: 10 point multi-touch G5
Screen: 15” PixelSense Display
Resolution: 3240 x 2160, (260 PPI)
10 point multi-touch G5
Aspect ratio: 3:2
Contrast ratio: 1600:1
Memory8GB, 16GB or 32GB LPDDR4x RAM16GB or 32GB LPDDR4x
StorageRemovable SSD: 256GB, 512GB, or 1TB256GB, 512GB, or 1TB PCIe SSD256GB, 512GB, 1TB, or 2TB PCIe SSD
BatteryBattery Capacity Nominal (WH) 47.4
Battery Capacity Min (WH) 45.8
55WHr in base
18WHr in tablet
59.9WHr in base
22.8WHr in tablet
Cameras, video, and audioWindows Hello face authentication camera (front-facing)
720p HD f2.0 camera (front-facing)
Dual far-field Studio Mics
Omnisonic Speakers with Dolby Atmos
Windows Hello face authentication camera (front-facing)
5.0MP front-facing camera with 1080p HD video
8.0MP rear-facing autofocus camera with 1080p HD video
Dual far-field Studio Mics
Front-facing stereo speakers with Dolby Atmos
Ports(1) USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C
(1) USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A
(1) Surface Connect
(1) 3.5mm audio
(2) USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A
(1) USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C
(1) 3.5mm audio
SDXC card reader
Surface Connect port on base and on tablet
ConnectivityWi-Fi 6: 802.11ax compatible
Bluetooth Wireless 5.0 technology
SecurityTPM 2.0 chip for enterprise security and BitLocker support
Enterprise-grade protection with Windows Hello face sign-in
ColorsPlatinum, Matte Black, Sandstone, Ice BluePlatinum, Matte BlackPlatinum
MaterialAluminumMagnesium
OSWindows 10 Home
PriceStarts at $999.99Starts at $1,299.99Starts at $1,599.99Starts at $2,299.99

Design: The Surface Book 3 has an extra USB port and a detachable display

When the original Surface Book was introduced in 2015, it came on the heels of people asking for a Surface laptop. At that time, Microsoft’s only PC was its Surface tablets. Panos Panay showed the sizzle video at an event in New York City, and when the video ended, he actually had the whole crowd watch it again. This time, the top popped off the base. It was a magical product introduction.

Surface Book 3 with display detached and Surface Laptop 4

But that’s key to what the Surface Book 3 is. It’s a computer with a detachable display, as opposed to the Surface Pro 7, which is a tablet with an attachable keyboard. The Surface Book 3 is very top-heavy. That’s because all of the guts are in the display. That includes the CPU, RAM, storage, and one of two batteries. When you take the display off, it has to remain fully functional.

The Surface Laptop 4 is simply a notebook. The screen doesn’t detach at all, and there are still pros and cons to this. The Laptop isn’t so top-heavy. All of the guts of the Laptop 4 are in the base, as they tend to be on most laptops.

This is where the two key use cases come in. If you’re planning to simply use it as a laptop, you’re better off with the Surface Laptop 4. If you need to detach the display and use it as a tablet, that’s when you go for the Surface Book 3. In fact, that’s one of the few reasons to buy the Surface Book 3 over the Surface Laptop 4.

The Surface Laptop 4 also comes in more colors. The aluminum notebook comes in Platinum, Matte Black, Ice Blue, and Sandstone, although the 15-inch version only comes in the former two colors. The Surface Book 3 comes in any color you want, as long as it’s Platinum (for those that didn’t get the sarcasm — it comes in only one color).

Display: The Surface Laptop 4 has a lower pixel density

One of the reasons I wanted to put these two laptops side-by-side is that they both have the same sized displays. They’re both offered in 13.5- and 15-inch flavors, which is fine. One thing which we’ll talk more about in a bit, is that you get more power with the larger Surface Book 3. That’s not the case with the Surface Laptop 4.

Surface Laptop 4 and Surface Book 3 front view

The key difference between the two screens is the pixel density. The Surface Laptop 4 is 201ppi, while the Surface Book 3 is 267ppi. I don’t think that Microsoft has ever given a proper reason why the Laptop has a lower pixel density, but I suspect it thinks that you may end up holding a tablet closer to your eyes. In general, screens that we hold closer to our eyes tend to have higher pixel densities.

For the general use cases, I really think either one is fine. I’ve never observed the Surface Laptop’s screen to be pixelated while I was using it. If it’s a matter of holding a tablet, that’s not something that matters with the Laptop. Once again, it comes down to how you plan on using it.

Keyboard: The Surface Laptop 4 comes with Alcantara if you want it

As far as the differences between the keyboards themselves go, there’s not much of a story to tell. They’re both backlit, and they both feel similar to type on. The keys on the Surface Laptop 4 are more plasticky, but that’s about it.

Surface Laptop 4 and Surface Book 3 keyboards

The touchpad is actually significantly larger on the Surface Laptop 4. Microsoft tends to redesign or refine Surface products in the third generation, and that’s when the touchpad was enlarged on the Surface Laptop. The Surface Book 3 didn’t get the same treatment.

Surface Laptop 4 and Surface Book 3 keyboards

The other key difference is that the Surface Laptop 4 is available with an Alcantara keyboard on the 13.5-inch model. It’s only on the Ice Blue and Platinum versions. The rest are straight-up aluminum.

Personally, I really like the Alcantara, but it requires additional maintenance. You’ll need to keep it clean so it doesn’t stain.

Performance: The Surface Book 3 has a dedicated GPU

Aside from the form factor, performance is the biggest differentiator between the Surface Laptop 4 and the Surface Book 3. The Surface Book 3 actually includes a dedicated GPU in the base. It’s an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 with 4GB GDDR5 in the 13.5-inch model and a GTX 1660 Ti in the 15-inch variant.

That’s a big power boost, especially in the larger Surface Book 3. Being that the GPU is in the base, you lose that extra power if you detach the screen. Once that happens, it relies on the integrated Iris Plus Graphics.

Surface Laptop 4 and Surface Book 3, closed

Yes, the Surface Book 3 still has 10th-generation Intel processors. They’re U-series as well. Since it’s marketed as a powerhouse, you might be assuming that it has a 45W processor or something. It doesn’t. The 13.5-inch model has a 15W U-series processor, while the 15-inch version has the same processor but with the TDP boosted to 20W.

The Surface Laptop 4 uses the same class of processors but from a newer family. It comes with Intel’s 11th-gen chips, which come with the much more powerful Iris Xe graphics. In other words, it won’t match the dedicated GTX 1660 Ti in the 15-inch Surface Book 3, but it will smoke the integrated graphics when you detach the screen.

It’s also worth noting that the Surface Laptop 4 is offered with AMD Ryzen 4000 processors as well. They’re built on a 7nm process, and they’re pretty great. But while Ryzen 4000 easily beat out Intel’s 10th-gen chips last year, AMD is up to Ryzen 5000 now.

Conclusion: Should you buy a Surface Laptop 4 or a Surface Book 3?

The Surface Laptop 4 is something that we’ve already recommended in our review. We’ve praised its predecessor, as it made out best laptops with Windows Hello list and best AMD Ryzen laptops list. It’s a great all-around laptop, as long as you don’t need Thunderbolt.

Surface Laptop 4 on top of Surface Book 3

The Surface Book 3, on the other hand, is a bit of a weird egg. In order for it to be worth the exceptionally high price that Microsoft sells it for, you really have to need what it offers. The two key things are the detachable display and the dedicated GPU. If you don’t need either one of those, there are better options in the vast Windows hardware ecosystem.

That doesn’t make the Surface Book 3 a bad choice. In fact, it’s still a very good choice. That just makes it an expensive choice. But when choosing between the two PCs, you should be clear on what you need. If you need a clamshell laptop, that’s when you get the Surface Laptop 4. If you want a convertible with a lot of power, go for the Surface Book 3.

    Surface Laptop 4
    The Surface Laptop 4 comes with a choice of Intel and AMD processors, four colors, and an Alcantara keyboard.
    Surface Book 3
    The Surface Book 3 has Intel Ice Lake processors, Nvidia graphics, and a detachable screen.
    Surface Pen
    The Surface Pen is an add-on accessory for Microsoft Surface devices, proving to be a valuable stylus for precision touch input.

About author

Rich Woods
Rich Woods

Managing Editor for XDA Computing. I've been covering tech from smartphones to PCs since 2013. If you see me at a trade show, come say hi and let me ask you weird questions about why you use the tech you use.