Posey's Tips & Tricks

Is it Worth Upgrading to the Surface Laptop Studio From Surface Book 3?

The new flagship Microsoft hardware comes with a mixed bag of improvements and downgrades.

Microsoft recently announced its Surface Laptop Studio, which is essentially a mashup between the Surface Book and the Surface Studio. If you haven’t seen this device yet, Microsoft has basically taken a Surface Book, done away with the removable screen and replaced it with an articulating screen that is similar to that of the Surface Studio.

The device serves as a compelling upgrade for anyone who is currently using the Surface Book 2. But what about upgrading from the Surface Book 3? The answer might surprise you.

The Surface Book 3 and the Surface Laptop Studio are both available in a variety of configurations, as illustrated in the chart below. In the interest of making an apples to apples comparison, I am going to base my commentary on the top-end configurations for both products.

Key Specifications:

Surface Book 3 Surface Laptop Studio
Screen 13.5 or 15 inch PixelSense Display 14.4 inch PixelSense Flow display with a 120 Hz refresh rate
Display Resolution 13.5 inch display: 3000 x 2000 (267 pixels per inch) 15 inch display: 3240 x 2160 (260 pixels per inch) 2400 x 1600 (201 pixels per inch)
Video Adapter Surface Book 3 13.5” Intel Core i5-1035G7 models: Intel Iris Plus Graphics Intel Core i7-1065G7 models: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1650 with Max-Q Design w/4GB GDDR5 graphics memory
Surface Book 3 15” Intel Core i7-1065G7 models: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1660 Ti with Max-Q Design w/6GB GDDR6 graphics memory
Intel Core i5 models: Intel Iris Xe Graphics
Intel Core i7 models: NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3050 Ti laptop GPU with 4GB GDDR6 GPU memory
CPU Surface Book 3 13.5” Quad-core 10th Gen Intel Core i5-1035G7 Processor Quad-core 10th Gen Intel Core i7-1065G7 Processor
Surface Book 3 15” Quad-core 10th Gen Intel Core i7-1065G7 Processor
Quad-core 11th Gen Intel Core H35 i5-11300H
Quad-core 11th Gen Intel Core H35 i7-11370H
Memory Surface Book 3 13.5” 8GB, 16GB, or 32GB 3733Mhz LPDDR4x
Surface Book 3 15” 16GB or 32GB 3733Mhz LPDDR4x
Quad-core 11th Gen Intel Core H35 i5-11300H
Quad-core 11th Gen Intel Core H35 i7-11370H
Disk Solid-state drive (SSD) options: 256GB, 512GB, 1TB, or 2TB PCIe SSD Removable solid-state drive (SSD) options: 256 GB, 512 GB, 1TB, 2TB

As you would expect, the Surface Laptop Studio does offer some higher-end hardware than the Surface Book 3. Its Intel CPU is a generation newer than that of the Surface Book 3 and it can be equipped with the Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 Ti  laptop GPU. By way of comparison, the top-end GPU for the Surface Book 3 is the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1660 Ti.

The Surface Laptop Studio also offers some other nice upgrades, such as quad Onmisonic speakers with Dolby Atmos and dual far-field studio mics. It also supports Bluetooth 5.1, whereas the Surface Book 3 supports Bluetooth 5 (both devices support Wi-Fi 6). You can find the full hardware specs here.  The Surface Book 3 specs are here

One of the biggest selling points (besides the device’s articulating screen) is that Microsoft has done a lot of work around the Surface Pen. Using the Surface Pen now supposedly feels more like writing on paper (I haven’t had a chance to try it myself yet). The device also has built-in storage and charging for the Surface Slim Pen 2.

So does the Surface Laptop Studio make for a compelling upgrade to the Surface Book 3? It really depends on how you plan on using the device. In some ways, I think of the Surface Laptop Studio as a minor upgrade to the Surface Book 3. In other ways however, I actually consider it to be a downgrade.

Before I explain why that is, I want to be fair by mentioning that the Surface Laptop Studio is, for all practical purposes, branded as a Surface Laptop -- Not a Surface Book. Microsoft has always differentiated between the two and it is entirely possible that we will see a Surface Book 4 next year. Even so, Microsoft’s recent Surface event made it seem as though the Surface Laptop Studio might be a Surface Book replacement, although they stopped short of actually saying so.

So why do I consider the Surface Laptop Studio to be a downgrade? The main reason is because it has a significantly lower display resolution than the Surface Book 3, which seems off for a device that is heavily focused on graphics. The Surface Laptop Studio has a display resolution of 2400 x 1600 and a pixel density of 201 pixels per inch. In contrast, the highest-end Surface Book 3 has a resolution of 3240 x 2160 with a pixel density of 260 pixels per inch. That is not an insignificant difference in resolution. The 15-inch Surface Book 3 has over 3 million more pixels than the Surface Laptop Studio (3,158,400 to be exact).

The Surface Laptop Studio also has a smaller screen than the 15-inch Surface Book 3 and it’s top end configuration has 2 GB less of video memory than what is available on the Surface Book 3 (4 GB compared with 6 GB on a top-end configuration). Presumably however, less video memory is required since there are fewer pixels. Incidentally, the Surface Laptop Studio does not support on screen use of the Surface Dial as the Surface Studio and the Surface Book do.

So does that mean that the Surface Laptop Studio is a total bust? No, I don’t think so. The higher end CPU and GPU combined with a lower resolution display are inevitably going to make the Surface Laptop Studio’s display super responsive. My guess is that the machine will be a really good fit for those who are looking for a gaming laptop.

And even though the Surface Laptop Studio doesn’t measure up to the Surface Book 3 in terms of video resolution, it’s still an impressive machine. It will likely be a really good fit for those who need a versatile laptop that can do just about anything. However, the Surface Book 3 will probably remain the better choice for creative professionals who do a lot of photo or video editing.

About the Author

Brien Posey is a 20-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.

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