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Surface Laptop Go 3: Microsoft’s basic PC is all grown up

Three years ago, when the Surface Laptop Go made its debut, it appeared that Microsoft was striving to create the most budget-friendly notebook without compromising the distinctive Surface style. The outcome was a $549 computer with such meager specifications that I would hesitate to recommend it to anyone. However, for those willing to invest a bit more, it was possible to transform it into a compelling and compact PC, particularly suitable for students and users with modest demands. Now, with the Surface Laptop Go 3, Microsoft has shifted its focus away from delivering an ultra-cheap PC. Nevertheless, the outcome is a computer that holds far more appeal.

Priced at $799, the Surface Laptop Go 3 now features significant upgrades, including Intel’s 12th-gen Core i5 CPU, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD. However, for $999, you can take advantage of a notable improvement—16GB of RAM—marking a first for the Laptop Go series. Unlike the previous two models, which served well as secondary devices, potentially complementing a robust desktop setup, the Laptop Go 3 has the potential to serve as your primary PC, thanks to the enhanced memory capacity it offers.

Certainly, it’s disheartening to witness Microsoft abandon the aspiration of offering a sub-$500 Surface device. Yet, the initial model came equipped with a mere 4GB of RAM and 128GB of sluggish eMMC storage, offering a painfully slow user experience that no one should endure. The Surface Laptop Go 3, in contrast, draws parallels to Apple’s now-discontinued 12-inch MacBook—a delightfully compact machine with just enough power to facilitate productivity.

While the Laptop Go 3 may not exude the same level of luxury as the all-metal Apple machine, it comes close. It incorporates an aluminum top lid and keyboard deck, complemented by a sleek plastic bottom. Weighing in at a mere 2.5 pounds, it’s just slightly heavier than the 12-inch MacBook, yet lighter than Apple’s current slimmest notebook, the 2.7-pound M2 MacBook Air. The Laptop Go series has consistently leaned towards the characteristics of an oversized tablet rather than a conventional ultraportable, and this remains true for the current iteration. It effortlessly fits into my messenger bag, making it one of the most compact options available.

Microsoft achieved the compact form factor of the Laptop Go 3 primarily by designing it around a petite 12.4-inch screen, a choice that carries both advantages and disadvantages. On the positive side, Microsoft successfully adapted its Pixelsense technology to offer a display that boasts vibrant colors and ample brightness for outdoor visibility. However, the drawback is that the company has opted for an unusual sub-1080p resolution (1,536 x 1,024) to maintain cost-effectiveness.

This means that if you closely examine the screen, you may notice pixelation in text and images. However, in regular usage, this loss in sharpness may not be very apparent. Nonetheless, it can be frustrating to note that even the Surface Go 4, which is Microsoft’s slower and more budget-friendly tablet, boasts a 1080p screen. The Laptop Go 3 maintains the 3:2 aspect ratio of its predecessors, rendering it taller than the typical widescreen monitor and better suited for web browsing and productivity applications.

Despite my reservations about its screen, the Surface Laptop Go 3 remains an impressive PC given its price point. We evaluated the $999 model featuring 16GB of RAM, and it noticeably excelled in tasks such as launching applications, multitasking, and performing basic work when compared to the previous two models. I typically manage numerous browser tabs, Evernote, Slack, Spotify, and image editing applications simultaneously, and the Laptop Go 3 effortlessly kept pace with my demands.

Here’s a comparison of performance benchmarks for the Surface Laptop Go 3, Surface Laptop Go 2, and the original Surface Laptop Go:

– Laptop: PCMark 10 score of 4,785, Geekbench 5 single-core score of 1,430, multi-core score of 6,094, and a 3DMark Wildlife Extreme score of 2,810.

– Surface Laptop Go 2: PCMark 10 score of 4,213, Geekbench 5 single-core score of 1,349, multi-core score of 3,764, and a 3DMark Wildlife Extreme score of 2,799.

– Surface Laptop Go (original): PCMark 10 score of 2,122, Geekbench 5 single-core score of 1,135, multi-core score of 3,486. (Note: 3DMark score is not available for the original Surface Laptop Go.)

These benchmarks highlight the improved performance of the Surface Laptop Go 3 compared to its predecessors, particularly in PCMark 10 and Geekbench 5 scores. The newer model offers notably better processing power and capabilities.

The improved speed of the Surface Laptop Go 3 can indeed be attributed to Intel’s 12th-gen Core i5 CPU, which features 10 cores (2 performance and 8 efficient), representing a substantial advancement from the previous generation’s quad-core 11th-gen chip. While the PCMark 10 benchmark showed only a slight increase in performance, the Laptop Go 3 excelled in the Geekbench 5 multicore test, indicating a significant boost in real-world performance. While it may not be the ideal choice for intensive image editing tasks, the Laptop Go 3 managed batch editing tasks, such as resizing and watermarking, without any noticeable slowdown.

It’s worth noting that the chip upgrade doesn’t transform the Surface Laptop Go 3 into a gaming powerhouse, although it managed around 40 fps while playing Halo Infinite in 720p with low settings. Impressively, it handled Xbox cloud streaming smoothly, even during a busy launch event, demonstrating seamless wireless streaming of games like Need for Speed Unbound without connectivity issues. Furthermore, it performed exceptionally well while playing Lies of P at home, which served as a robust test of the Laptop Go 3’s networking hardware, especially when connected to a Wi-Fi 6 router.

Fortunately, Microsoft retained the best aspect of the Laptop Go line—the exceptional keyboard. The keys remain delightfully responsive and offer a satisfying depth, making them perfect for intense typing sessions. While the trackpad isn’t as expansive as those found on other laptops, it’s entirely adequate for web browsing and productivity tasks. Battery life remains commendable, with the Laptop Go 3 lasting 9 hours and 10 minutes in PCMark 1. Although this falls short of Microsoft’s estimated 15-hour battery life, it aligns with the performance of other recent ultraportables, such as the ASUS ZenBook S 13.

To enhance the Laptop Go 3’s utility, Microsoft could consider expanding its connectivity options. Currently, it offers just one USB Type A connection, a USB-C port, a headphone jack, and a Surface charge port. The addition of a few more USB ports would significantly boost its versatility (though it’s worth noting that it already surpasses the 12-inch MacBook, which had only one USB-C port and a 3.5mm headphone jack). At the very least, the inclusion of a microSD card slot for storing media would be a welcome addition.

With a starting price of $799, the Surface Laptop Go 3 firmly resides in the mid-range laptop category. The $999 model, equipped with 16GB of RAM, could even be considered a premium offering, particularly since you can acquire the M1 MacBook Air for the same price. In terms of raw processing power, Apple’s machine clearly holds the upper hand, albeit with a slightly heavier build at 2.8 pounds. In the realm of compact Windows competition, the Surface Pro 9, starting at $999 with 8GB of RAM, enters the scene. This device features a larger 13-inch PixelSense screen and a lighter weight of just 1.9 pounds.

Considering the limited availability of 12-inch Windows PCs, the Surface Laptop Go 3 undeniably stands out. Now, with a more robust processor and the option for 16GB of RAM, it transcends the realm of basic notebooks. Almost unintentionally, Microsoft has crafted one of the most appealing and compact mid-range laptops on the market. Those in search of a new ultraportable won’t be disappointed—just be prepared to overlook the screen’s limitations.


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