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Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 vs. MacBook Pro: Which Premium Laptop Wins?

Microsoft's new Surface Laptop 3 may not be a direct competitor to the MacBook Pro, but the new 15-inch model is sure to draw comparisons with Apple's flagship laptop. New this year, the 15-inch Surface Laptop 3 is an impressive laptop that sports a sleek design, a gorgeous display and powerful speakers. But the competition is tough; Apple's MacBook Pro is one of the best laptops around, due to its blazing speed, long battery life and attractive chassis.

Before we compare these machines, you should know that this isn't an apples-to-apples comparison. Microsoft built the Surface Laptop 3 to be portable first and powerful second, while Apple reversed those priorities when it designed the beastly MacBook Pro. So, while the Surface Laptop 3 isn't as powerful as the MacBook Pro, Microsoft's laptop has a more travel-friendly chassis. The Surface Laptop 3 is also a much more affordable laptop (see value section).

With those points in mind, here is how the new 15-inch Surface Laptop 3 stacks up against the 15-inch MacBook Pro.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 vs. MacBook Pro: Specs compared

 Microsoft Surface Laptop 3Apple MacBook Pro (15-inch) 
Price (Starting/as configured)$1,199 ($1,699)$2,399 ($6,549)
ColorsSandstone, Black, PlatinumSpace Gray, Silver
Display15-inch, 2496 x 166415.4-inch, 2880 x 1880
CPUAMD Ryzen 5 3580UIntel Core i9-9980HK
RAM16GB32GB
SSD256GB4TB
PortsUSB-C, USB 3.1 (Type-A), Surface Connect, headphone4 Thunderbolt 3, headphone
Battery Life (hrs:min)8:0010:21
Geekbench11,61231,012
Size13.4 x 9.6 x 0.6 inches13.8 x 9.5 x 0.6 inches
Weight3.4 pounds4 pounds

 

Design

Apple and Microsoft employed a similarly minimalist design in their respective laptops. The aesthetic emphasizes clean lines, open space and subtle branding.

The Surface Laptop 3 is a slim, aluminum slate adorned with a small, chrome Microsoft logo centered on the lid. Open the display, and you'll see the same clean, simplistic design on the bare deck. There is a refined elegance to the Surface Laptop's chassis, although some find it too spartan. If you're part of that group, consider the unique Sandstone or Black color options.

Swap the Microsoft logo with a bitten-off apple and you essentially have the MacBook Pro. Don't let me mislead you: Apple was the first to popularize the slim, aluminum slate; Microsoft is simply one of many copycats. As we said in our review, the MacBook Pro's design is both iconic and stale. As much as we've loved it over the years, we wouldn't mind a refresh next time around.

MORE: Which Surface Is Right for You? Pro X vs Pro 7 vs Laptop 3

Microsoft did a great job minimizing the weight of its 15-inch laptop. The Surface Laptop 3 weighs 3.4 pounds and is 0.6 inches thick, making it a good deal lighter than the MacBook Pro (4 pounds, 0.6 inches).

Winner: Surface Laptop 3

Buy the Surface Laptop 3

Ports

Minimalism shouldn't apply to ports. And yet, you'll need to buy a dongle or hub for either of these 15-inch laptops. 

The MacBook Pro comes with four Thunderbolt 3 ports and a headphone jack but omits the still-relevant USB Type-A input.

Microsoft outfitted the Surface Laptop 3 with only a USB-C (non-Thunderbolt 3), a USB 3.1 Type-A port and a headphone jack.

Winner: Draw

Buy the MacBook Pro 15-inch

Display

The Surface Laptop 3's 15-inch, 2496 x 1664-pixel touch-screen (with a 3:2 aspect ratio) and the MacBook Pro's 15.4-inch, 2880 x 1800 resolution (nontouch) displays are gorgeous. They're both bright, vivid and extremely sharp. As such, the quality of these displays is almost identical. But we'll give the nod to the Surface Laptop 3 for its touch sensitivity.

When I watched a trailer for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, a dense jungle planet looked lusher on the MacBook Pro, with deeper, more saturated green. On the other hand, Rey's face had more-natural, reddish tones on the Surface Laptop 3 compared to her slightly blown-out look on the MacBook Pro. The water in an ocean scene was a darker indigo on the Apple laptop, emphasizing the MacBook Pro's cooler white balance. Both panels are superdetailed; I could see small drops of rain form on Rey's face and all the lights and knobs on BB-8's cute, circular body.

Our display measurements give the MacBook Pro's panel a slight edge. According to our colorimeter, the MacBook Pro's display covers 114% of the sRGB color gamut, whereas the Surface Laptop 3's screen reached 101%. Both results fall below the 130% category average.

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Similarly, the MacBook Pro's display reached 403 nits of peak brightness, making that panel slightly brighter than the Surface Laptop 3's 380-nit screen. In this instance, both displays topped the category average (346 nits).

Winner: Surface Laptop 3

Keyboard and touchpad

As you might have already heard, the MacBook Pro's keyboard is a problem. It's one thing that the butterfly-style switches are very shallow, but the bigger issue is reliability. There have been enough reports of failing keys that Apple apologized for the problems and instituted a free repair or replacement service.

I actually don't hate how the Mac's keyboard feels. As I said, it's extremely shallow, but there is a nice clickiness to the keys and just the right amount of actuation force. Is the keyboard as good as the one on the Surface Laptop 3? Not quite. The Surface Laptop 3's keys, while shallow, offer a bit more travel and have a softer actuation that isn't as harsh on the fingertips.

I typed at 111 words per minute with a 93% accuracy rate on the 10fastfingers.com typing test using the MacBook Pro's keyboard, for a result that's almost identical to my 110 wpm at 93% accuracy on the Surface Laptop 3.

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The Surface Laptop 3's massive, 4.5 x 3-inch touchpad is dwarfed only by the gargantuan, 6.1 x 3.9-inch touchpad on the MacBook Pro. Both surfaces are smooth to the touch and responded quickly to my Windows 10 and macOS gestures.

Winner: Surface Laptop 3

Performance

This is a blow out. The MacBook Pro crushed the Surface Laptop 3 in every performance benchmark we test.

Before you dismiss the Surface Laptop 3, we should note that our exorbitantly priced MacBook Pro was equipped with an Intel Core i9-9980HK CPU and 32GB of RAM. With an AMD Ryzen 5 3580U CPU and 16GB of RAM, the more affordable Surface Laptop 3 didn't stand a chance. That being said, we expected more from the Surface Laptop 3.

On the Geekbench 4.1 overall-performance test, the MacBook Pro scored a 31,012. That's more than double what the Surface Laptop 3 (11,612) netted and much higher than the category average (13,767).

Our video-transfer test wasn't any closer. The MacBook Pro needed just 8 minutes and 10 seconds to convert a 4K video to 1080p resolution. On the Surface Laptop 3, that same task took 20 minutes and 33 seconds, which is only a few minutes faster than the category average (22:25).

This huge gulf in performance wouldn't have been so bad if Microsoft had equipped the Surface Laptop 3 with a fast hard drive. Alas, the 256GB SSD in our review unit was painfully slow, needing 18 seconds to duplicate 4.97GB of multimedia data at a rate of 282.7 megabytes per second. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the MacBook Pro's 4TB PCIe SSD reached a blistering rate of 2,610.8 MBps, several times faster than the category average (504.6 MBps).

Neither of these laptops is great for gamers, but that's for different reasons in each case. The Surface Laptop 3's integrated AMD Radeon Vega 9 graphics can play casual games but not AAA titles at high graphics settings. The MacBook Pro has a more-capable Radeon Pro Vega 20 GPU but is limited by how few games macOS supports.

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The Surface Laptop played the racing game Dirt 3 at 57 frames per second, whereas the MacBook Pro ran the title at a smooth 120 fps. The average premium laptop tops out at 61 fps on this game.

Winner: MacBook Pro

Battery life

We were disappointed when the Surface Laptop 3 lasted only 8 hours on our battery test, which involves continuous web browsing over Wi-Fi at 150 nits. The Surface's result is not bad by any measure, but the 15-inch MacBook Pro endured for 10 hours and 21 minutes, a couple hours longer than the premium laptop average (8:15).

Winner: MacBook Pro

Value and price

The 15-inch Surface Laptop 3 starts at a reasonable $1,299 when configured with a Core i5 CPU, 8GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD, but that price skyrockets once you upgrade storage and RAM capacity. Regardless, the Surface Laptop 3 is much cheaper than the 15-inch MacBook Pro. 

About those expensive upgrades: Boosting the Surface Laptop 3's storage capacity from 128GB to 256GB costs another $300, bringing the grand total to $1,499. The unit we reviewed was equipped with a Ryzen 5 3580U CPU, 16GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD and cost $1,699. The only model Microsoft sells with a Ryzen 7 CPU costs $2,099 and has 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD.

Sold on the MacBook Pro? Time to take out a loan. Apple sells the 15-inch MacBook Pro at a starting price of $2,399 (nearly the price of two Surface Laptop 3s) when configured with a Core i7 CPU, 16GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD and a Radeon Pro 555X GPU. We recommend upgrading the storage capacity to 512GB, which costs another $200.

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Other upgrades include a Core i9 CPU (+$300), 32GB of RAM (+$400), an AMD Radeon Pro Vega 20 GPU (+$350) and up to 4TB of storage (+$1,400). Our beastly, $6,549 review unit packed a Core i9-9980HK CPU, 32GB of RAM, a 4TB SSD and Radeon Pro Vega 20 graphics.

Winner: Surface Laptop 3

Overall winner: MacBook Pro (15 inch)

As the numbers show, the MacBook Pro is a better overall laptop than the Surface Laptop 3. The best reasons for buying the MacBook Pro over the Surface Laptop 3 (excluding OS preferences) are its best-in-class performance and much longer battery life.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 (15 inch)Apple MacBook Pro (15 inch)
Design (10)98
Ports (10)44
Display (15)1312
Keyboard/Touchpad (15)1211
Performance (20)1520
Battery Life (20)1518
Value (10)64
Overall (100)7477

That's not to say you shouldn't consider the Surface Laptop 3; that machine is simply meant for a different purpose. The MacBook Pro is an exorbitantly priced workstation replacement for running the most demanding programs, while the Surface Laptop 3 is a better travel companion because of its lightweight design. Still, if we had to choose between these and weren't on a budget, we'd go with the MacBook Pro.

Credit: Laptop Mag

Phillip Tracy is a senior writer at Tom's Guide and Laptop Mag, where he reviews laptops and covers the latest industry news. After graduating with a journalism degree from the University of Texas at Austin, Phillip became a tech reporter at the Daily Dot. There, he wrote reviews for a range of gadgets and covered everything from social media trends to cybersecurity. Prior to that, he wrote for RCR Wireless News and NewBay Media. When he's not tinkering with devices, you can find Phillip playing video games, reading, listening to indie music or watching soccer.