What's the Best Microsoft Surface Laptop for You?

Struggling to spot the differences among the Surface Book, Surface Go, Surface Pro, and Surface Pro X? CR can help.

When you shop through retailer links on our site, we may earn affiliate commissions. 100% of the fees we collect are used to support our nonprofit mission. Learn more.

Surface laptops CR

In 2012, Microsoft released its first Surface device, a computer with a detachable keyboard and a screen that measured roughly 11 inches. It was designed to merge the productivity benefits of a laptop with the convenience of a touch-screen tablet.

This idea of two devices in one was new at the time but paved the way for Surface devices that have largely done well in our tests over the years.

But with six models now available—all with similar-sounding names, such as the Surface Go, Surface Laptop, and Surface Laptop Go (yes, those are three separate models)—it can be tough to know which is right for you.

More on Laptops

Are you a frequent traveler, or are you tethered to a desk most of the time? Do you need to regularly edit large photos and videos, or are you more of a Microsoft Word type of person? And do you plan on using your Surface to, say, watch Netflix or Amazon Prime Video in bed?

These are some of the questions you should be asking yourself to help narrow down your choices. In other words, think about what you plan to do with your Surface and go from there.

Below you’ll find a quick guide to the six Surface models in our ratings and whom we think they’re best for, listed in ascending order based on our ratings.

Microsoft Surface Go 2

Good for: Frequent travelers and consumers with basic needs.

You’d hope a laptop named the “Go” would be a good travel companion, and that’s exactly what you get here. It’s a 10-inch detachable that has somewhat modest specs, but it should be sufficient if your computing mostly revolves around simple tasks, such as browsing the web or editing Office documents.

There’s an Intel Pentium processor (Pentium is a notch below Intel’s Core processors in terms of power), 4 gigabytes of memory, and 64GB of solid state storage. If you’re familiar with Chromebooks, that’s a good way to think of the Surface Go 2: modestly powerful but sufficient for everyday use. And because it’s a detachable, you can physically detach the screen to make it easier to unwind with a bit of Netflix.

Microsoft Surface Book 3

Good for: Power users, video editors, and gamers.

What most distinguishes the Surface Book 3, a 13-inch detachable, from the rest of the pack is that you can push the specs, most notably the graphics card.

Unlike other Surface models, the Surface Book 3 can be configured with a dedicated graphics card (in this case from Nvidia). You can also have up to 32 gigabytes of memory and 1 terabyte of storage. Such power makes the Surface Book 3 particularly well-suited to more demanding tasks, such as editing ultra-high definition 4K video or playing higher-end games.

In other words, if you’re most concerned about raw power the Surface Book 3 should be at the top of your list.

Power aside, the Surface Book 3 is a 13.5-inch detachable whose battery lasted around 10 hours in our tests. That’s about average for a laptop of this size, which, combined with its weight of 3.4 pounds, makes it more suited to home or office use than life on the road.

Surface Laptop Go

Good for: Frequent travelers and students.

The newest member of the Surface family, the Surface Laptop Go is sort of a cross between the highly portable Surface Go and the more traditional Surface Laptop. Basically, think of it as the Surface model to get it you want something that’s particularly thin and light but don’t want a 2-in-1 convertible or detachable.

It has a 12.4-inch display and somewhat Chromebook-like specs (Intel Core i5, 4 gigabytes of memory, and 64GB of solid state storage) that are fine for midrange tasks, but you wouldn’t want to edit video or try to manage a large photo library with it.

Microsoft Surface Pro 7

Good for: Students, artists, and office professionals.

The Surface Pro 7, released in 2019, is similar to the Surface Laptop 3 in terms of specs, but it has the detachable keyboard. That means it can handle typical productivity work—and quickly convert to a high-tech sketchboard for use with the included Surface Pen.

Microsoft Surface Pro X

Good for: Frequent travelers and consumers with basic needs.

The Surface Pro X, which was released in fall 2019, is somewhat difficult to understand and explain.

It has a 13-inch display that can be physically detached from the keyboard. That makes it a good pick if you plan on using it like a digital sketchpad or tablet. It also has pretty good battery life, topping out at around 11 hours in our tests, making it a good travel companion.

Where things get tricky is its use of an ARM (as opposed to Intel) processor. Not only is this processor a little on the slow side compared with the Intel processors found in other Surface devices, but you may run into some software compatibility issues. Our testers, for example, couldn’t run certain antivirus software. Microsoft maintains a list of apps that might not run on the Pro X; be sure to consult it before purchasing this laptop.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 3

Good for: Students and office professionals.

This Surface is sort of like Apple’s MacBook Air: a good all-around laptop that puts reasonable power inside a thin-and-light package. Like the Air, it’s a traditional notebook, which means you can’t remove the keyboard or bend it behind the display to use as a tablet. As such it’s probably not a great pick if you’re into drawing with a stylus or taking digital handwritten notes using apps such as Microsoft OneNote.

The model we tested had an Intel Core i5 processor, 8 gigabytes of memory, and 256GB of solid state storage. That’s about average for a midrange laptop heading into 2021, but you’ll probably want more memory and storage space if you intend to regularly work with large photo and video files.

Headshot image of Electronics editor Nicholas Deleon

Nicholas De Leon

I've been covering consumer electronics for more than 10 years for publications like TechCrunch, The Daily (R.I.P.), and Motherboard. When I'm not researching or writing about laptops or headphones I can likely be found obsessively consuming news about FC Barcelona, replaying old Super Nintendo games for the hundredth time, or chasing my pet corgi Winston to put his harness on so we can go for a walk. Follow me on Twitter (@nicholasadeleon).