Gaming on the Surface Laptop 3

Posted on October 21, 2019 by Brad Sams in Hardware with 22 Comments

This week, Microsoft’s third-generation Laptop will become available and if you are planning to buy the more expensive 15in iteration, you may be wondering how it performs with a bit of casual gaming. And even if you were not curious, I was, so I downloaded a couple of titles and put the new hardware to the test.

For this experiment, I was using the 15in, AMD Ryzen 5 with Vega 9 GPU and 16GB of RAM. But I can tell you, neither the RAM nor the CPU was the bottleneck, it’s the GPU that was holding the scores back in every game that I played.

I know this because, using the Game Bar that is built into Windows 10, you can see your system perf in real-time. While the CPU was usually less than 50%, the GPU was maxed at 90% or above for testing of higher-end settings.

The short version is that it is possible to game on the hardware but not at optimal settings. If you lower the resolution and turn off many of the visual-enhancements, you can get 30-50FPS in games like Fortnite and Apex Legends.

For a raw data point, you can see the Time Spy score. At 916, the Laptop 3 is far from a  gaming machine but it’s worth pointing out that it was not pitched as one either. What you get with the Laptop 3 is a laptop that works as a casual gaming laptop when you are away from your primary device.

Where gaming on the Laptop 3 makes sense is when traveling, taking a controller with you to do a bit of gaming in a hotel room. Considering that I could get the framerates high enough, even with the lower settings, it could scratch the itch of needing to play your favorite FPS or racing game. It’s far from perfect and the GPU isn’t the best but it is viable.

The only ‘gaming’ hardware in the Surface lineup right now is the older Surface Book 2. That device is still on the docket for a refresh which means if you want a true mobile gaming laptop, you may be better off waiting for that hardware to be updated.

Of course, once Microsoft’s xCloud finally makes its way to the PC, this experience will only get better, provided your hotel as a fast enough connection.

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Comments (22)

22 responses to “Gaming on the Surface Laptop 3”

  1. Vladimir Carli

    Thank you. Gaming in hotel rooms is the main reason I am holding on to my SB2, which is excellent. Twisting the settings, it has been able to handle any game, including heavy titles as far cry 5, the Witcher 3 and GTA V. Is it known what will be the GPU on the "business" intel equipped version of surface laptop 3?

  2. codymesh

    Brad, try playing at sub 720p resolutions. I'm pretty sure at least Fortnite would run at that resolution. Also this laptop will handle titles like Overwatch and Rocket League just fine.

    If I recall correctly, Fortnite has an in-game render resolution scaler, separate from the display resolution. You can set the display resolution to something like 1280×800 while moving the render resolution down to 60-75%, the game will still look ok-ish but the performance will be light years ahead.

    In Apex it's the "Adaptive Resolution FPS Target" setting - you set the FPS, and the game engine will constantly adjust its internal resolution to try to hit the desired FPS.

    Due to the nature of integrated graphics, memory bandwidth limitations lends itself well to gaming only on lower resolutions.

    Also, does Microsoft allow users to access the AMD Radeon Settings control panel or do they omit it like they do with the Nvidia graphics on the Surface Book?

    • Thom77

      In reply to codymesh:

      I have an HP Envy 360 with Ryzen 7 and Vega 10 and it has access to the AMD Radeon Settings. There actually was an huge update to Radeon Settings, maybe 3 to 6 months ago that seems pretty broad, although i rarely mess with it. For what its worth, this laptop will run Madden 19 on lowest settings with no stuttering on gameplay and very slight occasional stutterings on cut scenes in between plays.

  3. davidblouin

    Almost miss out on this article because it's tagged laptop 3 instead of surface laptop 3 like the others !

  4. Daishi

    But the obvious question is, if gaming was a consideration, why would you buy this thing?

    I mean for the same price you could get an XPS15 with a stronger processor, more storage, more ports (including Thunderbolt 3), a 4K screen and a GPU that’s 4 times more powerful.

    In fact forget gaming, just in terms of overall functionality, why would anyone buy this overpriced, oversized Ultrabook?

  5. ngc224

    Microsoft is colluding with the tech media again. Microsoft doesn’t want to sell the AMD 15” Surface Laptop, but it’s a marketing game of relativity when manipulating “choice.” Windows Central (and others) play along because they don’t want to lose “Access” to Microsoft.

    If you ever read the book, predictably irrational by Dan Ariely, you know exactly what they’re doing here. Microsoft wants to steer people to the Intel versions for high performance (and probably larger margins).

    Just watch, all the reviews for the AMD 15” Surface Laptop will say, “Good, but not great. You should go with an Intel version.”

  6. martinusv2

    I guess the other Surface Laptop with Ryzen 7 and vega 11 will be better.

  7. BrianEricFord

    Narrator: “Your hotel won’t have fast enough wireless”

  8. Andi

    The AMD 2200G APU at 65W barely runs games on low settings let alone a 15W mobile CPU that occasionaly spikes to 25W.

    Brad, what is more curious are reports on this laptop you have right now not being able to play 4k videos without stuttering.

  9. ngc224

    Why are you whispering, Brad?

  10. ind1g0

    How did you know the GPU was at 90% when the game bar only tells you GPU VRAM usage? Anyone know why MS chooses to display VRAM % instead of GPU chip utilization % ???

  11. waethorn

    None of this class of products is suitable for decent gaming, due to the thermal constraints of thin-and-light machines. Just ask anybody that bought one of the new MacBook Pro's - the new models score lower productivity benchmark scores than last year's models.

    • Stooks

      In reply to Waethorn:

      This! My 2017 15 MBP, is a Throttle Book big time.

      I like 15inch laptops so I would have no problem with this as I know it is not a gaming laptop. Having AMD is a bonus IMHO.

  12. André Lopes

    "The only ‘gaming’ hardware in the Surface lineup right now is the older Surface Book 2. That device is still on the docket for a refresh which means if you want a true mobile gaming laptop, you may be better off waiting for that hardware to be updated."

    Question is, will it ever be updated? Do you know something we don't, Brad? ;) I personally had lost hope, after seeing them expand the whole line but leaving that one out.

    • Brad Sams

      In reply to evilish:

      My understanding is that it will be updated.

      • André Lopes

        In reply to brad-sams:

        Thank you for replying! Those are really great news - I have the original one and it's served me pretty darn well during my studies. The ability to grab a picture with the camera in the back and office lens of the powerpoint presentations my teachers would put up was awesome. Can't wait to see what they'll do with the 3rd generation.

  13. Scott Ross

    Thanks for the review, I was wondering how this would stack up for gaming. I guess its a pass for me, now on to find the unicorn that is a laptop for business, and gaming.