The Surface Book is Microsoft's most expensive line of laptops by far. But if we can ignore the eye-watering prices for a moment, the huge appeal of these immensely powerful 2-in-1 devices is clear for everyone to see.
Microsoft has managed to make both laptop and tablet modes incredibly useful, something other convertibles have struggled with in the past.
However, with the Surface Book 2 having been launched back in 2017, we are due a successor. That device is ridiculously powerful even by 2020 standards, but there will undoubtedly be some upgrades on the way for what we assume will be called the Surface Book 3.
While the price tag will put it out of reach for many people, it offers an insight into what is possible in this sector. .
Until just recently when some benchmark results appeared on Geekbench (more on those in a sec) there were only a couple of shaky rumours about the putative Surface Book 3. They said that the device will come only in 15- and 16-inch models and with 16:9 4K displays.
The other rumour that they would have Skylake-E Core i9 chips is now almost certainly incorrect, not least because it's now 2020. New Geekbench entries, spotted by Twitter user _rogame feature the Core i7-1065G7, a quad-core, eight-thread, 10th-gen Ice Lake CPU. The screenshots graphics cards with the vendor name Microsoft, strongly hinting that a new laptop is in the works.
We did think the Surface Book 3 might make an appearance at Microsoft's hardware event back in October 2019, but instead the Surface Laptop 3 was unveiled alongside the Surface Pro 7 and Surface Pro X.
Now, all eyes are on the company's detachable tablet / laptop which offers high-performance options for those who need the extra grunt. Intel confirmed at CES that Tiger Lake is the next-gen CPU that you need to care about, and the same Twitter user reckons that another Geekbench result could well indicate a Tiger Lake processor is in the Surface Book 3.
The finds could be genuine, as it's only the Surface Book which has both integrated graphics and a separate dGPU that's housed in the detachable keyboard.
When is the Surface Book 3 release date?
The original was launched in 2015, with the Surface Book 2 being announced in October 2017. We assumed this might mean we'd see an update in late 2019, though no Surface Book 3 materialised at the October event.
The company is clearly in no hurry to launch products for the sake of maintaining an annual cycle. The main development was the introduction of a 15in model, and it would be surprising if the same two screen sizes aren't brought to the third-gen Surface Book.
The latest rumours point to the Surface Book 3 being released alongside the Surface Go 2 at a spring event. Microsoft hasn't said it will be releasing new hardware any time soon, so we could see the new products at the company's Build event, already confirmed for 19-21 May.
However, an official Microsoft update said its Surface supply chain has been 'more negatively impacted than previously anticipated' by the coronavirus outbreak. This is likely to cause significant delays to the potential release date of the Surface Book 3.
How much will the Surface Book 3 cost?
Using the current model as a basis, expect the next Surface Book to cost a similar amount. Don’t forget there are now two screen sizes, with the smaller 13.5in model starting at £1149/US$1199 .
You can’t have a 15in version with similar specs, so the cheapest model costs a wallet-pounding £2349/US$2499.
You’d hope the price of entry would come down if Microsoft offers both sizes again, but it may actually rise. But we hope that Microsoft can find a way to at least keep the base models at the same entry price. As it stands, many of the Surface Book configurations are eye watering, and sometimes more than the equivalent MacBook Pro.
What features & specs will the Surface Book 3 have?
There are a couple of things that are easy to predict. First, it will use a newer generation of Intel processor. And thanks to the Geekbench results spotted in January 2020, that's likely to be Ice Lake and possibly Tiger Lake chips. The GTX 1650 Max-Q and 1660 Ti Max-Q graphics chips are two favourites for the GPU.
The upgraded power could be partly so the Surface Book 3 can handle the latest VR and AR headsets. Oddly enough, the 15-inch Surface Book 2 has built-in support for the Xbox One wireless controller, despite Microsoft claiming it isn't a gaming machine (it can play high end games, though).
We’re also expecting Microsoft to give the Surface Book 3 at least one USB-C port supporting Thunderbolt 3. The current model does have a USB-C port, but it doesn’t support Thunderbolt which means you can’t hook up an eGPU or drive multiple monitors from the port.
The existing displays are fantastic, and it’s unlikely there will be any significant changes. The 3:2 aspect ratio is a signature of Surface devices, so although some might yearn for full 4K resolution, the displays have a sensible pixel density already, with the 15in model technically having a 2160p screen. It just doesn’t have enough pixels horizontally to show entire 4K video frames which are 3840 pixels wide.
As and when more rumours and leaks appear, we'll update this roundup.