From www.pcmag.com

Microsoft Surface Laptop

Microsoft Surface Laptop 13-Inch (2024)

Bottom Line

With Qualcomm’s Arm-based Snapdragon CPUs, onboard Copilot AI, and improved connectivity, the latest Surface Laptop leads the charge as Microsoft ushers in a new era of PCs.

VS

Apple MacBook Air

Apple MacBook Air 13-Inch (2024, M3)

Bottom Line

The 2024 Apple MacBook Air laptop shoehorn more performance into its famously slim chassis while amping up monitor support and gaming capability. Naturally, its the best ultraportable Mac yet.

Table of Contents

Apple and Microsoft go together like oil and water—in other words, they really don’t go together at all. The latest battlefield in the clash between Windows and macOS is in ultraportable laptops. Redmond’s new 2024 Surface Laptops trade x86 processors for Arm-based silicon, pitting them directly against Cupertino’s latest MacBook Air models.

The new Surface Laptops represent the next phase of Microsoft and Qualcomm’s campaign to get Windows running on Arm chips as well as it does on AMD and Intel CPUs. Without getting hyperbolic, the Qualcomm Snapdragon X series is the best Windows on Arm has ever looked. Couple that with some extremely competitive pricing and features, and you have quite the challenge for the mainstay MacBook Air lineup.

Since 1982, PCMag has tested and rated thousands of products to help you make better buying decisions. See how we test.

Full Specs

Full SpecsMicrosoft Surface Laptop 13-Inch (2024)Apple MacBook Air 13-Inch (2024, M3)
Laptop Class
Laptop Class Ultraportable Ultraportable
Processor
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon X Plus Apple M3
Processor Speed
Processor Speed
RAM (as Tested)
RAM (as Tested) 16 GB 16 GB
Boot Drive Type
Boot Drive Type SSD SSD
Boot Drive Capacity (as Tested)
Boot Drive Capacity (as Tested) 256 GB 512 GB
Secondary Drive Type
Secondary Drive Type
Secondary Drive Capacity (as Tested)
Secondary Drive Capacity (as Tested)
Optical Drive
Optical Drive
Screen Size
Screen Size 13.8 inches 13.6 inches
Native Display Resolution
Native Display Resolution 2304 by 1536 2560 by 1664
Touch Screen
Touch Screen
Panel Technology
Panel Technology LCD IPS
Variable Refresh Support
Variable Refresh Support Dynamic None
Screen Refresh Rate
Screen Refresh Rate 120 Hz 60 Hz
Graphics Processor
Graphics Processor Apple M3 (10-core)
Graphics Memory
Graphics Memory
Wireless Networking
Wireless Networking Wi-Fi 7, Bluetooth 5.4 Wi-Fi 6E, Bluetooth 5.3
Dimensions (HWD)
Dimensions (HWD) 0.69 by 8.7 by 11.9 inches 0.44 by 11.97 by 8.46 inches
Weight
Weight 2.96 lbs 2.7 lbs
Operating System
Operating System Windows 11 Apple macOS Sonoma
Tested Battery Life (Hours:Minutes)
Tested Battery Life (Hours:Minutes) 21:38

[Editor’s Note: The above hardware specifications are only for the 13-inch models of each product. Also, the specs listed above for the MacBook Air reflect the version we fully tested for its review, not its starting loadout.]

Portability: It Doesn’t Get Much Thinner Than This

Apple and Microsoft have laser-focused on weight and thinness in their laptops. The incumbent 13.6-inch MacBook Air weighs 2.7 pounds and measures 0.44 inches when closed, while the 13.8-inch Surface Laptop is just a tad heftier at 2.96 pounds and 0.69 inches thin.

Apple MacBook Air closed

(Credit: Joe Osborne)

When you compare the 15-inch models, the MacBook Air is barely thicker than its smaller sibling (0.45 inch) and tips the scales at 3.3 pounds. Again, Apple out-trims Microsoft, as the 15-inch Surface Laptop is 0.72 inches thick and weighs 3.67 pounds.

Winner: MacBook Air


Components and Performance: A Spec Sheet Showdown

We must admit up front that we haven’t been able to run our standard benchmarks on the new Surface Laptops, which will be available on June 18. So, for now, this comparison will focus on each laptop’s internal hardware and claimed capabilities.

Luckily, Apple’s and Microsoft’s notebooks use the same respective processors for their 13- and 15-inch variants, so this contest is purely Apple M3 versus Qualcomm Snapdragon X Elite. The Apple processor is an eight-core CPU that operates at 4.05GHz, while the Snapdragon X Plus in the base 13.8-inch Surface Laptop runs at 3.4GHz with 10 cores. The Snapdragon X Elite, optional in the 13.8-inch and standard in the 15-inch Surface Laptop, is a 12-core chip clocked at 3.8GHz.

Apple focuses on driving faster frequency across fewer cores, whereas Qualcomm seems to favor slightly slower clock speeds with a higher core count. Which is the better approach? Only real-world testing will tell.

Microsoft Surface Laptop with three displays

(Credit: Brian Westover)

As for graphics performance, the Apple M3 is available with either an eight- or 10-core integrated graphics processor (IGP), but the company doesn’t publish specific output figures. Conversely, Qualcomm brags that the Snapdragon X Elite’s Adreno IGP is capable of up to 4.6 trillion floating operations per second (TFLOPS), but the company doesn’t reveal how many graphics cores its IGP silicon includes.

Now for the other side of performance: memory and storage. Apple equips its base-model MacBook Air laptops with 8GB of memory and a 256GB solid-state drive and lets buyers opt for up to 24GB of RAM and 2TB of storage. Microsoft’s baseline is 16GB of RAM, which can be doubled to 32GB, and a similar 256GB SSD, which can go up to 1TB.

While it’s too early to make a final call, Microsoft earns a point for bumping its base models to 16GB of RAM for the same price as before. Qualcomm’s focus on core counts over raw speeds might also see the Snapdragon chips win out in some key benchmarks and applications.

Winner: Surface Laptop (tentatively)


Battery Life: Which Laptop Lasts Longer?

Apple has often (and justly) bragged about its laptops’ battery life, rating the latest 13- and 15-inch MacBook Air M3 systems for up to 15 hours of wireless web browsing apiece. In our battery benchmark, which involves looping a locally stored video file, the two Airs lasted 21 hours and 38 minutes and 17 hours and 11 minutes, respectively.

Apple MacBook Air display

(Credit: Joe Osborne)

Again, we haven’t yet tested the new Surface Laptops, so we can only report Microsoft’s claimed runtimes: up to 13 hours of wireless web use for the 13-inch and up to 15 hours for the 15-inch model. (Microsoft also promises up to 20 and 22 hours of local video playback from the 13-inch and 15-inch models, respectively.) If those figures hold, the smaller MacBook Air may edge its 13-inch Surface rival, and the 15-inch laptops may be neck-and-neck. We’ll get to the bottom of this in formal testing, but it’s safe to expect 15-plus hours of video playback for all four of these Arm-based laptops.

Winner: Too early to tell


Display: Sharpness vs. Speed

Screen technology is another area on which Microsoft and Apple have lavished immense amounts of time and money, and it shows. Apple’s MacBook Air models flaunt the company’s famous Retina displays, LED-backlit in-plane switching (IPS) panels with a rated brightness of 500 nits. While the two 16:10 aspect ratio screens have different resolutions or pixel counts, each achieves 224 pixels per inch (ppi).

Microsoft Surface Laptop displays

(Credit: Brian Westover)

Microsoft has its own fancy name for the Surface Laptops’ 3:2 aspect ratio touch screens, PixelSense Flow. These are also LED IPS panels, not quite as sharp as Apple’s at 201ppi but twice as fast in refresh rate at 120Hz. (Apple reserves 120Hz refresh for its ProMotion MacBook Pro displays.)

Microsoft has yet to disclose the PixelSense Flow screens’ brightness in nits. Of course, their biggest differentiator from Apple’s displays is touch support.

At least for now, it’s impossible to suss out which manufacturer boasts the better screen. If you need the sharpest and perhaps brightest display available, you may favor Apple. Consider Microsoft if you want a higher refresh rate for smoother video playback and gaming.

Winner: Tie


Ports and Features: Microsoft Commands a Lead With Copilot

Connectivity is one area where the two rivals are evenly matched, with the Surface Laptop edging ahead. Microsoft made a minor sacrifice in thickness to fit more ports onboard.

Both the 13- and 15-inch MacBook Air feature two USB4 ports that support up to Thunderbolt 3 data-transfer speeds, system charging, and DisplayPort video output. Apple’s MagSafe power port and a 3.5mm audio jack are included, too. The Airs’ wireless networking follows the Wi-Fi 6E standard.

This is Microsoft’s time to shine. While the 13-inch Surface Laptop features a similar duo of USB4 ports plus an audio jack and the Surface Connect power port, it also includes a single USB Type-A port. The 15-inch model matches that and adds a microSD flash-card reader. In addition, both Surface Laptops connect wirelessly using Wi-Fi 7.

Microsoft Surface Laptop ports

(Credit: Brian Westover)

What makes this comparison interesting is that Apple reserves legacy connections such as SD card readers and HDMI monitor ports for its upscale MacBook Pro line. It gets even better for Microsoft regarding features, which boil down to operating system tools and functions. Besides offering touch screens, Microsoft might have an ace in the hole with Copilot. The latter is a ChatGPT-powered onboard AI chatbot that can carry out several tasks that previously required far more digital digging.

Apple’s MacBooks have Siri, of course, but that voice assistant is by no means a generative AI tool in the same way Copilot or even Google’s Gemini is. Rumor has it that Apple is working on catching up with the help of ChatGPT maker OpenAI, but the Surface Laptops hold the AI advantage for now.

Winner: Surface Laptop


Price: Surfacing a Strong Budget Play

This is the most straightforward comparison to break down because Microsoft has priced the new Surface Laptops directly against the MacBook Air incumbents. For the 13-inch Surface Laptop, you’ll pay $999.99 for a base model with 16GB of RAM and 256GB of solid-state storage, while the Cupertino camp charges $1,099 for half the memory and the same-size SSD. Both vendors’ 15-inch models start at $1,299 with 256GB of storage, though Microsoft again offers 16GB of memory versus 8GB.

The 13.8-inch Surface Laptop reaches a peak of $2,399.99 for a Snapdragon X Elite model with 64GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD. A comparable configuration of the 15-inch model costs $100 more.

Microsoft Surface Laptop lids in a row

(Credit: Brian Westover)

If you want to throw money at Apple instead, a fully loaded 13.6-inch MacBook Air costs $2,299 with 24GB of memory and a 2TB SSD. The 15-inch version has the same memory and storage ceilings and peaks at $2,499.

While Windows 11 and macOS indeed have different memory requirements, it’s hard to refute Microsoft’s value play here, with 16GB of RAM as standard (and coincidentally the new minimum for handling AI tasks). Plus, Microsoft was smart in bringing the entry-level model in $100 below the competition (although Apple still sells a MacBook Air M2 for $999).

Winner: Surface Laptop


Early Verdict: Watch Out, Apple…Microsoft and Qualcomm Have You in Their Sights

While we can’t pass final judgment without thoroughly testing the new Surface Laptops, it’s clear that Microsoft has been working hard on its latest attempt to upset the Apple cart. The attack is three-pronged: price, hardware capacity, and features. 

Not only is the 13.8-inch Surface Laptop cheaper than the 13.6-inch MacBook Air M3, but the 15-inch Surface Laptop matches the price of the 15-inch MacBook Air. Microsoft’s higher standard memory and Copilot AI functionality buoy this aggressive pricing. Suffice it to say that Apple has its work cut out for it. We’re looking forward to seeing exactly how things shake out as soon as we get the Surface Laptop into PC Labs for testing.

Weekly Apple Brief for the latest news, reviews, tips, and more delivered right to your inbox.”,”first_published_at”:”2021-09-30T21:09:59.000000Z”,”published_at”:”2021-09-30T21:09:59.000000Z”,”last_published_at”:”2021-09-30T21:09:53.000000Z”,”created_at”:null,”updated_at”:”2021-09-30T21:09:59.000000Z”})”>

Apple Fan?

Sign up for our Weekly Apple Brief for the latest news, reviews, tips, and more delivered right to your inbox.

This newsletter may contain advertising, deals, or affiliate links. Subscribing to a newsletter indicates your consent to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. You may unsubscribe from the newsletters at any time.

[ For more curated Computing news, check out the main news page here]

The post Microsoft Surface Laptop vs. Apple MacBook Air: Which Arm-Based Laptop Should You Buy? first appeared on www.pcmag.com

New reasons to get excited everyday.



Get the latest tech news delivered right in your mailbox

You may also like

Subscribe
Notify of
0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

More in computing