The new-for-2021 Surface Go 3 budget Windows tablet is much like the Surface Go 2, barring the option for a ticked-up Intel Core i3 processor. Is that reason enough to favor one over the other?
Microsoft’s entry-level Surface Go tablet improved by leaps and bounds from the first generation to the second one, and now it’s back for a third "go at the Go," in the form of the Surface Go 3.
Not a whole lot has changed in this newest revision, which is a good thing, since the Surface Go 2 is already a solid work-from-home (and idle-time) choice among Windows tablets. Both tablets look the same, and they share the same starting price starting from SGD$599. The cost makes them especially attractive to bargain hunters put off by the $1,400-plus prices of Microsoft’s flagship Surface Pro 8. But there’s one key difference between the Surface Go 3 and its Go 2 predecessor: the CPU. Let us explain.
A Power-Sipping Processor Update
The new Surface Go 3, which is now available for pre-order, offers your choice of a Pentium Gold 6500Y processor (at the starting price) or a 10th Generation Intel Core i3-10100Y (at $928). Neither of these is particularly cutting-edge. (Intel’s latest Core CPUs are from the 11th Generation, dubbed "Tiger Lake.") But they’ll get the job done easily enough on an inexpensive tablet that you probably won’t use to browse the web with more than a tab or two open at a time.
Meanwhile, the Surface Go 2 features two older CPU options: a Pentium Gold 4425Y processor, or an 8th Generation Core m3 in the up-ticked configuration. While we found that the Core m3 in our Surface Go 2 review unit offered greatly improved performance compared with the original Surface Go, it’s now showing its age as a relatively outdated piece of silicon.
The Microsoft Surface Go 3, which has a new Core i3 CPU option, can be used with or without a keyboard.
The Y-series Core i3 that makes up the Surface Go 3’s upper-level configuration serves the same purpose as the Core m3 in the previous tablet. Both are designed to use even less power than the most efficient laptop CPUs, which typically are rated to use at least 15 watts. The Core i3-10100Y instead uses just 5 watts in standard operation, and can be configured by the tablet manufacturer to run on as little as 3.5 watts if you’re not performing particularly demanding workflows.
The Surface Go 3 is small and light enough to be held in one hand, and it can be paired with an optional digital stylus and keyboard cover.
While the 8th Generation Core m3 and the 10th Generation Core i3 are both based on Intel’s "Amber Lake" microarchitecture, the Core m3’s power range is significantly narrower. It consumes a minimum of 4.5 watts. While a single extra watt might not sound like much of a difference, if you frequently perform low-intensity tasks like editing a document or checking email that only require minimum CPU use, the Core i3’s additional efficiency could afford much longer battery life.
Indeed, Microsoft claims that the Surface Go 3 can last for up to 11 hours on the battery, an hour longer than the Surface Go 2. The company defines its battery-life testing as the following three elements:
Almost Nothing Else Has Changed
Other than the new Core i3 option, the Surface Go 3’s other specs remain essentially unchanged. It’s the same size as the Go 2, with the same screen, memory, and storage options. There is currently no LTE version of the Surface Go 3, but based on past product cycles, Microsoft will likely add one soon.
That means choosing between them is quite simple. If you’re looking to buy a Surface Go for the first time, or you are upgrading from the first-generation Surface Go, choosing the latest Core i3-powered Go 3 is a no-brainer, since you get the benefit of a more efficient processor for the same price as the equivalent Core m3-powered Go 2.
On the other hand, with everything else remaining the same, there’s little reason for anyone who currently has the Go 2 to upgrade now.
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