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Repairability fiends crack open a Surface Laptop 3: Nice SSD, but shame about the battery

Microsoft's new baby takes big step forward in servicing stakes

Microsoft has made much of its return to the days when hardware could be upgraded, but it still has a little way to go – as screwdriver-botherers at iFixit appear to have discovered with the Surface Laptop 3.

At the company's NYC hardware event, Surface boss Panos Panay whipped off the keyboard of a Laptop 3 without requiring knives, hot air or suction cups. However, though it's easy to get into and to swap the SSD, there have been one or two missed opportunities.

iFixit took their screwdrivers to the 15-inch Surface Laptop 3, featuring an AMD Ryzen 5 3580U CPU and Radeon Vega 9 graphics, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB removable SSD.

We got some hands-on time at an event in London and came away impressed with the new metal finish and general speed. Sadly, we didn't get to open one up, and when we asked if the battery was as equally replaceable as the SSD, there was a good deal of foot shuffling and "we'll get back to you on that" mutterings.

2017's Surface Laptop scored a dismal 0 out 10 as the iFixit team pretty much destroyed the computer on their way in. Things are considerably better this time around with a set of Torx Plus screws hidden under the feet which, once removed, allow the top of the laptop to be taken off. Just as Panay demonstrated.

The team found a single flex cable attaching the keyboard unit to the base, the connector of which was secured by a magnet and... that was pretty much it. Magnets also feature on the top cover, but things remain highly user-accessible. And that much-vaunted replaceable SSD? Held in by a single Torx Plus screw and so easily swapped out by a PFY.

The good news carried on as the gang continued to rip into the unfortunate laptop, easily removing the heatsink to expose the chippery within. Getting the screen off is trickier, requiring the disconnection of non-modular flex cables, but after a few more screws the motherboard was lifted out, exposing the CPU and, that 8GB of resolutely soldered-on – and very not-upgradeable – memory.

More bad news came with the discovery that while Microsoft has taken huge strides in repairability elsewhere, the 45.8Wh battery has, as iFixit put it, "the same miserable removal process" and is firmly stuck in place. Not so much screwdriver action this time, just lots and lots of solvent to release the thing.

It's a shame because the Surface Laptop 3 is a colossal stride in the right direction otherwise. But a hard-to-change battery does limit the life of the machine somewhat.

The iFixit crew awarded the Surface Laptop 3 5 out of 10 overall, giving kudos to the "dramatic improvement" in getting inside and that replaceable SSD, but knocking points off for the use of Torx Plus screws and the intricate construction within. And, of course, the decision to stick the battery in place gets a stern finger-wagging.

Having got our talons on one, we're surprised that something so svelte can be made quite so easy to get into. Certainly, the chassis doesn't give away any clues. Others (cough – Apple – cough) could learn a thing or two from the Windows giant's approach.

Now, about that battery... ®

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