Microsoft launches Surface Laptop 4 with huge performance, battery life claims
Prices start as low as $999.
By Mark Hachman
PCWorldApr 13, 2021 8:05 am PDT
Microsoft announced the Surface Laptop 4 on Tuesday, offering a potent combination of performance upgrades and battery life improvements in the familiar 13.5-inch and 15-inch clamshell sizes, for prices as low as $999.
Unlike its predecessor, Microsoft’s Surface Laptop 4 now offers choices in both sizes between AMD’s Ryzen 4000 Mobile processors or Intel’s 11th-gen Tiger Lake Core chips. Microsoft promises up to 70 percent more performance versus the Surface Laptop 3, and even up to twice the performance of its predecessor under certain testing scenarios.
Another major upgrade users will see is battery life. Microsoft claims (according to its own metrics) that the Surface Laptop 4 will offer up to 19 hours of battery life, 7.5 hours more than the Surface Laptop 3. That would be the longest battery life of any Surface product Microsoft has shipped, according to the company.
Physically, the Surface Laptop 4 looks nearly identical to previous generations, in both the 13.5-inch and 15-inch versions. One external addition over the prior generation is a removable SSD port, though it’s not technically user-serviceable. “[The] hard drive is only removable by an authorized technician following Microsoft provided instructions,” Microsoft says. As for external materials, Microsoft will offer both the Alcantara fabric as well as the aluminum metal options we saw in the Surface Laptop 3, in color choices of Platinum, Matte Black, Sandstone, and Ice Blue.
All told, there are many combinations of Surface Laptop 4 options, from display size to color, memory, and storage. Prices range from $999 to $2,399. (Use our table of contents to skip ahead and see them all.) Most of the configurations (with a couple of exceptions) will begin shipping April 15. Microsoft will also provide a free pair of Surface Earbuds for everyone in the United States and Canada who preorders a Surface Laptop 4 before the 15th.
Surface Laptop 4: Internal specs give an edge to Intel’s Core
Early leaks suggesting that the Surface Laptop 4 would continue its tradition of offering both AMD Ryzen and Intel Core processors were spot on. Somewhat unfortunately, those reports also correctly predicted that AMD’s older Ryzen Mobile 4000 parts (reworked as part of Microsoft’s Surface Edition program) would take on Intel’s latest 11th-gen Core processors. Microsoft executives told us that’s because AMD’s Ryzen 5000 Mobile chips are being released now, while AMD and Microsoft began work on the Surface Edition version of the Ryzen Mobile 4000 chips a year ago.
Microsoft has worked before with AMD to custom-design Surface Edition chips. The Surface Laptop 4 includes both the Ryzen 5 4680U as well as the Ryzen 7 4980U—two chips that AMD hasn’t even announced. Microsoft hasn’t defined the spec of either chip, besides noting that the 4680U contains six cores, and that the 4980U contains eight cores. It’s likely, however, that the 4680U is an upclocked version of AMD’s 4600U (6 cores/12 threads, 2.3GHz base/4.0GHz boost), and the 4980U is an upclocked version of the 4800U (8 cores/16 threads, 1.8GHz core/4.2GHz boost). In part, that will explain some of the performance gains that Microsoft is making, as the Surface Laptop 3 used the Ryzen 5 3580U Radeon Vega 9 Surface Edition and the Ryzen 7 3780U Radeon RX Vega 11 Surface Edition—both quad-core chips.
The Intel versions of the Surface Laptop 4 offer another advantage: LPDDR4X (3,733MHz) memory, versus DDR4 (2,400MHz) for at least some of the Ryzen offerings. (The 32GB memory option is exclusive to the Core notebooks.) That faster memory could make Intel’s Core-powered Surface Laptop 4s the Surface Laptop to beat; however, AMD’s Ryzen 4000 Mobile chips demonstrated enormous performance gains over their predecessors, too. Also, in both the 13.5-inch and 15-inch models of the Surface Laptop 4, Microsoft estimates that Ryzen will now outlast Core in battery life: 19 hours versus 17 hours in the 13.5-inch model.
The Surface Laptop 4 should otherwise seem very familiar. The dimensions of the 13.5-inch (2256×1504) and 15-inch (2496×1664) models are identical to those of the Surface Laptop 3 generation. The displays are much higher-resolution compared to many other notebooks in their class, which tend to stick to 1080p. In the 15-inch space, the Surface Laptop 4’s resolution is lower than the 4K (3840×2160) offerings available. The Surface Laptop 4 weighs the same as the Surface Laptop 3, down to the gram. The physical dimensions are essentially identical.
Some things we disliked about the Surface Laptop 3 remain. The webcam is still rated at a ho-hum 720p resolution. Key travel is still 1.3mm, versus the 1.5mm of Laptops past. The USB-C port is still USB-C, not Thunderbolt. Microsoft executives told us that the company will continue to invest in universal connectors, whether USB-C or something else, but that they’re quite proud of the solid, magnetic Surface Connector, which has been a staple of the Surface lineup since the Surface Pro 3.
The battery life claims are stunning. The Surface Laptop 3 offered up to 11.5 hours of battery life. With the Surface Laptop 4, Microsoft’s claiming as much as 7.5 hours additional, all within a chassis that’s the same dimensions and weight as its predecessor. Microsoft promises over 17 hours from the 13.5-inch Surface Laptop 4, and 19 hours from the 15-inch version.
No matter which processor Microsoft’s Surface Laptop 4 has within it, a massive performance boost and battery life increase could make Microsoft’s latest laptop a contender. We’re eager to see what it can do.
Microsoft isn’t scrimping in its lowest-end configurations. There aren’t any Core i3 offerings, or versions with skimpy memory or SSD capacities. Every single configuration Microsoft is offering should provide enough performance and storage space for everyday work.
Previously, Microsoft divvied up various Ryzen-powered Surface Laptop 3 models between the Surface Laptop 3 for consumers, and left Intel’s 10th-gen Core “Ice Lake” chip for the Surface Laptop 3 for Business lineup. This time around, Microsoft’s offering Ryzen and Core chips in both of its consumer and Business lineups, in both the 13.5-inch and 15-inch sizes. Note this fundamental difference: The consumer offerings include Windows 10 Home, while the Business offerings include Windows 10 Pro.
Surface Laptop 4 (Consumer) available configurations
Ryzen 5/8GB RAM/256GB SSD: $999 (Platinum)
Ryzen 5/16GB RAM/256GB SSD: $1,199 (Platinum), available in two weeks