Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 15-inch overview: large screen, large battery life

On paper, the Surface Laptop 4 is a Surface Laptop 3 with better chips.

In appearance and feeling very little has changed from the previous generation. Sure, there and there are differences: the Laptop 4 is getting thinner and thinner and there’s a new “Ice Blue” color option. But you get the same 3: 2 touch screen, the same port selection and the same design.

The big changes are on the inside. You can configure both the 13.5-inch and 15-inch Surface Laptop models with Intel’s 11th-generation processors or AMD’s Ryzen 4000 processors. Microsoft has promised that these improvements would deliver significantly better performance and battery life than the previous Surface generation.

This review will therefore mainly focus on the performance of the new system. But my priority was not to compare the 15-inch Surface Laptop 4 we received with its predecessor. For one, the Laptop 3 set a beam with low performance – it has a moderate battery life and could not even play a 4K 60FPS video without stuttering, so even a capable laptop would blow it out of the water . But more importantly, there is another company out there that recently made a major chip upgrade to its flagship models, leaving most other 2020 chip upgrades in the dust: Apple with its M1 on its arm. So, my big question when we look at AMD’s new Ryzen 7 Surface Edition (also known as the AMD Ryzen 7 4980U Microsoft Surface Edition, because it is natural) is: Does it beat Apple’s M1?

The answer is no. For the most part, it’s still not that good. But that may not matter to Surface Laptop 4 buyers – at least not yet.

First, a quick tour of the Ryzen 7 Surface Edition. This chip is not AMD’s top gun; it is part of the Ryzen 4000 generation, and the Ryzen 5000 mobile series has been around for several months now. It’s a bit disappointing to see that the Surface still uses the older Ryzen chips, as much of the new generation is based on a new architecture (Zen 3, in the 4000 series’ Zen 2) that gains performance gains delivered.

This, of course, does not make the Ryzen 7 4980U a bad chip. Ryzen 4000 chips surpass Intel’s 10th generation Comet Lake processors. The 4980U in particular has eight core points and AMD’s excellent Radeon integrated graphics. Note that the M1 also has eight core points, but the core points were not created equal. An easy way to think about it is that AMD’s chip has eight all-encompassing good cores, while Apple’s chip has four high-performance cores and four weaker cores. You can see that the difference is reflected later in our benchmark results.

In addition to the processor, the 15-inch Surface Laptop 4 I checked has 16GB of RAM and 512GB of storage. It costs $ 1,699. The most comparable M1 MacBook Pro is also $ 1,699. If you do not want to spend that much, you can get the 15-inch laptop 4 for as low as $ 1,299 for 8 GB of RAM and 256 GB of storage , which puts the neck in the neck with the entry-level MacBook Pro, but with a larger screen. The 13.5-inch laptop 4 is priced closer to the fanless MacBook Air, starting at $ 999 for a Ryzen 5 4680U, 8 GB RAM and 256 GB storage. Then there are the Intel models. You can get a 13.5-inch system with a Core i5 from $ 1,299 (also with 8 GB of RAM and 512 GB of storage), and a 15-inch system with a Core i7 from $ 1,799 (16 GB RAM, 512 GB storage). This is all confusing, so I recommend that you visit Microsoft’s website yourself to mix and match.

The Surface Laptop 4 seen 15 inches from above.

The 13.5-inch model is available in Platinum, Ice Blue Alcantara, Matte Black and Sandstone. The 15-inch comes in Platinum and Matte Black.

To see how our test system stacked up, I ran various synthetic benchmarks, as well as a 5-minute, 33-second 4K video output in Premiere Pro. See the results below:

Surface Laptop 4 15-inch Dimensions

Benchmark Score
Benchmark Score
Cinebench R23 Multi 8144
Cinebench R23 Single 1242
Cinebench R23 Multi is for 30 minutes loop 8077
Geekbench 5 CPU Multi 7028
Geekbench 5 CPU Single 1163
Geekbench 5 OpenCL / Compute 14393
PugetBench for Premiere Pro 176

The system is a huge improvement over the Surface Laptop 3. It took 16 minutes and 33 seconds on the video output, where the predecessor took three hours. (16:33 is a slower time than what we saw from many Intel models, but this is expected because AMD chips do not support Intel’s Quick Sync.) The Laptop 4 also beats multi-core synthetic results that we Intel’s top saw Tiger Lake chips in the MSI Prestige 14 Evo and the Vaio Z, as well as the 16-inch Intel-based MacBook Pro,

The 15-inch Surface Laptop 4 half open on a picnic table, seen from above.

Intel models achieve a quad-core Core i7-1185G7.

But the more interesting comparison is with the M1 machines. The Surface Laptop 4 beats both the MacBook Pro and the MacBook Air on Cinebench R23 Multi, and just the task – it loses both machines during every other test we performed, including all three Geekbench tests, the Puget for Premiere Pro benchmark and the Premiere Pro export. It may seem confusing, but (again) it makes sense when you think of the architecture of both slides – the Ryzen slide performs better with the task where it can show all eight of its powerful cores. This indicates that you will do well with the Surface Book if you work hard with multicore work, where you are more suited to the M1 if you are mainly doing something else.

Of course, this is by no means the whole story. The reality is that most people who want a 15-inch screen probably do not mind if there is a 13-inch machine that performs better. And the MacBook that is comparable in size – the MacBook Pro 16 – is significantly more expensive than the Surface Laptop 4 and has older Intel chips. Why then do I compare this device to M1 systems? I really set this laptop against an imaginary 16-inch M1 MacBook Pro, which (according to rumors) will launch sometime in the third quarter of this year. Given the results I see here, the release of such a machine will make the Surface Laptop 4 a harder purchase to justify.

It is said that there are two major advantages that the Ryzen-powered Surface Laptop 4 could quite possibly have more than a 16-inch M1 MacBook. The first is battery life. I used this device for an average of 10 hours and 52 minutes as my primary driver, which is one of the best battery life I have ever seen from a 15-inch laptop, and one of the best results I get from a laptop this year. It beats both the M1 MacBooks, and also destroys the 16-inch Intel MacBook. If there’s one area where Microsoft really does matter, it’s here.

The Laptop 4 also stops the cooling out of the park. The fans of the Laptop 4 did an excellent job of cooling the system. During my fairly standard multitasking office (including about a dozen Chrome tabs, Spotify streaming and the like), the chassis stayed straight cold. During the more intensive tests I performed, the CPU remained constant in the mid-70s (Celsius), and sometimes until the mid-80s – up to 90 was scarce. I was able to run our 4K video output several times in a row without any negative impact on the results, nor did I see a big dip in the Cinebench results over a 30 minute loop.

The Surface Laptop 4 is 15 inches open on a picnic table with a pink flat in the background.  The screen displays sand dunes with a blue sky.

The screen has reached 370 nets – a bit dim for outdoor use, as you can see here.

If you’ve been a fan of designing the 15-inch Surface Laptop, you’ll be glad to know that it has not changed much. One of the big advantages of this device is how thin and light it is, only 0.58 inches thick and 3.4 pounds. For the context, it’s almost a pound lighter than the 16-inch MacBook Pro and more than half a pound lighter than the lightest Dell XPS 15. It’s actually just a little heavier than the 13-inch MacBook Pro.

With that said, those who are not the hard Surface fans may find the design of the Laptop 4 a bit dated. In particular, the rings around the 3: 2 screen are quite thick. This makes sense on a convertible device like the Surface Book 3 or the Surface Pro 7, which you should be able to hold as a tablet but not fit so well in a clamshell. If you place the Laptop 4 next to any member of the XPS series, you will see how radiant and modern the latter looks. That does not mean that the Laptop 4 is ugly; it just gets further behind other Windows laptops every year.

The port choice is also the same, which is good and bad news. The Laptop 4 retains a USB-A port, which in my opinion is stubbornly still a necessity for modern laptops (look at you, Apple and Dell). But there is only one, and neither the Intel nor AMD model supports Thunderbolt on their standalone USB-C ports, which at this price is disappointing on a laptop. The Surface Laptop can certainly do more port options, even if it competes with what Apple and Dell offer in numbers. (In addition to the USB-A and USB-C, you get a headphone jack and Microsoft’s own charging port.)

The Windows Hello webcam is good and delivers a usable picture, and the dual field microphones had no trouble picking up my voice. The speakers, which now support Dolby Atmos 9, sound pretty bright, with good volume and bass and percussion that is audible (though not high tide). Despite Atmos speakers, our Laptop 4 unit is not preloaded with Dolby Atmos software or anything similar to tune the sound.

The Surface Laptop 4 15 lid from above.

All 15-inch models have an aluminum bowl.

My least favorite part of this laptop is the keyboard. It’s just a little flat and mushy to my taste. I respect that some people naturally prefer wider, flatter keycaps. But I would take an XPS 15, MacBook or Surface Book keyboard over this one – it’s just not that funny or satisfying.

In general, it is difficult to identify a true competitor to the 15-inch surface laptop. Place it next to a Windows workstation like the $ 1,200 Dell XPS 15 entry-level, and the Surface gains power, battery life and weight. This is a good buy for someone who wants an excellent combination of efficiency and multicore performance in a 15-inch chassis, but does not need the grunt of a discrete GPU.

The Surface Laptop 4 15-inch keyboard from above.

The keyboard is taillight and has 1.3 mm movement.

But the opportunity window is possibly closing, as there is most likely a larger M1 MacBook Pro on the way. I think there’s a good argument that people in the group described above (who do not need a device at the moment) should sit back and wait to see what Apple does in the next few months before committing to Microsoft’s machine, provided they do not. t has a hard preference for operating systems.

On the other hand, even if the larger MacBook Pro is spectacular, there are some advantages that the Laptop 4 will definitely retain (it uses Windows, and it’s built like a Surface Laptop) and some will probably retain it (it will probably be lighter) than the MacBook Pro 16). And of course, a lot of people need a laptop right now. In today’s market, the Surface Laptop 4 is a pretty good buy among the 15-inch laptops. Microsoft did not change much on the outside, but on the inside it really penetrated.

Photography by Monica Chin for The Verge