Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 (13.5″, AMD) Review — perfectly adequate
The Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 is a beautiful machine that probably represents Microsoft's idea of a perfect Windows laptop. Does Microsoft achieve their goal, or is it "just" another Windows laptop? Well, let's find out.
1-Year Limited Hardware Warranty
+ Alcantara palm rests are really nice in use
+ Well-controlled thermals
+ Great battery life
+ Display is very sharp with amazing color accuracy
+ Built-in speakers sound good
+ Comfortable keyboard and excellent trackpad
+ Clean Windows 10 installation
- Relatively thick bezels around the display
- What? 256GB of storage?
- Poor graphics performance
- Very limited ports
- Surface Connect charging arrangement isn't ideal
- Customized CPU doesn't work with standard drivers
You know how we always say, “as the developers intended” when discussing about color accuracy in gaming monitors? Well, the Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 should be the gold standard when it comes to laptops, considering Microsoft designed the entire laptop, down to the processor itself. We aren’t kidding. The Microsoft Surface Laptop 4’s AMD processor is actually customized, and it shows in its name: AMD Ryzen 5 4680U Microsoft Surface Edition. Interesting enough? Well, lets dig in.
The packaging of the Surface Laptop 4 is very clean, and not unlike what you would find with most recent premium laptops. However it is maybe a bit too clean, with the specifications only mentioned on a sticker on the back. I believe that a mention of whether this is the AMD or Intel version, as well as the screen size on the front would have been quite helpful.
In the box, the contents are also pretty standard. You get the usual stash of documentations, as well as a pretty nifty 60+5W power adapter. There’s even a “Caring for your Surface Laptop” guide, which is a nice reminder of sorts to help you take care of the fancy Alcantara keyboard deck. I wish it was just integrated into the user guide itself though, just to save a bit of paper.
In the case of the Surface Laptop 4’s charger, 60+5W does not equal to 65W. That’s because instead of delivering all 65W to the laptop, 5W is for the USB-A port here. I really quite like this design as it means that you won’t have to bring several power adapters with you when you travel, as all you need is the Surface Laptop 4’s to charge all your devices. A faster charging rate for the USB port would have been appreciated, but this is still way more convenient than most laptops already. I am a bit more torn about the connector for the Surface Laptop 4 though. It charges via the Surface Connect port, and we will get to that in a bit.
While the mouse doesn’t come free with every Surface Laptop 4, we received a Microsoft Surface Arc Mouse along with our Surface Laptop 4 for testing. I won’t be doing a full in-depth review of the Surface Arc Mouse, but we will be discussing it in a bit.
The lid of the Surface Laptop 4 is made of aluminum, and it gets a nice matte finish that’s just perfect to the touch. The Windows logo contrasts against the rest of the finishing with a mirror shine. There are no bevels here, and the edges just falls away cleanly. Design wise, it does look like Microsoft took a few cues from their tablets, and used it for the upper half here, as it does feel almost like a tablet.
Over on the bottom, we get nice sharp bevels that run around the whole laptop. The only vents are visible here along the back edge. The bottom itself is slightly raised with little rubber feet, but there are no intakes here. You will see no screw holes on the bottom of the Surface Laptop 4, as they are hidden under the rubber feet. Nice.
With the laptop open, we find the first thing that’s not exactly appealing. And that’s the relatively huge bezels around the display. Having used a near-bezelless laptop for the last few years, the bezels here are humongous by comparison. I do believe this is to keep the design consistent with their tablets, but you do not need bezels on a laptop, since you do not hold a laptop by its screen. And of course, you can see the Alcantara keyboard deck.
It looks nice and fuzzy in photos, but doesn’t actually feel like that. It matches the Platinum color of the rest of the body really well, although that might not stand up to the test of time. I mean, it is still a textile. It definitely looks unique, and I do quite like the way that the color scheme is just so consistent here, with neither the trackpad nor the keyboard standing out from the gray. Microsoft definitely did a great job here with the materials.
Surface Laptop 4 Specifications
|CPU||AMD Ryzen 5 4680U Microsoft Surface Edition, 6C/12T @ 2.2GHz (up to 4.0GHz boost), 15W TDP, 7nm|
|RAM||8GB LPDDR4x-4266, dual-channel|
|GPU||AMD Radeon Graphics, 7CU @ 1500MHz|
|Storage||256GB SK Hynix BC511 M.2 PCIe 3.0 x4 NVMe SSD (M.2 2230)|
|Software||Microsoft Windows 10 Home
Surface Diagnostic Tookit
|Connectivity||Intel Wi-Fi 6 AX200 (WiFi 6, up to 2.4Gbps)
1 x USB 3.2 Gen2 (10Gbps) Type-C
1 x USB 3.2 Gen2 (10Gbps) Type-A
|Display||13.5″ 2256 x 1504 3:2 PixelSense Display (Sharp SHP14B3)
Surface Pen enabled
10-point multitouch support
DisplayPort Alt Mode over USB-C
|Audio||Omnisonic Speakers with Dolby Atmos
Dual far-field Studio Mics
1 x 3.5mm combo jack
60W+5W power adapter
USB-PD charging support (not included)
|Dimensions||308 × 223 x 14.5 mm|
Microsoft equipped the Surface Laptop 4 with a relatively slow SSD. It’s PCIe 3.0 x4, but it performs more like a PCIe 3.0 x2 drive. The slow speeds might also be due to the fact that we only have 256GB here, as larger SSDs are often faster thanks to the benefits of parallelism. Upgrading will be quite challenging, as we are looking at a M.2 2230 SSD here, instead of the more standard M.2 2280.
The Zen 2-based Ryzen 5 4680U in the Surface Laptop 4 doesn’t offer much in terms of single-core performance. On the other hand, it is noticeably faster than the Ryzen 5 4500U in multi-core, as it has SMT enabled, but single-core performance is very similar, owing to both of them having 4.0GHz peak boost clocks. I do believe that SMT being enabled allows it to even outperform the Ryzen 7 4700U, as that’s an 8C/8T processor, versus the 6C/12T we have here.
3DMark gauges the aggregated performance of both the CPU and GPU, and we can see that it does decently here. It is however still a lot slower than even the 11th Gen Intel Core i5-1135G7 laptop we have in these charts, which is available with the Surface Laptop 4, but at a much higher price too.
Somehow in Superposition we see the Surface Laptop 4 put up absolutely horrendous scores. I am not sure whether it’s because of outdated drivers or what, because hardware wise, it shouldn’t be this slow, since we are looking at faster LPDDR4x memory and also more CUs than what you get with the Ryzen 5 4500U in the Lenovo Flex 5.
Overall, if you can disregard the graphics aka gaming performance, you can expect relatively strong performance out of the Surface Laptop 4. While it doesn’t excel in the Essentials and Productivity sections of the PCMark 10 suite, it definitely comes into its own in the Digital Content Creation section where its higher core and thread count blows away most of the competition in the charts here.
With an all-core load applied with Realbench, the Ryzen 5 4680U can boost up to 30W to push all-core clocks averaging 3.5GHz. That lasts for 42 seconds, before it drops to 25W where clocks are maintained around 3.2GHz, which in turn lasted 128 seconds before the limit drops down to around 20W and gradually tapers down to 15W for the rest of the run. Here, clocks go from 2.8GHz to 2.3GHz.
It is worth mentioning that the power limit changes are not due to thermal throttling, as the temperatures are kept well below 78°C, which is pretty good results considering just how thin the Surface Laptop 4 is. The average temperature through out the 15-minute run was just 68°C, indicating that Microsoft was being really conservative with the performance of the Surface Laptop 4, presumably to ensure that surface temperatures are well maintained.
Battery life is definitely great on the Surface Laptop 4, with 11 hours and 31 minutes in the PCMark battery life test. While it boasts of a higher resolution than almost every laptop in this chart, it still managed to come second in this chart. It also has one of the smallest batteries too at just 47.4WHr, so the results seen here are all the more impressive. Microsoft may have worked with AMD to tweak the efficiency, and it definitely delivers. I wonder if we could have seen even better results with Zen 3 cores though.
One thing that I really appreciate on well-designed laptops is an effortless yet sturdy hinge. The Surface Laptop 4 does require a bit more effort to open initially, due to magnets holding it down, but that’s good to prevent the laptop from flopping open. Once you have broken free of the magnets’ hold, the hinge opens smoothly with minimal effort, yet has enough resistance to keep the screen angle where you want it, even as you move it around. Kudos to Microsoft for getting this right. And you will probably be moving it around quite a bit, as the lengthy battery life and lightweight design are really conducive for that.
Display and Audio
The screen of the Surface Laptop 4 is definitely one of the main selling points about this laptop. It’s nice and tall with a 3:2 aspect ratio, and while the resolution is rather odd at 2256 x 1504, you can’t argue with the sharpness of the rather dense 201PPI, which is higher than most laptops in the market out there. The color response is also really accurate with a maximum Delta E of just 1.28 and an average of 0.27. However the gamut coverage isn’t nearly as impressive, with it being just shy of being able to display the full sRGB gamut, at 94% sRGB. DCI-P3 coverage is at 66.6% while Adobe RGB is at 64.8%.
The display can go up to a really bright 375cd/m2 which should more than suffice even if you decide to work in a super bright environment. Do note that the display is glossy though, so glare will be an issue if there’s a light source behind you. Overall, the Surface Laptop 4 does impress when it comes to its display, and there’s touch and stylus input support too, although we can’t test the latter because Microsoft didn’t send us one.
Microsoft added a rather rare feature into the Surface Laptop 4: an ambient light sensor. No longer do you need to manually adjust the brightness of your display to suit your current lighting situation. Along with the ambient light sensor, you get a 720p webcam, the IR facial recognition for Windows Hello, and also two microphones flanking all of that. Microsoft calls these “studio microphones” but obviously there’s a bit of hyperbole. They are good enough for your video conferencing needs, but are definitely not studio-grade by any means.
The speakers in the Surface Laptop 4 are nowhere to be seen, because Microsoft didn’t design any headphone grilles into the chassis. Instead, the speakers are located directly under the keyboard, and fire upwards through the keyboard. The speakers can go quite loud and are exceptionally clear, but there’s a distinct lack of bass. It’s not tinny sounding, but you can hear that it isn’t able to deliver any impactful bass tones. I quite like the sound from the Surface Laptop 4, and because the speakers are upward firing, you don’t have to worry about the surface under the Surface Laptop 4 (pun intended) affecting the sound, which is always a plus for those who like to use their laptops on their beds.
Keyboard and Trackpad
I would say that the Surface Laptop 4 has a great keyboard, with just about the right amount of tactility. The backlighting is also very subtle, perfect for helping you when you are working in the dark without being distracting. Key spacing was great too, allowing me to transition between my desktop and laptop without any issue. One thing that I found very interesting is the keyboard deck flex. While it will usually be considered a con, I found the flex to make my typing experience better. Somehow it felt like it was providing a more “dampened” typing experience, as if the keys had more travel distance than it actually had. Odd, but nice.
Moving downwards, I found the trackpad to be the best I have used too. While its accuracy isn’t exactly anything special anything modern Windows laptops today, the generous size and smooth yet grippy surface coating was really conducive to using the laptop without a mouse. I know smooth yet grippy is really odd sounding, but you have to try it. The glass appears to have gotten a soft touch coating of sorts that allows for more precise mousing, without being abrasive. The clicking sensation is very nice, with what I think is the perfect amount of audible and tactile feedback. Not too much, not too little, just ideal.
Another unique design decision we have here is the Alcantara palm rest. It is especially nice to use when you first boot up the laptop in an airconditioned environment, where regular aluminum palm rests might be uncomfortably cold. Instead, the Alcantara palm rests feel warm and soothing to the touch. And even when the laptop warms up, the palm rests never gets too toasty, so that’s also another plus of having a less thermally conductive material for your palm rests.
I would say that the ports on the Surface Laptop 4 are easily the most disappointing part about the entire laptop. There are just too few of them. On the left side here, we get a USB-A and USB-C port, both which are capable of 10Gbps speeds, as well as a 3.5mm jack. I would have loved to see a Thunderbolt 4 port here, but given that this is an AMD laptop, that’s forgivable. But then again, the 11th Gen Intel Core version of the Surface Laptop 4 lacks Thunderbolt 4 too.
I am not sure if Microsoft wanted to make sure that both Intel and AMD versions are equal in terms of I/O, or they just decided to save the few bucks for a Thunderbolt 4 controller on the Intel version. Regardless, the Surface Laptop 4 has extremely few ports, and the same two-port layout is also seen in the 15″ variant. So yeah, you are getting the best Microsoft can muster in this 13.5″ Surface Laptop 4, for better or worse.
On the right, Microsoft put the Surface Connect port. Now this is a pretty fancy port, albeit proprietary. And I guess the limited number of ports was to encourage you to buy one of the various hubs and docks that takes advantage of this port. Out of the box, you get a charger that connects to this port. Now you can use a USB-PD adapter to charge your Surface Laptop 4, but Microsoft decided against bundling that, and instead you get the nice charger that offers a separate USB-A port for you to charge your other devices with.
The connector on the included power adapter is reversible, and it connects to the Surface Laptop 4 at a 90° angle, so you can run the cable parallel to the laptop, regardless if you want to route it to the front or rear, which I do appreciate. It is also magnetic, which helps you connect it more easily… Or at least it was meant to do that. In practice, the magnet doesn’t really pull the connector into the Surface Connect port. It made it more fiddly to plug in especially if you have the laptop flat on the table. I found that I had to lift the laptop up to get it to connect more easily.
Also, while it is magnetic and you might think that it will prevent a catastrophic fall if someone snags their foot on your charger cable, the shape of the connector means that there’s still a good chance that your laptop will fly off the table. It’s definitely not on the same level as Apple’s defunct MagSafe charging connector in terms of safety, and definitely not on the same level as USB-C when it comes to ubiquity. So yeah, not a great fan of this.
But what I am a great fan of is the lack of bloatware on the Surface Laptop 4. Unlike most OEMs who pre-install stuff like useless antivirus software and their own management tools, this is a Microsoft laptop. So there are still a few included utilities like the Surface app and Surface Diagnostic Toolkit, but they stay out of the way most of the time. And I would say that they are somewhat necessary, as they tie in to the accessories that are supported by the Surface Laptop 4. The Surface Diagnostic Toolkit is also quite useful as it even has a battery charge cycle counter, which is quite useful to understand why your battery isn’t lasting as long as it used to.
It seems that in their bid to keep it as clean as possible, they left out Radeon Software as well. is worth mentioning the difference between Radeon Software and AMD Radeon drivers. The drivers are absolutely necessary for the functionality of the GPU, while Radeon Software lets you customize certain features. As mentioned earlier, the Surface Laptop 4 comes with a customized AMD Ryzen APU. It is in fact so customized that we can’t install the regular Radeon drivers. Which can be a bummer if you want to enjoy the latest optimizations from AMD, but that’s not really my issue, as you can’t really game on the Surface Laptop 4 anyway.
But my main concern is that I couldn’t disable AMD Vari-Bright, which is a feature that drops the display’s brightness when you are running on battery. As we test our laptops’ battery life at a standardized 200 nits, I couldn’t do that if I couldn’t disable Vari-Bright, and luckily I found a workaround on Reddit. So once I installed Radeon Software, I could disable Vari-Bright. Even then, it doesn’t have the facilities to update the drivers, among other features that recent Radeon Software versions have brought to the table. I do hope AMD and Microsoft will work together to add support for the Surface Laptop 4’s processor into the standard version of AMD drivers, but I do not have my hopes up as apparently earlier versions of these AMD-Microsoft chips are also left out of the latest driver updates.
Bonus: Surface Arc Mouse
Let’s just keep this section short, shall we? Unless you are getting this free in a bundle with your Surface Laptop 4, don’t buy it. The Surface Arc Mouse seems like a good idea, with it turning off when folding flat, conserving battery and space… But that’s until you bend it to turn it on and use it. The curvature means that you will have to rest your wrists on the desk when using it, and there’s no way to claw grip the mouse due to the non-existent sides. I definitely prefer a standard mouse over this design. Or even the Surface Laptop 4’s trackpad. Yes, I hate it that much. Or maybe I just love the trackpad that much. Make of it what you will.
Tracking is pretty good, but the mouse feet are definitely not as good for gliding as the PTFE feet we have on gaming mice. And it makes a lot of noise when you move it around too, even when used on a premium mousepad like the ROG Scabbard. The clicks are quite satisfying, until you realize that there’s only one click button.
The mouse detects where your finger is via touch sensors, and that’s what gives you the left and right click functionality, like a trackpad. So gaming on this is just out of the question. Even though the latency is quite negligible, the inability to ADS (right click) and fire (left click) at the same time is just ridiculous. Scrolling is done with these sensors too, which is kinda nice as you get the whole “mouse clicker” area as a scroll wheel. It even allows side scrolling, which is a feature I missed from my days using an Wireless Intellimouse Explorer 2.0… But that about the only good stuff about this trackpad-on-a-mouse design.
Microsoft kept to using AAA batteries instead of rechargeable batteries, which is quite a bummer to me. I have suffered at the hands of my Intellimouse running out of battery, so I will never recommend a mouse that uses standard batteries. But then again, this isn’t a mouse I would bother using anyway, so I guess the batteries it uses doesn’t matter.
Our configuration is the most affordable one available at RM4599, and I think it will satisfy most users even with its 8GB RAM, except when it comes to storage. Why Microsoft thought 256GB is enough definitely baffles me. But of course, at this price point, you would want more than just “satisfactory.” I wish it had more ports, slimmer bezels around the screen and a Zen 3 CPU to bring it up to par with the rest of the laptops in the market right now. It’s a nice, well-balanced laptop, but there are plenty of options out there that can do better in one way or another, with lower price tags, and more often than not, more storage.
Our thanks to Microsoft Malaysia for sending us the Surface Laptop 4 for review.