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For all the buzz Microsoft’s Surface tablets get, I’ve always thought the Surface Laptop was actually Microsoft’s secret weapon. Since the Surface Laptop debuted in 2017, it’s been a strong contender for the best all-purpose slim Windows laptop. 

Plenty of companies offer 13-inch-class slim laptops, all hoping to be the Windows version of Apple’s ubiquitous MacBook Air, and Microsoft’s entry is as good as they come. The Surface Laptop simply works well. It’s also stylish, easy to use and frequently on sale, making it a rock-solid clamshell laptop for not that much money. Shortly before the Surface Laptop 4 preorders went live, you could still order a Core i5 13-inch Surface Laptop 3 (with 8GB RAM and a 128GB SSD) for $769, or $899 for a 256GB SSD. 



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Microsoft also introduced a 15-inch version in 2019, as part of the Surface Laptop 3 line. Both the 13- and 15-inch models have been updated as the Surface Laptop 4. 

I’ve now had a chance to spend some hands-on time with the new 15-inch Surface Laptop 4. Unlike a lot of the previous Surface Laptops I’ve reviewed, this configuration omitted the Alcantara fabric wrist rest, which always made for a truly unique-looking and feeling laptop. A fabric-covered laptop wrist rest may seem like an odd choice, but Alcantara is tough (it was originally used for boat interiors), and the idea has stuck around. 

My review unit features a matte black aluminum wrist wrest, which looks perfectly sharp, if a little anonymous, but the Alcantara options are still available as well. Colors include the standard black and platinum, plus a new option named ice blue.


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CPU choice is the biggest change over the previous generation. The new 13- and 15-inch Surface Laptop 4 models add 11th-gen Intel Core processors, paired with Intel Iris XE graphics, or AMD processor options — Zen 2 series — in special “Ryzen Microsoft Surface Edition” models. 

The unit I’ve started testing has an AMD Ryzen 7 CPU, paired with 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD. It costs $1,699, putting it into some very premium territory (to be fair, a 16GB/512GB 16-inch MacBook Pro costs $2,399). Add $100 and you can get essentially the same 15-inch Surface Laptop 4 setup, but with an Intel Core i7 processor instead. Considering the AMD part is of an older vintage, that might be a worthwhile upgrade, although you may be giving up some battery life. 

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That’s because the Surface Laptop with AMD claims excellent battery life, addressing one of the shortcomings of the previous Surface Laptop 3. Microsoft says the 13-inch AMD model can run for up to 19 hours, making it the longest-lasting product in the Surface line. The 15-inch, according to Microsoft, can run up to 17 and a half hours. In our initial testing, the 15-inch Surface Laptop 4 ran for just over 12 hours, which is still a three-hour improvement over the previous 15-inch model. 

Unlike some other pricey 15-inch laptops, there’s not a ton of graphical muscle here. Iris XE graphics in the Intel models and the Ryzen 7’s Radeon graphics in the AMD ones. During some game testing, the new multiplatform shooter Outriders was choppy even at the lowest graphics preset. But Hades, the recent award-winning indie game, ran perfectly. 

Geekbench 5 (multicore)

Surface Laptop 3 (15-inch Intel Core i7)

4880 Surface Laptop 4 (15-inch AMD Ryzen 7)

4250 Surface Book 3 (15-inch, Intel Core i7)

4071

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance.

Cinebench R20 (multicore)

Surface Laptop 3 (15-inch Intel Core i7)

1631 Surface Laptop 4 (15-inch AMD Ryzen 7)

1965 Surface Book 3 (15-inch, Intel Core i7)

1445

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance.

3D Mark Fire Strike Ultra

Surface Laptop 3 (15-inch Intel Core i7)

710 Surface Laptop 4 (15-inch AMD Ryzen 7)

743 Surface Book 3 (15-inch, Intel Core i7)

2673

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance.

Leaning into AMD

The 13-inch Surface Laptop 4 starts at $999 (£999, AU$1,599) — that’s for the AMD version with 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD. The least expensive 15-inch version costs $1,200 and is also AMD-based. Faster processors, more storage and other options will drive the price up. 

There aren’t any changes in the display, which was already a forward-looking 3:2 aspect ratio display at 2,256×1,504-pixel resolution in the 13-inch model and 2,496×1,664 in the 15-inch version. The webcam remains at 720 resolution, and the ports are unchanged, with both USB-A and USB-C ports, but no Thunderbolt. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say this is a generally very modest update over the last generation.


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Part of a set

Also coming to the Surface line is a short list of new accessories. The Surface Headphones 2 Plus for Business is a professional riff on the Surface Headphones. It starts shipping later in April, for $300 (£290). Coming in June, two new headsets, from the Microsoft Modern line, will be available in USB and wireless versions at $50 and $100, respectively. The $100 Microsoft Modern USB-C Speaker also ships in June and is aimed more at Zoom (sorry, Microsoft Teams) meetings than music. 

Read moreMeet Microsoft’s new Modern family of work-from-home audio accessories

But most interesting will probably be the Microsoft Modern Webcam. This $70 camera, also available in June, supports 1080p HDR video, with a 78-degree field of view and integrated privacy shutter.

Initial battery life benchmark results from the Surface Laptop 4 are below. Look for additional testing in our upcoming full review. 

Video streaming battery test

Surface Laptop 3 (15-inch Intel Core i7)

524 Surface Laptop 4 (15-inch AMD Ryzen 7)

722 Surface Book 3 (15-inch, Intel Core i7)

720

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance.

See also
  • Best laptop for 2021
  • The best cheap laptops you don’t have to wait a month for
  • Best Chromebook for 2021
  • These are the best 2-in-1s that are more than just a laptop or a tablet
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