Microsoft has launched an update to its clamshell Surface line, the Surface Laptop 4. The primary change you’ll notice on the exterior is a new color option, the “Ice Blue” finish. I spent a few hours admiring the new color, which has a unique light blue hue that I haven’t seen on many other laptops and is an addition to the wide range of color options previously available, including black, silver, and sandstone.
But the real star of the show in this update is the new AMD Ryzen processor featured inside both the 13.5-inch and 15-inch models.
Ryzen CPUs first debuted on Surface hardware in last year’s Surface Laptop 3 15-inch, but it used the older Ryzen 3000 processors. They were still limited to just four cores, meaning they didn’t provide a meaningful update over the alternate Intel option. For a 15-inch laptop, that left it fairly underpowered.
More importantly, it was also exclusive to the 15-inch model.
The Surface Laptop 4 bumps things up to 8-core Ryzen 4000 chips. Microsoft continues to tout these as “Surface Edition” Ryzen processors, highlighting the closer partnership between AMD and Microsoft on the implementation. It’s also available on the 13.5-inch model this time around.
The $1,000 13.5-inch base model includes the six-core Ryzen 5 4680U, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD. In addition to the substantial performance upgrade, that’s a storage capacity improvement over last year’s 128GB SSD option. We can all be happy that low storage option is no longer around.
As it stands, the Surface Laptop 4 remains the only Surface device to use AMD chips. Microsoft’s Surface lineup includes a diverse set of processor options, whether it’s the standard Intel chips in the Surface Pro and Surface Book 3, the ARM chips in the Surface Pro X, or the AMD option here. Of course, Microsoft will continue to offer an Intel 11th-gen Tiger Lake model as well, which is still capped at just four cores.
Microsoft says it will offer a careful mix of processor options across both sizes and across consumer and commercial offerings. To avoid confusion, Microsoft says it won’t offer identical configurations featuring both AMD and Intel processors, and will instead “guide” the buyer toward the right option based on price and performance needs.
That’s up to standard for the 13.5-inch model, but it severely limits the appeal of the 15-inch model, which has to compete with heavy hitters like the Dell XPS 15, Razer Blade 15, HP Spectre x360 15, and many others. All these other laptops offer discrete graphics courtesy of Nvidia as well, which the Surface Laptop 4 lacks.
That’s partly because of just how thin and light the 15-inch Surface Laptop 4 is. It’s only 0.58 inches thick and weighs just 3.4 pounds.
The processor change also affords the Surface Laptop 4 an improvement in battery life. Microsoft says in the most ideal situation, the Surface Laptop 4 can last up to 19 hours on a single charge. That figure may vary, but it’s eight hours more than the claim for the Surface Laptop 3.
The Surface Laptop 4 also keeps its high-resolution 3:2 PixelSense display. Both sizes are 201 PPI (pixels per inch), with resolutions of 2256 x 1504 (13.5-inch model) or 2496 x 1664 (15-inch model). The Surface Laptop was one of the pioneers of the 3:2 aspect ratio on clamshell devices. In the past year, though, many manufacturers have followed suit, moving away from 16:9 to either 16:10 or 3:2. Of course, all versions and configurations of the Surface Laptop 4 feature touchscreens.
One area that hasn’t been updated, though, is the webcam. This would have been a fantastic time to upgrade the built-in camera to 1080p resolution, but the Surface Laptop 4 is unfortunately still stuck at 720p. It’s a shame, especially since the Surface Pro and Surface Book both offer a higher-resolution videoconferencing experience.
Microsoft did say that tweaks to the webcam resulted in improved lowlight performance.
The Surface Laptop 4 is available for purchase today through Best Buy and Microsoft.com, starting in the U.S., Canada, and Japan, with orders shipping on April 15. Microsoft is even offering a solid deal for those who purchase before April 15, bundling in a pair of Surface Earbuds.
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