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Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 vs. Surface Laptop 3: Everything new

Microsoft surface Laptop 4
Microsoft

Microsoft just announced the Surface Laptop 4, and you naturally now might be wondering how it compares to last year’s Surface Laptop 3. On the surface, these two laptops appear the same, but it is what is on the inside that matters if you’re considering buying the latest from Microsoft.

That’s why we’ll be taking a look at the design, the performance, and the price and portability between the two to help you in your buying decision. Here’s everything new in the Surface Laptop 4, the latest clamshell from Microsoft.

Price

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Since you’re spending your hard-earned money on a new Surface, we’ll look first at prices. In terms of value, the Surface Laptop 4 offers a lot more for its price. Of course, the Surface Laptop 3 is good, too, but since the Surface Laptop is newer, it trumps the last generation’s laptop for that very reason.

The base configuration 13.5-inch Surface Laptop 4 starts at $1,000. For that price, you get the AMD Ryzen 5 4680U processor, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD. Compared to last year’s base 13.5-inch model Surface Laptop 3, which came with Intel’s Core i5-1135G7 processor, 8GB of RAM, and 128GB of storage, you’re getting more storage than before for the same price.

Microsoft has priced the Intel models as more expensive than the AMD models. If you want to go with Intel, you’ll need to pay at least $1,299, though that configuration comes with a larger capacity 512GB SSD and 16GB of RAM.

Microsoft has also pushed memory capacity up to 32GB of RAM, available only in the high-end Intel models.

Performance

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The biggest difference between Surface Laptop 3 and Surface Laptop 4 comes with what’s under the hood. While last year’s Surface Laptop 3 disappointed with older Zen+ AMD Surface Edition Ryzen chips, Microsoft made a big performance change with the AMD chips in the Surface Laptop 4.

The new Surface Laptop 4 now comes with options for AMD’s Zen-2 based Ryzen 5 and Ryzen 7 Surface Edition 4000-series chips. On the Intel side, meanwhile, you get the new 11th-generation Tiger Lake chips, including Intel’s new integrated Iris Xe graphics.

Do also note that for the first time, you have some more choices. You can pick either AMD or Intel in both sizes, whereas previously, Intel’s chips only came in the consumer 13.5-inch models, and AMD in the 15-inch versions.

Microsoft promises that these chips will lead you to a “smooth experience that powers modern, multitasking demands.” That’s because you’ll find a base option with the Ryzen 5 processor, which has six cores. The top-end Ryzen 7 option, meanwhile, has eight cores. More cores mean more performance when multitasking, as well as significantly improved content creation performance. It’s an up from the four cores on last year’s AMD-based Surface Laptop 3. The newer Ryzen chips should also a graphical boost, too, as we’ve seen in other laptops with similar non-custom AMD chips.

You can’t get any processor with any configuration, though. The 13.5-inch model is limited to the Ryzen 5 4680U, so you’ll have to bump up to the 15-inch model if you want the two extra cores in the Ryzen 7.

It should be noted that Microsoft is still using an old processor on the AMD side of things. Microsoft likes to work closely with its partners to make for more stable and performant devices, but that means it often can’t put the latest chips in its devices. That’s a shame, because the Ryzen 5000 processors are even more powerful this year.

Design

Microsoft surface Laptop 4
Image used with permission by copyright holder

On the outside, Surface Laptop 3 and 4 look quite similar. There’s not much difference between the two models, aside from a new Ice Blue color available on the Surface Laptop 4.

Both Laptop 3 and Laptop 4 even still sport Microsoft’s signature metal finish, as well as the option for the fabric Alcantara finish, too. The 15-inch model is still limited to the metal chassis in either silver or black. Meanwhile, the base configuration of the Surface Laptop 4 is a silver Alcantara. If you want the choice of more colors, you’ll have to go for the Intel models.

The display options also are the same between generations, too. On the 13-inch version, you get a 13.5 inch 2256 x 1504 resolution display or 201 PPI. On the 15-inch version, that’s upped to 2496 x 1664. All displays support the Surface Pen, for inking. Both are in the 3:2 aspect ratio, for the more vertical room. Just note the side bezels are still on the thick side. For something thinner, consider the XPS 13.

Of course, as a traditional clamshell laptop, these laptops come with a keyboard built-in. The backlit keyboards have not changed over generations and should still be quiet and comfortable, with the touchpad still being precise — just as on the Surface Laptop 3. Speakers are also the same, tucked under the keyboard deck. And, you can still upgrade the solid-state drive by removing the keyboard deck, too.

Portability and battery life

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Microsoft says it has dramatically improved the battery life on the Surface Laptop 4. The company tells us the battery should last for 19 hours on Surface Laptop 4 in its lightest tests. Even if you take that with a grain of salt, that’s a big improvement over Microsoft’s claims for the Surface Laptop 3, which was just 11.5 hours.

In portability, the Surface Laptop 3 and 4 are almost neck and neck. The ports and connectivity have not changed between generations at all. You’ll still find both USB-A, USB-C, as well as Microsoft’s own Surface, connect jack for charging. The webcam is also the same 720p Windows Hello webcam (with dual-studio microphones,) too. You won’t find a microSD card for storage, as you’ll find on the Surface Pro.

Get the Surface Laptop 4

Naturally, we suggest you buy the Surface Laptop 4 over the Surface Laptop 3. Although the design and other aspects have not changed, the under the hood advancements are quite big. You’ll definitely get more bang for your buck, and more choice between Intel, or AMD, too.

If you want a big overhaul to the design, you’d better keep waiting. But better access to Ryzen processors and improved battery life go a long way toward making the Surface Laptop 4 a competitive laptop.

Editors' Recommendations

Arif Bacchus
Arif Bacchus is a native New Yorker and a fan of all things technology. Arif works as a freelance writer at Digital Trends…
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