Surface Book 4: Everything about Microsoft’s most powerful 2-in-1 so far

Microsoft’s Surface Book 3 unleashed powerful graphics in the convenient 2-in-1 form factor, but it is starting to become a dated piece of hardware for the price. The Surface Book lineup is overdue for a refresh, and many believe one could finally be coming soon by way of a new “Surface Laptop Pro” or “Surface Laptop Studio.”

Such a new Surface could launch alongside the Surface Pro 8 and maybe even the Surface Duo 2. Microsoft hasn’t said much to support an impending launch, but we have gathered up all the rumors in one place, speculating on what could end up happening later this year.

Price and release date

Surface Book 3 sitting on a table.

There are still doubts if Microsoft is planning to release a Surface Book 4. According to a report from Windows Central, it is looking more as though Microsoft might end up replacing the expected device with a new flagship Surface Laptop or Surface Laptop Studio.

We’re uncertain if the product will actually come to life under the Surface Book 4 name. However, since this is just a rumor, we’ll keep referring to the product as “Surface Book 4” throughout this piece for that reason.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t guess a price and release date based on the company’s last flagship, the Surface Book 3. Like other technology giants, Microsoft usually refreshes Surface devices in the fall, around October. The Surface Book 3, however, was quietly announced on May 6, 2020. Judging from that, there’s the small chance Surface Book 4 could come in the late summer. But don’t take that too seriously.

The main Surface lineup is refreshed toward the end of the year. You should look for a potential release around October or November. The later time frame is looking like a better option, especially since Microsoft could want to time the launch of a flagship device with its Windows 11 operating system, which is scheduled for release this holiday season. Chip shortages, though, could change that.

As far as pricing goes, there are two things to think about: Size and graphics. The Surface Book 3 comes in a base 13-inch model, as well as a larger 15-inch model. The 13-inch model is the more affordable option and has Intel’s integrated graphics or the GTX 1650 on other SKUs. The 15-inch Surface Book 3 models, meanwhile, are higher-end. The larger models step things up to the GTX 1660 Ti and even Nvidia Quadro RTX 3000 graphics.

Judging from that, you can expect the Surface Book 4 to be a bit of the same. A base 13-inch model could come in at around $1,600. Then, adding in additional graphics for the 15-inch model could step things up closer to $2,300 and even $3,000 if Microsoft opts for higher-end studio graphics once again.

A new design going the way of the iPad?

Surface Book 3 detached from the base.

While the detachable screen on the Surface Book was a revolutionary idea when initially announced, it has now become quite a rinse-and-repeat design over the past few generations. Microsoft hasn’t changed the display bezels or the overall design of the Surface Book lineup much. But that might now change for Surface Book 4.

According to Windows Central, Microsoft is looking into using a non-detachable display on the Surface Book 4. A Microsoft patent for Computing Devices Hinges suggested this back in July. So, a future Surface Book 4, Surface Laptop Pro, or Surface Laptop Studio might look and feel a bit different.

Indeed, it could go the way of the iPad Pro and even the HP Elite Folio. After years of the same design, Microsoft is playing with the idea of cramming the CPU, GPU, and other components into the lower half of a Surface computer, with a screen floating in the air and supported by a hinge.

This would let the display pull forward and rest at different angles via a stabilizing hinge. More importantly, it also could keep the more powerful GPU and other components away from the screen. You can see this in the patent diagram below.

A Microsoft patent showing a screen floating over a computer.
Microsoft

This idea is something that Apple has adopted. If you look at the iPad Magic Keyboard, the keyboard magnetically attaches to the iPad’s screen, with the tablet “floating” in the air. The HP Elite Folio also has this design, letting you move the screen down toward the keyboard. Even the Acer ConceptD 7 Ezel has a similar design.

It’s likely that Microsoft has some of the same thoughts in mind for the Surface Book 4, even if the patent doesn’t mention it by name. As always, though, patents don’t make it to the final product, but they could shape the future.

We do want to mention some more practical design rumors, though. A marketing image made many believe that that a new black model of the Surface Book could be released with the addition of some new ports. There’s no indication that this is real, however, and many have dismissed the image as fake.

Intel 11th-generation CPU and RTX 30-series graphics?

Microsoft’s Surface Book 3 shipped with Intel’s 10th-generation processors and Nvidia’s GTX  or Nvidia Quadro RTX graphics. Since then, Intel’s latest has gone up to 11th-generation Tiger Lake processors. Nvidia, meanwhile, has the RTX 30-series mobile GPUs. Look out for these more powerful chips and graphics cards in Surface Book 4.

The Nvidia GTX 1600-series chips in the Surface Book 3 performed very well in our tests, but when we reviewed the device, we didn’t like the Intel processor performance due to the 15-watt limit. Intel’s 11th-generation chips flip that with boosts for light gaming and photo editing with Iris Plus integrated graphics, so there’s the chance this might improve.

As far as the GPU support, cramming an RTX 30-series processor into a mobile form factor like the Surface Book 4 could be quite problematic for Microsoft. There’s only so much room in the chassis. But granted the rumors of a design change, this could be more likely for the Surface Book 4. The 2-in-1 could turn into more of a studio-quality machine than the older base RTX graphics could allow.

We also hope the RTX 30-series could help stabilize the price. The older Nvidia Quadro RTX graphics model was quite expensive and well into the $3,000 price range.

Given the global chip shortage, it won’t be too surprising if we end up seeing these chips in the Surface Book 4 instead of the next-generation Alder Lake processors that Intel is currently working on. Microsoft is also known to play it safe and go with processors that are a generation old. We can hope that Microsoft managed to jump to the more exciting 12th-gen chips in time, but only time will tell.

And don’t count out AMD, either. Microsoft already refreshed the Surface Laptop lineup with new AMD Ryzen processors, and some benchmarks hint that a new Surface Book could also have Ryzen 5 4500U inside.

Wishlist

For all these rumors, there’s still a lot that we’re wishing for in a Surface Book 4. Microsoft has been hesitant to adopt Thunderbolt in its products for security reasons, but a powerful device like the Surface Book 4 could benefit from support. You could easily buy a budget model and then add your own GPU externally later on.

Seeing as though the Surface Pro X and even the Surface Go 2 have slim bezels, it’d be nice to see slimmer bezels on the Book 3, too. Other items on our wishlist include improved speakers, USB-C for charging, a larger touchpad, and a more affordable price range.

Editors' Recommendations