CPU: AMD Ryzen 7 4980U
GPU: AMD Radeon
Display: 15-inch, 2256 x 1504-pixel
Size: 13.4 x 9.6 x 0.6 inches
Weight: 3.4 pounds
If you were looking for a reinvention of the laptop, the Surface Laptop 4 isn't it. To put it concisely, the new model is the Surface Laptop 3 with updated processors available in both Intel and AMD variants. Yes, there is more to it, but the TL;DR version is faster performance and longer battery life in the same laptop.
That might not sound exciting, but as the Surface Laptop 4 proves, a few tweaks are sometimes all that's needed to refine a not-quite-there-yet product like its predecessor. Our biggest complaints with the previous model, the subpar speeds and endurance, were addressed with the new chips. With those major drawbacks resolved, the 15-inch Surface Laptop 4, with its sleek design, colorful display, and excellent keyboard and touchpad, finally shines.
If not for a few annoying omissions, the Surface Laptop 4 would be the go-to Windows 10 notebook for those who want a portable machine with a large display. Regardless, it plays the role well and should be on every shopper's shortlist as one of the best laptops on the market.
Surface Laptop 4 (15-inch) price and configurations
Now you get to choose between Intel and AMD.
Microsoft sells two versions of the 15-inch Surface Laptop 4, one with an AMD Ryzen 7 4980U CPU and another with an Intel Core i7-1185G7 CPU. Those are both available in either Platinum (silver) or Matte Black color variants.
Our AMD Ryzen 7 review unit in Matte Black costs $1,699 and comes with 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD. For $1,499, you can get the same Ryzen 7 CPU and 512GB of storage but with only 8GB of RAM. The cheapest model costs $1,299 and drops the storage to a 256GB SSD (sadly, it is not available in matte black).
The Intel models are slightly more expensive. The cheapest Core i7 model has 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD and costs $1,799. Only the Intel version is available with 32GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD but that will run you (shield your eyes!) $2,399.
Surface Laptop 4 design
The embodiment of minimalism, the Surface Laptop 4's design remains unchanged. It has the same refined elegance with an anodized aluminum lid flaunting a mirrored Windows logo in the center. It isn't an especially exciting look, but there is a certain refinement to its simplicity and the build quality, as always, is top-notch.
The Alcantara fabric that helped the Surface Laptop series differentiate itself is missing on the 15-inch model, which is only available with an all-metal chassis in your choice of matte black or platinum (silver).
I miss the plush material on the deck although the smooth metal doesn't make me nearly as anxious about knocking over my morning cup of joe or handling the notebook with grimey fingers. If those concerns don't stress you out, the 13.5-inch Surface Laptop 4 is still available with the soft-touch material.
I like the stance of this laptop. The back edge is aggressively tapered and the low profile gives it an aerodynamic wedge shape. It makes the Surface Laptop 4 easy to slip into a backpack or shoulder bag when you're going into the office or riding your bike to the cafe.
On the topic of portability, the Surface Laptop 4 is among the thinnest 15-inch laptops you can buy, measuring 13.4 x 9.6 x 0.6 inches and weighing 3.4 pounds. It is considerably more portable than the Dell XPS 15 (13.6 x 9.1 x 0.7 inches, 4.5 pounds) and the 16-inch MacBook Pro (14.1 x 9.7 x 0.6 inches, 4.3 pounds), and about as sleek as the HP Spectre x360 14 (14 x 9 x 0.6 inches, 3.5 pounds).
Opening the lid reveals one glaring flaw: thicker-than-average bezels. I criticized Apple for failing to trim the frames around the MacBook Air, and I'm not about to give Microsoft a pass, either. Competing notebooks like the XPS 13 and Spectre x360 14 have all but removed the borders around their displays, leading to a more engrossing viewing experience while reducing the overall footprint of those laptops. Until Microsoft does the same, its Surface Laptops will lack that modern edge.
Surface Laptop 4 security and swappable SSD
Microsoft hates passwords and so do I. They're hard to remember, they aren't particularly secure, and there are now better methods for locking down your system. The Surface Laptop 4's shield of choice is an IR camera that uses facial recognition via Windows Hello to sign you into your laptop.
There's no fingerprint sensor which is a shame, because the IR camera, while largely reliable in my testing, didn't register my face 100% of the time. Without a fingerprint scanner as a backup, I was forced to return to the painstaking password days.
I should also point out that the TDP 2.0 chip housed within the Surface Laptop 4 ensures all data going to and from the notebook is encrypted and secured.
Now, about the swappable SSD introduced in the previous model. It returns in the Surface Laptop 4; the SSD is easy to access once you've removed the Torx screws holding the bottom panel. Microsoft prides itself on making this component easily removable so you can make repairs or upgrade your storage, but don't give the company too much credit; the SSD isn't actually user-replaceable -- you need to take it to an authorized Microsoft repair service to avoid voiding your warranty.
Surface Laptop 4 ports
On the right side is a proprietary magnetic Surface Connect port for charging or connecting to a docking station.
The USB-A port is nice to see on such a slim machine, but we're still waiting for Microsoft to replace the standard USB Type-C (and Surface Connect, for that matter) with the more capable Thunderbolt 4 port (which is at least possible on the Intel models).
Surface Laptop 4 display
The 15-inch, 2256 x 1540-pixel display returns with its bright, vivid picture and unique 3:2 aspect ratio. It's a great panel that can hold its own against anything short of OLED.
I could see the frills hanging off of Vin Diesel's tattered repair shop shirt, which conveniently showed his brawny biceps in the trailer for F9 (the next Fast and Furious movie). The beautiful Shelby Cobra sparkled a dazzling cobalt hue and contrasted nicely against the lush green and brown backdrop of the surrounding forest. The panel was so sharp that I could see individual shards of glass violently fly out of a shop window and onto a speeding police truck during a frenetic action scene.
This is not a 2-in-1 laptop — for that, see the Surface Pro 7 or Surface Book 3 — but it does have a touchscreen. I defaulted to using the touchpad but there were occasions when I'd tap on an icon or slowly scroll down with my fingers as I read; the touch-sensitive panel responded reliably in these instances.
According to our colorimeter, the Surface Laptop 4's display covers 78% of the DCI-P3 color gamut, making it understandably less vivid than the 4K screen on the XPS 15 (94%), as well as the 16-inch panel on the MacBook Pro (81%). It does push more colors than the HP Spectre x360 14 (75%) although it doesn't match the average (85%).
Peaking at 334 nits, the Surface Laptop 4 is dimmer than the XPS 15 (434 nits), the MacBook Pro (429 nits), the Spectre x360 14 (365 nits) and the premium average (392 nits). That sounds bad, but anything over 300 nits should be bright enough for most lighting conditions.
Surface Laptop 4 keyboard and touchpad
Like sitting down on a comfy couch after a long workout, my fingers immediately felt at ease the moment I started typing on the Surface Laptop 4's plush keys. Seriously, Microsoft knows how to make one damn good keyboard — even those detachable ones it sells for the Surface Pro 7 are magnificent. What makes them so good?
The 1.3 millimeters of travel is decent, but the main reason is the bouncy switches, which act as a springboard for your fingers as you sail from one letter or number to the next. The backlit, Chiclet-style keys are also properly sized and spaced so you'll feel right at home from the moment you start typing on the Surface Laptop 4.
I typed at 105 words per minute with a 97% accuracy rate on the 10fastfingers.com typing test, which is slightly slower but with fewer errors than my 109-wpm, 95% accuracy averages.
The Robin to the keyboard's Batman, the 4.5 x 3-inch touchpad feels like 22 momme silk against my fingertips. I had no problems executing Windows 10 gestures, like two-finger scrolling or three-finger swipes to switch windows, thanks to the Precision drivers. There is room on the deck to make the surface even wider if Microsoft wants to take after Apple, though I doubt even those with large hands will have issues with the current setup.
Surface Laptop 4 audio
Hiding beneath the keyboard are Omnisonic speakers with Dolby Atmos capable of blasting music loud enough to fill my large office. I'll admit to being skeptical about the speaker arrangement. Under the keyboard? There is no way these will sound good. I was wrong. Heck, my wife on the other side of my apartment could clearly hear Still Woozy's banger "Rocky" through multiple walls and closed doors.
The music didn't just get loud, it sounded great too. I instinctively bobbed my head to the up-tempo rhythm as the drum hits dug deeper than I anticipated on a laptop this thin. Those weighty punches didn't detract from the smooth, relaxed vocalist whose falsetto effortlessly jumped from tenor to baritone. I was even taken aback by the width of the sound; instruments were more separated than they are on other ultra-thin laptop speakers. Well done, Microsoft.
Surface Laptop 4 performance
What a year can do. In the time since Microsoft launched the Surface Laptop 3, AMD chips have gone from niche budget options to genuine Intel killers. The Ryzen 7 4980U CPU (also called the AMD Ryzen 7 Microsoft Surface Edition) — paired with 16GB of RAM — powering the Surface Laptop 4 is in a different weight class from the chips in the Surface Laptop 3.
There wasn't even the slightest hint of lag when I opened two dozen tabs in Google Chrome, four of which played 1080p YouTube videos. I streamed a Concacaf Champions League soccer game on one half of the screen while browsing the web on the other, and never saw the live feed stutter. I'm hoping to take a post-COVID vacation, so you can imagine how many hotel and flight booking tabs I had open during my planning. The Surface Laptop 4 let me arrange all my favorite links using the Microsoft Edge Collections feature so I could organize my flight details, hotel stays and all the restaurants (with outdoor seating and mask policies) I'm going to enjoy.
It may not use the very latest Ryzen 5000 chips, but the Surface Laptop 4 did an excellent job in our benchmark tests. Actually, it went above and beyond my expectations, scoring a 6,748 on the Geekbench 5.4 overall performance test, which beats the XPS 15 (6,179, Core i7-10750H) and its H-series CPU, and tops the Spectre x360 14 (4,904, Core i7-1165G7) and average laptop (4,276) by a considerable margin. Apple's 16-inch MacBook Pro (7,201, Core i8-9980HK) barely won this round despite being much more expensive than the Surface.
Converting a 4K video to 1080p resolution using the Handbrake transcoding app, the Surface Laptop 4 outpaced the XPS 15 (10:06), the Spectre x360 14 (17:02) and the laptop average (16:19) like Usain Bolt at the Olympics. Still, the MacBook Pro (8:00) hurdled itself ahead by completing the task in 8 minutes flat.
Where Microsoft hasn't learned its lesson is with storage speeds. The 512GB Samsung PCIe NVMe SSD took 1 minute and 12 seconds to convert a 25GB multimedia file for a transfer rate of 372.5 megabytes per second. That is quicker than the XPS 15 (298 MBps, 512GB NVMe PCIe SSD), but much slower than the Spectre x360 14 (764 MBps, 512GB M.2 PCIe NVMe SSD) and the laptop average (625.5 MBps).
Surface Laptop 4 graphics
Integrated graphics have improved over the years, but a 15-inch laptop without a discrete GPU is at a major disadvantage. The Surface Laptop 4 finds itself in that position, relying on AMD Radeon Graphics instead of a proper graphics card.
Our benchmarks proved as much with the Surface Laptop 4 scoring a 3,424 on the 3DMark Fire Strike test. That is far below the XPS 15 (8,387, GeForce GTX 1650) and it even fell short of the Spectre x360 14 (4,937) with Intel Iris Xe graphics. The average is 4,125.
Sid Meier's Civilization VI: Gathering Storm actually ran at a pretty playable rate, averaging 35 frames per second at 1080p, which is above our 30-fps threshold. The XPS 15 (48 fps), as expected, played even smoother while the HP Spectre x360 14 (20 fps) made us want to sit down on the couch and play our new consoles.
Is not having a discrete GPU worth the portability and endurance benefits? We'll leave that up to you. If you want a laptop with some graphics oomph, see our best gaming laptops page.
Surface Laptop 4 battery life
Faster performance and longer battery? It's the one-two knockout punch the Surface Laptop 4 lands like the Brown Bomber Joe Lewis. The Surface Laptop 4 lasted for 12 hours and 4 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery Test, crushing the 4K XPS 15 (8:01) and the 16-inch MacBook Pro (10:55) while falling only minutes short of the HP Spectre x360 14 (12:11).
For reference, the 15-inch Surface Laptop 3 lasted for only 8 hours flat, well below the 10:19 premium laptop average.
Surface Laptop 4 webcam
Microsoft promised better photo and video quality out of the 720p camera as a result of some software magic. We've heard this before, haven't we? Yes, I'm looking at you Apple. Fortunately, in this case, the Surface Laptop 4 is already adopting one of the best laptop webcams we've tested.
Is this one better than the previous one? I can't say for sure. What I can say is that I had no hesitation using the integrated webcam to host a meeting. It was honestly weird not instinctively plugging in my trusty Logitech C920 before pressing the "Join meeting" button during our Laptop Mag morning meeting. If only I could say that about more laptops.
Anyhow, the video quality wasn't perfect, but my face was detailed and the visual noise wasn't as bothersome as it usually is. The camera even captured my rosy hue and the teal of my wife's Trek bike in the background.
Surface Laptop 4 heat
The Surface Laptop 4 is a cool cat under pressure. It peaked at 98 degrees Fahrenheit on the bottom panel, which is only slightly above our 95-degree comfort threshold. The parts that actually meet skin, like the touchpad (83 degrees) and the keyboard (90 degrees), feel comfortable even after we ran a 15-minute, 1080p video.
Surface Laptop 4 software and warranty
As a smartphone reviewer, there is nothing more refreshing than using a Pixel phone with pure Android. The same can be said of Windows 10 on the Surface Laptop 4. This is Microsoft's operating system at its finest, void of any unnecessary pre-installed program. That said, some default Windows 10 apps are more useful than others.
Microsoft Whiteboard works for jotting down notes on the touchscreen, but is better experienced with a stylus. Word, PowerPoint, Publisher and the other excellent Microsoft 365 apps are pre-installed but require a subscription. Then there are the Xbox apps which are worth visiting as long as you own one of Microsoft's consoles, like the Xbox Series X. What should have a widespread appeal is the new Edge browser, a major improvement over Internet Explorer and a damn-fine alternative to Chrome.
Our specific model is really a story about AMD as much as it is about Microsoft. When the Surface Laptop 3 launched with AMD's Ryzen 3000 chips we were, to put it gently, perplexed. At that time, AMD was hardly a threat to Intel, its mobile chips being woefully underpowered. Microsoft was a year early, as we later learned when AMD launched its Ryzen 4000 CPUs at CES 2020. It is those Ryzen 4000-series chips that lets the Surface Laptop 4 reach its full potential.
The Surface Laptop 4 addresses the major flaws we found in the Surface Laptop 3 by delivering faster performance and longer battery life. With the right CPU, the Surface Laptop 4 has all of a sudden become a laptop with very few downsides. The sleek, sturdy design is as stylish as ever, the 15-inch panel is bright and vivid, and the keyboard and trackpad are darn-near class-leading.
If only Microsoft hadn't stubbornly ignored some of the smaller problems plaguing the Surface Laptop series. There is only one USB Type-C port (without Thunderbolt support), the proprietary Surface Connect input is, well, proprietary, and the display bezels are long overdue for a buzzcut. These, you would think, are the easy things to fix. And yet, I close this largely positive review with the feeling that Microsoft was only a shake and a twist away from making the Surface Laptop 4 the laptop to beat.