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Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 (2021) review: A missed opportunity

By Kenny Yeo - 10 Jul 2021

Performance & conclusion

Performance analysis

Let’s see how the Surface Laptop 4 with the AMD Ryzen 7 processor performs against contemporary ultraportable notebooks with Intel’s Tiger Lake processors. I have also included results from the Huawei MateBook 14 which is powered by a Ryzen 5 4600H processor.

Here's a table showing how they stack up:

Model Display Processor Memory Storage Graphics Price
Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 15-inch, PixelSense display AMD Ryzen 7 Surface Edition 16GB 512GB AMD Radeon RX Vega 8 S$2,399
Acer Swift 5 14-inch, Full-HD, touchscreen Intel Core i7-1165G7 16GB 1TB SSD Intel Iris Xe S$2,298
ASUS ZenBook 14 Ultralight 14-inch, Full-HD Intel Core i7-1165G7 16GB 1TB SSD NVIDIA GeForce MX450 S$2,398
Dell XPS 13 13.4-inch, 4K+, touchscreen Intel Core i7-1165G7 16GB 512GB SSD Intel Iris Xe S$2,599
Huawei MateBook 14 AMD 14-inch, 2160 x 1440 pixels AMD Ryzen 5 4600H 16GB 512GB SSD AMD Radeon Vega 6 S$1,298
Lenovo Yoga Slim 7i Carbon 13.3-inch, 2560 x 1600 pixels Intel Core i7-1165G7 16GB 512GB SSD Intel Iris Xe S$1,999
MSI Prestige 14 Evo 14-inch, Full-HD Intel Core i7-1185G7 16GB 512GB SSD Intel Iris Xe S$2,349
Razer Book 13 13.4-inch, 4K+, touchscreen Intel Core i7-1165G7 16GB 512GB SSD Intel Iris Xe S$3,299


Performance is generally alright but nothing to shout about, which is to be expected given that this notebook features AMD’s last-generation mobile processors – the company announced new Ryzen 5000 series processors at CES earlier this year. On PCMark 10, the 
Surface Laptop 4 mostly held its own. On compute-intensive workloads like Cinebench and Geekbench, its single-core performance was not quite as good but its multi-core performance was leaps and bounds ahead of the Intel-powered notebooks. However, it struggled on WebXPRT 3, a browser benchmark that AMD processors have traditionally had difficulty with that’s heavy on HTML5 and Javascript.

The Ryzen 7 Surface Edition processor has a Radeon RX Vega 8 integrated GPU and it’s clearly not quite as powerful as Intel’s new Iris Xe integrated graphics that come with its Tiger Lake processors. On 3DMark, its scores were around 20% to 30% lower. On Tomb Raider, though it managed playable frame rates, it’s noticeably slower than the Intel-powered notebooks. If it’s any consolation, it maintains its performance well and doesn’t seem to suffer from much throttling, unlike some other notebooks. Given that the Surface Laptop 4 was announced after AMD's Ryzen 5000 series processors, one has to wonder why Microsoft chose to outfit their laptop with last year's processors instead of the newest ones.

 

 

Battery life

Note: Battery tests were conducted using PCMark 10's battery benchmark with the display set to 100% brightness.

The Surface Laptop 4’s battery life was impressive. Despite having the smallest capacity battery (47.4Wh) it managed to last nearly 12 hours in our general workload battery test – and bear in mind that it has a larger 15-inch display that has its brightness set to 100%. Even on the more intensive gaming workload, it lasted nearly 3 hours. Looking at the power consumption figures show that it was the most efficient notebook. All this means is that despite being a large 15-inch notebook, its Portability Index score easily rivals that of more compact 13 to 14-inch ultraportable notebooks.

 

Final thoughts

Microsoft could have done a lot more to make the Surface Laptop 4 more attractive.

Ultimately, the Surface Laptop 4 feels like a missed opportunity. I have no qualms with Microsoft leaving most of the notebook unchanged but their decision to use last year’s AMD processors is puzzling. And even if you take into account the model that uses Intel’s latest Tiger Lake processor, Microsoft’s refusal to update the USB-C port with Thunderbolt support makes it the only S$2,000 ultraportable notebook that I know of that only comes with a standard USB-C port. It might not matter to some people but a Thunderbolt port is infinitely more versatile and lets you connect high-performance docks and accessories that can add a lot of utility to a notebook.

Maybe they could have got away with it last year, but it's 2021 and the competition is different now. And I know the Surface Laptop looks fantastic and that it has a great display and outstanding battery life, but I fear that's not going to be enough.

Consequently, it’s hard to recommend the Surface Laptop 4 over any number of its rivals. There’s no shortage of smaller more compact notebooks that are just as, if not faster. And if you really need a notebook with a larger display, LG’s gram 16 looks like the better option. It weighs a lot less, has a slightly larger display, better ports (with Thunderbolt support), and it even costs less. Back to the drawing board, Microsoft.

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7.5
  • Design 8.5
  • Features 7
  • Performance 7.5
  • Value 7
  • Mobility 8
The Good
Sleek design and light weight
Outstanding build quality
Great display
Excellent battery life
First-class trackpad
The Bad
Outdated AMD processor
No Thunderbolt support
Display a tad too dim
Pricey
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