The Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 will need to pull something special out of the bag if it's to become a member of our best laptops lineup. And that will require it to really build upon the Microsoft Surface Laptop 3, which is a solid ultraportable but is now looking al little dated when compared to some of the latest ultraportable laptops.
The original Surface Laptop made its debut nearly three years ago where it was praised for effectively being an ultraportable laptop that channelled a lot of what made the original MacBook Air a much-loved laptop, only with modernised features and some neat design touches like an Alcantara-covered keyboard deck. Originally aimed at students, the Surface Laptop gained critical acclaim for its minimal design, a lack of bloatware on the software side, and a fantastic keyboard.
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The Surface Laptop effectively nailed the recipe for what makes a great Windows 10 ultraportable. So much so, that the Surface Laptop 2 was but a minor upgrade over it. Last year the Surface Laptop 3 arrived and sightly mixed things up a little with a bare aluminium finish, a USB-C port instead of a mini DisplayPort, and it introduced a 15-inch model into the lineup with a custom AMD processor.
However, as the Surface Laptop enters its fourth generation, it’s arguably time for a re-design. And that’s what we’re hoping from the Surface Laptop 4, which is likely on its way towards the second half of 2020. We don’t know a great deal about the Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 yet, but we’ve heard rumors and we have a few things we’d like Microsoft to add to its next laptop.
Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 release date
There have been no murmurs of when a Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 is due, but going by the past few Surface Laptop releases, we predict it’ll be launched towards the end of September or October.
The Surface Laptop 3 was revealed at the start of October 2019 and the Surface Laptop 2 was released in October 2018. So it would make sense for Microsoft to reveal the Surface Laptop 4 around the same time this year. It would also mean the laptop will likely hit the same release windows for Intel’s new laptop chips, which the Surface Laptop 4 will almost certainly have.
The only potential fly in the ointment is the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which has disrupted many supply chains. This could lead to the Surface Laptop 4 getting delayed by several months or potentially until the start of 2021.
Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 price
Pricing for the Surface Laptop 4 is open to speculation at the moment, but it’s very likely it’ll follow suit with the Surface Laptop 3. The 13-inch Surface Laptop 3 starts at $999 for the base model: an Intel Core i5 processor with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. On the high-end, there's a wallet-emptying $2,400 model with a Core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM, and 1TB of storage. The sweet spot specification for the laptop — a Core i5 CPU, 8GB of RAM and 256GB of SSD storage — comes in at $1,300.
So we’d expect a 13-inch Surface Laptop 4 to follow suit, perhaps with the entry-level model getting a higher base storage of 256GB without an increased price tag.
As for the 15-inch model, the larger Surface Laptop 3 starts at $1,200 for an AMD Ryzen 5 3580U chip partnered with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. A fully specced out 15-inch Surface Laptop 3 with a Ryzen 7 3780U, 32GB of RAM, and a 1TB SSD costs $2,800. Again, we’d expect a 15-inch Surface Laptop 4 to follow its predecessor’s pricing.
Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 specs
It’s under the hood where the Surface Laptop 4 is set to get interesting. And that’s thanks to new chips expected from Intel and improved laptop-grade chips from AMD.
The Surface Laptops tend to use the latest Intel mobile processors, which means that if the Surface Laptop 4 does indeed launch in October time it should coincide with the release of Intel’s Tiger Lake mobile processors. These new laptop-grade Core CPUs are expected to not only offer a hike in performance over the current Ice Lake generation Intel processors in the Surface Laptop 3, but will also have improved graphics performance thanks to having Intel’s new Xe integrated GPUs.
An Intel representative told us that the Xe graphics should offer double the performance of the Iris Plus GPUs in the Ice Lake CPUs. That should deliver chips that’ll be much more capable at handling graphically-demanding tasks, such as video rendering and some gaming.
A recent 3D Mark 11 performance benchmark leak shows what is thought to be a Surface Laptop 4 with a 2.7GHz Tiger Lake U-series Core chip undergoing testing. It delivered a physics score of 8,412 and a graphics score of 5,540. That puts it just a little under the AMD Radeon 7 4800U, which is tentatively impressive as that chip is likely to find its way into the larger 15-inch Surface Laptop 4. And the performance the Tiger Lake chip seems to have delivered utterly trounced the performance of the MacBook Air 2020, the main rival to the Surface Laptop machines.
For the 15-inch Surface Laptop 4, Microsoft could either stick with Intel’s processors or it could keep its larger laptop equipped with an AMD chip. The last pair of Ryzen chips in the Surface Laptop 3 used Intel’s Zen+ architecture, which means they didn’t tap into the faster performance and efficiency of the 7-nanometre Zen 2 architecture that AMD has for its Ryzen 4000-series of mobile processors.
So if Microsoft sticks with Ryzen CPUs for the 15-inch Surface Laptop 4, we’d expect them to be chips from the Ryzen 4000-series or perhaps custom version of the Ryzen 5 and Ryzen 7 from AMD’s laptop processor lineup. We’d also expect the integrated Vega GPUs found in the previous AMD chips to either be upgraded or tap into the Navi GPU architecture of AMD’s latest Radeon graphics cards.
We found the 15-inch Surface Laptop 3’s overall performance to be a little wanting, with the 13-inch model beating it in a lot of performance tests. So we’re hoping Microsoft has learned from that with the Surface Laptop 4, and that it’ll use the latest and greatest slices of silicon from AMD if it decides to go that route.
A new 3DMark benchmark leak has shown that the Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 is expected to have an AMD Ryzen 5 4500U processor. The processor was listed in the benchmark as having six cores and running from 2.4GHz to 3.99GHz, which tracks with the specification AMD has for its APU (accelerated processing unit), meaning this chip looks like its an off-the-shelf processor rather than a custom one made in partnership with Microsoft. But that could just be what the chip is labelled as in the benchmark.
As the chip in the benchmark is an APU, it also comes with AMD’s Radeon graphics. The GPU wasn’t mentioned by name but it has a 1,500MHz core clock speed and a memory speed of 1,333MHz. We know from AMD’s specifications for the Ryzen 5 4500U that this chip comes with six graphics cores.
As the Ryzen 5 4500U uses the latest Zen 2 architecture, we can expect it to easily outperform the older Ryzen chips found in the 15-inch Surface Laptop 3. That should mean better performance in gaming and creative tasks. Whether the chip will just be for a 15-inch Surface Laptop 4 or if it will also come to the 13-inch model wasn’t clear.
As for memory and storage, we predict both versions of the Surface Laptop 4 will stick mostly with the options presented for the Surface Laptop 3. RAM is likely to start at 8GB and go up to 32GB; much more would be overkill in a slim and light laptop. And given how games and video files are increasingly larger due to high-fidelity assets, we wouldn’t be surprised to see 256GB of storage become the base option for the Surface Laptop 4, topping out at 1TB on the high-end models with the option to upgrade the SSD further down the line.
Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 design
If it were up to us the Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 would get a rather thorough redesign. After all the current Surface Laptop design has been with us for three years, and while it’s not exactly long in the tooth, it’s getting on a bit.
We’d really like to see the Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 trim down the bezels that surround the current Surface Laptop 3’s PixelSense display, creating something akin to the InfinityEdge display found on the Dell XPS 13 and Dell XPS 15 2020. Opting for narrower bezels would allow Microsoft to put a larger display into the 13-inch and 15-inch Surface Laptop 4 machines without increasing their footprint; more screen real-estate without a larger laptop gets the thumbs up from us.
However, the leaks so far don’t suggest that the Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 will get a huge redesign. But there’s a good chance that Microsoft will evolve the design a bit, hopefully adding in Thunderbolt 3 support for the USB-C port, which was oddly missing in the Surface Laptop 3. A little more in the way of connectivity such as an extra USB-C port would be nice, but we won’t cross our fingers too tightly as Microsoft is likely to keep the port selection to a minimum in keeping with the Surface lineup’s clean aesthetic.
The Surface Connector is expected to remain a future in the Surface Laptop 4, as are the Alcantara and bare aluminium finishes. But we wouldn’t be surprised to see some new colors added into the mix, as well as the potential for the Alcantara finish to come to the 15-inch Surface Laptop 4
As the keyboard of all three generations of Surface Laptop has been met with critical acclaim, we expect the Surface Laptop 4 to also have a stellar keyboard with the tactile feedback and 1.3mm travel sported by the Surface Laptop 3.
The speakers that fire up through the keyboard deck is a neat feature on the Surface Laptop 3, but there’s scope for Microsoft to put in top-mounted speakers either side of the Surface Laptop 4 keyboard to challenge the excellent MacBook Air and MacBook Pro 16-inch speakers. However, such a design might detract from the clean aesthetic of Microsoft’s laptop.
We expect the Surface Laptop 4 to come with some clever engineering under its chassis, likely expanding on how the SSD can be easily swapped in the Surface Laptop 3. And improved cooling could enable the Surface Laptop 4 to extract the most performance out of its new chips.
Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 outlook
The Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 could go one of two ways. It could either have a small specs boost over the Surface Laptop 3 and nothing else, which would deliver a solid workhorse laptop that would suit a lot of people but not blow away tech fans. Or it could undergo a proper redesign, bringing in a machine that looks ready to set the standard for Windows 10 laptops from the end of 2020 and into 2021 and beyond.
We’re hoping for the latter. While a specs boost would be much appreciated, and we’d be excited to see what Intel Tiger Lake chips can do in Microsoft’s ultraportable machine, we want more. Slimmer bezels, a larger trackpad, USB-C with Thunderbolt 3, and whatever else Microsoft can throw at its laptop without undermining all the good things it has done wit the Surface Laptop thus far.
With devices like the Microsoft Surface Duo, Surface Pro 7, and the Xbox Series X, the folks at Redmond have shown they can design interesting and impressive hardware. And we’re hoping to see them bring their A-game to the Microsoft Surface Laptop 4.