Microsoft's Intel-Based Surface Laptop 5 Gets Worse Battery Life Than AMD's Laptop 4

Microsoft Intel Surface Laptop 5
(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

The big news when Microsoft recently refreshed its Surface Laptop 5 was that the company had ditched the AMD-based option (which we last saw in the Surface Laptop 4), going all-in on Intel's 12th Gen silicon (save for the Surface Pro 9, which is available in both Intel- and Arm-based models). The shift to Intel only on the Surface Laptop 5 also brings Thunderbolt 4/ USB 4 to the laptop's sole USB-C port for the first time, which means you can now connect the laptop up to two 4K displays at up to 60 Hz (provided you bring your own dock).

But aside from a new sage (light green) color in the smaller 13.5-inch model, the Surface Laptop 5 is effectively the same laptop on the outside as the Surface Laptop 4. Microsoft says the dimensions, weight and 1.3mm key travel on the keyboard are the same – yes, the keyboard is still excellent. You even still get a 720p webcam which, while not awful for what it is, kind of feels insulting for a laptop that starts at $1,299 here in late 2022. In some ways, much of that is fine because the Surface Laptop 4 was an excellent laptop, and our review unit of the Surface Laptop 5 also looks and feels excellent.

Surface Laptop 5 Specs (as Tested)

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Header Cell - Column 0 Surface Laptop 5Surface Laptop 4
CPUIntel Core i7-1255UAMD Ryzen 7 4980U (Microsoft Surface Edition)
GraphicsIntel Iris XeAMD Radeon Vega graphics (Integrated)
Memory16GB LPDDR5x16GB LPDDR4-4266
Storage512GB SSD PCIe NVMe SSD512GB PCIe NVMe SSD
Display15-inch, 2496 x 1664 touchscreen15-inch, 2496 x 1664 touchscreen
NetworkingIntel Wi-Fi 6 AX 201 and Bluetooth 5.2Intel Wi-Fi 6 AX 200 and Bluetooth 5
PortsThunderbolt 4 / USB 4 Type-C, USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A, 3.5 mm headphone jack, Microsoft Surface Connect portUSB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-C, USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A, 3.5 mm headphone jack, Microsoft Surface Connect port
Camera720p IR720p IR
Battery47.4 WHr47.4 WHr
Power Adapter65 W65 W
Operating SystemWindows 11 HomeWindows 10 Home
Dimensions(WxDxH)13.4 x 9.6 x 0.58 inches / 339.5 x 244 x 14.7 mm13.4 x 9.6 x 0.58 inches / 339.5 x 244 x 14.7 mm
Weight3.4 pounds, 1.54 kg3.4 pounds, 1.54 kg
Price (as configured)$1,799.99$1,699.99

We haven't yet had a chance to put our review unit through our usual tests yet, because it arrived less than a day before launch. But our sibling site Tom's Guide did manage to get most of their usual testing done on its Surface Laptop 5, and one thing stands out: battery life. When we tested the AMD-powered Surface Laptop 4 in the spring of 2021(running a Ryzen 7 4980U CPU), it delivered an excellent 12 hours and 4 minutes of unplugged run time in our battery test, which involves web browsing, video streaming and OpenGL tests with the display set at 150 nits and the laptop connected to Wi-Fi.

The Surface Laptop 5 that Tom's Guide tested, with an Intel Core i7-1255U (using the same battery test as we use), lasted 9 hours and 50 minutes on the same test. So the last-gen AMD-powered Surface Laptop 4 lasted 2 hours and 14 minutes longer than the Intel-powered Surface Laptop 5. Now, to be fair to Intel (and Microsoft), Tom's Guide only had time to test their laptop's battery life once, rather than the three-run average that usually gets reported. We are awaiting more battery tests later this week, and will test our own (with a slightly higher-end Core i7-1265U) to be sure about the new model's battery life number. But after one round of testing, it seems like Microsoft made a battery life sacrifice with the Surface Laptop 5 when it ditched AMD for new Intel silicon, and the Surface Laptop 4 had a 4000-series AMD laptop, which was dated at the time and now two generations old.

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

All that said, we don't want to discount the performance Intel's i7-1255U offers in the Surface Laptop 5. Its Cinebench 5.4 scores of 1,674 (single core) and 8,709 (multi-core) are significantly higher than the AMD-powered Surface Laptop 4 (1,173 single, 6748 multi). But in the Handbrake test, which transcodes a 4K test video to 1080p, the older, AMD-powered Surface Pro 4 finished in 8 minutes and 21 seconds. The brand-new Intel-powered Surface Laptop 5 finished the same test with an average time of 8:46 across three runs. That's not a huge difference, but it's another test where the new model can't beat the old one.

Again, we have to spend some more time testing to solidify the battery life number, as well as other benchmarks for the Surface Laptop 5. We'll be working on a full review this week where we will more thoroughly evaluate the laptop. But as much as we like the shell, keyboard and screen of the Surface Laptop 5, it's not looking like a stellar update over the Surface Laptop 4. That's especially true when you consider the newer model sells for $1,799 with the same RAM (16GB) and storage (512GB) as our Surface Laptop 4 did at launch ($1,699). That looks even worse today, when Microsoft itself is selling the same configuration of the Surface Laptop 4 for $1,399 (opens in new tab).

After a rough start with the Mattel Aquarius as a child, Matt built his first PC in the late 1990s and ventured into mild PC modding in the early 2000s. He’s spent the last 15 years covering emerging technology for Smithsonian, Popular Science, and Consumer Reports, while testing components and PCs for Computer Shopper, PCMag and Digital Trends.

  • rluker5
    If you used a 2w Atom the Atom's battery life would completely destroy the vastly faster Ryzen 4980. That chip can't even idle that low. But your laptop would suck because it is using a 2w Atom.
    The largest difference is the faster (40% single, 30% multi, in cinebench) chip is using more power. As usual.
    Maybe MS decided to upgrade their performance. Usually the faster chip uses more power.
    Also did the handbrake test use quick sync? I think that is an option and it isn't unfair to enable a hardware advantage when doing a hardware comparison.
    Reply
  • The Historical Fidelity
    rluker5 said:
    If you used a 2w Atom the Atom's battery life would completely destroy the vastly faster Ryzen 4980. That chip can't even idle that low. But your laptop would suck because it is using a 2w Atom.
    The largest difference is the faster (40% single, 30% multi, in cinebench) chip is using more power. As usual.
    Maybe MS decided to upgrade their performance. Usually the faster chip uses more power.
    Also did the handbrake test use quick sync? I think that is an option and it isn't unfair to enable a hardware advantage when doing a hardware comparison.
    Yeah but the zen 3 6000 mobile series with RDNA2 graphics is much faster at the same power usage compared to 4000 series and idles at lower power levels so Microsoft’s decision seems like one of back door dealings reminiscent of old Intel. I would be all for Microsoft ditching AMD if Intel was faster AND same or more power efficient, but to be less power efficient in this market segment does not seem a logical choice unless Intel is trying their anti-competitive “discounts for Intel loyalty” offers again.
    Reply
  • Sleepy_Hollowed
    On portable devices not used for gaming/engineering, better battery is top priority, so that’s a wtf.
    Reply
  • rluker5
    The Historical Fidelity said:
    Yeah but the zen 3 6000 mobile series with RDNA2 graphics is much faster at the same power usage compared to 4000 series and idles at lower power levels so Microsoft’s decision seems like one of back door dealings reminiscent of old Intel. I would be all for Microsoft ditching AMD if Intel was faster AND same or more power efficient, but to be less power efficient in this market segment does not seem a logical choice unless Intel is trying their anti-competitive “discounts for Intel loyalty” offers again.
    Zen3 6000 series is still significantly slower in single thread than the Alder couterpart and there may not have been adequate stock available.
    So it looks at least as likely that MS wanted a premium chip for their premium product, and wanted to be able to have that product available for sale as your "backdoor deals" theory.
    Making a deal to put in a slower product in exchange for money is what you are accusing MS of doing here when it is just the opposite. That is likely what would be the case if they went with the inferior (except for low end gaming) AMD APU.
    And note my first point: there are more efficient, and slower chips out there than both of these options. But almost 10 hours of continuous use isn't bad for top performance in the form factor. You are really getting to the point of diminishing returns if you are chasing for more battery life than that.
    Reply
  • -Fran-
    So it's either Thunderbolt 4 or Intel gave Microsoft a VERY GOOD discount on those CPUs in some way.

    Considering the other parts were also Intel in the Surface 4, there could be a "bulk buy" thing going on. Those WiFi+BT modules are expensive on their own, so there may be something there that AMD can't do with Realtek and, to be fair, those WiFi+BT modules from Realtek are garbage.

    It makes for a good headline the fact the battery lasts less, for sure. Given the use case of these machines, the performance delta doesn't matter that much? I mean, if you want to edit stuff on the go, just get a Mac with the M1Pro and call it a day, I'd say?

    Ah, it could also be a timing thing. The AMD APUs with RDNA2 aren't out yet and Microsoft probably (more than likely) didn't want a rebrand/refresh of good ol' Vega8. I'm sure they didn't want to pay for a custom APU either, so on that account, it would make sense that Intel has either better timing and/or lower bulk pricing. I think the timing part may be a bigger deal for MS to sway Intel's way.

    EDIT: Oh, the new Ry 6K mobile series do have RDNA2 in them:
    2_Ik1vgIBN4View: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2_Ik1vgIBN4

    It performs quite well even... Hm...

    EDIT2: This is more apples to apples
    UK5T4SvTgeQView: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UK5T4SvTgeQ

    Oh welp, just random thoughts on the matter.

    Regards.
    Reply
  • Kamen Rider Blade
    The Historical Fidelity said:
    Yeah but the zen 3 6000 mobile series with RDNA2 graphics is much faster at the same power usage compared to 4000 series and idles at lower power levels so Microsoft’s decision seems like one of back door dealings reminiscent of old Intel. I would be all for Microsoft ditching AMD if Intel was faster AND same or more power efficient, but to be less power efficient in this market segment does not seem a logical choice unless Intel is trying their anti-competitive “discounts for Intel loyalty” offers again.
    Yup, that's what I'm afraid of as well.

    Given the way MS currently runs, I wouldn't be surprised if they accepted such deals.
    Reply
  • daworstplaya
    This smells like the whole Xbox console launch backdoor last minute deal all over again. Where Intel swoops in at the last minute and pushes the better competitor out.
    Reply
  • The Historical Fidelity
    rluker5 said:
    Zen3 6000 series is still significantly slower in single thread than the Alder couterpart and there may not have been adequate stock available.
    So it looks at least as likely that MS wanted a premium chip for their premium product, and wanted to be able to have that product available for sale as your "backdoor deals" theory.
    Making a deal to put in a slower product in exchange for money is what you are accusing MS of doing here when it is just the opposite. That is likely what would be the case if they went with the inferior (except for low end gaming) AMD APU.
    And note my first point: there are more efficient, and slower chips out there than both of these options. But almost 10 hours of continuous use isn't bad for top performance in the form factor. You are really getting to the point of diminishing returns if you are chasing for more battery life than that.
    AMD 6800U beats the Intel 1260p in the majority of applications while sipping 25 watts vs 28 watts and even beats intel’s top of the line 12900HK 45 watt cpu in many applications. All while the AMD 6800U having 13% better battery life than the Intel 1260p.

    I suggest watching this: thanks Fran for linking this
    UK5T4SvTgeQView: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UK5T4SvTgeQ
    Reply
  • cyrusfox
    -Fran- said:
    WiFi+BT modules are expensive
    They are like $20... Not expensive at all
    Reply
  • -Fran-
    cyrusfox said:
    They are like $20... Not expensive at all
    For the total BOM of the laptop, I'd say it is comparably higher than other components like the sound DAC, for instance. And Intel could give them away for free even and then charge more if you don't buy it with an Intel CPU.

    Regards.
    Reply