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)
|Header Cell - Column 0||Surface Laptop 5||Surface Laptop 4|
|CPU||Intel Core i7-1255U||AMD Ryzen 7 4980U (Microsoft Surface Edition)|
|Graphics||Intel Iris Xe||AMD Radeon Vega graphics (Integrated)|
|Memory||16GB LPDDR5x||16GB LPDDR4-4266|
|Storage||512GB SSD PCIe NVMe SSD||512GB PCIe NVMe SSD|
|Display||15-inch, 2496 x 1664 touchscreen||15-inch, 2496 x 1664 touchscreen|
|Networking||Intel Wi-Fi 6 AX 201 and Bluetooth 5.2||Intel Wi-Fi 6 AX 200 and Bluetooth 5|
|Ports||Thunderbolt 4 / USB 4 Type-C, USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A, 3.5 mm headphone jack, Microsoft Surface Connect port||USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-C, USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A, 3.5 mm headphone jack, Microsoft Surface Connect port|
|Camera||720p IR||720p IR|
|Battery||47.4 WHr||47.4 WHr|
|Power Adapter||65 W||65 W|
|Operating System||Windows 11 Home||Windows 10 Home|
|Dimensions(WxDxH)||13.4 x 9.6 x 0.58 inches / 339.5 x 244 x 14.7 mm||13.4 x 9.6 x 0.58 inches / 339.5 x 244 x 14.7 mm|
|Weight||3.4 pounds, 1.54 kg||3.4 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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
It performs quite well even... Hm...
EDIT2: This is more apples to apples
Oh welp, just random thoughts on the matter.
Given the way MS currently runs, I wouldn't be surprised if they accepted such deals.
I suggest watching this: thanks Fran for linking this