Graphics Performance

One major point of differentiation with the previous generation Surface Laptop 3 was Microsoft partnering with AMD to offer a "semi-custom" design. For the APUs that went into the Surface laptops, Microsoft got chips with an additional graphics unit (CU) enabled for both the Ryzen 5 and Ryzen 7 models, resulting in nine and eleven total graphics units, respectively.

With Renoir, AMD decided to cut back on the total graphics hardware for their integrated Vega GPU, and make up the difference with higher frequencies thanks to the better 7 nm process. As such, a normal 15-Watt Ryzen 5 model will offer six graphics units, and Ryzen 7 offers eight. The semi-custom Ryzen Microsoft Surface Editions do get access to an additional graphics unit on the Ryzen 5 models, bumping it up to seven total, but the Ryzen 7 4980U is not so lucky, and makes do with the same eight compute units as all other Ryzen 7 4000 series processors. Any performance uplifts from the normal Ryzen 7 will be due to the higher maximum frequency, boosted to 1950 MHz on the 4980U, which is 200 MHz higher than the Ryzen 7 4800U, and 350 MHz higher than the Ryzen 7 4700U.

Surface Laptop Processors
CPU Intel Core i5-1145G7 Intel Core i7-1185G7 AMD Ryzen 5 4680U AMD Ryzen 7 4980U
GPU Design Intel Iris Xe Intel Iris Xe AMD Vega AMD Vega
GPU Size 80 Execution Units 96 Execution Units 7 Compute Units 8 Compute Units
Max Boost Frequency 1300 MHz 1350 MHz 1500 MHz 1950 Mhz
Process Intel 10nm SuperFin Intel 10nm SuperFin TSMC 7nm TSMC 7nm

To see how the Surface Laptop 4 performs in gaming, it was run through our standard laptop graphics suite, which includes a couple of synthetic tests, as well as some actual gaming results. For the most part, the comparison devices are either AMD or Intel with integrated graphics. The MSI Prestige, highlighted in blue, features the latest Intel Xe graphics thanks to its Tiger Lake internals. The Surface Book 3 is included just to get a feel for where the integrated results are against a device with a decent dGPU, as the Surface Book 3 features the NVIDIA GTX 1660 Ti graphics adapter.

3DMark

Futuremark 3DMark Fire Strike

Futuremark 3DMark Sky Diver

Futuremark 3DMark Cloud Gate

Futuremark 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited

As a purely synthetic test, 3DMark offers several levels of scene complexity, with Fire Strike being the most demanding, and Ice Storm Unlimited being a test which can be run on low-end phones and tablets. Other than Cloud Gate, which is CPU limited, the Renoir platform, even with the highest frequencies available, is not able to match Tiger Lake in terms of GPU performance. The Surface Laptop 4 does show a nice bump over the other devices though, so the increased frequency headroom of the Ryzen 7 4980U certainly helps.

GFXBench

GFXBench 5.0 Aztec Ruins Normal 1080p Offscreen

GFXBench 5.0 Aztec Ruins High 1440p Offscreen

In the second synthetic test, we see a similar result. Although the Surface Laptop 4 with Ryzen is not able to surpass the 96 EU Intel Xe GPU in the MSI Prestige, it is still noticeably ahead of the other devices.

Tomb Raider

Tomb Raider - Value

Although several years old now, the first of the rebooted Tomb Raider games can still be very demanding for internal graphics, especially with the resolution and details turned up. On lower settings, it is easily playable, with the Surface Laptop 4 just about hitting 120 FPS at our Value settings of 1366x768 Normal, but on 1920x1080 Ultra, the Surface Laptop 4 hits just 25 FPS average.

Rise of the Tomb Raider

Rise of the Tomb Raider - Value

The second installment of the rebooted Tomb Raider series added DirectX 12 support, and cranked up the graphics significantly. At the same Value settings as the previous game in the series, framerate drops to under 50 FPS average for the Surface Laptop 4, and it can’t quite match the Tiger Lake system which is on the cusp of 60 FPS average. This is a game we could not even realistically run on laptops from just a couple of years ago though, so on both the AMD and Intel side, integrated GPUs have come a long way.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider

Shadow of the Tomb Raider - Value

The latest installment in the Tomb Raider series is one we don’t even normally run on iGPU devices, as the results are unplayable, but to get a comparison, it was included this time. At 30 FPS average for the Surface Laptop 4, this is likely not going to be a great experience.

Strange Brigade

Strange Brigade - Value

Another DirectX 12 title, Strange Brigade is not as demanding as some of the latest AAA titles, and as such, is definitely playable on devices with the latest integrated graphics. At 65 FPS, the game is 100% playable, but still well behind Tiger Lake.

F1 2019

F1 2019 - Value

So far, the results have been quite clear, and although the gaps tighten up on F1 2019, as it is more CPU intensive than some of the previous games would have been, the Renoir APU still finds itself behind Tiger Lake.

Far Cry 5

Far Cry 5 - Value

Far Cry is also a game that can be somewhat CPU limited, but not so much with these lower powered GPUs, and again, the pattern is the same as all of the other tests. What is interesting is how much better the Renoir system is than the previous Surface Laptop 3 with Picasso though. Moving down from 11 CUs down to 8 was easily overcome with the extra frequency headroom, and increased CPU throughput of the Renoir design. The latest AMD Cezanne APUs do not increase the GPU size either, so in theory, performance should be fairly similar to the Surface Laptop 4 on these titles.

GPU Conclusion

It is a bit of a let down to see that for this latest generation, Microsoft was not able to again add a larger GPU to the Ryzen 7, like they did for the Surface Laptop 3. The Ryzen 7 4980U is technically a semi-custom design, but really this only down to it being the best binned Renoir APUs that AMD is offering. Given AMD's history with graphics, it is a bit surprising to see Intel now leading on integrated graphics performance, especially after years of the UHD 620 and previous generation designs being quite low performance. AMD first made integrated graphics a priority with the original Ryzen APUs, adding in their Vega graphics architecture, and outclassing the competition in the process. But in this case, AMD has seemingly rested on its laurels, and with Tiger Lake, Intel has stolen this crown back. And, with AMD not adding any more graphics units with Cezanne, it is unlikely this will change.

The performance is good, and the extra frequency allowed on the 4980U does bump it ahead of the other Renoir devices we have tested, but AMD's integrated Vega GPU is definitely not the fastest iGPU anymore.

System Performance Display Analysis
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  • Reflex - Thursday, May 6, 2021 - link

    This list is silly. Almost all of the things you mention are mostly accessed wirelessly these days. USB-A to USB-C adapters are super cheap and Anker sells a nice line of USB-C hubs that provide additional ports if you truly need them. I have one in my bag due to my Dell laptop having only 2 USB-C ports, but I can't even remember the last time I needed to use it.

    There are excellent actual bluetooth mice out there, I use a Microsoft one.
    Who is using their optical drive on the go, or really at all?
    Your storage is better in the cloud or on the network, again how most people use it nowadays.
    Also, printers, can you even buy a decent printer that isn't wireless now?
    And again, bluetooth keyboards are a thing and they are cheap.

    Just bizarre list. Reads like someone stuck in computing from 15 years ago.

    If this is your list of needs, modern ultrabooks are not for you.
    Reply
  • Kevin G - Thursday, May 6, 2021 - link

    Or people reasonably can't afford to repurchase everything. A cheap just to get it done wired mouse can be had for as little as $5 where as a good BlueTooth mouse starts at $20. The kicker is that people already have a wired mouse they could plug-in and use. Yeah, $20 in the grand scheme of things but when you have pay that extra amount five or six times, it starts to get noticed by the masses especially on top of the price of a new ultrabook.

    Ditto for printers. If you've saved up and purchased a unit years ago and is humming along nicely, why replace it with something new? At some point it does make sense to upgrade due to the lack of ink/toner available on the market or it just breaks down, but realistically things can last a very long time.

    My Dell 5540M I'm currently using has two USB-A and one TB3 port and I often find myself limited. I use a lot of hardwired networking to isolated networks so there goes one port dedicated to that. The wired networking port generally gets the TB port even though it is type-A and I'll need an A-to-C adapter. One Type A goes to a wired mouse since it also doubles as a mouse for some systems that either have BT disabled or no wireless connectivity at all (and i'm not going to carry a second one if i don't have to). The remaining type A is often used for removable storage or a wired audio device. Thankfully I still have a dedicated barrel power jack. The TB3 port also supports power in a pinch and I borrowed other people's type-c chargers in an emergency. There are indeed times where I wish I had four USB ports.

    I also do have access to a USB external optical drive which I pull out once or twice year to access an old physical media file. I've probably had this over half a decade with the same relative pace of usage and probably will keep on to it until it break at what point I imagine it'll pass the decade mark. My coworkers know I have it and again a few times a year one will ask to borrow it for a similar one-off data transfer. Migrating data to the network/cloud is a generally a good idea but it takes time, has costs (and monthly costs for the cloud) associated for it and a small amount of skill on the user's end.
    Reply
  • simonpschmitt - Friday, May 7, 2021 - link

    While your desccribed use case seems to need more (USB) ports at times most of it could be managed by a cheap USB-hub.
    Additionally, you must admit that this is beyond propably 99% of computer users out there.
    Most people don't use one mouse for more than one computer.
    Actually everyone I know outside IT does not use wired networking on a mobile device.
    For my sisters (both teachers) and parents (small buisness owners) switching everything possible to wireless was propably the best quality of live upgrade since they use computers.
    Reply
  • Kevin G - Monday, May 10, 2021 - link

    Hubs can be problematic vs. having the port natively in a device. Large capacity hubs or those that can power other devices require AC outlets. Small data only hubs exist but generally are not the highest quality. Hubs also run the risk of some one tripping over a cable and unplugging everything off of that hub (uplink is disconnected) vs. a single device. A single home run to the host device is strongly preferred where every possible. This also applies to various adapters from say USB-C to DisplayPort: a single cable with the proper ends is preferred over a USB-C to female DP port and a DP-to-DP cable. Simply less to go wrong in the single path and you carry around less.

    Wired networking is critical for me as I often work on isolated, wired networks. There have been at times where I've been on two independent wired networks and still had wi-fi going. I realize that my use-case is rather specific but it does drive home the more general idea that the number of USB ports on a system is restrictively small, especially if they're pulling double duty for the likes of power, video, audio and networking.
    Reply
  • PaulMack - Thursday, May 6, 2021 - link

    I've had a Surface for some time and, while the limitation to one USB port is occasionally annoying, it's never been for a mouse. It's a premium device, and it's not unreasonable to spend $/£/€50 on a Bluetooth mouse. I only ever hit the limit when connecting a memory stick and another peripheral, and that's rare when on the move without the dock. Reply
  • MrCommunistGen - Thursday, May 6, 2021 - link

    You can get a pretty inexpensive travel USB-A 3.0 hub for less than $20. I just keep one in my travel bag. A quick search turned up two different 4-port models for $13-15. Reply
  • yankeeDDL - Friday, May 7, 2021 - link

    By "expensive adapter" you mean something like this (25usd)? https://www.amazon.com/-/es/Adaptador-USB-Hub-Mult...

    Using more than 2 USB port at the time is quite rare. Yes, more ports would help, but clearly teh space is rather limited.
    Reply
  • Spunjji - Friday, May 7, 2021 - link

    If you're using an external optical drive and a printer then you can probably handle using a hub, too. Reply
  • 29a - Friday, May 7, 2021 - link

    People giving presentations often need more than one USB port which I can see this laptop being used to give a lot of presentations. A flash drive and a Powerpoint presenter are both commonly used when giving presentations, that's two USB ports there. Reply
  • philehidiot - Sunday, May 9, 2021 - link

    Typical use case for a business machine - running software that requires a USB dongle to operate. Removing it disables the software. One port down. Need to charge? Both down. How about people who leave a low profile USB drive in a slot for local back up purposes? If my livelihood is based on what is on that machine, I've got a local backup running as well as cloud.

    Sure, plug in a USB C dongle with a wire and giant block with all the connections you'll need (because having a different one for every use is expensive and fiddly) and you'd better not be using the laptop on your lap on a train or in a car. It'll dangle off your lap, yanking on the port constantly.

    A business laptop, in my humble opinion, should have three available ports as a minimum. But as others have said here, they are likely working on feedback from telemetry and real world use. 95% of people don't use it so screw 5%.

    In my view, a business laptop like this, with such an asking price should be putting in the extras that ensure more than the bare minimum for the majority. The people who have a use case as I have suggested above simply won't buy it, so it won't be their problem.
    Reply

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