New support pages published by Microsoft for upcoming Surface Laptops suggest the company will refresh both its AMD and Intel laptops as soon as next week. Under the hood, both machines will receive a generational update, which may still put them on a rather different footing.
Note: Intel has decided to stop publishing base clocks for its mobile CPUs. It now publishes only the “TDP Up” and “TDP Down” base clocks available when the manufacturer configures the CPU to use more or less power than is typical. This is a decision the OEM makes at the factory and it’s almost never communicated to end customers. Smartphone manufacturers get away with only quoting boost clocks, but it’s not a trend we want to see in the PC space. Intel continues to publish base clocks for desktop chips.
Going forward, we will refer to Intel’s TDP Down clock as its “minimal clock” and will use this data point in places where we once used “base clock” when the TDP Down speed is the only information provided. While this is undoubtedly lower than the clock Tiger Lake provides when run in normal mode, Intel’s refusal to provide base clock speeds requires us to err on the side of caution when presenting information to readers. In the past, we have treated base clock as representing the minimal clock a user could expect. Now that Intel won’t provide that information, we’ll use “Minimal clock” as a reference point instead until and unless Intel begins providing base clocks again.
Getting back to the Surface, for Intel, a generational upgrade means stepping up to Tiger Lake. TGL didn’t deliver much in the way of direct IPC improvements, but it enables significantly higher clock speeds and offers a new, faster GPU over last generation’s Ice Lake. It’s currently Intel’s fastest architecture. Included Intel Tiger Lake CPUs for the Surface Laptop 4 are supposed to be the Core i5-1145G7 and the Core i7-1185G7. Intel defines the Core i7-1185G7 as having a minimal clock of 1.2GHz with a boost clock of 4.8GHz and the Core i5-1145G7 as having a minimal clock of 1.1GHz and a boost clock of 4.4GHz.
For AMD, the situation isn’t quite as nice. AMD’s Ryzen 5000 series features Zen 3 cores, but Microsoft (supposedly) isn’t using those chips. Instead, it’s going to tap the Ryzen 5 4680U and the Ryzen 7 4980U. AMD has a Ryzen 5 4600U with a 2.1GHz base clock and a 4GHz boost. Our guess is that the Ryzen 7 4980U is an up-market Ryzen 7 4800U; the 4800U offers a 1.8GHz base clock and a 4.2GHz boost clock. AMD has previously produced custom APU models for Microsoft. We’d bet that the reason this new chip is called the Ryzen 7 4980U (if that name is accurate) is because it remains a 15W CPU. AMD’s Ryzen 9 4900HS is a 35W CPU.
This creates something of a lopsided comparison — we’d really prefer to see Ryzen 5000 in these systems — but it’s probably not a deliberate snub on Microsoft’s part. Microsoft has never been willing to synchronize Surface launches with Intel’s product roadmaps and has occasionally launched products on previous-generation Intel hardware when newer chips were already in-market.
Surface Laptop 4 with AMD Processor Drivers and Firmware (placeholder) https://t.co/lJ7Opg9NHB
— WalkingCat (@_h0x0d_) April 7, 2021
The links themselves are placeholders for now, but they build on earlier leaks concerning which chips would be featured in the new Surface Laptops. We should note that while we would like to see Ryzen 5000 CPUs in these systems, moving to Ryzen 4000 still offers some significant improvements. The APUs in Microsoft’s Surface Laptop 3 were 12nm chips built on Zen+, not the newer Zen 2 architecture. It was only last year that we were praising the Ryzen 4000 series for giving AMD a real leg up into the market, after all.
AMD was quite satisfied with the Surface Laptop 3, even though it didn’t win cleanly against the competitive Ice Lake model at the time. The AMD version of the SL3 was heavily optimized and some of that optimization work was used to improve future laptop designs with other OEMs (this is all according to AMD itself). We’ve seen much stronger uptake for Ryzen 5000 than Ryzen 4000 enjoyed as OEMs have come around to the idea that the smaller CPU manufacturer can compete effectively in mobile as well.
The dual Surface Laptop 4 launch will also give us an opportunity to compare head-to-head generational improvements. Most laptop manufacturers don’t launch identical SKUs that only vary by the CPU manufacturer. There are also rumors that AMD will be offered in both 13.5-inch and 15-inch systems, expanding the total number of Surface Laptops that use AMD in the first place.
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