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  • Soon Kai Hong

Upgrading From Surface Laptop 1 To Surface Laptop 5

I personally own a Microsoft Surface Laptop and yeap, there’s no number to it. It’s the original Surface Laptop. Since then, I’ve actually taken a look at the Surface Laptop 2, 3 and 4 and for all those revisions, I’ve never felt a need to upgrade at all. But we now have the Surface Laptop 5 and while the two might be indistinguishable at a glance, apart from the dbrand skin on mine of course, this might finally be the one to upgrade to.

Now to give a little bit of context, I bought my Surface Laptop quite a few years ago and I mainly got it to really just do simple things such as work documents, the occasional web browsing and YouTube binging and as a device to handle file transfers on the go. In that regard, it performed admirably and that’s despite it just having a dual-core Intel Core i7 7th-Gen with just 8GB of RAM and 256GB SSD.

Extremely paltry specs in this day and age but even till today, it’s honestly more than enough for those simple tasks. I mean, I could still do some Lightroom and Photoshop if I wanted to and it’s still pretty capable.

And so when Microsoft updated the Surface Laptop every generation since then, I really didn’t feel the need to upgrade at all. Up the way up till the Surface Laptop 4, there wasn’t really much of an actual difference in real world usage in both user experience satisfaction and annoyances that was vastly different from my very first Surface Laptop. Sure, with the Surface Laptop 4, it was indeed quite a bit faster in terms of system responsiveness and SSD speeds and whatnot but even so, I didn’t feel it was that big a jump that would’ve justified spending nearly S$2,000 or more just for that.

But now we have the Surface Laptop 5 featuring the latest 12th-Gen Intel Core processors and this I feel, is finally worthy to upgrade to.

So for this review, we aren’t really going to go through all the aspects that the Surface Laptop 5 has to offer but rather the things that I noticed coming from the original Surface Laptop that I personally own. So this is kind of a longer term review per se, coming from years of usage and possibly a much more accurate representation to those of who’ve also waited such a long time for an upgrade.

To start, I do want to touch a little about the design.

To cut straight to the chase, it hasn’t really changed at all and in my opinion, that’s actually a good thing. Microsoft is kind of following in Apple’s shoes here and sure, the bezels may be a tad thick in comparison to most other laptops now but it’s honestly still reasonably sized and does give the Surface Laptop its iconic look. The use of aluminium is still really beautiful and of course, Alcantara is by far the best feature.

It is extremely comfortable and it really is what makes the Surface lineup distinct. Honestly, half the reason why I bought the Surface laptop was simply because of the typing experience thanks to that Alcantara and I’ve never regretted a single thing about that. It is that awesome. As for those of you who were concerned about the condition of Alcantara over the years, here’s my Surface Laptop as an example. About 5 years now and going and as you can tell, still holds up pretty well. Slightly yellowing and discolouration on the edges but nothing major per se. Of course, I didn’t spill anything on it so that does play a part but in general, it will hold up well.

On that note, the keyboard and trackpad are probably still the best in the Windows space and are at the top of my list right alongside the Macbooks and the Razer Blades.

All in all, the design of the Surface Laptop is great and I still love it.

Now one neat upgrade over the original Surface Laptop that I have is the fact there’s a Type-C port. This is incredibly useful and much more versatile over the MiniDisplay Port that I have with mine. That can only really do display output while this is fully capable of that and connecting to all sorts of accessories and most importantly, charging via Type-C.

The fact that I can chuck the Surface Connect back home and just bring along a GaN charger is a life-changer for me. It’s amazing.

Some of you might note that the previous Surface Laptop 4 already included yet and yes, you’ll be right, partially. While there was a Type-C port available with the 4, that was just a standard Type-C port. This on the other hand is Thunderbolt 4 which opens up yet even more versatility. I might be over exaggerating how great the Type-C Thunderbolt 4 port here is but trust me, it makes a whole world of a difference. And you still get a standard Type-A USB port as well as the 3.5mm combo, real nice.

The last major thing that I feel is worth the upgrade would be the performance and battery life that Intel 12th-Gen offers.

With our model, we have the Core i7 SKU and it’s actually using the Core i7-1255U in particular which boasts a total of 10 cores and 12 threads featuring 2 performance cores and 8 efficiency cores. That is a whopping difference compared to the Core i7-7660U with just 2 cores and 4 threads.

Even without going through things like Cinebench or PCMark, you can definitely tell there’s a distinct difference in performance and responsiveness between the two just by using the laptop for standard casual tasks. With the Surface Laptop 5, loading of pages and photos on Google is much faster, loading the main YouTube page and playing 4K video is much faster, transferring of files is much faster. Everything just feels much more snappy and we aren’t talking differences of milliseconds here, it’s differences of seconds or much more.

And if we were to really put those two chips to the test, the differences grow. Take Genshin Impact for example, playing a full-fledged 3D game that really uses quite a bit of CPU and iGPU power to run.

Sure, I do have to turn down the rendering resolution to 0.8x and run it on the Medium preset with SMAA enabled to smooth out those jaggy lines and even then, I’m only getting roughly 45 frames per second on average with 1% lows near 30 frames per second. But it is an extremely playable experience and the fan noise is pretty minimal since it spins pretty slowly.

Again, it’s not the best experience out there but compared to my original Surface Laptop, Genshin would’ve been a straight up unplayable experience with single digit frame rates no matter the graphics setting.

But perhaps the best part is that battery life is certainly much better despite the two laptops having pretty much the same battery capacity at 47Wh thereabouts. Even back when my Surface Laptop was brand new, I was getting just roughly 6-7 hours of typical usage. Now it’s much closer to 5 or so.

With the Surface Laptop 5 however, I could easily get nearly 9 hours or even 10. Just goes to show how much more efficient Intel has become with every generation of their chips.

So all in all, it’s been great. But that’s not to say that it’s perfect because it really isn’t.

A few things stand out when comparing the two laptops. For a start, the webcam is still 720p and that makes zero sense to me whatsoever. Microsoft, it’s been a few generations and your Surface Pro already has the good webcam. Just take that, shave off a few millimetres and chuck in here. Shouldn’t be that difficult.

Secondly, the display. Sure, it’s still great with a resolution higher than 1080p and has a 3:2 aspect ratio which I do love. But it’s also pretty much the exact same display since forever. It just gets a little brighter and is slightly more colour accurate but that’s about it. Honestly, I’m fine with the resolution as it is but if there was a 90Hz refresh rate option or even 120Hz just like with the Surface Pro 9, that would’ve been sweet.

Lastly, more Alcantara colour options please, seriously.

With the first generation Surface Laptop, we have 4 colours in total, all of which sported Alcantara. There’s the classic Platinum, Cobalt Blue, Burgundy and Graphite Gold. So much more to choose from and all of them are beautiful. Sure, there are new colours with the Surface Laptop 5 such as Sage but it doesn’t have Alcantara. If you want Alcantara, Platinum is the only option available.

But all that aside, the latest Surface Laptop 5 from Microsoft is still very much a properly good laptop. It just ticks all the right boxes, at least for me. And it finally has enough of a difference that I might be willing to fork out the money to upgrade.

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