Product Design

Got a Surface Book or Surface Pro 4? Watch Out for Screen-Bulging Batteries

Removing the battery from a Surface Book display.

If you own a first-generation Surface Book or Surface Pro 4, keep an eye on its screen. Discoloration, bulging glass at the seams, or a bulge on the back of the display could indicate battery swelling, which is a known but not officially disclosed issue we’re seeing happen too often on these devices.

We first heard about this from a former director at a small engineering firm, who oversaw the purchase of at least 15 Surface Book laptops from Microsoft, over a period of time from 2015-2017. Of those laptops, three were returned with warped or discolored displays due to pressure on the screen, and another now shows similar symptoms.

According to that director, representatives at the Microsoft Store “knew exactly what the problem was,” and said anyone experiencing the issue should “bring it in so it doesn’t explode on them.” When we looked into it, we readily found posts seeking advice for the same issue: on Microsoft forums, Reddit, Surface Forums, and elsewhere.

Screenshot of search results for Surface Book Swelling
Screenshot of search results for Surface Book swollen
A sampling of discussion posts related to the Surface Book and “swelling” or “bulging.”

We asked Microsoft about battery swelling issues in the Surface Book and Surface Pro 4 (which are nearly identical, minus that the display on the Book is detachable from a keyboard base). We received this response: “We are aware of reports of battery expansion and we encourage users who experience expanded batteries to contact Microsoft Support.” There is currently no official recall on these devices.

Battery swelling is not an uncommon issue across laptops, tablets, and two-in-one devices. But the Surface Book and Surface Pro 4 are somewhat distinct, because they have long suffered from power management issues, namely waking up when supposedly “asleep” and running hot inside bags and cases. The issues with Surface Book and Pro 4 power management were notable enough for longtime Microsoft blogger Paul Thurrott to dub the issue “Surfacegate.”

Swelling can occur in any lithium-ion battery that is aged, composed from a bad batch of chemicals, or damaged by overheating. Swollen batteries are not just a nuisance, but a danger. There is a real concern for fire or explosions, which is why the Galaxy Note 7 and certain MacBook Pro models were recalled and banned from flights. 

Internal shot of Surface Pro 4 heat sink.
There’s a lot of cooling needed inside the Surface Pro 4, evidenced by the long travel of the copper heat sinks. The top panel of the Surface Book involves a similar amount of copper.

As you can see in our guides to replacing the battery in the Surface Book and Surface Pro 4, space is very tight in these devices. Expansion pressure inside a tightly-sealed device has to go somewhere, and the adhesive on the glass front of the device is often the weakest point. 

Reports of such swelling are seemingly widespread on these Surface devices, and Microsoft clearly knows that. The company should be more forthcoming about the issue to owners of these devices, and proactively reach out to them, lest users think they have a harmless screen issue rather than a dangerous battery issue.

If your Surface Book or Surface Pro shows signs of swelling, immediately stop using it, turn it off, do not charge it, and contact Microsoft.