Update – 3 months on
I just thought I’d revisit this article and give everyone an update. I’ve been using this device now for 3 months. I’ve edited videos and played with very large graphics files using Filmora 9 and Affinity Designer. At times the device has got very hot. I run Core Temp to keep an eye on the temperatures and some of my video rendering has kept the CPU temperatures at a constant 72 degrees for well over half an hour. The back side of the Surface Pro 4 has been almost untouchably hot during these intense usage scenarios.
The original parts failed within a few days under this sort of load. The new screen outlined in this article is still going strong. No signs of flickering or distortion. Indeed, it’s performed as you would expect a device to.
I have had some strange issues with the touch input registering ghost touches. This is where the screen thinks it’s being touched but in fact isn’t. At first I thought ‘Oh no, a new fault’. But I tracked it down to interference from a mains PowerLan adaptor. This is a device which enables you to extend your network using the mains system, rather than relying on WiFi to reach harder places in the home. When I unplugged the SP4 from the Powelan adaptor the problem went away and hasn’t come back. So beware, the touch input digitizer can be affected by electromagnetic interference!
My Screen Is Distorted and Flickering On Surface Pro 4
If you’re researching the screen flickering on your Surface Pro 4 you’ve probably come across articles talking about ‘Flickergate’ online. Flickergate is the term given to a problem with the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 whereby the screen flashes quickly, flickering or distorted. Dark black lines may also appear across the top of the display. These, in my experience, usually are the precursor to the dreaded screen flickering problem.
The screen may also exhibit ‘ghosting’. This is where an image of previous contents of the screen remains even after it should have disappeared. Eg, if you have a web page open and then close your browser but an image of the browser remains. The ghosting obstructs the windows that should now be visible.
The image at the very top of this article shows this ghosting effect. The browser window which you can see actually should not be there – I closed it.
What Causes Flickering On The Surface Pro 4
In most cases the fault shows itself after moderate use of the laptop. This causes the device to heat up internally and transfers that heat to the screen. This is a bit of a design flaw inherent in any device that has all the processing horsepower behind the screen. Traditional laptops don’t have this problem because very little heat is generated behind the screen.
Even fairly light use can cause the problem if the heat isn’t dissipated away from the screen.
Ultimately, the cause in this case is a faulty screen component. Microsoft acknowledged the problem and replaced many Surface Pro 4’s that exhibited the problem after much public pressure from flickergate.com and other places. But they only replace the defective device if the device is less than 3 years old. Most of these devices are now over 3 years old and Microsoft has essentially washed its hands of these.
Be aware though that faulty drivers and software incompatibilities may cause a similar looking problem. Though this is rare, it is important to make sure your drivers are all up to date. Flickergate will generally only happen once the device warms up.
Can This Flickering Be Prevented
If your Surface Pro 4 isn’t exhibiting the problem yet then you can help prolong its life by keeping it cool. The cooling fan in the Surface Pro 4 is very small and very under powered. If you’re using your Surface Pro 4 for moderate or heavy work it will warm up. I ended up purchasing an external USB powered desktop fan from Amazon. I positioned it to blow air onto the back of the Surface Pro to keep it cool.
It helped, but didn’t stop the problem from happening ultimately.
Online, people have posted videos of having bags of ice resting against the screen to cool it. This isn’t a viable solution at all. The problem is due to defective electrical contacts at the top of the screen which are glued to the LCD device. When the device warms up the glue also warms and becomes pliable. The backing warps and a good electrical contact is lost. The part of the screen that needs the most cooling is actually at the top just under the bezel. This means you’d need to apply your ice pack to the top of the screen. Which, of course, will get in the way of your work. That’s ignoring the elephant in the room that ice melts into water and water and electronics don’t mix.
If your Surface Pro 4 is fitted with a defective screen it will eventually exhibit the problem.
Will Microsoft Replace My Device?
If you bought it from Microsoft in the last 3 years and it is exhibiting the flickering problem then yes, they will.
If it’s under 3 years old but not exhibiting the problem then they won’t. Even though it’s quite possible, indeed probable that it will go defective in the future.
If you bought the device second hand you’re quite likely out of luck either way. It’s probably older than 3 years and I’m not sure that Microsoft would be obliged to replace it as it’s second hand.
What Can I Do To Permanently Fix It?
Can I Replace The Screen On My Surface Pro 4?
The answer to this is yes you can. But it’s not easy at all. You’re going to need to be fairly technically competent. You also need to be aware that you’ll almost certainly shatter the old screen. In this case that’s not a big deal because it’s dysfunctional anyway.
There’s plenty of YouTube videos showing how to get the screen off your Surface Pro 4 and I’ve not produced one of my own as the ones out there are good.
The video above from YouTube gives a good overview. There’s a few things I’d change though having done a bunch of these now.
Tips For Getting The Screen Off Without Damage
It’s extremely difficult to get the screen off without damaging it. It can be done – I’ve done it. But it’s very very difficult. If your screen is flickering on your Surface Pro 4 then damaging the screen probably isn’t too much of a drama. It’s already dysfunctional. But you do need to be aware of things you can damage other than the screen.
Make sure the device is switched off before beginning. You can’t disconnect the battery unfortunately as it’s inside.
- The heat gun should be no hotter than 100 Celsius. This is around 210 Fahrenheit. Less is better though. Cooler temperature reduces your risk of being burned. The top side of the Surface Pro 4 is made of a plastic material that will melt if over heated.
- Place some heat resistant ‘Kapton’ tape over the top side plastic to help reduce the heat transferred to it. If you overheat this it will melt and distort. It will look horrible and the buttons may be a lot harder to operate.
- Cover the inside edges of the screen with Kapton tape. I usually put them just on the edge of the bevels and apply enough tape to cover around an inch of the LCD portion of the screen. Apply the tape all around the screen. The reasons for this are threefold. The Kapton tape will help reduce heat transference onto the LCD itself. This will reduce heat damage to the LCD itself in the event that you do want to re-use it. The tape also helps to reduce the likelihood of the screen shattering when you pry it apart. Finally it also helps to capture any glass shards if you do shatter the screen.
- WEAR EYE PROTECTION. A cavalier attitude here could cost you your eyesight. Wear eye protection. The screen may shatter unexpectedly and small pieces of glass may fly into the air. They are extremely sharp and if they enter your eye you will be injured.
- Protective gloves may reduce the cuts you’ll get if the screen breaks. But they do make it harder to work. This choice is yours.
Be Aware Of Internal Components
- Use plastic separators rather than metal if possible. I use a very thin craft knife initially to get underneath the screen and then switch to plastic or wooden separators once I have enough room to work. The lower left edge has flat plastic ribbon cables to connect the touch screen logic board to the screen. Using a knife here will cut straight through them. This isn’t a problem if the screen is already a write off, but if you want to get it off whole then you’ll ruin it if you cut these.
- Underneath the top of the display are the Bluetooth and WiFi antennae. These are very easily damaged and extremely difficult to get hold of replacements. They’re also stuck firmly to the screen. Do not use metal separators here. Try to separate the bottom, left and right sides first then you can lift the screen gently and use plastic or wooden separators to prise the sticky tape off the antennae without damage. Be gentle, they’re delicate.
Where Can I Get A New Screen?
Surface Pro 4 screens are available on eBay or Amazon. However most of them will caution you to only replace the screen with the same model that you took off.
In my experience this is bad advice. The model that you took off is fatally flawed. It is the entire model range that is flawed here – not just your screen. I’ve replaced flickering screens on the Surface Pro 4 with the same model only for the screen to begin flickering again a few weeks or months later.
I’ve researched online extensively to find a proper solution to this flickering screen on Surface Pro 4 problem and the amount of information is minimal. However, I have now discovered that the root of the problem is the screen model itself. The models affected are the Samsung LCD screen with model numbers beginning LTN123YL01. I’m not sure if all revisions of this device are affected. I have a Surface Pro 4 fitted with the LTN123YL01-007 which has not developed the fault (yet) but other revisions are definitely affected.
Which Screen Model Should I Get?
Given that the Samsung LTN123YL01 is flawed and this is the model for the Surface Pro 4 does that mean there is no alternative but to risk it flickering again?
No – luckily, Microsoft ultimately found a better supplier for their LCD screens and it is believed that the models they refurbished came with this new screen. Also, and more importantly, the Surface Pro 5 is fitted with a screen that is a suitable replacement for the Surface Pro 4.
There’s a catch though. Although the Surface Pro 5 screen will fit and work on a Surface Pro 4, the cable that attaches to the motherboard is different. So, if you’re upgrading your Surface Pro 4 screen to a Surface Pro 5 screen you will need to get a new ribbon cable to go with it.
The N-Trig device that processes the touchscreen input is interchangeable though. Keep the old one from your Surface Pro 4 screen and re-apply it to the new Surface Pro 5 screen.
The particular model screen I use is this one at eBay – Surface Pro 5 Screen – note that it is more expensive than the traditional Surface Pro 4 screens but I’ve not had one fail on me yet. The original Surface Pro 4 screens fail at an alarming rate. I don’t recommend replacing your screen with one. Use the Surface Pro 5 screen instead.
If you have an LTN123LY model you’ve taken off and need the right cable to replace it with the SP5 screen, you can find that on eBay too here.
Incidentally, if you need a new N-Trig board for touch screen operation, they’re available too. Click to view the N-Trig Surface Pro 4 and Surface Pro 5 touch screen logic board.
These are links to the exact parts I’ve used to repair Surface Pro Screens successfully. The Surface Pro 5 screen fixes the ‘flickergate’ problem once and for all and is a much better option than hoping the screen doesn’t go faulty with the Surface Pro 4 replacement screen.
While You’ve Got The Screen Off…
Upgrade the Hard Drive In Surface Pro 4
If you have a 128Gigabyte storage Surface Pro 4, now is a good time to also upgrade the hard drive in it. The only way to upgrade the hard drive is to get the screen off. The hard drive in the Surface Pro 4 is an NVME M-Key SSD hard drive. I have upgraded mine to a 480Gigabyte drive. I’ll write a separate article shortly outlining exactly how to do this. If you’ve got the screen off, replacing the hard drive is easy.
Re-Apply Thermal Paste to Processor and GPU in Surface Pro 4
Also, while you’re in the device, you could consider re-applying the thermal paste on the processor and GPU inside the Surface Pro 4. Manufacturers traditionally provide horrible thermal paste on these devices. The thermal paste provides a proper heat transference from the CPU to the heatsink. This means that heat can escape the processor better and reduces thermal throttling.
Is The Surface Pro 4 Still A Good Machine?
Once you fix the Flickergate potential on a Surface Pro 4 it’s a fantastic machine in my opinion. It’s quick (especially if you upgrade the SSD while you’ve got the screen off – the newer drives seems to be quicker). It’s portable, it’s light, it’s thin. The battery, even after all this time, still holds a good couple of hours of normal use. The screen is crisp with bright colours. The tablet mode – if you like that sort of thing – is great. It’s also the last model of Surface Pro that you actually can upgrade the hard drive.
I love the Surface Pro 4. But that flickering screen is a problem. Or was. Now that’s resolved permanently this device is the best portable I’ve ever owned. It blows the GEO Flex 2 in 1 out of the water for performance. But buying second hand is risky unless you’re prepared to replace the screen.
I find the LG screen clearer and sharper than the original with brighter colours. I’m not sure if I’m imagining it but would be interested to know what you think if you do the upgrade. Above I’ve included links to all the equipment I use to replace the screen on Surface Pro devices. If you purchase through these links I will be paid a small affiliate commission but it does not affect the price you pay and it will help me produce further articles and is much appreciated. If you don’t want to use those links you can go direct to Amazon or eBay to search for the devices.
Also, if you’re reading this in the USA (or indeed anywhere outside of the UK) I’ve not been able to find these part numbers on US stores. But they might be there – have a look 🙂
Just a small bit of trivia that you won’t know… This article was written using a Surface Pro 4 which previously had the screen flickering problem. It’s now fixed. I’ve played Minecraft on it. I’ve used Filmora Pro 9 (which heats up significantly!) and Affinity Photo and Affinity Designer. The previous Surface Pro 4 screens I used began flickering within days of using these. I conclude that the problem is now fixed and won’t be coming back!