'Flickergate' plagues hundreds of Surface Pro 4 owners with screen flickering issues

In what appears to have been an ongoing issue for months, hundreds of Surface Pro 4 owners have reported being hit with screen flickering issues (via The Verge). In a thread that has ballooned to more than 130 pages (opens in new tab) on Microsoft's support site, Surface Pro 4 owners have reported experiencing the problem to various degrees.

According to a number of user reports, the issue appears to be related to heat buildup, with many reporting that the flickering gets worse the longer the device is on. "Seems to be worse when the device heats up and has become progressively worse to the point where I have to use an external display via the dock to get any work done," reports one user. Curiously, this has led some users to start placing their Surface Pro 4s in their freezers to temporarily halt the flickering.

In a statement to The Verge, Microsoft says that it is "aware that some customers have experienced a screen flicker on Surface Pro 4 and are monitoring the situation closely."

The issue has led some affected by the problem to launch a dedicated website to bring attention to their plight. Called "Flickergate," the website claims that more than 1,600 customers are impacted and that "Microsoft's support team is disregarding our issue." According to Flickergate, the flickering problem appears to mostly start cropping up after the warranty has expired, causing some users to report paying $800 for an out-of-warranty exchange from Microsoft. "However, many users experience the same flickering on their refurbished Surface Pro replacements," the website adds.

The Surface Pro 4 isn't the first Surface Pro to experience complaints of widespread issues. Its predecessor, the Surface Pro 3, was plagued with a battery draining issue that Microsoft was eventually able to fix with a software patch. However, the Surface Pro 4 flickering issue appears to be a hardware problem, so a software fix likely isn't in the cards.

This comes after Consumer Reports opted to drop its "recommended" designation for all Surfaces, citing reliability problems in August of 2017. Microsoft's Surface chief, Panos Panay, later disputed Consumer Reports' findings, but the consumer group held firm, refusing to recommend the Surface Book 2 once it was launched.

Dan Thorp-Lancaster is the former Editor-in-Chief of Windows Central. He began working with Windows Central, Android Central, and iMore as a news writer in 2014 and is obsessed with tech of all sorts. You can follow Dan on Twitter @DthorpL and Instagram @heyitsdtl

  • Not good. Wonder if this issue is across all cpu variants e.g. I7 vs say M3. I'm currently running a M3 and have not had this issue.
  • I have a Surface Pro 4 with Core i5 and never had any issues for past 14 months. No issues even when I tried running heavy-power applications.
  • You are about due then. The issue normally occurs around the 12-16 month point, but some users have seen it as early as 6 months and others as late as 2yrs. Five stages of Flicker Gate: * Initial honeymoon period as described above * After a firmware or major windows update, or perhaps just after doing some kind of intensive work for awhile on the device, the first real heat damage to the advanced electronics of the screen occurs...this manifests as very mild flickering when the mouse hasnt been moved or the screen hasnt been updated for a few seconds.; Most users can withstand this...but it is more of a problem for those who are reading PDF * After a few weeks or months, the flickering becomes more severe becoming an annoyance to nearly everyone -- at this point, the kludge fix is to update the clock on the bottom of the screen to display seconds (the constant updating of the seconds counter keeps the display active enough to prevent flicker). * After another few weeks or months, flickering happens anytime the system gets hot or is used for an extended period even with the clock kludge. Most users can only use the device for 90 minutes or so or must connect the device to an external monitor to make the system usable for regular work. * Finally, at some point, the device flickers all the time, and at really high rates -- making the device unreadable even when it is hard rebooted and showing the bios screen (confirming that it is a hardware issue). * If the Surface Pro is replaced, the replacement will also show the same issue eventually. This is a basic design issue and likely why the thermal engineering of the SP 2017 was radically modified from the SP4 by MS.
  • You can even induce the flicker by blowing hot air to the lower part of the screen where chips for the LCD are housed. Touch that part with the back of your hand on a cold or idle divice and that's the part that is most hot, especially when you crank up the screen brightness. Enough heat and the flicker will start, and the chips will take damage over time. I'm on my 3rd device now. Replaced twice, and this latest one was getting flicker after just a month of usage. I've been gaming quite a bit lately. I'm not getting the idle flicker yet, but when the device is stressed while gaming I'm seeing flicker. I'm not sure I will get a SP 2017 as there are a few reports on that device as well, but I'll be very careful before upgrading once the next model comes out.
  • I wonder where are all those Consumer Reports critics?  That's right it's just an old people mag that doesn't know anything.  Just because you don't like the report or decision by CR made doesn't mean they were wrong.  Like I said before, Microsoft needs to step their game up.  Put some quality control on these devices.  And before some people get all riled-up.  I'm typing this on my 3yr old SP3.  Runs like a charm.  But that doesn't mean other's didn't have issues with their Surfaces.
  • Here is one of those Consumer Report critics. The problem with that magazine is not their testing of products, which is first rate. The problem is their use of their unscientific and unreliable survey of subscribers to "rate" products. Their subscriber base is not a representative sample of typical consumers in America and any self-selected survey is by its nature not random and therefore not a reliable indicator of either actual use of the products evaluated or user experience. Relying on this survey for their recommendations undercuts the reliability of their work. They've been called out on this problem before, but the survey generates headlines and that is what they are after. 
  • It may be unscientific but it's still a survey that has some value.  Amazon has ratings and it's a good thing.  When considering to purchase I tend to read the reviews and glean to see if the negative replies has some validity.  It's one thing if there are a few bad ratings but you can't look past tons of bad ratings.  You can't.  Well, I least I can't.  I was one of the early adopters to the Surface Pro line.  My first SP3 had a screen problem.  I knew it the moment I booted it the first time.  I returned it the first night I purchased it.  Then I got a new one the same night.  Very few problems ever since.  No wi-fi issues, no screen issues.  But if I had gotten a lemon the second time I would have just gone ahead and gotten a refund.  So, yes it happens.  Again, as I type this from my trusty SP3.  One of the Best little piece of machinery I've ever purchased.
  • all models are affected.
  • I have two SP4s and neither of them have ever experienced a problem like this.  Both are i7 models with 16GB of RAM.  My fans often work in overtime because I tax the system a fair bit, but I don't think the heat has ever gotten out of control and caused any noticeable problems.
  • It's not a power or short term thermal issue, it's that the displays that MS is using in the SP4 have advanced electronics internally and those electronics apparently are not shielded or cooled enough so that over a period of 1-2yrs they eventually start to break down.   You can buy a new SP4 and won't notice the issue when playing intense games, its only after a certain amount of total usage that the first symptoms occur.  Unfortunately, once those symptoms occur it is a rapid downhill path to when the system is completely unuseable unless connected to an external display.
  • Experienced this at work and went ahead and got the rep another device.  Lol I was going to buy it as it was out warranty and try to fix myself but seems to be a bigger issue.  i7 8GB 256 model, my 16GB 512 never had an issue.
  • My SP4, i5/8GB/256, bought December 2015 just started experiencing this this January, 2018. What a way to start the year. And I've read they expect people to pay 800 euros to repair this. What a joke. They really should sue their asses for this.
  • i had it 2 weeks ago, restarted the surface pro 4 and it was ok, happy to see that I'm not the only 1
  • Let's start a class action lawsuit here in Britain!
  • The last few updates have been problematic for my SP4 i5/8/256. I had to pull a system image from Microsoft to wipe the machine at one point. Even now, it seems like everything isn't quite right. Very frustrating.  If anything this experience has taught me to be very thorough in my backups.
  • I also own several surface pro 4 units for my company and none are experiencing this issue.
  • I bought SP4 at launch and started to have this issue a few weeks ago. Just because some of you don't have the issue now, doesn't mean that it's not going to happen. Looks to be a problem that appears over time
  • You know that when people say stuff like, "I've never had that problem" or "That's weird. It's never happened to me," it's just a smartass way of deflecting blame from Microsoft to the people experiencing these issues. The fact that the report on answer.microsoft.com has ballooned to hundreds of pages and the fact that Microsoft is actively looking into it should be a HUGE clue that this isn't just some sporadic issue that can be blamed on the user.
  • My Surface 3 has a vertical yellow line down the side of the screen. It came on like 9 months ago, past its warranty period. It still functions but it is annoying.
  • That was a common problem with the 3. I had it on mine. Luckily I had the extended warranty so they replaced it. My 5 is fine so far.
  • I've hard this problem with the flickering just after my Surface Pro 4 came out of warranty. Unfortunately, I don't live in the US and couldn't get it back in time. Along with this, I get some 'ghosting' on my screen when i watch video (online and on pc), After paying about $1500 for this device, it's really upsetting; especially when Microsoft refuses to do anything about it. Issues likes these which suggest a defect in a system should never been part of a warrantly.  I've purchased my last Surface and will not recomments to anyone.  
  • I agree with you.  I too live outside the US, so replacement is difficult.  Even though I can get to the US, I am not sure I am willing to spend 600-800 to replace a device whose replacement might be even worse. Shame though, I bought an i7 Surface Pro and enjoyed living in the future for a while. Microsoft should do better than this.
  • We have 45 Pro 4s at the office and not a one has had this issue. We got the 3 year warranty bundled with them though to cover the expected lifetime we'll have them, so if any do then there won't be an issue with it being "out of warranty". As for failure rate, early on (the first 4 months) we had a total of 4 that had to go back for replacement but haven't had any failures since.
  • 800 is not the price of an OOW device...it's $450
  • Was having this exact issue a month out of the warranty. Paid ~$600 to trade in my broken one for a refurbished one.
  • Yep, this happened to me after 1.5 years of ownership. I think the symptoms were exacerbated by my using Unity3d and MATLAB for proejcts. Made me glad to have gotten the extended service plan. I received my replacement unit quickly, but obviously this should have not been necessary in the first place. I definitely agree with CR's dropping recommended rating for SP4.
  • This happened on my x1 carbon and surface pro 4. It's due to insider
  • Nonsense.
  • Ha!  My SP4 started doing that a few months ago. Usually after a good long day at work though, especially if doing intensive tasks.  It starts off with a strange line at the top of the screen, then after it flickers. It is definitely a heat related problem. I kinda just gave on SP4 though, many little problems here and there.  I have another machine now.
  • Which video card do these have again? My Lenovo has a GeForce 960m. It's screen has been flickering as well. I wonder if some Nvidia drivers are the culprit
  • @JohnnyBawesome the Surface Pro 4 uses Intel graphics. Some owners have surmised that the problem is related to the screen's frame buffers.
  • my first device's touch stopped working so i sent it in for replacement a few weeks back. I got this issue on two consecutive replacement devices! Its much milder than shown in the video though...i sent the 1st replacement back complaining abt the flickering. and i got a new one with the EXACT same flickering problem. And because it happened to 2 new devices, i figured this was probably a software/driver issue. it happens only once in a while. but if its like how the first few comments here describe, this is only going to get worse at some point... Held on to the 2nd replacement waiting for it to sort itself out...and now am going to call MS Support.
  • Mine just started this last week. Has only done it twice so far and not as bad as this video but I guess I have that to look forward to. Mine is less than a year old. MS should have to replace these with new devices. Plain and simple. But as usual, they don't give a damn about the consumers as the past couple years have shown.
  • Good luck getting MS to do anything about it. They do not stand by their products when there is a "known" defect found. (Unless under warranty). My SP3 developed a yellowish line on the left side that was reported on many forums. Since my SP3 was a couple months past warranty, they wanted to charge me $500 to fix. I could by a new one for that at the time.
  • I had it happen to mine, it started at the 8 month mark, but I wasn't able to get it replaced at the time. I do have Complete and was able to get it replaced eventually, my concern is that other's have had the problem recur in replacement devices, and even in devices that have had the screen replaced. So what happens when it recurs and I no longer have Complete, and unlike other OEM's, Complete cannot be extended.
  • CHUWI makes a really nice tablet, graphene heat conduction, and no flicker.... It runs the best OS in the world.  http://en.chuwi.com/product/items/Chuwi-SurBook.html
  • Junk MS hardware!
  • I didn't experience this when I had mine, but you never know, if I had kept it longer I may have. Glad I sold it now, this would've been an absolute ballache.
  • Is this limited to a specific lot/batch number, specific configurations, or does it affect all SP4's? I've had mine for just about two years now and haven't seen this problem once. Not saying it isn't a problem, just trying to figure out if it's something I can expect to see or if the issue is limited.
  • Bad news for SP4 refurbished
  • This happened several months ago to my Surface Pro 4 i5 128GB. I notice it started to flicker not too long after the major Windows 10 upgrade. I tried reinstalling (and removing) video driver, some programs, some device drivers, and nothing work. This flickered at less once every minute. I had enough for a month and couldn't tolerate any longer and refreshed my Surface to complete factory.  No more flicker for the past two months.  This seems to fix the problem, knock on wood. 
  • This started happening to my Surface Pro 4 last month, a couple of months out of warranty. My only option, according to Microsoft support. is to pay £400 for a replacement. I'm doing everything I can to try and preserve my computer for a while longer. It sits on a cooling stand and I don't do any CPU intensive work on it anymore. I'm losing the battle though, unfortunately.  Microsoft should replace these defective devices for free. If they're not going to do anything, is there a way we can organise in the UK to do a class action lawsuit like they're potentially doing in the US?
  • Finally someone write about this issue!!! Need more tech websites to write their own reviews.
  • Wow, I hope mine doesn't get this issue. But it doesn't surprise me the heat is causing issues over time. The device gets hot like hell, these temperatures, they cannot be good for any electronic device...
  • Same here on my SP4 i7 16GB, started a few weeks ago (bought it exactly 1 year ago). Very minor at the moment, just at the bottom of the screen.
  • The Surface line has been plagued with issues. My Surface RT had the infamous disappearing Windows logo issue at first (the physical logo on the back of the device had a weird paint that faded pretty quickly), then came the "ghost touch" on the replacement device I got - which wasn't easy, considering I live in Iran and had to post the device to the U.S. through a friend's friend, so pretty bad experience.
    Then I got the Surface 2 giving it a second chance, and Windows RT got discontinued! Honestly it's just scary for me to even think about getting a Surface Pro and even worse, a Surface Book. Throwing thousands of dollars at Microsoft with this track record from Windows Phone all the way to Surface Pro 4.
    There are many better alternatives from other manufacturers that haven't had even a single issue like any of these.
  • I've had my device replaced twice, and experienceing the same issue on my third device now. I do pretty intesive work on mine, and also playing some games. It's definately related to heat, but not the CPU/GPU. There are some chips at the lower part of the screen. Touch that area with the back of your hand and this is the most hot area when the device is idle. Some might never experience this issue as their device is never getting hot enough to cause any damage to the LCD.  My first one (my original purchase) got flickering after about a year. Idle flicker when nothing was moving. My second (replacement device) got flickering about 8 months after I got it. Idle flicker and constant flicker under heavy load. My third (the latest one) got flickering while gaming after just 1 month. So far only under heavy load and not when idle. If anyone has a spare Surface Pro that's under warranty. Try using a hair drier to the lower part of the screen and you will get flicker as well as it get hot. This is badly designed/engineered.  Luckily I'm stull under warranty and might be getting my fourth device soon.