Microsoft Surface Studio 2 (Intel Core i7, 16 GB RAM, 1 TB)
"The ambitious Surface Studio 2 is a real Mac killer."
Exceptional design, build quality
The best screen we have ever tested
Great graphics performance
Super fast SSD
Starts at 16 GB RAM
Overpriced for an older processor
Despite the love of Mac in the professional creative community, Apple has recently left the door open. With the few updates to popular products like the iMac and Mac Pro, some are wondering if they should move elsewhere for their creative needs.
It's the perfect time for Microsoft to use the pro community to meet their needs. Surface Studio 2 is exactly what you need – or at least you want to be. With a beautiful 28-inch display, an updated processor and a graphics card and the same impressive tilt function for comfortable sketching, it has a lot to offer.
With a starting price of $ 3,500, this isn't for the faint of heart. In return, you get a computer like no other.
Move over, iMac
When the original Surface Studio came out in 2016, nobody saw it coming. Microsoft makes a desktop pc? It felt a bit backwards at the time (although we liked the original). In retrospect, it made a lot of sense. The Surface line has always been about integrating touchscreens and pens. So why not transfer it to an all-in-one PC that can be turned into a digital drawing table? It feels like Apple developed a concept in the early 2000s.
Microsoft updated the device two years later. And although it's a sequel, not much has changed on the outside. It has the same glossy 28-inch screen, the glossy hinge still swings down effortlessly, and the silver aluminum of the case and base is absolutely stable. Speaking of the base, many installations are housed here – so the screen remains so thin.
Surface Studio 2 is the complete package when it comes to appearance. It stands face to face with the iMac Pro and fits perfectly in the office of a creative studio or a design agency.
Surface Studio 2 is the complete package when it comes to appearance.
You get a solid selection of connections, all of which are located on the back of the base of Surface Studio 2. It's not the most convenient place to reach it, although it keeps your desk clean. You have the following options: a USB-C connection, four USB-A 3.0 connections, an Ethernet socket and a headphone socket. The USB-C port replaced the Mini-DisplayPort this time, which was an excellent decision, as was the large number of USB-A ports. While the iMac has more Thunderbolt 3 ports, we found that the Surface Studio 2 almost perfectly balanced the old and new options.
The best screen we have ever tested
As with most all-in-one devices, the display is at the heart of the experience. As with its predecessor, the Surface Studio 2 screen measures 4,500 × 3,000 pixels and 28 inches diagonally. It's a strange screen resolution if you're used to 1440p or 4K, but trust us, you won't care about the numbers anymore if you see them with your own eyes.
Dan Baker / Digital Trends
The larger 3: 2 aspect of the screen has become standard on Surface products, and we prefer it over 16: 9 displays. Although you see serious letterboxing in movies, the extra screen area is perfect for multitasking. When two windows are opened side by side, you get a full view of documents and websites, and in games like Civilization VI even a fuller view of the map.
Microsoft also uses a technology called PixelSense behind the display that produces some of the most vibrant colors and deepest blacks we've ever seen.
These test results are consistently excellent, regardless of whether the brightness is 524 nits, the contrast ratio of 1140: 1 or the 90 percent coverage of the Adobe RGB color space. These are all impressive numbers that beat the 5K iMac in some key categories like brightness and contrast. Fortunately, the screen is also extremely color accurate and produces a very low average error rate. This is exactly what you want to see in a display for photographers, animators and videographers.
The additional screen area is perfect for multitasking.
When it comes down to it, this is simply one of the best displays we've ever tested – and a leap over the previous version, which was already excellent.
It comes with extra toys
The Surface Pen 2 is included in the scope of delivery. This shows how serious Microsoft is about the people who use the two products at the same time. The pen is the same as always and still the best touchscreen pen you can buy. Drawing, sketching and writing feel incredibly smooth and imitate the natural handwriting. If you've ever drawn on a Surface tablet, the experience here is similar – naturally enhanced by the massive screen and the tilt hinge.
Dan Baker / Digital Trends
Other included peripheral devices are the Surface Keyboard and the Surface Mouse, both of which are wireless and automatically paired with the desktop. They don't do anything unusual either, but they have a clean, minimalist design that blends well with the aesthetics of the Surface Studio 2.
The only peripheral device that was not included in the package is the Surface Dial. The unique accessories, which have been specially developed for applications such as Adobe Illustrator, help to make the large screen area a bit more touch-friendly and offer quick access to buttons and menus for which you would otherwise have to search the menus. Although Surface Studio 2 continues to support it, it is available separately.
A strange choice in the processor
The strangest thing about Surface Studio 2 is the choice of processor. Only one is available this time, and it's the Core i7-7820HQ. That's right – a 7th generation mobile processor powers a purportedly powerful $ 4,000 workstation. It's not one that we've compared before, but it's an update to the Core i7-6820HQ that was released in the original Surface Studio. This made us go into our benchmarks with concern and feared that this could be the Achilles' heel of this PC.
Admittedly, this older processor held up better than we had imagined. Microsoft can drive more miles with these quad-core mobile chips than with laptops that use the same hardware. The single-core performance is comparable to laptops with 8th generation Core i7 processors. When you dial into a single application like Illustrator or a game, things get done quickly.
Choosing an outdated processor is strange, the only big flaw of Surface Studio 2.
However, this doesn't change the fact that it's a 7th generation mobile processor in a $ 4,000 computer. Small gaming PCs with updated processors like the Lenovo Legion C730 Cube (Core i7-8700K) orbit around the Surface Studio 2 – and even compact computers like the Mac Mini (Core i5-8400B) make it look outdated. The Surface Studio 2 beats the aging 27-inch 5K iMac, but has not been updated since mid-2017 and also has a 7th generation processor.
Choosing an outdated processor is strange given Microsoft's close relationship with Intel. The studio is a unique product with very specific requirements, but we wish Microsoft had developed a better solution than this – especially with a two-year break between iterations. This is disappointing for an expensive workstation that professionals not only want to rely on for demanding applications, but also for intensive multitasking. Even an 8th generation mobile processor like the Core i7-8750H with twice as many cores and a higher Turbo Boost speed would have had a significant impact on performance.
Dan Baker / Digital Trends
Fortunately, Microsoft found it useful to update the storage technology on the new Surface Studio. The original used a hybrid hard drive, which we complained about at the time because of its slow write and read speed. Studio 2 has a full NVMe Toshiba XG5 solid-state drive (SSD). This means you can expect files to open quickly and applications to start at lightning speed.
The configuration options have changed significantly in the new model. Microsoft has canceled the configuration of the base model for $ 3,000, which means that every system is now equipped with the Core i7, 16 GB of RAM and a TB of SSD storage. The starting price of $ 3,500 is hard to swallow, but it ensures that every Surface Studio 2 performs.
A secret slot machine?
Surface Studio 2 doesn't look like it's meant to be played, but don't judge this computer by its looks alone. Microsoft has expanded the graphics of Nvidia's 9-series GPUs to the GTX 1060 or 1070, depending on the configuration. Our option was more powerful and we were impressed with how well it works in Surface Studio 2.
In 3DMark we saw an increase of 37 percent compared to the previous generation, which corresponds to the scores of other machines with this chip. It was not too surprising. But the deal sweeten the actual game performance. Due to the aspect ratio of 3: 2, we tested games with a resolution of 4,500 × 3,000 and 3,000 × 2,000. In our tests, we found that only lighter games can be played at maximum resolution, although a reduction to 3,000 × 2,000 makes most modern games playable
Playing Fortnite with a resolution of 3,000 × 2,000 was no problem and reached an average frame rate in the mid-1950s. Battlefield 1 hummed at an average of 77 frames per second and a resolution of 2,560 × 1,440. The biggest surprise was in Civilization VI, where Surface Studio 2 is well above its weight limit. In its maximum resolution, the game achieved 60 FPS with settings for Ultra.
However, players should note that the 3: 2 aspect ratio can cause problems. In games it is sometimes difficult to determine the correct aspect ratio, which can cause graphics to look disproportionate. The Surface Studio 2 is certainly playable – however, note the possibility of incompatibilities with the very nice but unusual display.
Give Windows 10 a serious chance
We wouldn't normally talk much about the software behind Surface Studio 2. It's just Windows 10 Pro, like most other top tier desktops. It is worth noting, however, that Apple is burdening this population so heavily.
The advantages of today's Windows ecosystem are obvious. It offers the largest selection of desktop applications and games available, as well as Microsoft software support. Those who grew up on the Mac platform in their professional and creative careers might oppose the idea of switching to Windows 10. We know this is a problem, as this is the first thing our own designers mentioned when asked to consider working on Surface Studio 2 full time.
Dan Baker / Digital Trends
Still, Windows has come a long way in the past decade. The operating system has taken a lot of advice from Apple in terms of aesthetics, without losing familiar elements of the Windows design language. Many of the benefits of MacOS that have made it the preferred platform for creative people have been swept away recently, especially as Windows 10 has matured. Even things like swipes, gestures, and key commands are just as helpful as in MacOS.
Pen support is the perfect example. It is integrated directly into Windows 10 and works very well. Of course, you can also use a digital pen with a Mac, but you'll have to buy an expensive third-party device – and definitely can't draw directly on the screen.
We have a problem with the software on this Windows 10 computer. Although drawing works great in applications like Photoshop and Illustrator, navigating is less convenient. For a quick undo or color change, you have to tap around or take your hands off the screen and stylus to find the mouse. The Surface Dial helps, although we still want the applications to be as touch-friendly as the iOS apps. These small changes make working on an iPad a more serious alternative to drawing tablets than Surface products.
Surface Studio 2 is intended for a very specific group of people, namely creatives who have been advised against Apple's recent steps. Although it looks the same on the outside, the updated components and the display ensure a significantly improved overall experience. Microsoft may still have to convince Apple fans to switch sides, but now there's a serious iMac alternative.
Is there a better alternative?
In terms of technical data and price, the Surface Studio 2 fits exactly between the iMac and the iMac Pro. Microsoft's all-in-one system starts at $ 3,500 and ends at $ 4,800. Our test device cost $ 4,200, including 32 GB of RAM and a 1 TB SSD.
This makes it difficult to compare them from apple to apple, especially in terms of performance. The iMac Pro is by far the more powerful system with its Intel Xeon processors and Vega 64 graphics, but all three have top-notch displays and build quality. Although the 27-inch iMac is a better value, it lacks the tilt hinge, pen support, and graphics performance that distinguish the Surface Studio 2.
There are other great all-in-one PCs today, but none belong to the same class as the Surface Studio 2.
How long it will take?
The Surface Studio 2 is incredibly well built, which means that the hinge suddenly stops working and the SSD stops working. With a Thunderbolt 3 connection, it is somewhat more future-proof than the original. The 7th generation processor could feel stale in a few years, especially as six-core systems are being used more and more.
Microsoft has had some support issues with other products in the past. This is certainly a legitimate reason to prefer Apple's iMacs. The Surface Studio 2 is only covered by a one-year warranty. This is not great, especially considering that you cannot open it and try to diagnose it yourself.
Should you buy it
Yes. It's a unique product for a very niche group of people, but it's great to meet that need.