Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio
RRP $ 2,100.00
"The Surface Laptop Studio is finally the Pro-level Surface PC that many have always wanted."
The most powerful Surface PC
Gorgeous 120 Hz screen
Funny 2-in-1 design
Wonderful haptic touchpad
CPU holds back performance
Surface devices play by their own rules. They shy away from conventions. You're pushing the boundaries.
This sometimes leads to products that prefer form to function, or others that fall completely on their face.
The Surface Laptop Studio could easily have been another of those stumbling blocks. To my delight, Microsoft expertly balances the need for a powerful laptop with the adventurous design that Surface devices are known for. As an alternative to the Dell XPS 15 or MacBook Pro, the Surface Laptop Studio has its strengths and weaknesses. But at face value, it's a winner as a device that offers a completely unique PC experience.
From a distance, the Surface Laptop Studio looks pretty conventional. It's a silver 14-inch laptop with a Microsoft logo on the lid. Big deal right?
Then your eyes will be drawn to the ventilation slots on the side walls of the laptop. Next you will see the fold in the back of the lid. As you drag the screen forward across the keyboard, you'll realize that this is not an orthodox laptop.
The base of the laptop is cut in half and consists of two parts – one with ports hanging over the side and one with open air vents. It's unlike anything I've seen in a laptop design before.
It's rare to see this amount of airflow in general on a premium laptop like this one. Laptop manufacturers usually prefer a simpler design with less visible openings. The MacBook Pro and Dell XPS 15 are both examples of this philosophy.
But the Surface Laptop Studio is allowed to bake and eat its cake. This airflow is a heat technician's dream scenario without affecting the connections or the minimalist design. In fact, the vents are completely hidden from most angles. It also provides a nifty place to magnetically store the Surface Pen (on the front) and, in theory, could also be a way to keep the heat away from the palm rests. The cooling is inspired, although the top half of the vents are actually used to vent audio rather than hot air.
This design means that from a full side view, the Surface Laptop Studio appears thicker than it actually is. It's 0.7 inches thick, thicker than both the MacBook Pro and Dell XPS 15. The Surface Laptop Studio is also quite heavy at 4 pounds, though it's only slightly lighter than the XPS 15 and MacBook Pro 16 inches . A laptop with the same screen size as the Razer Blade 14 is both thinner and lighter.
The rounded corners of the Surface Laptop Studio stand out from the crowd, Microsoft goes one step further and also rounds off the corners of the display. This is even different from the other Surface products and combines it directly with Windows 11. For the first time in a long time, Surface hardware and Windows software feel like they go hand in hand.
Stage mode and studio mode
While the Surface Laptop Studio opens and closes like any other laptop, Microsoft couldn't help but incorporate some crazy 2-in-1 modes as well. When open, the lower half of the lid can be pulled forward into "stage mode". It magnetizes on the keyboard deck, so the touchpad remains available for use but the keyboard is covered. This has also been demonstrated with other laptops, such as the leather-bound HP Elite Folio. It bears the greatest resemblance to the Acer ConceptD Ezel laptops, which also had a kind of pull-down "stage mode".
However, implementing it on the Surface Laptop Studio is the best attempt at making this type of hinge work smoothly. Although it often requires the use of two hands, switching the device from one mode to another feels fluid and easy. The magnetic fasteners feel secure and guide the movement of the hinge.
Once you know what's possible, it feels just as natural as other 2-in-1s like the Surface Pro 8 or the iPad Pro. In contrast to the ConceptD Ezel, you shouldn't use the Surface Laptop Studio in the phases between the different modes. That means it's more limited, yes, but it feels more robust.
So what is Stage Mode good for? Well, Microsoft envisions that you spend most of your time illustrating painterly masterpieces using the Surface Pen. That may apply to you, but I am not an artist or a designer. And yet, I've found plenty of cases where the stage mode came in handy. We all know that touchscreens on laptops are not convenient for long periods of time. Reaching up and touching a laptop screen with your index finger is (and always has been) an ergonomic nightmare. Touching the screen with your finger also causes the lid to wobble.
Stage mode fixes both of these problems. The angle is more comfortable for touch operation, whether with the finger or the Surface Pen, and it is much more stable than in laptop mode.
There is also “Studio Mode” which is a little less useful. The screen can be folded almost flat on the keyboard. Here you only have the touchscreen as the main input. Due to the weight of the device, you are unlikely to use it as a "tablet", so to speak. Because of this, Studio Mode is primarily intended for dedicated time with the Surface Pen, whether you're working in Illustrator or writing notes in Whiteboard while holding it like a clipboard. I admit that artists may appreciate Studio Mode more than I do.
Finally, you can also flip the screen completely so that it faces away from the keyboard. This mode is great for watching movies or playing games with an external controller. One problem with this mode is that the speakers are facing away from you.
The best thing about these modes, however, is how easy it is to ignore them. If all you wanted was a Surface Laptop with an RTX graphics card inside, the Surface Laptop Studio doesn't sacrifice too much to take advantage of its experimental hinge feature.
The Surface Laptop Studio has a fabulous display. It's by far the best screen Microsoft has put in a Surface device outside of the Surface Studio All-in-One, regardless of what metric you're testing it with. The 14.4-inch screen (of course) has an aspect ratio of 3: 2 with a resolution of 2400 x 1600. That is 197 pixels per inch (ppi), which is not quite as sharp as the 227 ppi of the MacBook Pro 13 -Inch or the 290 ppi of the 4K Dell XPS 15. Still, the screen feels very sharp for its size.
However, the Surface Laptop Studio has the upper hand against these two laptops with its 120Hz refresh rate. For a long time, refresh rates above 60 Hz were reserved for gaming laptops only, but the Surface Laptop Studio (and Surface Pro 8) are finally bringing the benefits of ultra-smooth animation to the non-gaming world. Once you've spent time on a 120Hz screen, especially in Windows 11, you don't want to go back.
Of course, the Surface Laptop Studio can also use this refresh rate in games, which makes it a more legitimate gaming laptop compared to the Dell XPS 15, Asus Vivobook Pro 16X, MacBook Pro or Acer Swift X.
Once you've spent time on a 120Hz screen, you don't want to go back.
The display of the Surface Laptop Studio also has fantastic picture quality. Apart from the Surface Studio, the Surface Laptop Studio has the brightest screen from Microsoft with a maximum of 443 cd / m². There are lighter screens out there, but it's exactly what Apple currently has in its MacBook Pros and feels very bright even when working outdoors or next to a window.
The color space reaches 100% sRGB and 82% AdobeRGB. It's not perfect like some 4K laptops – the Dell XPS 15 or the HP Specter x360 come to mind. But when combined with the 1.3 Delta-E, this is a display suitable for serious creative work. These results were all achieved in the preset color profile "Vivid". The “sRGB” color mode option has a narrower color space and poorer color accuracy.
Thunderbolt 4 coming to Surface Laptop Studio is a big deal and makes it competitive. The Surface Laptop Studio has two of these USB-C Thunderbolt 4 ports on the left. On the right side you'll find a Surface Connect dock and headphone jack.
Despite the quality of these ports, their number is worrying. I'm not going to waste your time lamenting the lack of USB-A and HDMI, but it certainly would have been nice to have another USB-C port and even an SD card slot. It would have been a huge benefit for this laptop audience not to need an adapter to upload content directly from a camera, and that's something that the XPS 15 includes.
Microsoft is following the example of Apple, which only offers two Thunderbolt 4 ports on its M1 MacBook Pro. However, if the rumors about the upcoming 14-inch redesign prove to be true, the decision to cut older ports could be a little on the decline.
Webcam and speakers
The webcam has a resolution of 1080p, which is certainly a step up from the Surface Laptop 4, XPS 15, or other 720p laptops. It's not quite as crisp or smooth as the Surface Pro 8. The Surface Laptop Studio of course also has an IR camera in the top frame
The device uses a quad speaker setup – two under the keyboard and two subwoofers on the sides of the laptop. The result is a nice audio balance that's a solid upgrade over the Surface Laptop 4. But here, too, the powerful, front-facing speakers of the Surface Pro 8 run in circles around these speakers, as do those of the MacBook Pro.
The promise of a truly "pro" level Surface device has been a long time coming. The Surface Book 3 came close, but it didn't quite have the performance and display quality required by creative professionals.
The Surface Laptop Studio tries to do two things to overcome the performance limitations of the Surface Book 3. First, it uses a slightly more powerful Intel processor than the Surface Book, Surface Pro, or Surface Laptop lines. The Core i7-11370H is a 35 watt instead of 25 watt chip. More power is always a good thing, and it results in improved CPU performance over the Surface Book 3. Improved multi-core performance is the key to improved performance in all kinds of creative and technical tasks is targeted.
However, 8-cores, 45-watt CPUs in laptops like the Dell XPS 15, MacBook Pro 16-inch and many others will always have the upper hand over the Surface Laptop Studio.
Microsoft says it developed its own custom framework for managing the power shared by the CPU and GPU, and insisted that this 35-watt CPU was the best solution. The Surface Laptop Studio's performance is disappointing in many synthetic benchmarks. As expected, laptops like the Dell XPS 15 consistently offer better single-core and multi-core performance.
|Underdog bench 5
(Single / multiple)
|Cinebench R23 (single / multiple)||Handbrake (seconds)||PCMark 10||Pugetbench Premiere Pro||3DMark time spy|
|Surface Laptop Studio (Core i7-11370H)||1321/5131||1304/5450||179||5091||417||4266|
|Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 4 (Core i7-11800H)||1520/7353||1519/10497||106||6251||432||6691|
|Dell XPS 15 (Core i7-11800H)||1556/7692||1513/9979||103||6024||509||4540|
|Acer Swift X (Ryzen 7 5800U)||1287/6663||1437/10135||99||6247||333||4073|
|Asus Vivobook Pro 16X (Ryzen 9 5900HX)||1544/8299||1486/11478||90||6486||571||4601|
The ailing processor is most emphasized in Handbrake, which reveals the CPU performance for a practical test. Without the help of the discrete GPU, which the Surface Laptop Studio uses second to address performance issues, it falls short of the competition in a simple video encoding test, revealing the limitations of the quad-core processor. Surprisingly, the processor performance alone isn't much faster than the Surface Pro 8.
But here, too, Microsoft emphasizes the overall package – real performance that can balance the performance between CPU and GPU. Although it shares a lot in common with Nvidia's Dynamic Boost technology, Microsoft's own framework is homemade here. According to Microsoft, the system dynamically assigns both power (up to 50 watts for the RTX 3050 Ti) and fan speed, making moment-to-moment decisions to manage both the CPU and GPU.
The PugetBench Premiere Pro benchmark is good evidence of this claim as it tests a number of video editing tasks that use both components.
The Surface Laptop Studio certainly does better here than in CPU-related tests and benchmarks. For example, the Dell XPS 15 is 33% faster in multi-core Cinebench performance, but only 15% faster in PugetBench. While the Surface Laptop Studio's CPU is still holding back performance, the system undoubtedly does a good job of balancing the system's power distribution.
In comparison to similar laptops, the performance of the Surface Laptop Studio is in the midfield.
Compared to laptops with a similar mix of components, the Surface Laptop Studio is in the middle of the PugetBench performance. The fastest RTX 3050 Ti content creation laptop I've tested is the Asus Vivobook Pro 16X, which uses a Ryzen 9 5900HX.
Gaming is also a good test of overall performance and power distribution. Unsurprisingly, the Surface Laptop Studio does admirably in more GPU-heavy games and struggles with titles that rely more on CPU performance. You can see this in a game like Civilization VI, which is heavily CPU dependent for fast frame rates, especially at lower resolutions and graphics settings. At 1920 x 1200 and medium settings, the Surface Laptop Studio is still fast with 105 frames per second, but clearly behind the Asus Vivobook Pro 16X and Dell XPS 15. This comparison is even out at higher resolutions.
Meanwhile, the Surface Laptop Studio copes well with internal temperatures and does not exceed 82 degrees Celsius for either the CPU or the GPU. The surface temperatures got warm, sometimes even on the right palm rest. It's not as outrageous as the Razer Blade laptops, but you will definitely feel the temperatures rise throughout the device as heavy-duty tasks are performed.
Keyboard and touchpad
To my surprise, there have been very few attempts to recreate the MacBook Pro's Force trackpad on a Windows laptop. Nobody came close. Then the Surface Laptop Studio comes and surpasses it. This is officially my favorite touchpad on any laptop, outperforming the MacBook Pro and the more conventional Surface Laptop 4.
First, the tracking and gesture support is second to none. The glass surface is incredibly smooth, the palm deflection is accurate, and it's big enough. But with the haptic feedback system it is really fun.
According to Microsoft, it uses a similar haptic motor as the Force Trackpad and simulates the feeling of pressing a button. Microsoft's implementation is even more compelling, and the ability to adjust sensitivity is the icing on the cake. I've found the sweet spot to be around 75%, but when you turn it up to the max it almost feels like a physical click to the brain.
Microsoft has performed a similar miracle with its Surface Slim Pen 2, which simulates the feeling of friction through subtle haptic feedback in the stylus. While the Surface Slim Pen 2 didn't come with the Surface Laptop Studio, it's a fantastic supportive peripheral.
The keyboard isn't nearly as adventurous, but it's no less enjoyable. Choosing gray keycaps instead of black is a nice change of pace (and prevents it from looking like a MacBook rip-off.)
Meanwhile, the keystrokes feel similar to the Type Cover of the Surface Pro 8 – precise, with a lot of spring travel and a comfortable floor movement. The size and layout of the keyboard are almost identical to the Surface Pro 8 Type Cover, only the power button has been squeezed into the row of functions. I wouldn't have minded an extended keyboard with bigger keycaps, but I immediately felt comfortable on this keyboard.
Like all Surface devices, the Surface Laptop Studio doesn't include a fingerprint reader, but instead relies on Windows Hello functionality in the IR camera.
I was pleasantly surprised at how long the Surface Laptop Studio would last on a single charge. Despite having a high-resolution screen (with a high refresh rate) and discrete RTX graphics, I had no problem using the Surface Laptop Studio away from an electrical outlet for most of a work day.
I tested the battery by browsing a number of websites until the battery ran out. The Surface Laptop Studio lasted over 10.5 hours in this test, which is better than both the Dell XPS 15 (4K OLED) and the Surface Book 3. The Surface Laptop Studio has a strong battery life, but champions like the Asus Vivobook Pro 16X lasted over 16 hours through this same test.
You can get up to 14 hours out of the Surface Laptop Studio for extremely light tasks like our video playback test, which runs a local 1080p clip until the battery runs out. I never quite reached the 18 hours required by Microsoft, but for a laptop of this size and performance, I can't complain.
Configurations and price
Like the Surface Book 3, the Surface Laptop Studio starts at $ 1,600. However, this basic configuration is unlikely to attract many buyers. Although it has 16GB of RAM, it doesn't have a separate graphics card, and with the CPU limitations discussed earlier, the $ 1,600 and $ 1,800 models remain a little underpowered.
As always, Microsoft charges a lot for upgrades. It costs an additional $ 600 to switch from 16GB to 32GB of RAM and 512GB to 1TB of storage. That's $ 200 more than Apple charges for the same upgrades (and $ 100 more than Dell)! That makes the $ 2,100 configuration a solid option, especially since you can upgrade your SSD for more if you really want to. It's actually a few hundred dollars cheaper than the Surface Book 3 in the high-end options.
And don't forget – the Acer Swift X is $ 1,000 cheaper than the Surface Laptop Studio, despite having very similar components.
When storage and storage are balanced, the Surface Laptop Studio is $ 500 more expensive than the M1 13-inch MacBook Pro. The Surface Laptop Studio is over $ 500 cheaper than the Intel-powered MacBook Pro, of course, but it's soon to be replaced.
The Surface Laptop Studio isn't perfect – its weakened quad-core processor is a problem. If you need that power more than anything, there are more powerful options out there.
You need to get into the overall vision of the product for the Surface Laptop Studio to be worth the price. The various 2-in-1 modes, integration with the Surface Slim Pen 2, the haptic feedback touchpad, and the gorgeous 120Hz screen are all things that set the Surface Laptop Studio apart from any other laptop you have right now able to buy.
Are there alternatives?
The Razer Blade 14 matches (or surpasses) much of what the Surface Laptop Studio does in terms of performance, size, and premium feel. It doesn't have the pull-forward hinge or stylus support, of course, but the option for an RTX 3080 and the eight-core Ryzen 9 5900HX make it a more powerful laptop.
Much is unknown about the upcoming M1X MacBook Pro 14-inch, although it will certainly be the main competitor of the Surface Laptop Studio when it launches later this year.
The Dell XPS 15 is also a good alternative. You can't directly compare it to the Surface Laptop Studio due to its different screen, but both laptops can be configured with the RTX 3050 Ti and are similarly powerful creative laptops.
How long it will take?
The Surface Laptop Studio should last for many years – hopefully up to five or six. The processor and graphics card will no doubt feel old after a few years, but the ability to upgrade the memory yourself – up to 2TB – helps
Should you buy it?
Yes sir. The Surface Laptop Studio offers a one-of-a-kind 2-in-1 laptop that you won't get anywhere else.