The original Microsoft Surface Studio was the coolest vision of a high-speed all-in-one desktop and a digital tablet combined with a pencil. The creation of digital art, technology, architecture, and other professions using touchscreens often depends on several products in their work process: graphics tablets, secondary displays for pallets and schedules, specialized input devices and Surface Studio put a large part of it in one package. The sequel to Surface Studio 2 (from $3,499; $4,199 tested) optimizes the system with faster and more compact internal components for demanding workloads: an ultra-fast M.2 solid-state drive (SSD), a new processor and a powerful Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 or GTX 1070 GPU. It’s an expensive one, not in the class of workstation-grade PCs, but for professionals and designers who want to use its touch features, this is a killer.
- Elegant all-in-one digital creation
- Good performance.
- Super-thin, striking display that
- Precise touch input for art/design
- USB-C support.
- Bundled Surface Pen.
- Very Expensive.
- CPU could be beefier, considering a
- Video out via USB-C, not a dedicated
In terms of physical design, little has changed since the original Surface Studio, which was and remains innovative when it was launched. Microsoft has decided once again to store all the components in the chassis instead of behind the 28-inch screen to allow a very thin screen.
No doubt, part of the visual inspiration will come from the Apple iMac, but the difference is in the touch input, which is reflected in the back. Two metal arms extend from the bottom to hold the screen up. You will find a hinge in the middle that allows you to use the screen vertically or fold it horizontally.
It is a simple idea, but essential to make the Studio a unique and elegant touch screen solution. (I will talk about the hybrid structure and its uses in more detail below). Generally, this combination of high-speed desktop and a large, pen-equipped screen makes the Surface Studio series so attractive.
The base has dimensions of 1.3×9.8×8.7 inches (HWD). Hard to ignore, the screen is 17.3 inches tall and 25.1 inches wide, while the panel is only 0.5 inches thick. The diagonal panel is 28 inches, which is a large screen for each AIO PC standard. The largest of
Apple’s two iMacs measures about 27 inches, but most AIO screens are much smaller. Like the Surface Studio family, Surface Studio 2 is designed for a broadly limited audience. Designers, media reporters and other professionals who work visually are the targets, although I can’t imagine anyone not appreciating this beautiful big screen.
The shape and resolution of the screen also adapt to this demographic situation. As with the original, the screen has an unusual, almost square aspect ratio of 3: 2 instead of the standard 16: 9 widescreen format found in almost all modern laptops and screens. With a 3: 2 ratio, the screen image better reflects the physical work done in digital mode for printing, which helps some artists create or translate their work. It also gives you more edge-to-edge editing of palettes and toolbars as you work with media in the popular 16: 9 screen format.
The native screen resolution of 4,500×3,000 pixels remains the same. This is a PixelSense screen with a resolution of more than 4K, which is sufficient for fine-grained PPI (192 pixels per inch). In comparison, Apple’s iMac with a 5K retina display has a 27-inch
screen with a resolution of 5,210 x 2,880 pixels. However, comparing the exact number of pixels is not a problem given the different aspect ratios. The Dell XPS 27 offers a 27-inch screen with an original resolution of 4,840 x 2160 (4K) for $1,399.99.
The Surface Studio 2’s screen is impressive and offers a very sharp image when the default vivid color profiles are. Even in the maximum brightness, it is extremely bright and, of course, is equipped with 10-point multitouch. You can switch from Vivid profile to DCI-P3 or sRGB color mode in Windows 10 settings, which can be crucial for some
artists and designers who have to work on different projects.
A PERSONAL STUDIO FOR YOU
Surface Studio 2 is, as the hinged design suggests, more than just a nice display. I highlighted the merits of the folded design in the original iteration, and since not much has changed and the benefits are clear, I won’t go into too much detail. If you use Studio 2 as you would on a high-end desktop, you can keep the screen upright without thinking
about convertibility or touch functionality. In other words, if you never operate the machine on an inclined screen, I am not sure whether you really need or pay for the function I have described. Many Windows compatible AIO desktops on the market do not charge any conversion fees. However, if you need to draw, design, or markup a work, simply push the screen up, press the top of the screen down, or pull the bottom toward you. The so-called “Zero Weight” hinge is fully adjustable, which means that no preset stops can be ignored. You can stop resting or lift it up at any angle.
This enables creative users around the world to use the Surface Studio 2 as a digital painting stand in a matter of seconds and to use this desktop in normal portrait format for email, chat, and web browsing on a slanted, almost horizontal drawing board. It’s useful, intuitive, and frankly feels very clean and satisfactory. It’s not the only desktop that needs to be replaced, but no other else is as elegant or has such a primium display.
This the main reason for earning the keeps for the Surface Studio 2 and as a Windows desktop, it has all the Windows-based programs that you need to work on. Of course, some prefer (or maybe only work) with macOS, but Apple does not offer touchscreen options for Apple’s iMac AIO computers. Writing must be done with a separate pen.
Fortunately, the Surface Pen is included (unlike the Surface Dial, a little less necessary, but still fascinating), which is to be expected given the cost and overall concept of Surface Studio 2. If you are into such a desktop and untroubled by the price, it is almost certain that you will use the reclining, pencil and touch functions for a certain type of design, so a separate purchase does not make much sense. (In contrast, it is sold separately for tablet devices like Surface Pro 6.)
The ”eraser” end is a customizable button, just like a thin ribbon on the side that you right-click, insert, or something else to match your workflow. Windows Ink Workspace is displayed by default so you can quickly take and draw notes. The magnetic stripes on both sides of the Surface Studio 2 screen make it easy to attach the pen when not in
use. It works well and the palm rejection looks like magic when you put your hand on the screen.
CONFIGURATIONS AND OTHER
The physical part of Surface Studio 2 that can be detected as a change from the original is the port selection. It is not a big difference. Surface Studio 2 has four USB 3.0 ports (one is a high-power port for fast charging), as well as a USB Type-C port, a full-size SD card reader, an Ethernet connector and a 3.5 mm headphone jack. The original had all these things except the USB-C port. Instead, it had a mini DisplayPort connection; All video output is now processed via USB-C. Excluding USB-C from first-generation Surface Studio was a disadvantage. Therefore, it is good to have it included in this high-speed data transfer and modern USB-C peripherals (although it would also be good to have a separate video output port).
The connectivity and input features a TPM 2.0 chip that protects business security, Windows Hello Face Detection login support (through a 5-megapixel camera that can also record 1080p videos), dual microphones and Wi-Fi 802.11ac and Bluetooth 4.0. The system also has built-in support for Xbox wireless controllers. (This may be a strange
addition, but not so much when you look at the graphics chip in this matter; more on that in a moment.)
The desktop is also equipped with a combination of Bluetooth keyboard and mouse. These two products are functionally simple but better than their average rate.
Now inside: Microsoft only offers three Surface Studio 2 models, and the components are hardly different. It makes the choice quite easy. All three contain the same Intel Core i7-7820HQ 2.9GHz processor, Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 or GTX 1070 graphics cards and an M.2 NVMe solid-state drive with one of two storage capacities. RAM is also a
variable with two options.
This $ 4,199 review unit is a mid-range model and comes with a GeForce GTX 1070, 32GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD. The $ 3,499 option below (the “entry-level model”) is the only one with the GTX 1060. It has 16GB of RAM and the same unit, while the most expensive of the
three options, the $ 4,799 option. The dollar that comes with the GTX 1070 comes with 32 GB of RAM and 2 TB of SSD. Choosing an additional 16 GB of RAM is not a bad idea for media professionals, while 2 KB can be attractive (but very expensive) for those with many high definition files and games.
For performance benchmark, I compared Surface Studio 2 and its results against a list of machines with comparable prices or features. I would like to point out that, we have recently started testing with new and revised benchmarks and that we currently have limited data to compare new results. This is especially true for all-in-one desktops, a class of sparse systems that PC Labs has rarely seen recently. So for my comparison I chose the few meaningful PCs in a conventional or minor way to illustrate the difference between CPU and GPU. Because without a large screen, Surface Studio 2 would basically be a mini desk.
In this case, I compared Surface Studio 2 to two HP desktops (an inexpensive
AMD-powered Pavilion Gaming Desktop 690 and Z2 Mini G4 workstation) and a small-form-factor gaming machine, MSI Trident X. The most important technical data can be found in the following table …
All have AMD or Intel desktop-grade processors, unlike Surface Studio 2 that has a mobile-grade CPU.
PRODUCTIVITY AND STORAGE TESTS
PCMark 10 and 8 are comprehensive service packages developed by UL PC experts (formerly Futuremark). Our pulled PCMark 10 test simulates various productivity and content creation workflows in the real world. We use it to assess overall system performance for office-centric tasks such as word processing, spreadsheets, web surfing and video conferencing. The test gives a proprietary numerical rating.
At the same time, the PCMark 8 series includes a special PCMark 8 recording test, which is used to evaluate the speed of the PC subsystem. This result is also a patented numerical assessment.
The Surface Studio 2’s processor is a mobile chip that is typically less robust than part of the competition that deals with desktops. As such, it performed well compared to the less complex PCMark 10 test, in which the most powerful chips are ideal for monitoring
difficult media tasks with multiple processes. Still, this means Studio 2 is an agile desktop that improves all of your office work and multitasking without breaking a sweat. M.2 SSD is also super fast. This is great news for launch times and application loadings.
MEDIA PROCESSING AND CREATION TESTS
Next is the Maxon Cinebench R15 Crunching CPU Test, where all available CPU cores and threads are used at full power. Cinebench loads the CPU rather than the GPU to represent a complex image. The result is a patented evaluation that demonstrates the suitability of a computer for processor-intensive workloads.
We also did a custom Adobe Photoshop image-editing comparison. In early 2018, we used 10 complex filters and effects for a standard JPEG test image in the Creative Cloud version of Photoshop. We measure each operation in time and add the total time of the execution run. The Photoshop test loads the CPU, memory subsystem, and RAM, but you can also use multiple GPUs to speed up the use of filters. Systems with powerful chips or
video cards may experience more momentum.
As mentioned earlier, here you can see a certain difference between Surface Studio 2 and the selected competition. First-class design and price tag are easy to spot and are believed to reflect performance at the workstation level, but the Studio 2 components are not at this level.
Much of the cost is in design and display. It is a good machine that can perform professional tasks very well, but there are also faster and cheaper machines that focus primarily on performance. The HP Z2 Mini and MSI Trident X are designed for speed and are therefore ideal for these multi-threaded tasks.
SYNTHETIC GRAPHICS TESTS
Next: UL 3DMark suite. 3DMark measures the muscle of relative graphics by creating a series of highly detailed 3D game-style graphics that highlight particles and lighting. We run two different 3DMark subtests, Sky Diver and Fire Strike, which are suitable for different system types. Both are benchmarks from DirectX 11, but the Sky Diver is suitable for mid-range laptops and laptops, while the Fire Strike is more sophisticated and designed for high-end PCs. The results are patented results.
The following is another synthetic graphics test, this time from Unigine Corp. Like
3DMark, the superposition test shows and goes through a detailed 3D scene and
measures the survival of the system. In this case, it is presented under the nickname of Unigine, which offers a workload scenario for 3D work other than 3DMark to get a different statement about the graphics performance of the machine. We present two overlay results that run at 720p low and 1080p high. These points are expressed in frames per second (fps).
When testing systems with separate graphics cards, synthetic graphics tests are
often less important than game tests and frame rates. This is not the case with the Studio 2, which is used more for 3D workloads and professional graphics than for games. The exciting news is that the GeForce GTX 1070 is a really strong card and is a significant improvement over the original GTX 980M Studio. Only the over-integration of the Trident X in the GeForce RTX 2080 configuration makes the GTX 1070 look like nothing, but it’s a really powerful graphics engine. Unless you really need a lot of 3D performance for professional work, this machine should have a high GPU acceleration.
REAL-WORLD GAMING TESTS
Although you are less likely to use Surface Studio 2 for games, it is definitely possible to play many of them. For example, I ran Far Cry 5 and Rise of Tomb Raider on this multi-resolution computer (which does not match the standard 16: 9 test resolution) at maximum and medium presets to see how it ran.
These are modern, very loyal AAA titles with integrated benchmarks that work well for this job. Due to the novelty of current test methods, PC Labs does not have extensive performance data from previous machines to create complete graphics, but it is easy to see how the Studio 2 behaves according to its own numbers.
First, the maximum resolution of 4,500 x 3,000 is too much for the hardware. (In reality, almost no AIO computer should try to play games with resolutions above 4K.) Studio 2 averaged only 20 frames per second at maximum settings at each reference point.
Lowering the resolution setting to 3,000 x 2,000 pixels gave more reasonable results: 40 frames per second for Far Cry 5 and 44 frames per second for the Rise of Tomb Raider. It’s not that long, but you can definitely play. The 2250 x 1500 pixel configuration is probably what you need for 60 fps games if you want. At this resolution, Surface Studio
2 averaged 62 fps and 66 fps in these tests. You can also change some visual settings to higher resolutions to increase screen speed.
All in all, Surface Studio 2 is not a powerful gaming device with native screen resolution, but the GTX 1070 has more than the ability to play current titles at lower resolution settings when you want to start a shoot ’em up or RPG and less demanding online MMOs work perfectly.
The Surface Studio 2 hasn’t changed much from the original, and that’s a big problem.
Now everything counts: It is an elegant combination of drawing screen and fast computer in one device. Now the parts are faster and adapt better to the job, although the biggest change is making the processor meatier at a price. After all, the base contains the motherboard and the processor and can be thickened to accommodate a more robust mobile desktop processor. It’s not like the hottest parts have to fit behind a narrow thermal display.
The second problem is of course the price. In any configuration, Surface Studio 2 is undoubtedly expensive thanks to its unique design and excellent display. In other words, if you really need touch and pen functionality, you should know that Wacom’s special drawing tablets, like Wacom, can only cost thousands of dollars.
If you choose the Surface Studio 2, you need (or really want) this hybrid feature. Otherwise there are more profitable AIO workstations: the Dell XPS 27 and its brother Dell Precision 5720 all-in-one are very similar, while of course the Apple iMac and the iMac
Pro are recommended if you want macOS and most importantly, it doesn’t need touchscreen/pen screen functions, but it doesn’t replace artists, architects, engineers, and creatives who uniquely meet the needs of this great AIO.