Microsoft has only been in the PC system game for a few years now, but over the last couple of years they have made a lot of progress rather quickly. These days they have a solid foundation of products available, with the Surface Pro 4 being one of the best convertible tablets, the Surface Book being a very solid convertible laptop, and also the more specialized products like the Hololens, and Surface Hub. Going into their October 2016 event, the one missing piece of their PC product lineup was a desktop computer, but with the announcement and release of the Surface Studio, that particular gap has now been filled.

But the Surface Studio is not your typical desktop PC. Even at first glance, the sleek, beautiful lines are readily apparent, and once powered on, it is rare for anyone to first glimpse the 28.125-inch 4500x3000 display and not say “wow”. It’s not only the very high resolution, but also the 3:2 aspect ratio that is unheard of in this segment, that makes the display stand out as something unique.

Microsoft has become one of the superlative hardware manufacturers in only the short span of four years or so, and the Surface Studio is one of their finest designs yet. However, from the very first Surface RT, Microsoft always tries to add something different, but more importantly interesting, to their designs, and in the case of the Surface Studio, it is the zero-gravity hinge, which allows the all-in-one to be quickly and easily tilted back to a 20° angle, letting it be used as a huge, digital drafting table. Microsoft announced the Surface Studio at their October Windows event, where they also announced the next Windows 10 Update, called the Creator’s Update, and it is wonderful to see them building hardware to truly bring out the exclusive features of their software.

Packed into the base of the Surface Studio is a laptop-class computer, with three different models available now. The base model, coming in at $2999, features an Intel Core i5-6440HQ processor, 8 GB of memory, a 1 TB hybrid drive with a 64 GB SSD cache, and a NVIDIA GeForce GTX 965M GPU. The mid-level model, which costs $3499, bumps the CPU up to an Intel Core i7-6820HQ, doubles the RAM to 16 GB, and doubles the SSD cache to a PCIe 128 GB model, with the same 1 TB HDD and GTX 965M. The highest priced model, at $4199, is an Intel Core i7-6820HQ, 32 GB of RAM, a 2 TB hybrid drive with a 128 GB PCIe cache, and a NVIDIA GTX 980M GPU with 4 GB of memory.

Microsoft Surface Studio
  Base Middle Top (As Tested)
CPU Intel Core i5-6440HQ
Quad-Core, 2.6-3.5 GHz
6 MB Cache, 45W TDP, No Hyperthreading
Intel Core i7-6820HQ
Quad-Core, 2.7-3.6 GHz
8 MB Cache, 45W TDP, Hyperthreading
GPU NVIDIA GTX 965M
1024 CUDA Cores
944 Mhz + Boost
2 GB GDDR5 128-bit memory
NVIDIA GTX 980M
1536 CUDA Cores
1038 Mhz + Boost
4 GB GDDR5 256-bit memory
RAM 8 GB DDR4 16 GB DDR4 32 GB DDR4
Storage 1 TB Hybrid Drive
64 GB SATA SSD Cache / 1 TB SATA HDD
1 TB Hybrid Drive
128 GB PCIe SSD Cache / 1 TB SATA HDD
2 TB Hybrid Drive
128 GB PCIe SSD Cache / 2 TB SATA HDD
IO 4 USB 3.0 ports - one high power port
Full size SD Card Slot
Headset Jack
Xbox Wireless Connectivity
DisplayPort
Display 28.125-inch PixelSense Display
4500 x 3000 resolution
192 DPI
sRGB, DCI-P3, P3 D65 color modes
Webcam 5 MP Webcam
Windows Hello Facial Recognition
Networking Marvel AVASTAR 802.11ac
Intel I219-LM Gigabit Ethernet
Price $2,999 $3,499 $4,199

There was quite a bit of discussion at the time of the Surface Studio launch over the fact that it was equipped with older technology. Intel’s Kaby Lake quad-core parts just launched at CES this year, so Skylake quad-core CPUs were the latest generation available at launch. The Maxwell based graphics options chosen were not the latest generation mobile graphics from NVIDIA, with the GTX 965M and GTX 980M available in the Studio. The Pascal based GTX 1060 and GTX 1070 would have been much more powerful substitutes, but they are not pin-compatible drop-in components with the Maxwell GPUs in the Surface Studio, meaning a new board design and thermal considerations would have been necessary late in the design phase, and Microsoft appears to have been conservative here to avoid missing their launch window.

Microsoft has also been very conservative with their I/O choices, with four USB 3.0 Type-A ports on the back of the Studio, along with a SD card slot, and mini DisplayPort. As with the Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book, Microsoft has continued to provide only the older USB-A ports, and not even offer a single USB-C port, let alone with Thunderbolt. Anyone purchasing a Studio will likely be using it for several years, and the lack of USB-C is going to be an issue in the future, if not already today. The Surface team really needs to reconsider this as it is already a detriment to not include any.

There also must be some questions raised about the use of a hybrid drive in a PC of this price. We’ll dig in to the experience later, but Microsoft could and should offer a larger SSD as the boot disk, complimented by a HDD as a secondary disk, at least on the highest end model. A 512 GB NVMe SSD as the boot drive would appease much of the criticism. The computer does cost over $4000 after all, and while much of the cost of the device is in the display, SSDs have been the biggest improvement in user experience on the PC in a long time.

Design and the Zero-Gravity Hinge
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  • Devo2007 - Friday, January 20, 2017 - link

    With all the bugs of the Surface Pro 4 tablet and Surface Book, I wouldn't call either of them among the best. As for the Surface Studio, it is aimed at such a niche audience that it will probably be quite some time before we see any major issues pop up, but I won't be surprised when (not if) they do. Reply
  • ingwe - Friday, January 20, 2017 - link

    I have a Surface Pro 4 for work and it locks up at least once a day. Sometimes it doesn't recognize the type cover that I have. It took me a while to sort out the battery drain issue while it was sleeping. It frequently locks up while restarting. Literally the exact hardware that I want and the software just seems to be so buggy. It's a real shame. Reply
  • BurntMyBacon - Friday, January 20, 2017 - link

    That's a shame. I would've hoped it would behave more like the Surface Book given the same software and similarities in the hardware.

    I haven't had any issues with my Surface Book thus far that weren't a result of my own software and configuration choices. No lockups at all to this date. Some quirky behavior with Edge early on that got fixed with updates (All Win10 devices?). Abnormal pauses were reproducible on a desktop Win10 system and I've adjusted my configuration to eliminate this issue on both. Games work well enough despite not getting the latest nVidia drivers. My uncle said he had some issues with his early on, but it didn't take them long to resolve them.

    I'll have to keep in mind that the Surface Pro 4 experience isn't necessarily the same as the Surface Book experience.
    Reply
  • nikon133 - Sunday, January 22, 2017 - link

    In my experience, Surface Pro 3 is much more stable platform than Surface Pro 4.

    Had a chance to use both, actually switch between SP3 and SP4 a few times. On paper, SP4 would be my choice - less heat, less fan activity, slightly bigger, better, higher res screen... a bit lighter, too.

    However... I had chance to play with two SP4. One was repaired/refurbished, the other one brand new. Solid 5 months in-between, so they couldn't be same batch. Both SP4 exhibited touch-screen issues... at some point, every couple of days or so, screen would stop reacting to touch. Type cover would work. Reboot later, touch screen is back, no errors in event log to point to driver crashing or any other observable problem. This was kind of "fixed" at some point, where touch-screen would stop reacting, and then start reacting on its own, after a few seconds, as if Windows was restarting touch-screen tech/software automatically on detected problem, so no need to restart whole Surface... basically more of a workaround than real fix. Refurbished one also had problem with Halo - face recognition was a bit of hit-and-miss, even under good light. Seemed to be very sensitive to distance between camera and face, as if DoF was really shallow. The new one was much more reliable with Halo tech (software updates that were released in the meantime, or refurb had somehow flawed Halo hardware?). Both SP4 had a bit of an issue with my LinkSys ADSL modem/router which I also used as wireless AP. Arguably that part might have been down to ADSL device, but then again - two SP3 I have been using had none of these issues.
    Reply
  • mr_tawan - Wednesday, January 25, 2017 - link

    My SP3 does not detect the type cover quite often. Not really sure if it's physical damage or software issue though. I'm considering getting a cheap chinese cover which runs on bluetooth instead of the i2c interface. Even if the connector is damaged, the keyboard should still works (downside is I have to recharge the keyboard once in a while, and have to turn it on or off manually)

    Other than that my SP3 runs pretty solid, although the GPU is pretty much underpowered.
    Reply
  • mr_tawan - Wednesday, January 25, 2017 - link

    Oh and since my keyboard is out of warrantee now, getting a replacement is almost the same price as buying a new one. Reply
  • swaaye - Friday, January 20, 2017 - link

    The only problem I've had with my Surface Pro 4 is screen flicker when it's at low brightness. It's only a problem in a dark room when brightness is about 10%. But yeah I have heard about all the other issues people have seen with them. Reply
  • Samus - Friday, January 20, 2017 - link

    We had a lot of problems with a whole batch of Surface 3's at a law office. Eventually Microsoft agreed to swap them all for Surface 4's. Problems from battery performance to two of them just outright dying. Reply
  • vLsL2VnDmWjoTByaVLxb - Friday, January 20, 2017 - link

    On my Fourth Surface Book since buying one pre-order back in October 2015. I need to turn it in for a fifth one later this month. The device(s) have never worked to my satisfaction. The first three suffered from graphical glitches, crashes, wakeup oddities, and strange glitches. The one I'm on now will randomly have the keyboard/mouse stop functioning after waking up, inability to wake up, and the hinge is "loose" so that the Surface Book frequently thinks it is detached/reattached. So tired of dealing with this thing. Reply
  • damianrobertjones - Friday, January 20, 2017 - link

    Then get a refund and perhaps move on? After the second I'd have asked for a refund or sold it. Reply

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