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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  • vLsL2VnDmWjoTByaVLxb - Friday, January 20, 2017 - link

    The second one 3 months in? After Microsoft kept promising driver/firmware updates to address the issues?

    It's a business laptop that was going to be a test case for our company, selling it isn't our job. Microsoft extended the warranty, and we decided on XPS 15's instead for our fleet. (which work nearly flawlessly in comparison.)

    It wasn't capable of reliable external display/peripheral use either, the dock sucked.
    Reply
  • Icehawk - Sunday, January 22, 2017 - link

    Yeah we have SP3s, 4s, and SBs at my work and none of them work reliably with more than one monitor. Our clients just love that. Reply
  • sprockkets - Saturday, January 21, 2017 - link

    Not trying to troll, but that's like every MS computer since forever.
    I have an Asus computer that can't wake up either with Windows 8 or 10. Works fine with Linux, SuSE 42.1. Yea, linux isn't perfect but MS has had decades to get standby right, and can't.

    Remember the last time an ios or android device failed to wake up when hitting the power button? Me either.
    Reply
  • philehidiot - Sunday, January 22, 2017 - link

    Sprokkets, that's a damned good point. How can waking from a sleep state continue to confuse Microsoft when as you rightly point out, phones do it multiple times a day flawlessly. It's maddening and you can't realistically sleep your PC during critical work without saving everything (and when you've multiple tabs, papers, word, Excel and PowerPoint documents open that's one big pain in the arse). Reply
  • thebuccaneergentleman - Sunday, January 22, 2017 - link

    I don't know if EVERY MS computer is like this... Some are and some are not. We deployed hundreds of Surface Pro 1, 2 and 3s over the years at my company. Some were very good... many were not. The higher-ups though decided to pass on the Surface Pro 4 and started to purchase Lenovo laptops. It was a good call. Our IT support cases have dropped into single digits for the new Lenovos. MS had a PERFECT idea with the Surface. I LOVE the concept. But their execution (at least till the Surface Pro 3 as I have not used a SP4) was less than stellar. Too bad. Its hard to rebound from even a small bad batch. Reply
  • niva - Wednesday, January 25, 2017 - link

    Yeah that's a ridiculous statement.

    I've been using linux for about 10 years now on all sorts of computers. Typically you will encounter issues in linux exactly with things like standby and sleep mode, even if everything else works out of the box. Don't even get me started on drivers for new hardware like dedicated graphics or application support. I've stayed with Windows pretty much 100% due to my Photoshop needs. Sure I game some on my desktop too, but these days even that wouldn't be enough.

    I love linux, it's great for many things, especially for the price, but the area you brought up as an advantage somehow you're completely wrong about.

    This new device from Microsoft is interesting. The price is ridiculous though. I'll wait for future generations and see how things go in the future. As an artist I'm definitely interested in these types of devices.
    Reply
  • tamalero - Sunday, January 22, 2017 - link

    There are a lot of stuff that Microsoft hs fucked up over the years.
    For example.. if your monitors turn off (multiple monitors). Your color calibration information resets to default.
    Shutting down any monitor will now cause all the icons to switch to the remaining monitor and the color calibration will be lost as well.
    Microsoft support tech(from India and Turkey) only kept repeating the same BS recipe of "reboot, didnt work? then boot in safe mode" and then end with "Its working as intended, its not a bug. We will report this to the developers for xxx reason" and nothing..
    Reply
  • Rezurecta - Friday, January 20, 2017 - link

    MS support is good. Just get you surface exchanged. Reply
  • geekman1024 - Saturday, January 21, 2017 - link

    MS support is good, but their hardware products' quality isn't.

    My Surface 3's pen function is bad straight out of the box, so I have to send it in for repair the day I've got it. The Surface Pen 4 I've bought for the Surface have its bluetooth function working intermittently, most of the time the top button click doesn't work. Then I remembered I used to have a MS wireless laser mouse + keyboard combo which died 3 months after purchase. My XBox 360 RRoD'ed just a few weeks after warranty expired, nice calculation on the MTTF, Microsoft.

    Seems like EVERY MS hardware product I owned have to turn bad at some time. Is it my bad luck or MS's QC needs some debugging?
    Reply
  • goatfajitas - Monday, January 23, 2017 - link

    Exactly... I dont want good support nearly as much as I want it to not break... Same reason I dont buy a Kia with a 10 year 100,000 mile warranty. I dont want it to break and be fixed for free, I want to not be stuck with a broken car I have to deal with regardless of who pays for it. This comment section alone is riddled with Surface Pro and Surface Book users reporting all sorts of issues. Pass. Big time pass. Reply

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