GPU Performance

Since the review unit is the GTX 980M model, the Surface Studio results will be the best case scenario for this device, and anyone with the GTX 965M will end up with significantly less GPU performance. With a 4500x3000 resolution display, gaming at the machine's native resolution is going to be a challenge even if the Studio had a GTX 1080, but most games will not run at the default resolutions in any appreciable way. That isn’t always the case though, and we’ll go through that here.

It’s also worth noting that the GTX 980M in the Surface Studio is the 4 GB model, rather than the 8 GB mobile variant which was available. There are games like Rise of the Tomb Raider which require more than 4 GB of vRAM if run at maximum settings, but the GTX 980M is likely going to struggle at those settings regardless.

This is not a dedicated gaming system, but some of our gaming tests were run just to see how the GTX 980M performs in the Studio.

3DMark

Futuremark 3DMark (2013)

Futuremark 3DMark (2013)

Futuremark 3DMark (2013)

Futuremark 3DMark (2013)

Futuremark’s 3DMark offers several different tests, with varying degrees of complexity. Fire Strike is the most difficult test in this grouping, followed by Sky Diver, Cloud Gate, and Ice Storm Unlimited. As the tests get less complex, they tend to become more CPU bound, and the scores reflect this. Compared to the Clevo systems which are here because they represent desktop class components, the Surface Studio can’t keep up with it’s mobile CPU.

Dota 2

Valve’s Dota 2 is a great benchmark game because it can be played on such a wide variety of hardware. The downside of it is that Valve continues to update it, which can change the performance somewhat, but regardless it’s a game that is playable on devices integrated GPUs, all the way up to SLI gaming rigs.

Dota 2 Reborn - Enthusiast

The GTX 980M is not the major limiting factor here, since even at 1920x1080 enthusiast settings, the game ends up being mostly CPU bound., but it can easily play at about 100 frames per second. Since this game is a bit lighter on the GPU, it is a perfect test bed to try out gaming at the native resolution

Dota 2 Reborn

The average frame rate, even at 4500x3000 with all of the settings turned on, is still quite good for this type of game, and it is easily playable. Even the minimum frame rate is not too bad considering the number of pixels being driven. I would say it’s unlikely many competitive Dota 2 gamers will choose the Surface Studio as their gaming rig, but Dota 2 looks amazing at this resolution.

Tomb Raider

Even though Tomb Raider is getting a bit old now, and there’s even a sequel to this game which we normally test, Rise of the Tomb Raider was skipped because it won’t run at 1920x1080 Enthusiast settings on a GPU with 4 GB of vRAM or less. Regardless, Tomb Raider can still be a very demanding game.

Tomb Raider - Enthusiast

The GTX 980M is certainly the limiting factor here, and the Studio slots in right with the other GTX 980M systems. This game is very playable at 1080p settings, but is completely unplayable at 4500x3000. Setting the options to the lowest possible settings does get acceptable framerates, but the texture quality is so poor that it is not worth it.

Civilization VI

The latest version of Civilization has already burned too many of my hours for me to admit, and it can be a demanding game, although it tends to be CPU bound as well. Luckily it doesn’t need a huge framerate to be playable though.

Civilization VI Enthusiast

Certainly playable, but nothing to get too excited about. Since this is another game with a wide range of performance targets, it was also tested at 4500x3000. In order to get playable results, the settings had to be turned to Low, but it didn’t really impact the look of the game as dramatically as you would expect. At 4500x3000 Low, the Studio managed 53 FPS.

Bioshock Infinite

The final game tested is also an older game, and it was picked in the hopes that it would be playable at 4500x3000, but alas, that was not the case. This game can still be demanding on the mobile GPUs, even after this much time.

Bioshock Infinite - Enthusiast

You are pretty much stuck playing this around the 1080p level, even with the GTX 980M. It might be able to handle 1440p, but that would likely be it.

GPU Conclusion

Without harping on this even further, the Maxwell based GPU was a safe, but ultimately unsatisfying choice for Microsoft to make. A premium device like this deserves the latest generation GPU, especially with this kind of resolution. A GTX 1070 would double the performance of the Surface Studio when gaming, and although that’s not what this device is targeted at, Pascal would be a better choice for other tasks as well.

Storage Performance

Microsoft opted for a hybrid storage system. They didn’t want to ship the Surface Studio desktop with just a 256 GB or 512 GB solid state drive, so they decided on leveraging Intel’s Rapid Storage Technology to pair a relatively slow 5400 RPM hard drive (a Seagate-Samsung Spinpoint M9T in the review unit) with a fast SSD. The user doesn’t see the separate drives, so they can just use the system as if it was a single drive. It’s not quite the same implementation as Apple’s Fusion Drive, although it ends up being a similar result.

The base model only has a 64 GB SSD, and thanks to the iFIxit teardown, we can see the 64 GB SSD is just a SATA model as well, which is going to impact performance a lot compared to a PCIe based SSD. Luckily, both the mid and high end models both come with a 128 GB PCIe SSD for the cache. Thanks to the same teardown, we know it’s possible to upgrade the storage completely, although that’s an expensive proposition on top of the already high asking price of this device.

Intel uses Smart Response Technology as part of the Rapid Storage Technology to migrate data around between the two drives, and it attempts to keep your most used data on the SSD for quick access. The larger the SSD, the more this will be able to be done, so bigger is better. But let’s check out a quick performance run using CrystalDiskMark.

The PCIe SSD is a pretty good performer. Considering the small capacity, the write speeds are quite good.

Let’s not mince words though. A pure SSD solution would be better. Even with 128 GB of cache, eventually you are going to end up hitting the spinning drive for file access, and it’s going to seem very slow. However, for day-to-day use, the experience is better than expected. In many ways, it acts very much like a system with a pure SSD when it comes to boot times and the like, and most applications are cached and end up launching very quickly. For many people, this could be a non-issue, but it is still difficult to justify why there is not even an option for one of the Surface Studio models to offer a more modest sized SSD, in the 512 GB range, as a boot drive, and then the spinning drive as a separate drive for storage. Perhaps this will come later. This is one of the most expensive devices we’ve ever tested, and it’s also the first to come with a hybrid drive since the Apple Fusion iMac. As it stands now, the hybrid drive in the Studio is a good compromise between the Terabytes of storage desktop users are used to, and the performance of a SSD.

System Performance Wireless, Audio, Thermals, and Noise
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  • hoohoo - Sunday, January 29, 2017 - link

    It is very nice but the price as tested is completely ridiulous.

    It is essentially a high spec laptop packaged in a big screen. If Asus os such were to step up it could offer the same thing for half the price.
    Reply
  • Septillion - Wednesday, February 1, 2017 - link

    So the vivid color profile aka P3 D65, is practically identical to Apple's Display P3 color profile? Same P3 primaries, D65 white point and 2.2 gamma. Reply
  • darwinosx - Sunday, February 5, 2017 - link

    I use a Mac laptop at work and also have one at home. We have a lot of pro-Microsoft people at work including my boss who is the VP of software development. We also are working closely with Microsoft on a major project. Many of the people I work with got a Surface Pro 4 thinking they would really lie it but all of them are sick of all the issues and the service desk finally stopped allowing them because of all the issues. Several of the developers, including my boss, have Mac laptops on order now. Reply
  • lcf/bill - Thursday, February 9, 2017 - link

    Nice to see a timely review of a product.
    At this point, it is looking like the Touch Bar Macbook Pro review may not be out before the hardware is revised.
    Reply
  • IamDavid - Saturday, February 11, 2017 - link

    I want to purchase the top level version but I need the ability to connect the audio to my Home Theater system. I only see a 3.5mm audio port so I assume at best I'd have stereo? Any options for have full HD audio out? Reply
  • macmhathain - Saturday, June 17, 2017 - link

    I find this product fascinating. I'm not sure I agree that Microsoft tries to add something interesting in every computer since the Surface - they add touch to desktop PC - Suface, Surface Pro, Surface Book, Surface Laptop, and Surface studio. But, he addition of touch to a desktop PC does some very interesting things which are natural outgrowth of touch - 2 in 1 with detachable keyboard, UI that switches between desktop and tablet mode, pen support. All of these are natural outgrowths of the decision to put touch on desktops. The problem is that comes with trade-offs. The most important is cost. the Surface studio is $4000 - that would pay for an amaizngly speced out Mac or and an epically speced out traditional PC. I have heard the surface studio is slow (I don't own one but have played with it in store and based on Leo Leports comments) but what one would expect from the hardware that powers that screen (and the decision to put it into a tiny box). My wife is a professional photographer - and she really needs power in her computer. the size of her imports, running lightroom, photoshop, and a brower continually and switching between them need a powerful computer not to be slow. So the surface studio, even if it would be awesome for the occasional very precise artistic edit, wouldn't work well for the day to day grind of a photographer - and I expect the dame problem for a video editor, or graphic designer would have the same problems with lack of power. Why not attach that amazing screen to a giant box filled with i7s a ton of fast RAM and a huge SSD and a bunch of fans? sure it would cost a lot more like $10,000 - but it would do the job it is supposed to do well, unlike now where it is crippled by a trade off for aesthetics and to keep the price low (you could put at least a few better parts in the little box like a great SSD which would have helped and kept the aesthetics). I am fasciated to see who will be right. Microsoft with desktop computers need touch, or Mac that desktops needs mouse and keyboard and touch based "tablets (although a 27" ipad would be an interesting device for photo editing if it were fast enough and had enough storage)" are the only things that have touch. For me buying a computer in exchange for the additional cost for the touch screen, I'd rather have that money spent on more RAM or a better CPU or a faster SSD. Reply
  • Danilushka - Saturday, April 7, 2018 - link

    Such a shame: Microsoft takes an innovative leap past Apple but snatched defeat from the jaws of victory sabotaged by it's buggy unreliable aged Windows operating system and poor quality control.
    No wonder Apple isn't rushing out large touchscreens: the competition just cannot deliver on them.
    Unfortunate because competition keeps vendors innovating.
    Reply

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