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.


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


View All Comments

  • casperes1996 - Friday, January 20, 2017 - link

    The Surface Display + a new Mac Pro = yes! I know it eliminates the point of touch, but I don't care much for it either way. I love the rest of the display design though. Reply
  • simonm - Sunday, January 22, 2017 - link

    You know something about a new Mac computer? Do tell! Reply
  • TheinsanegamerN - Monday, January 23, 2017 - link

    Oh, it's great! they've moved to the new intel U series chips to give us a smoother, more complete experience, and a new geforce 940MX graphics card for CUDA acceleration! They start at the new price of $2400 for the bast model, and $3200 for the model with more then 4GB soldered to the mobo. Reply
  • Gich - Friday, January 20, 2017 - link

    "The GTX 980M handles desktop duties just fine, but if you do want to stretch its legs with some games [...]"
    Games? With this? Why?
  • TheinsanegamerN - Friday, January 20, 2017 - link

    perhaps some creative professionals would like to play a game of civ now and again? Reply
  • ddriver - Friday, January 20, 2017 - link

    Actually many of the professional applications are just as demanding to GPU performance, even not even more, because besides graphics there is also compute.

    All in all, this product is silly, good screen, decent design, but the specs are disappointing. A spinner drive in a 4200$ product, seriously?

    Replace in the drive with a nvme, replace the gpu with a 1070, and at the same price point, I might consider buying it.
  • ddriver - Friday, January 20, 2017 - link

    And while other products are being lousy by only having USB C ports, this one does the exact opposite, it is being lousy by only having A ports.

    If 4 is the limit, then it should be 2 A, 1 C and one thunderbolt.
  • gerz1219 - Friday, January 20, 2017 - link

    What's interesting is that creative professionals are already a niche market, but by offering midrange laptop performance, they're basically cutting out a large segment of that niche -- video editors with demanding workflows, motion graphics artists, digital compositors, and basically anyone working in 3D. The Studio seems to be aimed primarily at photo editors and graphic designers who spend all day in less demanding applications, but that's a niche of a niche, and lots of those other users I mentioned would love a high-resolution touch display with pen input.

    Would be interesting if they competed directly with the Wacom Cintiq line, because that display is much better than what Wacom currently has on offer.
  • simonm - Sunday, January 22, 2017 - link

    Very good summation. Plus the 3:2 aspect ratio isn't ideal for videographers. This seems to be for digital artists, photographers, desktop publishers and the like.

    With those specs and prices I certainly don't see this thing flying off the shelf but it's a decent first attempt.
  • TheinsanegamerN - Monday, January 23, 2017 - link

    hasnt it already sold out? Reply

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