Wireless

Microsoft has stuck with it’s tried and tested Marvell AVASTAR 802.11ac wireless adapter for the Surface Studio, and they’ve been using this NIC for quite a while on the Surface devices, so this isn’t a surprise. Over the years, the experience with the Marvell adapter has not been the best, although recent driver updates have both improved performance, and made the adapter less prone to not finding networks to connect to.

WiFi Performance - TCP

How times have changed. The Surface Pro 4 in the above graph has the same network adapter, but you can see how far Marvell has come with the drivers. It has been solid so far in regards to connections as well, and hopefully that doesn't change. The Surface Book, with the same adapter, sometimes needs to be restarted to fix the networking even to this day.

The Surface Studio also has the Intel I219-LM Gigabit Ethernet adapter, for those that prefer a wired network connection. It does provide a better experience if you do have a cable handy, since even the best 3x3 802.11ac cards can’t really compete with Gigabit wired.

Audio

When it comes to audio, Microsoft had to put some extra work into the Surface Studio to ensure that the audio experience wasn’t impacted by too severely by moving the display. A lot more engineering went into this than you would expect, and the Surface Studio features a total of seven speakers. Apparently the Surface team decided to go big, or go home, so they fit four speakers into a downward firing grille at the bottom of the display, plus there are two additional speakers in the base. The final speaker is a subwoofer to help out on the low frequencies.

Four of the Studio speakers are on the bottom edge of the display, and another two plus a sub are in the base

The sound quality of the Surface Studio is far better than you would expect for a small, tightly packed device like it is, and having the speakers in multiple locations helps out when the display gets moved into the drafting mode, since the ones on the base can now chip in to make up for the speakers on the display no longer as optimally oriented.

The system gets quite loud, and I measured a maximum of 88 dB(A) when playing music, and the sound was not distorted even at maximum volume. The subwoofer definitely helps out too, with decent frequency response even on the low end of the scale. It’s not a home theater in a box by any means, but it would likely be enough for many people.

Thermals, and Noise

Packing a PC into a space the size of the base of a Surface Studio, especially with a GTX 980M inside, is quite a challenge, but ensuring that the system does not overheat, even under load, is often too much for small devices like this. There are two fans inside the Surface Studio, and they vent out a row of slots in the black plastic underneath the computer.

When discussing the cooling with the Surface team, they were very proud of the work they had done there, especially the amount of heat dissipated per dB of noise. In order to test the thermal capabilities of the Surface Studio, the Tomb Raider benchmark was run continuously at 1920x1080 Ultra settings, which loads the GPU up to 100%.

The cooling system is very good in the Surface Studio, despite the significant heat generated by the GTX 980M. The system was able to run for five minutes at maximum boost clock of 1126 MHz before the GPU hit the thermal limit of 87°C, at which point it reduced its frequency to 1050 MHz over time, and stayed right there for the rest of the test. Perhaps the most impressive bit is that even with the GPU at 100% load, the sound pressure level with a meter over the keyboard, was just 46 dB(A), and the sound frequency is low enough that it isn’t bothersome. Microsoft did their homework on the cooling system, and the Surface Studio is solid under load.

Where it is let down though is at idle. Despite being very quiet under load, at idle, the system still produces 37.5 dB(A), and the fans constantly run. The CPU and GPU idle around 39°C, which is very reasonable, but the sound is always there. It’s not loud, but it’s always there. For me, desktop systems should be almost silent under light workloads, but that’s not the case on the Studio, which is disappointing.

The other issue on the noise side, at least on this review unit, is that there is a small amount of coil whine when the system has the display off, but it’s not yet sleeping. Most likely, this is the power supply, which is also built into the base of the Studio, coping with the reduced power demand since it isn’t driving the display backlight anymore. Once it goes to sleep, it’s not an issue, but the system does wake up periodically to update email, and the like, so even if it is sitting there asleep on the desk, occasionally the coil whine will come back, and the fans kick in.

GPU and Storage Performance Final Words
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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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