/Microsoft Surface Studio 2 review

Microsoft Surface Studio 2 review

The world has waited quite some time for this one: the Surface Studio 2 is here at last, and it’s improved in almost every way. Now, those improvements may not be on par with a lot of today’s professional all-in-one computers, but they do wonders for the Surface Studio 2’s core use case.

And that use case is the most robust digital drafting table to date. 

If you already own the original Surface Studio, you may want to seriously consider the sequel. The parts in the original are only going to grow longer in the tooth by the day, and we see what’s inside this model lasting a much longer time. If you’re new to the Surface family, just be certain of whether this computer will fulfill your use case (digital media artists only need apply), before committing so much cash.

Spec Sheet

Here is the Microsoft Surface Studio 2 configuration sent to TechRadar for review:

CPU: 2.9GHz Intel Core i7-7820HQ (quad-core; 8MB cache; up to 3.9GHz Turbo Boost)
Graphics: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 (8GB GDDR5); Intel HD Graphics 630
RAM: 32GB DDR4
Screen: 28.125-inch, (4,500 x 3,000) PixelSense Display
Storage: 1TB SSD (PCIe)
Ports: 1 x USB-C 3.1, 4 x USB 3.0, SD card reader, Gigabit Ethernet, headset jack
Connectivity: 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, Xbox Wireless
Camera: 5MP (1080p) Windows Hello camera
Weight: 21 pounds (9.56 kg)
Size (Display): 25.1 x 17.3 x 0.5 inches (637.35 x 438.90 x 12.50 mm; W x D x H)
Size (Base): 9.8 x 8.7 x 1.3 inches (250.00 x 220.00 x 32.20 mm; W x D x H)

Price and availability

The Surface Studio 2 calls for a kingly sum of $3,499 or AU$5,499 (about £2,680) – and that’s just to start. (Sadly, Surface Studio 2 isn’t yet available in the UK.)

This will get you a 7th-generation – nope, not a typo – Intel Core i7 processor designed for laptops and powered by Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 (6GB GDDR5) graphics, 16GB of DDR4 memory and a 1TB NVMe SSD. Yes, the hybrid drives are gone.

This all sits beneath a 28-inch, 4,500 x 3,000 resolution PixelSense touch display that’s now 38% brighter (515 nits) and offers a 22% higher contrast ratio (1,200:1).

As for upgrades, the Surface Studio 2 can support GeForce GTX 1070 (8GB GDDR5) graphics, up to 32GB of DDR4 memory and as much as 2TB of SSD space. The processor option remains the same throughout.

The configuration you see listed here – one of only three available in the US – will cost you $4,199 (AU$6,599, about £3,319). This doubles the memory of the starting model and introduces the GTX 1070 graphics processor.

It’s difficult to compare this desktop against competing all-in-one PCs for creatives and otherwise, as it was designed for a very specific audience: digital artists and other creators.

However, we do know that Microsoft has upped the starting asking price by 500 bills (in the US at least) for parts that, while a major improvement over the first Surface Studio, are arguably dated by today’s standards.

All in all, it’s difficult to say what price should be put on such a niche product with such a specific use case, but this is an expensive piece of hardware no matter how you slice it.

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Design and display

This may come as music to your ears or a total disappointment, but absolutely nothing has changed about the Surface Studio in its physical design over the previous model. Even the included wireless keyboard and mouse are identical to the original model.

That said, Microsoft took the opportunity to upgrade the Surface Studio display with this revision. The screen has been given quite a boost in the brightness and contrast departments by 38% (515 nits) and 22% (1,200:1), respectively.

We have to admit that the increased brightness and contrast ratio don’t do a ton for us personally, but we imagine it should make content that much more visible and workable for creators. The increased brightness can bring out enhanced detail, meanwhile, the boosted contrast will drive deeper blacks and lighter whites, and in turn produce more color depth.

Beyond these points – and USB-C in replace of a DisplayPort – there are no major design changes. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as the Surface Studio ‘Gravity Hinge’ doesn’t need any improvements.

However, we would have loved to see that starting price hike backed up with a full array of USB-C 3.1 ports or – even better – Thunderbolt 3, especially given this device’s potential to act as the hub of your desk. Not to mention its target audience: content creators.

Also, why couldn’t this product have received that jaw-dropping, all-black color scheme that adorns the Surface Laptop 2 and Surface Pro 6, release alongside the Studio 2? Imagine how that would bounce off the chrome accents and just disappear behind your work – a sorely missed opportunity.

The keyboard and mouse inputs included in the box work just fine. The keyboard feels almost identical to that of the Apple Mac desktop keyboards in terms of travel and feedback. The mouse, meanwhile, has a welcome curvature to it that’s comfortable to hold. Both inputs require AA batteries. Sadly, there are no rechargeable peripherals here.

The Surface Pen stylus that’s also included will feel identical to those found on Surface Pro tablets, as it’s the very same stylus. Now, you just have a massive canvas to draw on with it, and the stylus shines when used on that much surface (get it?) area.

Of course, the Surface Pen attaches to the left side of the display magnetically.

Honestly, we’re glad to see Microsoft’s design persist in the sequel, as it was already rather brilliant. The Gravity Hinge still works here effortlessly, with all of the computer’s major components hiding within its base.

Speaking of which, the base has received a bit of an upgrade with a USB-C 3.1 port in addition to its existing USB 3.0 ports, which replaces the old model’s mini DisplayPort.

Performance

The parts inside the Surface Studio 2, on paper, look like peanuts compared to the latest processors and graphics cards available in similarly-priced desktop computers. However, none of those computers double as a high-resolution drafting table.

Benchmarks

Here’s how the Microsoft Surface Studio 2 performed in our suite of benchmark tests

3DMark Sky Diver: 29,418; Fire Strike: 12,956; Time Spy: 5,295
Cinebench CPU: 759 cb; Graphics: 111 fps
Geekbench 4 Single-Core: 4,767; Multi-Core: 16,112
PCMark 8 Home: 3,435 points
Total War: Warhammer II (1080p, Ultra): 52 fps; (1080p, Low): 111 fps
ME: Shadow of War (1080p, Ultra): 63 fps; (1080p, Low): 122 fps

Microsoft’s unique positioning for Surface Studio 2 put this computer into almost a whole category unto itself, however what’s inside will be capable of basically all modern computing tasks regardless. Just don’t expect to be able to quickly encode 4K video, or drive the latest games at native resolution, with this machine.

As you can see, this model is better than the previous in every way – and by a considerable margin. This model is better at rendering 3D graphics as well as multitasking and at processor-intensive tasks, like encoding video and rendering dense, complex spreadsheets.

However, for the content creator out there that doesn’t do much with digital art generation or illustration, there will be plenty of more powerful options out there that cost less – even all-in-one PCs, like Apple’s iMac Pro. Basically, if you don’t find yourself using this 28-inch computer as a digital drafting table, at least a double-digit percentage of the time, we wouldn’t recommend it.

Now, Microsoft may have included its Xbox Wireless connectivity protocol for its Xbox One controllers, and this PC may have the capability to play many of the latest games at decent settings, but this is not a gaming PC. We wouldn’t even remotely consider gaming to be a concern in purchasing this machine.

When it comes to gaming, you can simply do far better for far less.

At any rate, this is a perfectly capable PC for its primary use case – as well as a few others – so, don’t let the arguably dated spec sheet dissuade you if you’re a digital artist seeking new tools. For folks specifically in that crowd, we could see this PC lasting you for several years.

Software and features

Of course, the Surface Studio 2 comes with zero pre-installed software from third parties, coming directly from Microsoft. This is definitely part of the appeal of the product, with so many other products bloating up the operating system with software that wasn’t asked for.

However, that does leave the Surface Studio 2 with little to speak for in terms of unique software and features. What we can highlight is the Windows Hello camera.

This is a 5MP (1080p) webcam that includes infrared sensors for facial recognition, and it appears to be largely unchanged from the previous. However, we couldn’t help but notice just how fast the system is a registering your face and getting you into the desktop. Honestly, it takes less time than we can utter the words ‘one second.’

Super speedy logins that are also secure should make any user happy – digital artist or not.

Final verdict

The Surface Studio 2 absolutely does what it ultimately sets out to do: improve upon the previous model in every way necessary. This version is faster, brighter and with more vibrant color than before, changing nothing that didn’t need to be changed.

That said, this computer will absolutely look like an overpriced heap when stacked up against rivals, like the Apple iMac Pro, on paper. These spec-for-spec comparisons simply cannot capture the complete value found within Surface Studio 2 … because of its unique use case as one of the world’s best digital drafting tables.

For the digital artist out there looking to upgrade from the original model, this one is a no-brainer. For newcomers, this model seems far more prepared to weather the endless silicon improvements and upgrades, with even stronger support for 4K content creation and the latest accessories via USB-C.

Surface Studio 2 isn’t going to compare well against most computers simply because it wasn’t meant to. For the digital artist or other visually-focused content creator, it’s going to be tough to beat Surface Studio 2 – dated parts and all.