It’s rare to see Microsoft convincingly challenge Apple in the arena of all-in-one PCs. By rare I mean it doesn’t happen. For the past few years, Apple iMac has dominated the PC landscape and been awarded the ultimate piece of kit for creative professionals.
Then, the Microsoft Surface Studio hit the shops. A device marketed exclusively to creative professionals and that has the sole aim of letting designers bring imaginative ideas to life like never before.
The Microsoft Surface Studio is certainly an impressive machine (albeit with a not-so-impressive price tag of £2,200+). In some respects, what you get for your money is much like what the iMac offers. For example, you have similar options available for storage limits and RAM. However, a look at the Studio’s internal parts and external features highlight essential differences.
For this comparison, I’m using the 27” iMac (2017) with 5k retina display – the iMac model that most closely matches the size and price of the Surface Studio.
Apple iMac vs Microsoft Surface Studio at a glance
What’s good about the iMac?
- Fantastic all-round PC
- Superb retina display with first-rate colour accuracy
- The upgraded processor and graphics card is better for designers working on virtual reality (VR) projects
What’s good about the Surface Studio?
- The thinner screen makes the design feel more modern
- Laying the touchscreen flat offers an easy, interactive way to work
- Smooth transitions between colour standards
The Apple iMac follows Apple’s signature look – a classic metal and glass design with wide bezels that eat into the display. Front-on, you might mistakenly think the Apple iMac has a thin screen. But, Apple’s decision to store the internal components behind the screen makes the Apple iMac’s side profile bulky. As a result, the Apple iMac takes up a fair amount of desk space and isn’t easy to move.
By comparison, the Microsoft Surface Studio’s ‘brains’ are stored separately to the screen in a metal box. It makes the screen flatter (12.5mm deep), which is slimmer than most standalone monitors. What’s more, the Surface Studio’s screen sits on a hinge that lets it pivot to almost any angle. By lying it at 20 degrees (the flattest it’ll go), you avoid awkwardly tilting your wrist when drawing.
The Microsoft Surface Studio’s narrowness makes it feel more modern than the Apple iMac. It’s brilliantly efficient with space, with slim bezels that make its surface all screen. For artists, the Surface Studio is the perfect canvas for drafting ideas, which clinches it the win in the design category.
The Apple iMac’s 5k retina display is vibrant and razor sharp. You could sit working in a sunlit room and not once need to strain your eyes to see what’s in front of you.
On top of this, the Apple iMac’s display comes with features that improve your viewing experience. The built-in scaling capabilities enlarge icons and text with no loss of quality. Hence, you can make full use of the screen’s dimensions when viewing videos or playing games.
You might have heard about the Apple iMac’s exceptionally wide colour gamut too. The iMac displays colours with brilliant accuracy. In fact, it’s capable of displaying one billion different colours. It is quite the feat and makes images look truer to life than ever.
The Microsoft Surface Studio also has an LCD display registering 10-bit colour. But despite these technical similarities, it does stand out from the iMac in certain respects.
Firstly, the display is larger than that of the Apple iMac, broadening your canvas and making it easier to multi-task. Want to separate your display into a brief on one side and a sketchpad on the other? There’s more than enough space to do so.
Another cool feature of the Microsoft Surface Studio’s display is the option to switch between colour profiles. A smooth switch from sRGB to Vivid to DCI-P3 makes this a production-grade display with a level of colour accuracy to match the Apple iMac.
Both machines have excellent displays that won’t leave you disappointed. However, because the Microsoft Surface Studio’s size and aspect ratio are so spot on, it just about steals the win for best display.
Speed & power
Here’s where the Apple iMac is going to regain some ground on the Microsoft Surface Studio. Primarily because inside you’re going to find an up-to-date Kaby Lake processor and a more powerful graphics card.
The Apple iMac’s Kaby Lake processors come with higher base and turbo frequencies, which help the machine to channel its power efficiently. Meanwhile, the Radeon Pro graphics cards are more than equipped to support VR gaming and design.
The Microsoft Surface Studio’s processor and graphics card is the most disappointing thing about it. The older Skylake i5 processors aren’t as fast as the Kaby Lake upgrade and the Nvidia graphics card can’t handle all VR games. As the Microsoft Surface Studio came out a little earlier, its specs are outdated, and this is something to consider when paying out big bucks.
It’s a shame the Apple iMac doesn’t come with an i7 processor as standard (instead it has the older i5). But even if you do upgrade to the i7, you’ll be paying less than you would for a Microsoft Surface Studio.
If you’re a video editing enthusiast, or simply addicted to Netflix, the Apple iMac’s front-firing speakers work a dream. Even turned up to high volume, you’ll find sound comes through crisp, letting you pick up any loss of quality when editing audio.
The Apple iMac also has a good selection of ports: you have USB-C and USB 3 ports, plus an SDXC card slot. The Surface Studio, on the other hand, only has the older 3.0 ports, which is going to slow you down when transferring large files.
Much of the Microsoft Surface Studio’s coolest functionality is touchscreen. Out-of-the-box, you get a Surface pen that lets you draw directly onto the screen like you would a graphics tablet. The pen’s pressure sensitivity is good, although you’ll find it less responsive when tilted at a sharp angle.
Many professionals also pay extra to get the Dial, a disc-shaped puck that you place on the screen to access various settings. Having the Dial is going to speed up your creative process by letting you command your sketchpad at the flick of a wrist. Whether you’re deleting your last updates or spinning through your colour palette, the device offers an effortless way to work.
Has the Microsoft Surface Studio put Apple under pressure?
In a word, yes. Apple was once the undisputed leader in producing all-in-one PCs for creative professionals. Now, however, Microsoft has produced a machine that matches or exceeds Apple’s macs in almost every respect.
We’re on the brink of a turf war for the best all-in-one PC. Apple knows the Surface Studio has undermined their reputation as top innovators. The Microsoft device is the ultimate digital sketchpad and reimagines how we’ll interact with PCs in the future.
But its price is ugly – you won’t get hold of a Microsoft Surface Studio for less than £3k. Also, Microsoft needs to realise that VR is becoming very much a thing, and they need to support it with the fastest graphics processing unit (GPU) available.
If you’re still feeling Team Apple, you might like to read our other comparison: Apple MacBook Pro (2017) vs iMac (2017)
Apple iMac (2017) & Microsoft Surface Studio product specs
|iMac, 27-inch (2017)||Microsoft Surface Studio|
|Width||25.6 inches||25.1 inches|
|Height||20.3 inches||17.3 inches|
|Depth||8 inches (stand depth)||1.3 inches|
|Brightness||500 nits||451 nits|
|Size||27 inches (diagonal)||28 inches|
|Pixels per inch||5120 x 2880||4500 x 3000|
|Speed||3.4 or 3.5 or 3.8 GHz - i5 as standard but can upgrade to i7||6 th Generation Intel® Core™ i5 or i7|
|Internal||1 or 2 TB Fusion Drive||1 or 2 TB|
|Memory||8GB||8GB, 16GB or 32GB RAM|
|Charging & expansion|
|Ports||2x Thunderbolt 3, SDX C Cardslot, 4x USB 3 ports, Ethernet, Kensington lock slot||4 x USB 3.0 (one high power port) Full-size SD™ card reader (SDXC) compatible, Mini Display Port, 3.5mm headset jack|
|Speakers||Stereo speakers||Stereo 2.1 speakers|