Apple iMac 2017 vs Microsoft Surface Studio: Is Apple still the right choice for creatives?

Apple iMac 2017

VS

Microsoft Surface Studio

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 2017 vs Microsoft Surface Studio - Compare Main Features

Apple iMac
VS
Microsoft Surface Studio:
Display
5120 x 2880, 27in Retina 5K Display
VS
4500 x 3000, 28in PixelSense Display
CPU
4.0GHz Intel Core i7
VS
3.6GHz Intel Core i7
RAM
32GB
VS
32GB
Storage
2TB Fusion Drive
VS
2TB hybrid drive
Graphics
AMD Radeon R9 M395X with 4GB of GDDR5 memory
VS
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980M with 4GB GDDR5 memory

Apple iMac 2017 vs Microsoft Surface Studio: Is Apple still the right choice for creatives?

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

Buy 27-inch iMac (2017) for £1,749.00
Buy Microsoft Surface Studio for £3,069 

Design 

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.

iMac 2017

iMac (2017) front on

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.

Microsoft Surface Studio flat

Microsoft Surface Studio at a more suitable angle for 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.

Display 

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.

iMac 2017

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.

Microsoft Surface Studio display

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.

Additional features 

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.

Surface Dial and Surface Pen

Surface Dial & Surface Pen

Shop >>

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 
Pricecirca £1749£2,999+
Dimensions
Width25.6 inches25.1 inches
Height20.3 inches17.3 inches
Depth8 inches (stand depth)1.3 inches
Weight9.44kg9.56kg
Display
Brightness500 nits451 nits
Size27 inches (diagonal)28 inches
Pixels per inch5120 x 28804500 x 3000
Processor
Speed3.4 or 3.5 or 3.8 GHz - i5 as standard but can upgrade to i76 th  Generation Intel® Core™ i5 or i7
Storage
Internal1 or 2 TB Fusion Drive1 or 2 TB
Memory8GB8GB, 16GB or 32GB RAM
Charging & expansion
Ports2x Thunderbolt 3, SDX C Cardslot, 4x USB 3 ports, Ethernet, Kensington lock slot4 x USB 3.0 (one high power port) Full-size SD™ card reader (SDXC) compatible, Mini Display Port, 3.5mm headset jack
Audio
SpeakersStereo speakersStereo 2.1 speakers
MicsMicrophoneDual microphones