The Microsoft Surface Studio 2 Video Review
Michael Alba posted on June 27, 2019 |
We take a look at the "floating sheet of pixels" at the head of the Surface family.

Full Written ReviewThe Microsoft Surface Studio 2

Video Transcript: The Microsoft Surface Studio 2 is one of the nicest, and most fun-to-use computers that I’ve ever gotten my hands on. This is the flagship of the Surface line-up, and it does for desktops what the Surface Pro does for laptops. It converts smoothly from a standard upright position into a nearly flat canvas that’s perfect for drawing or writing on with the Surface Pen. It’s like a giant Surface Pro with a 28 inch display.

The one downside is that the performance of the Studio 2 is not quite what you would expect from a professional desktop workstation, so the question is: is the Studio 2 a good fit for professionals, like engineers and designers? Or is it just an expensive toy? Let’s take a look.

The Specs

With most desktops, users have quite a bit of choice when it comes to components like the CPU, graphics card, memory, and storage. You can really customize the specs in most desktops to your workflow and budget. Not so with the Surface Studio 2, as there’s only a total of 3 possible configurations. They all have the same CPU: an Intel Core i7-7820HQ. That’s got 4 cores, an 8 MB cache, and a base clock speed of 2.9 GHz. So already, not the best.

There are two GPUs, but you don’t actually get to choose which one you want directly—it all depends on your choice of memory, which can be either 16 or 32 GB. If you opt for 16 GB of memory, you get the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 with 6 GB of VRAM. If you opt for 32 GB of memory, you get the GeForce GTX 1070 with 8 GB of VRAM.

If you do go with 16 GB of memory, you automatically get 1 TB of SSD storage. However, if you choose 32 GB of memory, you have a choice: 1 TB or 2 TB.

And that’s it, those are all your configuration options. The cheapest option, with 16 GB of memory, the GeForce GTX 1060, and 1 TB of storage, is thirty five hundred dollars. The speced out option, with 32 GB of memory, the GeForce GTX 1070, and 2 TB of storage, is forty eight hundred dollars. Our review unit was the one in the middle, with 32 GB memory, and 1 TB of storage, and it goes for forty two hundred dollars.

The ports on all three versions are the same, and you find them on the back of the base. There are four USB 3.0 ports, one USB-C port, an SD card reader, an Ethernet port, and a headphone jack.

The display is a 28 inch touchscreen with a resolution of 4500 x 3000, giving it the standard Surface aspect ratio of 3:2, which I personally find very comfortable. The display attaches to the base with what Microsoft calls the Zero Gravity Hinge, which is what allows it to so smoothly transition through this 60 degree range. The design of this hinge is really great, because the screen feels very stable when you want it to be, but it’s really easy to adjust it too. The screen also has magnets along both edges so you can stick the Surface Pen wherever you want. Although watch out for the bottom right edge—that’s where you have the power button and volume keys,  and I occasionally accidentally covered them with the Pen.

The Performance

The specs in the Surface Studio 2 don’t quite add up to a professional workstation. But they’re not bad. When we ran benchmark tests on the Studio, we found that its performance is about on par with a mid-tier mobile workstation, like the HP ZBook Studio x360 or Lenovo ThinkPad P1. That means it runs perfectly fine, and can even handle professional applications if you’re not really pushing it to the extreme.

According to SPECviewperf 13, a benchmark for graphical performance, the Studio 2 is actually quite good for 3ds Max, Creo, and Maya, but it falls flat in CAD programs like SOLIDWORKS and NX. Another benchmark, SPECworkstation 3, which tests computers in different industry segments, showed that the Studio 2 is most competitive in Media and Entertainment and GPU Compute, surprisingly. For Product Development, the Studio is just a little below the mid-tier ZBook and ThinkPad I mentioned earlier.

Finally, we ran PassMark PerformanceTest, another general purpose benchmark, and the Studio again performed really well in the 3D graphics test. But its score was dragged down by the CPU, disk, and memory tests, and overall it got the lowest PassMark rating of all the computers we’ve reviewed this year save for its baby brother the Surface Pro 6.

These results make it pretty clear that the Surface Studio 2 is not the best option if you’re looking for workstation level performance. The Studio can keep up, but it’ll only go so far. If you’re working with massive assemblies in SOLIDWORKS for eight hours a day, you’ll want to find a workstation with higher specs.

Next we tested the Studio 2’s display. To my eyes and fingers, this display is great—it’s very bright, colors are vivid, the touchscreen is as responsive as any Surface device, and of course, it’s got that really nice range of motion. Our tests show that the Studio can display 100 percent of the sRGB color space but only 89 percent of Adobe RGB. Now 89 percent is most of the way there, but if color matters to you, if you’re in graphic design or something, that missing 11 percent could be a problem. Which is a shame, because this display is perfect for graphic design otherwise.

The display’s average brightness at 100 percent was 482 nits, which is crazy bright. I never had it even close to maximum, but the option is nice to have if you’re in a really bright environment. The contrast was also great, coming in at 1170 to 1, and so was the color accuracy. With an average Delta-E of 1.08, the Studio can represent colors very faithfully.

The one downside to the display is that there’s some pretty prominent backlight bleed. You’ll only notice it in a dark room when the screen itself is dark, so it’s not biggest problem in the world. Still, I hope they get around to fixing that at some point, because it’s something I’ve noticed on every Surface device I’ve ever used.

The Rest

As I said at the top, the Surface Studio is just a lot of fun to use, and that’s mostly because of this novel, adjustable display. It’s great for switching modes, say typing up a document to pulling the screen down and marking it up by hand. The pen-friendliness of the Studio makes it a very natural fit for artists or any professionals who do a lot of hand sketching. In its down configuration the Studio 2 just looks just like a digital drafting table. It’s great, especially with this latest generation Surface Pen. It’s got 21 milliseconds of latency and 4096 levels of pressure, and it’s probably the most natural writing experience I’ve had on any device with any stylus.

The Studio 2 can also be used with the Surface Dial, an input device that pairs pretty naturally with the Surface Pen. You can put it directly on the display (though you don’t have to, it also works on your desk) and you twist it to do things like scroll or zoom or adjust settings like brush size in photoshop. It’s pretty limited, and I personally didn’t use it for much other than scrolling, but it works really well and I’m sure there’s users out there who would benefit from it. However, though the Surface Pen comes in the box with the Studio 2, the Dial is optional, and it costs an extra hundred bucks.

Also included in the box is the Surface Keyboard and Surface Mouse, both of which are pretty run of the mill peripherals. I wish the keyboard had backlighting, but other than that it’s nice to type on and has a full numpad. The mouse is fine, but I swapped it out for a nicer one pretty early on.

In Conclusion

When I spoke to Microsoft about the Surface Studio 2, they mentioned that they typically see it in limited use on design teams. That is, while much of the team uses something else, probably something a little higher speced, there’d be one or two people using the Surface Studio. And that makes perfect sense to me. I can’t see the Studio being a good fit for everyone on a design team—except for maybe the Surface team itself, which actually does design all its products on Surfaces, or at least that’s what I’m told—but I can easily see the Studio being a great fit for certain workflows.

And you probably already know if yours is one of those workflows. Personally, I’ve used Surface devices for years, so I really like the mode switching, being able to go back and forth between touch and the Surface Pen and just a standard computer setup. But I don’t spend a ton of time in really processor heavy applications. If I did, I’d probably look elsewhere for something that was designed specifically for professional workflows.

But we want to know what you think. If you use a Surface Studio for professional work, what are you using it for, and how has it held up? Let us know in the comments below. And for our full review of the Studio 2, with more detail on our benchmark tests, check out the link below.

Thanks for watching, and until next time, go do something else.

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