Surface Studio vs 2017 iMac

In October Microsoft announced its first desktop PC in the form of the Surface Studio, an all-in-one PC aimed at creative professionals. Fast-forward to June and Apple has responded, finally updating its iMac line-up for 2017.

Surface Studio vs iMac: Price

The Surface Studio comes in only one size, so we’re mainly going to be comparing it to the larger iMac, but it’s worth noting that the smaller iMac at 21.5in is a significantly cheaper option. To be fair, all iMacs are significantly cheaper than the Surface Studio.

We've outlined pricing for the various options below. (Note that the iMac Pro won't be available until later in the year. 

Microsoft's all-in-one is not at all priced for the masses, whereas Apple's iMac - at least in its basic incarnation - arguably is. It's certainly more affordable for the average Joe, if still priced somewhat out of reach.

It's almost difficult to believe we're writing this, but Apple is the clear winner on value. Is it worth the extra cost for the Studio, though?

iMac

Surface Studio vs iMac: Design and build

These devices are quite similar in many senses and yet very different in others.

While the iMac sits on a very small and thin stand with all the components behind the display, the Surface Studio is essentially the reverse. It has the core components in the base while the screen is ultra thin because it sits on its own.

The benefit to the Surface Studio’s design is that it’s far more adjustable. The hinge on the back of the screen and the one on the base provides a lot more viewing angles compared to the iMac which just has one hinge behind the display.

Surface Studio design

Two points of movement will be a big bonus for some, especially if you want to use the display with Microsoft’s Surface Pen stylus or Dial (or both at the same time). The screen can come down into ‘Studio Mode’ like having a digital drawing board.

These are both large computers and weigh a fairly hefty 9.5kg each but you can move them around still. Both come with a wireless mouse and keyboard but the Surface Studio also comes with the Surface Pen stylus.

Surface Studio vs iMac: Specs and hardware

Screen

Starting with the screen, Microsoft has gone even bigger than the already large iMac at 28in and the PixelSense display has an aspect ratio of 3:2 and a resolution of 4500x3000 resulting in a pixel density of 192ppi.

It’s also 10-point multi-touch enabled and supports the Surface Pen and Dial - the iMac is not touch sensitive. One interesting thing is that you can change the colour profie of the Surface Studio’s screen on-the-fly between Adobe sRGB, DCI-P3 and Vivid Color profiles.

For its 2017 iMac Apple has updated the entire range with new displays that it says are the best ever. They include 500 nits of brightness, 10-bit dithering and one billion colours.

As previously, though, the 27in iMac has a 5K Retina display with an IPS panel and a resolution of 5120x2880. That’s an aspect ratio of 16:9 and a pixel density of 217ppi. There are smaller iMacs at 21.5in that have either Full HD- or 4K resolutions.

iMac 5K

Processor and memory

While the Surface Studio is running sixth-generation Intel Skylake Core i5 and Core i7 processors, the iMac has now been upgraded to seventh-generation Kaby Lake. These chips have higher base and turbo frequencies for improved performance.

As standard the iMac comes with a Core i5 chip, though you can customise the spec for a Core i7 at extra cost.

All the iMac models come with 8GB of RAM (2x4GB) but you can configure up to 16- or 32GB if you’re happy to pay extra. The 27in model will go up to 64GB and this time the modules are not soldered on so you can upgrade it yourself - it will void any warranty, though.

On the Microsoft side of the fence you’ll get either 8-, 16- or 32GB of RAM depending on which model you buy. 

Storage

It’s a similar story when it comes to storage, as you’ll get 1TB for the first two models and 2TB for the top-end with Microsoft and Apple. The 27in iMacs get Fusion Drives as standard, but all 2017 iMacs benefit from 50 percent faster SSDs.

Graphics cards

The 27in iMac 5K comes with a choice of AMD Radeon Pro 570, 575 or 580 graphics cards with up to 8GB of VRAM. Meanwhile the cheapest 21.5in iMac has Intel Iris Graphics 640, and the 4K 21.5in iMac gets a choice of AMD Radeon 555 or Radeon 560 with up to 4GB of VRAM.

Inside the Surface Studio is a Nvidia GeForce GTX 965M graphics card with 2GB of memory but the top-end model has a 4GB GTX 980M.

We're looking forward to benchmarking the new iMacs to see just how much performance differs.

Surface Studio PC

Other specs

Beyond core specs, there will be hardware elements which affect your choice between devices so here’s what Apple and Microsoft offer in the way of ports, wireless and cameras.

The iMac comes with a FaceTime HD webcam, stereo speakers, dual mics, a headphone jack, SDXC card slot, 4x USB 3.0 ports, 2x USB-C (that support Thunderbolt 3) and an Ethernet port. It’s got 11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.2.

The Surface Studio has a 5Mp webcam which supports Windows Hello face sign-in, 2.1 stereo speakers with Dolby Audio, dual mics, a headphone jack, SDXC card slot, 4x USB 3.0, Mini DisplayPort, 11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0. It also has Xbox Wireless for use with the console controllers.

It’s also worth mentioning that the Surface Studio comes with the Surface Pen and you’ll get a free Surface Dial if you pre-order. The device is a multi-functional tool which works on the Studio’s screen exclusively.

Of course, software is very different here with each firm providing its own operating system in macOS Sierra and Windows 10 Pro. We won’t go into a comparison of those here.

OUR VERDICT

The iMac is a tough all-in-one to beat and with Microsoft going in at even higher price doesn’t help. Whether it’s worth paying extra for the Surface Studio largely comes down to whether you’ll benefit from it’s flexible design, touchscreen, the Surface Pen and Dial.