Microsoft Surface Studio: A cheat sheet

Everything you need to know about the Surface Studio, Microsoft's all-in-one PC designed to tempt professional artists and designers over to Windows.


The Microsoft Surface Studio

Image: Microsoft

The Surface Studio is an all-in-one PC with premium specs, designed to wow professional artists, designers, architects and other creatives.

While the $2,999 price tag will deter most consumers, Microsoft seems to be targeting the Studio at design professionals, who would otherwise be using Apple Macs alongside specialist devices like Wacom's Cintiq drawing tablet.

The Studio is a machine with a lot to recommend it, but one that could still be a leap too far for creatives already heavily invested in alternative tech.

SEE: Check out all of TechRepublic's cheat sheets and smart person's guides

Executive summary

  • What is Microsoft Surface Studio? The Surface Studio is a high-end, all-in-one PC aimed at being a drafting table and canvas for creatives.
  • Why does Microsoft Surface Studio matter? The machine marks Microsoft's first venture into designing desktop PCs and may put pressure on Apple and other manufacturers to crank up specs on competing machines.
  • Who is the target market for Microsoft Surface Studio? Artists, designers, architects — creative professionals who want a machine that shows off their work at its best.
  • Why should I buy Microsoft Surface Studio? For its super sleek, razor-sharp display that lets users draw straight onto the screen.
  • Why should I not buy Microsoft Surface Studio? The price is too high or you're a professional already heavily invested in alternative software and hardware.
  • How can I get Microsoft Surface Studio? Order online.

What is Microsoft Surface Studio?

An all-in-one, Windows 10 PC designed to dazzle users with its superlative display.

The screen, a 28-inch touchscreen LCD monitor, is 'the thinnest in the world' according to Microsoft, and sits on a counterbalanced hinge that makes it easy to push down onto the desk, and start drawing on with a digital pen.

SEE: Photos: Microsoft's new Surface Studio and 10 great alternatives

The monitor's 4K+ resolution and ability to display more than one billion colors, as well as to show drawings and documents at 1:1 scale with their paper equivalents, is designed to give professionals the ability to see how their creations would look in the real world.

Sketching on the screen with the Surface Pen is made easier when the Studio is used with the newly released Surface Dial, a brushed silver knob that can be rotated to select a new color when drawing on the screen or to turn the image.

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Why does Microsoft Surface Studio matter?

From the point of view of artists and designers, the Studio offers a high-end computer built around their creative needs, which does away with having to use a separate drawing tablet and computer.

Even if creatives ignore the Surface Studio, its release is good news, likely to prompt incumbents like Apple and Wacom to spec up and cut the prices of new machines — in particular for the iMac, which the Studio has been compared to many times, despite the iMac lacking a touchscreen.

By following up the immaculately designed Surface Book laptop with a striking machine like the Surface Studio, Microsoft also appears to be trying to establish itself as a competitor to Apple on the design front.

The Surface Studio garnered good reviews but with sizable caveats. TechRepublic's sister site ZDNet praised its attractive high-resolution screen and snappy performance but criticized its high price, limited build-to-order and upgradeability options, as well as the fact the Surface Dial is not included by default. CNET had similar concerns, and also highlighted limitations of the GPU choice and lack of front-mounted USB ports and Thunderbolt connection.

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Who is the target market for Microsoft Surface Studio?

Broadly, the Studio seems to be aimed at anyone who draws or designs for a living.

In launch videos, the Studio was seen being used by artists, architects and product designers.

The multi-purpose nature of the Studio, a machine that combines a Windows desktop PC with the functionality of a separate digital drawing tablet, such as the Cintiq 27 QHD Touch, will likely make the $2,999 price tag easier to swallow among those in the creative industries.

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Why should I get Microsoft Surface Studio?

If you are an artist or a designer there are plenty of reasons why you might want the Studio. For example, there's the quality of the display and the ease with which the Surface Pen draws on the screen. Microsoft describes this experience as virtually as fluid as drawing on paper. Then there's the Studio's significant graphical processing power, the ability to view documents and drawings actual size on screen and the ease with which you can switch push down the monitor and begin drawing.

However, as of summer 2018 it might be sensible to wait for a follow-up machine to be released, with rumors a Surface Studio 2 will launch in Fall 2018.

There's no word on what this successor might look like, but fans of the original are calling for a latest generation Intel CPU and Nvidia GPU, alongside a 5K resolution screen, Thunderbolt 3 connectivity and for all the accessories to be bundled with the machine.

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Why should I not get Microsoft Surface Studio?

Despite the Studio's looks, its high price makes it hard to recommend as a consumer purchase, particularly when an iMac with a higher resolution, and only very slightly smaller screen, will cost less money.

Even professional creators are unlikely to abandon their current expensive setup for a Studio, as Mikako Kitagawa, principal research analyst with Gartner, pointed out.

"An all-in-one device is not the most cost-effective device, as the users pay for both the computing unit and monitor at the same time," she said.

"Creative professionals have already invested heavily in hardware and software. For instance, many professional illustrators use a high-end drawing tablet and high-resolution monitor at the same time."

If those same professionals exclusively use macOS, as is the case in some creative outlets, then the high cost of switching to Windows will also be a deterrent, she said.

There is also Microsoft's odd decision not to include the $99 Surface Dial with the Studio, despite the peripheral featuring so heavily in demos of the machine, and being particularly useful for tasks like changing colors while drawing with the Surface Pen.

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How can I get Microsoft Surface Studio?

The Surface Studio is available to order from Microsoft, with prices starting at $2,999.

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Tech specs for Microsoft Surface Studio

Image: Mark Kaelin/TechRepublic

$2,999: 1TB drive; Intel Core i5 CPU; 8GB RAM; 2GB GPU

$3,499: 1TB drive; Intel Core i7 CPU; 16GB RAM; 2GB GPU

$4,199: 2TB drive; Intel Core i7 CPU; 32GB RAM; 4GB GPU

Display: 28" PixelSense Display; 4500 x 3000 resolution; 192 DPI; Color settings: Adobe sRGB, DCI-P3 and Vivid Color Profiles; Touch: 10-point multi-touch; Aspect ratio: 3:2 TB drive; Intel Core i5 CPU; 8GB RAM; 2GB GPU

Processor: Quad-core 6th Gen Intel Core i5 or i7

Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 965M 2GB GPU GDDR5 memory or NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980M 4GB GPU GDDR5 memory

Storage: 1TB or 2TB 'rapid hybrid drive'

Memory: 8GB, 16GB, or 32GB RAM

Wireless: 802.11ac Wi-Fi; Bluetooth 4.0; Xbox Wireless built-in3

Dimensions: Display: 25.09 x 17.27 x 0.44 in (637.35 x 438.90 x 11.4 mm); Base: 9.84 x 8.66 x 1.26 in (250.00 x 220.00 x 32.20 mm)

Weight: 21.07 lbs max (9.56 kg)

Connections: 4 USB 3.0; Full-size SD card reader (SDXC compatible); Mini Displayport; 3.5mm headset jack; Compatible with Surface Dial onscreen interaction

Cameras: 5.0MP front-facing camera with 1080p HD video

Audio: Dual microphones; Stereo 2.1 speakers with Dolby Audio Premium

Buttons: Volume and power

Surface Pen

Surface Keyboard

Surface Mouse

Power cord with grip-release cable

Security: TPM chip for enterprise security; Enterprise-grade protection with Windows Hello face sign-in

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About Nick Heath

Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic. He writes about the technology that IT decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.

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