Microsoft Surface Studio 2 review: Improves an incomparable all-in-one

The switch in GPUs makes a big difference in performance when working in high resolution. The GTX 980M in the old system is not only a couple of generations old, it's also a mobile processor. And though I didn't test disk throughput, SSD is usually vastly better than anything that spins.

But the processor upgrade from the sixth-generation i7-6820HQ to the seventh-generation i7-7820HQ delivers less than 10 percent improvement in performance. That's not a surprise: The newer chip allows for faster memory and slightly faster clock speeds, but it's still a four core/eight thread chip. (We retested the old system with the current version of Windows for comparison.)

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This is a huge disappointment, since most systems focused on the creative market are now switching to hexacore eighth- and ninth-generation processors, and software is increasingly being optimized to take advantage of extra cores. In our performance charts you can see how moving to a more recent CPU intended for similar uses -- the mobile-focused i7-8750H -- could significantly impact performance.

Adobe Lightroom Classic CC, for example, expands to fit the available bandwidth when importing photos and generating smart previews. Creating smart previews for about 1,000 42-megapixel photos and videos took 100 percent of all eight threads, making task switching arduous. With a few more threads, it would still be arduous, but for a shorter amount of time.

For other less CPU-intensive operations it's fine, however, and the GPU carries more of the burden now. For instance, large, complex Illustrator files became a little more fluid to work with by toggling in and out of the application's GPU Preview setting.

My guess is that as we've frequently seen with unnecessarily tiny systems, limited space and heat dissipation issues mean it's never as powerful as you want it to be. Microsoft did not reply to my request for clarification about the decision, but did say, "We are proud that it is the fastest Surface we've ever made."

The design remains the same

For both good and bad, the fundamental design is unchanged. It comes bundled with the same Surface Pen, Surface Keyboard and Surface Mouse, and it still works with the Surface Dial ($70 at Amazon), for whatever that's worth.

The drafting board-angle stand design is still one of my favorites, though I wish it could raise and lower independently from the tilt to compensate for overhead lighting reflections. And as the artist/architect we worked with commented, I wish it could lie flat (like the Dell Canvas 27, for example). The size makes it awkward to find a place to rest your arm when working at the top of the screen.

We also agreed that the Pen feels very fluid when you're working with it, but gets detected too far above the screen and seems to get confused between touch and pen in that gap, even if you have touch disabled when the stylus is in use. And it could really use some operational sensitivity adjustment options independent of the pressure-related choices.

But mostly, I wish Microsoft would just ship it as a standalone monitor so it could be attached to a more beastly machine.

Performance tests

Geekbench 4 (multicore)

Razer Blade 15 (2018)
1,7923
Dell XPS 27 (2017)
1,5750
Microsoft Studio 2
1,4929
Apple iMac (27-inch, 2017)
1,4128
Microsoft Surface Studio
1,3868

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

Cinebench R15 CPU (multicore)

Razer Blade 15 (2018)
960
Dell XPS 27 (2017)
873
Microsoft Studio 2
764
Microsoft Surface Studio
703
Apple iMac (27-inch, 2017)
591

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

Cinebench R15 OpenGL (fps)

Dell XPS 27 (2017)
114.9
Razer Blade 15 (2018)
112.1
Microsoft Studio 2
109.2
Apple iMac (27-inch, 2017)
106.2
Microsoft Surface Studio
99.7

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

3DMark Fire Strike Ultra

Microsoft Studio 2
3,893
Razer Blade 15 (2018)
2,593
Microsoft Surface Studio
2,317
Dell XPS 27 (2017)
2,250

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

System configurations

Apple iMac 27 (2017) Apple MacOS Sierra 10.12.5; 3.4GHz Intel Core i5-7500U; 8GB 2,400MHz DDR4 SDRAM; 4GB Radeon Pro 570; 1TB Fusion Drive Journaled HFS+
Dell XPS 27 (mid 2017) Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 3.6GHz Core i7-7700; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,133Hz; 8GB AMD Radeon RX 570; 512GB PCIe SSD
Microsoft Surface Studio Microsoft Windows 10 Pro (64-bit); 2.7GHz Intel Core i7-6820HQ, 32GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,133MHz, 4GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 980M; 2TB HDD + 128GB SSD
Microsoft Surface Studio 2 Microsoft Windows 10 Pro (64-bit); 2.9GHz Intel Core i7-7820HQ, 32GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,400MHz, 8GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070; 2TB SSD
Razer Blade 15 (2018) Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.2GHz Intel Core i7-8750H; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,660MHz; 8GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 with Max-Q Design; 512GB SSD