Microsoft’s enhancements to its 2-year-old — an all-in-one desktop distinguished by a huge touch display that can be tilted back and down like a drafting table — provide essential component upgrades that bring it up to speed for 2018. But given the system’s price, Microsoft could have gone further with the changes, so you’d feel less like you’re sacrificing flexibility to get the unbeatable monitor.
Don’t get me wrong: The Surface Studio 2 is by far the best desktop available at the moment for folks who spend the bulk of their day drawing, sketching, painting, coloring or otherwise engaged in pressure-sensitive stylus-intensive activity. Though it doesn’t support the 8,192 pressure levels or optional styluses optimized for tasks like airbrushing — top-of-the-line Wacom devices such as the do — using it feels just as streamlined and it’s better as a plain old computer.
You could also use an— if you don’t need to physically attach devices or run full-fat-OS applications — or go the traditional route with a similarly color-accurate and less fancy external Wacom tablet.
The new Studio gets a processor bump to the seventh-generation Intel Core i7-7820HQ, a more powerful graphics card in the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 and switches from slow hybrid SSD/HDD storage to fast NVMe SSD. The display is brighter — the electronics that control the pixel states are smaller, allowing for increased light emission. Since it delivers roughly the same black level as before, the result is also an increase in contrast.
Microsoft still offers the old Studio top configuration with the sixth-generation Core i7, 32GB RAM and 2TB hybrid drive for $4,200, which is now the price for the middle configuration of the Studio 2. So for the same money, you choose between a slower system with more storage and a faster system with 1TB less.
Microsoft Surface Studio 2
|Price as reviewed||$4,199, AU$6,599|
|Display size/resolution||28-inch 4,500×3,000 PixelSense touchscreen (192 ppi)|
|PC CPU||2.9GHz Intel Core i7-7820HQ|
|PC Memory||32GB DDR4 2,400MHz|
|Graphics||Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070|
|Storage||1TB SSD, SD card slot|
|Ports||4x USB 3.0, 1x USB-C, 3.5mm headphone|
|Networking||802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.0, Xbox wireless|
|Operating system||Microsoft Windows 10 Pro (64-bit)|
The base $2,500 configuration comes with 1TB SSD and 16GB RAM, the middle $4,200 configuration jumps to 32GB RAM and the top $4,800 model increases that to 2TB SSD. In Australia, those run AU$5,500, AU$6,600 and AU$7,499. While the Surface Studio 2 has been announced in the UK, Microsoft hasn’t provided pricing or availability for the system, but if pricing follows the original, it should start at about £3,000.
When choosing a configuration, there’s a big factor to consider: according to Microsoft, it’s not upgradable. “The system performance has been qualified and tuned for best performance and stability and we do not support any upgrade.” We didn’t open it up to see if the SSD was now soldered to the logic board along with the CPU and RAM (as they were in the old model) or if Microsoft just chooses not to sanction upgrades. Either way it’s an important factor.
It’s extra important because supplementing storage with external drives isn’t as convenient an option as it really should be for a system in its class: Microsoft replaced the Mini DisplayPort connector with USB-C, but the new connection doesn’t support Thunderbolt 3 data transfer rates or daisy chaining. So you might have to shell out for the 2TB model if you anticipate a need for fast local storage.
Where you see and feel the changes
The huge 28-inch 3:2-aspect display is still exceptionally color accurate out of the box, from the tiny sRGB gamut through wide D65 P3. Now it’s brighter than ever, capable of hitting almost 600 nits peak luminance as tested compared to about 430 nits for the original model. Since I had a limited amount of time to test the system, I didn’t run a full battery of display tests. But some quickie tests of color accuracy, brightness, contrast, gamma, white point and so on (with Portrait Display’s Calman 2018 software, and lots of snacks) showed that it matched the older model within a reasonable degree.
That means over 99 percent coverage of the D65 P3 color gamut (the Vivid color profile), DCI-P3 and sRGB and an average color error of 1.7 Delta E (the white/gray errors were a little higher, between 2 and 3 Delta E). I retested the previous model for comparison and it did seem to have slightly tighter tolerances, but the panels were from two different manufacturers — the old one used Samsung, the new one Sharp — and I didn’t have time to narrow down the source of any discrepancies. The changes made to increase brightness may have introduced some variation. (Microsoft didn’t answer my request for clarification about panel sourcing.)
Overall, though, it’s certainly solid for color-critical work — as long as you don’t need to calibrate to another space. The system doesn’t support hardware calibration profiles and for some reason, Microsoft doesn’t supply one for Adobe RGB.