Surface Studio vs iMac 5K comparison review
This week Microsoft announced its first desktop PC in the form of the Surface Studio. It’s an all-in-one PC aimed at creative professionals but can it beat Apple’s favourite? Here’s our Surface Studio vs iMac. Also see: Best all-in-one PCs.
Although both Microsoft and Apple held launch events within a day of each other, it’s just the Surface Studio that’s new here. Apple didn’t refresh the iMac range, but instead announced the new MacBook Pro.
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 cheaper.
Sadly we don’t have UK pricing for the Surface Studio so we’re going to compare US prices for now. The tricky thing here is that Apple has pushed up UK prices of existing products thanks to Brexit.
It’s normal, traditional even, for Apple products to be more expensive but Microsoft’s price for the Surface Studio is more than even the most expensive iMac.
It costs $2,999 for the cheapest model and you can also spend $3,499 and $4,199 so it’s really not an all-in-one PC for the masses.
Meanwhile, the iMac in its 27in form starts at $1,799 and more expensive models are $1,999 and $2,299.
It feels a bit odd to type but Apple wins on value here but might it be worth paying the extra for the Surface Studio? Read on to see what’s on offer in terms of design and specs.
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.
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
When it comes to hardware and the specs here, you need to bear in mind that the Surface Studio is brand new while the iMac 5K is from late 2015.
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.
The latest iMac, meanwhile, 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 come at either a Full HD- or 4K resolutions.
Processor and memory
Despite launching around a year apart, the Surface Studio and iMac 5K offer sixth-generation Intel Skylake processors at either Core i5 or Core i7 depending on how much you’re willing to spend.
You’ll have to get the top model iMac to get the i7 while the Surface has it inside the upper two options.
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.
On the Microsoft side of the fence you’ll get either 8-, 16- or 32GB of RAM depending on which model you buy.
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. Although, the cheapest iMac 5K is not a Fusion Drive.
However, you can configure the iMacs up to 3TB Fusion Drives or choose an SSD with a choice of 256-, 512- or 1TB capacities. The only exception is the 1TB option for the cheapest model.
The iMac 5K comes with an AMD Radeon R9 M380 as standard which has 2GB of memory but the top model has a slightly better M395 model (also 2GB) but can be configured to a 4GB M395X.
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.
So similar specs from both AMD and Nvidia cards and when we can we’ll benchmark them for some more detailed comparison.
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 Thunderbolt and an Ethernet port. It’s got 11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0.
The Sufrace 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.
The iMac 5K 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. We’ve not used it so can’t give a final verdict just yet.