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October 27, 2016

Microsoft Surface Studio vs Apple iMac: What’s the difference?

by John_A

If there’s one message we’re getting from companies, it’s that designing your own hardware and pairing it with your own software is the way to go. 

Apple has long known this and doesn’t do anything else, we’ve seen Google embrace this through Pixel devices and Microsoft does the same with Surface, resulting in some top Windows devices. 

Microsoft surprised many with the launch of the Surface Studio: we expected an all-in-one, but we didn’t quite expect Studio. At a surface level, it’s a natural competitor for Apple’s champion iMac with Retina display. 

Here’s how the Microsoft and Apple square up and yes, one runs Windows 10, the other Mac OS. 

Surface Studio vs Apple iMac: Design

  • Surface Studio is thinner and more flexible
  • Apple iMac has a more minimal footprint

Swathes of glass meet acres of aluminium with these two desktop devices. The new Surface Studio goes for maximum thinness through the display, while Apple aims for minimalism on your desktop.

The Surface Studio measures 637.35 x 438.9 x 11.4mm through the display, with a base that then measures 250 x 220 x 32.20mm. The display is connected via the Zero Gravity Hinge that allows the display to sit at any angle, from flat on the desk, angled like a drafting board and up to vertical like a regular monitor.

The Apple iMac’s design has been in place for a number of years, taking that aluminium unibody and slimming it to the current form, measuring 516 x 650 x 55mm, slimming to 6mm at the edges. The stand then is 203mm deep. 

The overall footprint of the iMac is less, but there’s a huge difference in where Microsoft puts the brains in the Studio: the base has more bulk, but that allows positioning flexibility in the display that the iMac simply doesn’t offer.

For what it’s worth, the Surface Studio weight is 9.56kg, the iMac is 9.54kg, how about that?

  • Surface Studio: A stunning all-in-one PC that doubles as a drafting table

Surface Studio vs Apple iMac: Display

  • Surface Studio: 28-inch, 4500 x 3000, 193ppi, touchscreen
  • Apple iMac: 27-inch, 5120 x 2880, 217ppi

Both these devices are all about the display. We’ve talked about Surface Studio offering a much wider range of positioning, so we won’t go back there, as it’s obviously more flexible. 

The Surface Studio offers a 28-inch display, so it’s slightly larger than the 27-inch iMac, but the aspect is different. Microsoft opts for a 3:2 aspect, whereas the iMac is 16:9, more like your TV. 

The resolution of these all-in-ones is close too: Surface Studio offers 4500 x 3000 pixels on its PixelSense display, resulting in 193 pixels per inch. The iMac has 5120 x 2880 pixels on its Retina display, for 217 pixels per inch.

Technically speaking, the iMac offers the sharper display, although given the size, the difference isn’t huge and won’t make a big difference to the viewing experience. The iMac is also wonderful as a display, something we mention in our review. 

Surface Studio is also claiming professional grade visuals and our first impressions are good, but we’ve not had the chance to fully assess the Studio yet in terms of quality and performance. 

However, Surface Studio offers 10-point touch, making it a very different proposition to the conventionality of Apple’s huge display. The Surface Studio will support the Surface Pen and the Surface Dial, an innovative tool that will work as an on-display controller, or on the desk.

  • Apple iMac with Retina 5K display (2015) review: Pixel-packed powerhouse

Surface Studio vs Apple iMac: Hardware and power

  • Surface Studio: Intel Core i5 or i7, 8-32GB RAM, Nvidia GPU
  • Apple iMac: Intel Core i5 or i7, 8-32GB RAM, AMD Radeon GPU
  • Apple currently offers more configuration options

Both Microsoft and Apple offer various configurations for the hardware for these all-in-one devices. 

The Surface Studio is available with a choice of Intel Core i5 or i7 CPU, as is the iMac. The iMac, currently, offers more flexibility in choosing your hardware, but as the Studio is currently on pre-order, we’d expect that to change. 

There are 1TB and 2TB hybrid drive options on the Surface Studio, with the iMac also offering 1 or 2TB Fusion drives, with further options for 3TB Fusion, or SSD. At the entry-level, the iMac has a 7200rpm 1TB hard drive. 

The Surface Studio starts at 8GB RAM, moving through 16GB to 32GB at the top level. The iMac offers 8GB as standard, with options to spec up to 16 or 32GB. Again, Apple offers flexibility at the moment that Microsoft doesn’t. 

The iMac offers AMD Radeon R9 GPUs (M380, M390, M395) with 2GB GDDR5 memory, stepping up to the M395X with 4GB GDDR5 RAM at the top level. The Surface Studio counters with Nvidia GeForce GTX 965M (2GB GDDR5) or GTX 980M (4GB GDDR5) GPUs. This is where the biggest hardware difference lies, with each turning a different direction for graphics handling.

Surface Studio vs Apple iMac: Connections and accessories

  • Surface Studio: 4x USB 3, Ethernet, SD card, Mini DisplayPort, 3.5mm headphone
  • Apple iMac: 4x USB 3, Ethernet, SD card, 2x ThunderBolt 2, 3.5mm headphone

One consideration with this type of computer is how you’ll connect to it. Both devices come with a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse.

Apple places all its connections on the rear of the display, whereas the Surface Studio’s connections are on the rear of the base, which might make a minor aesthetic difference to how tidy each computer looks when all is plugged in. The additional ThunderBolt 2 connection of the Mac means one more connection option, perhaps a third display?

The connectivity is broadly the same, both offering Wi-Fi and Bluetooth support in addition to those physical connections.

Support for Surface Dial and Surface Pen is a benefit of the Studio, the Surface Pen comes in the box.

Surface Studio vs Apple iMac: Price

  • Surface Studio: from $2,999
  • Apple iMac: from $1,799

The story of these two devices is interesting. While both play in the same space because of the form factor and overall spec in some areas, the Surface Studio naturally has a stronger play toward all types of creatives who want to draw.

The support for touch offered by Windows 10 and the range of movement that the Studio offers makes it more versatile, but perhaps appealing to designers, rather than your average desk worker who just wants a good-looking PC. Studio is about touch interaction rather than just the pure hardware.

The starting price for these devices at $2,999 for the Surface Studio and $1,799 for the iMac doesn’t tell the whole story, but the iMac specced to match (as closely as possible) the entry-level Studio comes in at $1,999.

Step up and that gap narrows a little, but you’re still paying quite a lot for Microsoft’s new Surface Studio compared to the older iMac. If it’s just a fancy big-screened PC you’re looking for, Apple is cheaper. Now how often does that happen?

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