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Surface Studio 2 vs iMac (2019): Which should you buy?

Surface Studio 2
Surface Studio 2 (Image credit: Windows Central)

It used to be that creators would instinctively just buy an iMac, and for many years that was probably the right thing to do. Today, however, the Surface Studio 2 has so much to offer the current crop of creators and professional users that in many ways it's the right choice. But it's incredibly expensive, impossible to upgrade, and can't make use of Thunderbolt 3 accessories. The iMac, by contrast, can be had in a perfectly capable spec for much less, has that all important Thunderbolt 3 connection, and can run Windows 10 if you want in addition to macOS.

The draw to the Surface Studio 2 has to be the display. If the hinge, touch and pen support, and the optional Surface Dial appeal to you and your work, you'll be very happy. If you don't really need any of those things in your life, the iMac is probably a smarter choice.

Two iconic all-in-one PCs

Without the iMac's influence, the all-in-one PC space would probably look very different today. Apple might have the iMac Pro as its top tier desktop, but the mainstream model hasn't been forgotten, especially with a new model hitting the shelves.

Let's see how it compares on a hardware basis with the Surface Studio 2

Surface Studio 2iMac
Processor7th Gen Intel Core i7-7820HQUp to 9th Gen six-core Intel Core i7 (21.5-inch)
Up to 9th Gen eight-core Intel Core i9 (27-inch)
Storage1TB or 2TB SSD1TB HDD, up to 3TB Fusion Drive, up to 2TB SSD
RAM16GB or 32GB DDR48GB, 16GB, 32GB, 64GB (27-inch only)
Display28-inch Pixel Sense display
10 point multi-touch)
sRGB, DCI-P3, and Vivid
4,500 x 3,000
21-inch Retina 4K, DCI-P3
27-inch Retina 5K, DCI-P3
GraphicsNVIDIA GTX 1060 with 6GB of GDDR5
NVIDIA GTX 1070 with 8GB of GDDR5
Up to Radeon Pro Vega 20 (21.5-inch)
Up to Radeon Pro Vega 48 (27-inch)
Connectivity4 x USB 3.0 (one high power port)
Full-size SD card reader (SDXC)
1 x USB Type-C
Gigabit Ethernet port
3.5 mm headphone jack
4 x USB 3.0
2 x Thunderbolt 3
Gigabit Ethernet port
Full-size SD card reader (SDXC)
3.5mm headphone jack
PriceFrom $3,499From $1,249

Unusually, the Apple hardware is actually available for a lower price than the comparable Windows PC. Price alone shouldn't be the deciding factor, but it's a pretty big part of it.

The key thing to consider is how you intend to use whichever you buy. The Surface Studio 2 has inferior hardware in some regards, such as the processor and lack of Thunderbolt 3, but it offers an experience that the iMac simply cannot match. That big, beautiful display is a giant canvas for you to draw and write on, touch and drag, and interact with in ways that is impossible on any Mac.

The Surface Studio 2 is probably the ultimate niche PC. It's desirable to all, but only truly useful to a handful. The iMac, by contrast, has a more mass market approach.

There's no touch or pen, and the display is fixed in position; but it has a better processor, a huge list of potential upgrades (if you're willing to pay Apple's often extortionate prices), two sizes, and a far more attractive price.

Choosing between Mac OS and Windows 10

The biggest difference between these two, of course, is the software. Mac OS and Windows 10 have plenty in common and share a lot of the same third party apps — as well as Microsoft Office — but they're still different.

Mac OS is very pleasant to use, incredibly well optimized, and always performs well. It also has great software support from Microsoft, such as with the Office Suite, OneDrive, and Skype, as well as notable third-party support from the likes of Adobe and Google. Many of the same apps can be used on a Mac as on Windows 10.

There is, however, one more thing. Thanks to Boot Camp, you can easily install Windows 10 as a dual-boot on a Mac. The same cannot be said of doing the reverse. So, with the iMac, you can have access to both platforms.

The bottom line

For the right type of buyer, that is, someone involved in photography, graphics, video editing or technical applications such as CAD, the Surface Studio 2 offers an unrivaled, if still flawed experience. Computing with your hands with input devices like the Surface Dial and the Surface Pen can truly change your workflow for the better. But it comes at a price.

Alternatively, the iMac is a suitably powerful all-in-one with a few bits of hardware that you won't get on the Surface Studio 2. You can get one in two sizes, spec up an Intel Core i9 six-core processor if you want, and hook up all manner of things over Thunderbolt 3, including an eGPU. Even the entry level iMac can be used in this way with a desktop class graphics card.

For most people considering these two, the iMac is the smart choice. Third-party app support is on par with Windows 10 and if there is something you simply can't get, you can simply install Windows on a dual-boot partition. If you fit into the niche that will truly find the unique features of the Surface Studio 2 useful, it remains unmatched.

Richard Devine is an Editor at Windows Central. A former Project Manager and long-term tech addict, he joined Mobile Nations in 2011 and has been found on Android Central and iMore as well as Windows Central. Currently you'll find him covering all manner of PC hardware and gaming, and you can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.