Surface Studio vs Apple iMac: Microsoft is the new king of the desktop

Lots of folks are saying Microsoft has out-Appled Apple, especially after the two company's most recent PC-focused launch events. In one corner, the Cupertino crew has long been known for pushing design boundaries on its products. In the other is team Redmond, known for Windows and Office.

It's the second of these two companies that arguably is delivering more "wow" factor in its hardware designs of late. The Surface Studio is Microsoft's first desktop PC, and it's an all-in-one no less. Its creative focus puts it firmly in the battleground with the iMac, the longest running all-in-one computer.

Updated Feb 7, 2017 We added some fresh new images, links and details for context.

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Since Apple didn't refresh the iMac at its most recent hardware event, we'll be pitting the Surface Studio up against the latest models on sale in the Apple Store.

First, some specs.

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CategorySurface StudioApple iMac
Display28-inch PixelSense Display
10-point multitouch
21.5-inch or 27-inch IPS
Display Resolution4500 x 3000 (192 ppi)1920 x 1080 (21.5-inch only), 4K (21.5-inch only), 5K (27-inch only)
CPU6th gen Intel Core i5 or i76th gen Intel Core i5 (dual-core or quad-core), Core i7
GraphicsNVIDIA GeForce GTX 965M 2GB or 980M 4GBUp to AMD Radeon R9 M395 2GB
Memory8GB, 16GB, or 32GB RAM8GB, 16GB or 32GB RAM
Storage1TB or 2TB hybrid driveUp to 2TB Fusion Drive
Ports4 x USB 3.0, SD card, Mini Displayport, 3.5mm headset4 x USB 3.0, 2 x Thunderbolt 2, SD card, 3.5mm headset
Wireless802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, Xbox Wireless built-in802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0
CamerasWindows Hello face sign-in camera
5.0MP front-facing camera with 1080p HD video
FaceTime HD camera
DimensionsDisplay: 25.09 x 17.27 x 0.44 in (637.35 x 438.9 x 11.4 mm)
Base: 9.84 x 8.66 x 1.26 in (250 x 220 x 32.2 mm)
20.3 x 25.6 x 8in (516 x 650 x 203 mm)
Weight21.07 lbs max (9.56 kg)21 lbs (9.54kg)

iMac

You can't compare the software directly because it's like comparing a train and a bus. Both will get you there, just in different ways. What is worth highlighting is the incredible focus Microsoft has put on creators in the Surface Studio and with the Surface Dial (opens in new tab). Creative pros have long been buying Macs, and Microsoft has done an incredible job at outdoing the competition.

Does the iMac have touch? Pen input? Does it fold down?

Does the iMac have touch? Pen input? Does it fold down? OK, the last one is probably super-niche, but the Surface Studio certainly has some stand-out hardware features. In comparison, the iMac is like most of the standard Windows all-in-ones: A PC and a monitor in one box.

Apple does, however, cater to those looking for high-resolution displays, with both 4K and a whopping 5K available across the iMac range. The Surface Studio has that True Scale technology built in and sRGB colors, while the iMac goes beyond sRGB and into a P3 color gamut with 25 percent more colors.

Surface Studio

Much of the rest of the hardware is comparable. Similar processors, similar RAM, similar storage options all pad out the various configurations. The high-end 980M GPU in the Surface Studio will be a better pick than the Radeon mobile graphics in the iMac, but it's also only available on the most expensive model.

For once, Apple isn't the most expensive

Then there's the price. For once, Apple isn't the most expensive technology vendror. That's mostly down to Microsoft's 4500 x 3000 resolution, 28-inch touch display, which on its own makes up a good chunk of the asking price of the Surface Studio. Those working in creative industries will often throw in a Wacom Cintiq drawing and display tablet (starting at around $800, all the way up to around $2,000) to accompany an iMac, inflating the price. Microsoft offers similar functionality in a single package, on a single display, which could be a workflow improvement.

The 27-inch iMac starts at $1,799, almost half of the $2,999 asking price of the cheapest Surface Studio. Even adding the specs to the iMac doesn't bring up the price to that level.

But here's the thing: The Surface Studio isn't just an all-in-one PC, which is sort of what it makes the iMac look like. It's pretty, packing some nice hardware and perfectly capable, but Microsoft has gone far beyond that. It has transcended the all-in-one and created a unique PC product unlike anything else out there today. Yes, it's expensive, but it's almost incomparable right now.

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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.

177 Comments
  • yea the surface studio is quiet expensive than iMac
  • Being a PC using graphic designer, I, for one, am happy to see this no matter the cost. Apple has been justifying their high prices because of so-called superior specs and quality for graphics and design; now Microsoft has entered into that niche space and threaten to upend Apple's strong hold that's existed for so long. Kudos to them!
  • Apple has lost this battle for Good, Apple go to bed
  • Apple have never had superior specs. And it's always been more expensive.
  • True but they always had the sleekness and looks, which helped make it looks more presentable next to the most powerful PC ...which they now don't
  • To be fair, at least in laptops, they've always had 28W CPUs while everyone even now still mostly use 15W CPUs. So faster CPUs and iGPUs than the competition.
  • MS did the price outright, which means, every single pennies that you spent on Surface Studio (or SS), will be much more of worth than iMacs, due to its 10-point multitouch screen, Surface Pen (included?), Surface Dial support, and True Scale. What's more, it even can be used for collaborative things (if you have watched some of SS videos on the internet), something that Apple's been missing for. Anyways, I have a bidding for this device, if there's a way, as I'm dying of needing it foe creative purposes :)
  • Yes pen included
  • The superior specs and quality for graphics evaporated in the 90s. I've asked my design prof about this..at this point, the design industry's use of macs is purely tradition. I for one use a pc.
  • I find it odd that people are harping on the price difference when professionals have to fork over extra money for a Wacom drawing tablet with a Mac to get similar functionality.
  • To be fair people having issue with its price isn't the same people buying Wacom Cintiq+Mac. Though I also do find the value of Surface Studio and looking forward to have this, I do find it quite steep for its base model. I see why this price like this though, not just because of the hardware components, but also the R&D cost that has to be covered in this first-gen product.
    This Surface Studio is really seems at least a 2 year development and they didn't have much time to manage having more later specs, especially when doing that will even make the cost even higher. It doesn't have Thunderbolt ports which is becoming standard to new PCs these days. For an expensive hardware that is been recently released, its rather odd not having more modern components. Hopefully that for next gen the overall cost would be lower and offer additional more affordable tier to the line-up, so more people can afford to get one. I also hope for specs to at least get an upgrade too to Pascal NVidia GPU since its not because of gaming, but that newer architecture brings way more performance for GPU-demanding task such as 3D modeling, video edition, effects, etc. What's great about new architecture isn't just the new performance but the efficiency which some gaming laptops even retain their dimensions. Newer CPU would improve any CPU-extensive task too. I'm hoping to at least have some Type-C Thunderbolt connections to replace two USB Type-A and Display Port, thus giving more flexibility and making the hardware more forward thinking approach as more and more hardware adopts Type-C.
  • No, it's been in development for several years. It's targeted at a niche market where high price peripherals are required to get work done, not for the average consumer or office worker.
  • It could be a great premium machine for the family.  It can serve well for all age groups for education, art work, work, entertainment or general purposes.  It provides a premium feel for all users.  I have paid over $3,000 for a 8086 workstation in the early PC days.  I pre-ordered an i7 model yesterday and can't wait for the delivery.
  • Yea its true but those features it has, iMac doesn't have it and that pushes the price up so don't complain....Niceeee**Pari**
  • Yea its true but those features it has, iMac doesn't have it and that pushes the price up so don't complain....Niceeee**Pari**
  • Truth is bitter but the surface studio is far more outstanding than the imac, Apple has to respond or be quiet
  • Because it has touch? Unless you really need an active digitizer then the Surface is way too expensive to compare favorably with the iMac. The Studio is a niche product, Microsoft won't sell too many of them. They need a $1500 version for normal people. I guess they are better off leaving that role for its OEM partners though. Posted via the Windows Central App for Android
  • Yes, you are right.
    1) this is 'category defining' like other surfaces. Like 2-in-1, it started out as a niche. Only time will tell;
    2) MS always think of their partners. Expecting Studio clones with cheaper price.
  • Exactly. This is the point of surface after all, I might pick up the hp come when it comes out.
  • More like Pen Input, Dial and Touch! You know this last one is the one that new Macbooks tried to mimic with their 90s idea called 'Touch Bar'! Again, do iMacs have dial? No! Pen Input? No! Fold down for painting and drawind purposes? No! So just with those features it worth more and the price is on par for the Surface! On the other hand, iMacs are way to expensive for what they offer, a lot of other OEMs could get you better specs than anything Apple at a lower price!
  • Truth be told, I like the TouchBar, but still hate Apple ;O)
  • I wouldn't mind a touch bar as long as they kept physical F keys. And you know, had a touch display as well. Otherwise its just pretty pointless addition, I mean sure its nice to have touch bar where the keys change to the context but for me it just isn't some great "innovation" and seems like they had years to work on a decent upgrade and instead stuck that on at the last minute.
  • I have to disagree. My design friends have shelled out massive amounts of money to own an iMac without even blinking an eye. Contrary to what many believe, graphic designers aren't rich. We are your "normal" people.
  • Graphic design is definitely a niche market. Posted via the Windows Central App for Android
  • Yea but they are also free advertisers for Microsoft. Those are the people you see out in the wild chillin at starbucks or something while working on their device. People will see them using cool microsoft products or whatever and that will help to change their perception. That's what good product design will do for you. I doubt the people who are in awe and compliment my Surface Book at school, While I'm converting to a tablet for math class, are bolting to apple to check out the same macbook from the last 5 years. BTW I see Surface everywhere at school and I RARELY ever go to starbucks or coffee shops but I see em there too. People are noticing and I think they'll pay for quality. I dunno about the studio though, It will be harder to bring that to peoples attention. Get it into Colleges and high schools first i suppose, for the new generation of creators to see. Place it in a kiosk at a mall in the main walkway and let it SHINE.
  • What school do you attend where you see a lot of surfaces?!
  • - removed - decided not to say, cant delete. Lets just say a lot of tech universities, especially CS programs now are littered with Macbooks, Surfaes, XPS13s, x360s, Zenbooks, and Gaming Laptops.
  • Architecture is *more* definitely niche market.
  • The surface studio isn't just aimed at graphic designers :P.
     
  • They would be the folks most likely to use the defining features of the Surface Studio. It doesn't really have any compelling features for commoners. It makes sense for Microsoft to leave that for is partners. The more I think about it, the more I want to see Microsoft really go full Apple. If they released a full line of premium computers starting at $500 what is HP and Dell going to do? Start pushing Chromebooks? Posted via the Windows Central App for Android
  • But they buy the tools they need to get the job done. The Surface Studio combines the UI, UX, and processing power in one uniquely designed package.
  • Also the display design. Much thinner and the bezels are pretty big on the iMac. Not sure if they ever would get rid of that big logo...
  • I disagree with you here. I *want* a $1500 option so I can adopt it at work, but I don't NEED this option and neither does Microsoft. For example, elsewhere in my work, I have 12 AutoCAD engineers with $7000 workstations that were purchased 5-6 years ago. They are Dell Precision workstations that at the time of purchase had the highest CPU, RAM, HDD, and Nvidia graphics you could buy at the time. Then they added on trackball mice and a WACOM pad and have used those ever since. Now, they have the option to cut the price down quite a bit and simplify their workflow and productivity and have nicer hardware. What's not to like about that? My office is only "a dozen" engineers, but I have about 100 such engineers across all our plants, and I'm a "small" potatoes kind of business compared to many other Windows-based design shops in the world. Maybe you think that iMacs rule the design world, but surprise-- they don't. An iMac is a small portion of the total Macs sold which is still a very small portion of PCs sold too. So at the end of the day, yeah, maybe MSFT sells a few thousand... or a few tens of thousands of these. Yep, that's pretty niche sounding, but $4000 x let's aim high at 30,000 of these sold. That's hmm, let's see, carry the one... multiply here... $120,000,000. I think that's a good incentive for MSFT to build these on its own, oh and then there's the mindshare that hey-- MSFT is doing awesome stuff... let me look at Surface Pro or Surface Book too... cha-ching, cha-ching, sales keep chugging along. Suddenly that niche product isn't so niche after all. Edit: PS-- Surface Dial isn't magically compatible with the display on SP4/SB today... but SP5/SB2 in spring? I'd bet on that plus some other mobility surprises.
  • All sounds very niche. Posted via the Windows Central App for Android
  • Your ideas are pretty niche.
  • Because it is. This is a product designed for creative professionals who generate revenue for their business ...and people with disposable income who must have the latest gadgets ;O)
  • The dial will be compatible through firmware update.
  • I don't remember seeing Quadro cards in the description, the shop I work at also uses expensive desktops with Quaddro cards. Not sure how efficient this setup would be in a manufacturing environment.
  • I would think of this for AutoCAD as well. Does the Surface Studio use Laptop/Mobile hardware or the more powerful desktop versions? I see the ali in one tiny base as something we can do (wow factor) not something we need to do. A blade (Pizza box) size base would be more affordable, allow upgrades and eminence, etc at a more economical price. I would really like to see a Surface Studio Monitor (more like a Critiq) and choose my own desktop, laptop, or desktop replacement style laptop.  
  • I guess one question you can make against this hardware, versus your standard workstation, is that it isn't very serviceable, nor are you likely getting as much power here versus a traditional workstation. It is hard to tell what TDP CPUs these are limited to, but I would guess it's 65W or lower based on the enclosure size. 
  • Normal people who you're referring to, they can buy an iMac. It's the poor man's option. That... Sounds.... Sweet!!! After all those years Windows was the poor man's.... S**k it, Apple!
  • Surface Studio/SS is *redefining* the AIO category, showing what AIOs are purposed for. If you have watched some videos of how SS being used for collaborative and creative purposes, I think it's getting worth of money, despite of being 'categorized' as a niche device, as what you said before.
  • You clearly don't understand the point of this. As with all Surface devices, MS helps to set the anchor, which their partners have been so unwilling to do for a VERY long time. I for one am extremely glad that MS has made the move into territories dominated by Apple, only because Apple is "the only choice" or "legacy choice". I have walked around many studios in Hollywood, watching artists use Apple and Wacom devices. They now truly have an alternative. And who's to say that HP or Dell or someone else are not developing similar produc