Still the most robust digital drafting table around, Surface Studio 2 wasn’t meant to compare well against most computers. For the digital artist or other visually-focused content creators, Surface Studio 2 will be the one to beat – dated parts and all.
Higher contrast ratio
Big performance improvements
Arguably dated parts inside
Why you can trust TechRadar We spend hours testing every product or service we review, so you can be sure you’re buying the best. Find out more about how we test.
The Surface Studio 2 is still the most robust digital drafting table to date. Now, one might argue that the upgrades it received may not be on par with a lot of today’s professional all-in-one PCs. However, this device was never meant to compete with most computers, so these updates are doing wonders for its core use case.
Because of that core use case, however, the Surface Studio 2 isn’t for everyone. If you’re new to Microsoft’s Surface world, you should make sure it’s the right device for you before breaking open the piggy bank for this good-looking digital work table for artists. This PC will benefit digital media artists more than it’ll benefit everyone else, so if you’re not one, you’re better off looking elsewhere.
However, if you bought a Surface Studio back in the day and it’s benefited you in ways that no other PC can, the Surface Studio 2 might mark the perfect time to upgrade. It’s enhanced the original in pretty much every way, and the Surface Studio 2 should last for years to come.
Here is the Microsoft Surface Studio 2 configuration sent to TechRadar for review:
CPU: 2.9GHz Intel Core i7-7820HQ (quad-core; 8MB cache; up to 3.9GHz Turbo Boost)
Graphics: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 (8GB GDDR5); Intel HD Graphics 630
RAM: 32GB DDR4
Screen: 28.125-inch, (4,500 x 3,000) PixelSense Display
Storage: 1TB SSD (PCIe)
Ports: 1 x USB-C 3.1, 4 x USB 3.0, SD card reader, Gigabit Ethernet, headset jack
Connectivity: 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, Xbox Wireless
Camera: 5MP (1080p) Windows Hello camera
Weight: 21 pounds (9.56 kg)
Size (Display): 25.1 x 17.3 x 0.5 inches (637.35 x 438.90 x 12.50 mm; W x D x H)
Size (Base): 9.8 x 8.7 x 1.3 inches (250.00 x 220.00 x 32.20 mm; W x D x H)
Price and availability
The Surface Studio 2 calls for a kingly sum of $3,499 or AU$5,499 (about £2,680) – and that’s just to start. (Sadly, Surface Studio 2 isn’t yet available in the UK.)
This is powered by a 7th generation – nope, not a typo – Intel Core i7 processor designed for laptops and gets you an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 (6GB GDDR5) GPU, 16GB of DDR4 memory and a 1TB NVMe SSD. Yes, the hybrid drives are gone.
This all sits beneath a 28-inch, 4,500 x 3,000 resolution PixelSense touch display that’s now 38% brighter (515 nits) and offers a 22% higher contrast ratio (1,200:1).
If you want to upgrade the Surface Studio 2, you may do so by switching the GPU to Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 (8GB GDDR5), the RAM to 32GB and as much as 2TB of SSD space. Unfortunately, you’re still stuck with the 7th generation Intel Core i7 CPU.
The configuration you see listed here – one of only three available in the US – will set you back $4,199 (AU$6,599, about £3,319). This doubles the memory of the starting model and upgrades to the GTX 1070 GPU.
It’s hard to compare this desktop against competing all-in-one PCs for creatives and otherwise, since it is designed for a very specific audience: digital artists and other creators.
However, the asking price has been bumped up by $500 in the US for innards that, while definitely better than the Surface Studio, are arguably outdated by today’s standards. Hopefully, Microsoft fixes this shortcoming in the Surface Studio 3.
All in all, it’s hard to say what price should be put on such a niche product with such a specific use case, but this is an expensive piece of hardware no matter how you slice it.
Design and display
Absolutely nothing has changed in the Surface Studio 2’s physical design over the original – this may be either a disappointment or music to your ears, depending on your perspective. Even the included wireless peripherals haven’t really changed since the first Surface Studio was released.
That said, Microsoft did take the chance to upgrade the Surface Studio display with this revision. The screen has been given quite a boost in the brightness and contrast departments by 38% (515 nits) and 22% (1,200:1), respectively.
The improvements to brightness and contrast don’t exactly blow our mind, personally, but we’re sure they can make content more visible and workable for creatives. The increased brightness can bring out enhanced detail, while the boosted contrast will drive deeper blacks and lighter whites, and in turn offer more color depth.
Beyond these points – and USB-C in lieu of a DisplayPort – there are no major design upgrades. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as the Surface Studio ‘Gravity Hinge’ doesn’t need any improvements.
However, we would have appreciated a starting price hike supported with a full array of USB-C 3.1 or Thunderbolt 3 ports. This is especially true considering the Surface Studio 2’s potential to serve as the hub of your desk. Not to mention its target audience: content creators.
Also, why couldn’t this product have received that jaw-dropping, all-black color scheme that adorns the Surface Laptop 2 and Surface Pro 6, release alongside the Studio 2? Imagine how that would bounce off the chrome accents and just disappear behind your work – a sorely missed opportunity.
The keyboard and mouse inputs included in the box work just fine. The keyboard feels very similar to that of the Apple Mac desktop keyboards in terms of travel and feedback. The mouse, meanwhile, has a welcome curvature to it that’s comfortable to hold. Both inputs require AA batteries. Sadly, there are no rechargeable peripherals here.
The Surface Pen stylus that’s also included will feel identical to those found on Surface Pro tablets, as it’s the very same stylus. The only difference is that now you have a massive canvas to draw on with it, and the stylus shines when used on that much surface (get it?) area.
Of course, the Surface Pen attaches to the left side of the display magnetically.
Honestly, we’re glad to see Microsoft’s design persist in the sequel, as it was already rather brilliant. The Gravity Hinge still works effortlessly here, with all of the computer’s major components hiding within its base.
Speaking of which, the base has received a bit of an update with a USB-C 3.1 port in addition to its existing USB 3.0 ports, replacing the old model’s mini DisplayPort.
The parts inside the Surface Studio 2, on paper, look like peanuts compared to the latest processors and graphics cards available in similarly-priced desktop computers. However, none of those computers also serves as a high-resolution drafting table.
Here’s how the Microsoft Surface Studio 2 performed in our suite of benchmark tests:
3DMark Sky Diver: 29,418; Fire Strike: 12,956; Time Spy: 5,295
Cinebench CPU: 759 cb; Graphics: 111 fps
Geekbench 4 Single-Core: 4,767; Multi-Core: 16,112
PCMark 8 Home: 3,435 points
Total War: Warhammer II (1080p, Ultra): 52 fps; (1080p, Low): 111 fps
ME: Shadow of War (1080p, Ultra): 63 fps; (1080p, Low): 122 fps
Microsoft’s unique positioning for Surface Studio 2 puts this computer into almost a whole category unto itself. However, its innards will be capable of basically all modern computing tasks regardless. Just don’t expect to quickly encode 4K video, or drive the latest games at native resolution, with this machine.
As you can see, this model is superior than its predecessor in every way – and by a considerable margin. This model is better at rendering 3D graphics as well as multitasking and at processor-intensive tasks, like encoding video and rendering dense, complex spreadsheets.
However, for the content creator out there who doesn’t do much with digital art generation or illustration, there are many more powerful options out there that are more affordable – even all-in-one PCs, like Apple’s iMac Pro. Basically, if you don’t find yourself using this 28-inch computer as a digital drafting table, at least a double-digit percentage of the time, we would seriously reconsider making the investment.
Now, Microsoft may have included its Xbox Wireless connectivity protocol for its Xbox One controllers, and this PC may have the capability to handle many of the latest games at decent settings, but this is hardly a gaming PC. We wouldn’t even remotely consider gaming to be a concern when purchasing this machine.
When it comes to gaming, you can simply do far better for far less.
Still, the Surface Studio 2 is perfectly capable for its primary use case – as well as a few others – so, don’t let the arguably dated specs turn you off if you’re a digital artist seeking fresh tools. For folks specifically in that crowd, the Surface Studio 2 could last you several years.
Software and features
Of course, the Surface Studio 2 comes with zero pre-installed software from third parties, coming directly from Microsoft. This is certainly part of the appeal of the Surface Studio 2, with so many other devices filling the operating system with software that’s both non-essential and unwanted.
However, that does leave the Surface Studio 2 with little to speak for in terms of unique software and features. What we can highlight is the Windows Hello camera.
This is a 5MP (1080p) webcam that includes infrared sensors for facial recognition, and it appears to be largely unchanged from the previous. However, we couldn’t help but notice just how fast the system registers your face and gives you access to the desktop. Honestly, it takes less time than we can say the words ‘one second.’
Super fast logins that are also secure should make any user happy – digital artist or not.
The Surface Studio 2 absolutely does what it ultimately sets out to do: improve upon the previous model in every way that’s essential and changing nothing that didn’t need changed. This version is faster, brighter and with more vibrant colors than before.
Granted, this computer will absolutely look like an overpriced heap when stacked up against competitors, like the Apple iMac Pro, on paper. Spec-for-spec comparisons simply cannot capture the complete value found within Surface Studio 2.
That said, its unique use case makes it one of the world’s best digital drafting tables. For the digital artist out there looking to upgrade from the previous model, this iteration is a no-brainer. For newcomers, this model might seem far more prepared to weather the endless silicon improvements and upgrades, with even stronger support for 4K content creation and the latest accessories via USB-C.
Surface Studio 2 isn’t going to compare well against most computers simply because it was never meant to compete with them. This device is meant for the digital artist or other visually-focused content creator, and as that, it’s going to be tough to beat – dated parts and all.
Images Credit: TechRadar
First reviewed January 2019
Joe Osborne is the Senior Technology Editor at Insider Inc. His role is to leads the technology coverage team for the Business Insider Shopping team, facilitating expert reviews, comprehensive buying guides, snap deals news and more. Previously, Joe was TechRadar's US computing editor, leading reviews of everything from gaming PCs to internal components and accessories. In his spare time, Joe is a renowned Dungeons and Dragons dungeon master – and arguably the nicest man in tech.