Surface Studio vs iMac – Which Should You Pick?

Microsoft recently unveiled Surface Studio, its new desktop computer that not only pleases its current fan base, but also those who have for so long been under Apple’s spell. The reveal itself gave chills to millions of technophiles and creatives, and instantly everyone thought of the same thing: “I want one.”

Here’s another thing: It kind of looks like an iMac, no? And indeed it does, from its sleek surface (pun intended), black borders, and the way it is propped up – one glance and you’ll instantly think of an iMac. But how does it compare to an iMac?

There are already predictions flying around that Surface Studio will deal a great blow to Apple’s iMac.

Let’s find out how true this is.

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It’s not a fair comparison at a glance

The Surface Studio is perhaps the most innovative and bravest product Microsoft has produced in the recent years, and it is their take on Apple’s iMac which has so long dominated the creative industry all over the world.

Graphic artists, web designers, animators, video editors, most of these people prefer an iMac over other pre-packaged desktops in the market simply because of its raw power and crisp display – something creatives would kill for.

But make no mistake (I’m an iMac user myself and I can honestly say that it’s not a fair comparison) and at first glance the Surface Studio wins by a grand slam.

Is Surface Studio a desktop computer or a graphics tablet?

If you watched the device trailer, you will notice that the Surface Studio can also double as a graphics tablet, which digital illustrators and animators use to draw directly onto in order to transfer their drawings into their computer. A popular brand for a graphics tablet is the Wacom. And if you don’t know, they’re pretty pricey.

This is a Wacom Cintiq 27QHD

Right now you can buy a Wacom Cintiq 27QHD for $2,300 and no, it’s not even a computer. Surface Studio’s base model is both and it’s only around $700 more, at $2,999.

But we’re here to compare the Surface Studio with an iMac, and so I shall.

In terms of display

The Surface Studio is a massive 28″ display at 4500×3000 resolution. Its display type uses PixelSense, which promises higher than 4K resolution.

While that looks great, the iMac’s top-of-the-line model sits at 27″ Retina 5K display with 5120×2880 resolution, that’s 14.7 million pixels, which is 1.2 million more than Surface Studio.

Is it a close fight between the two in terms of resolution and crispness of display? Probably not. The Surface Studio is at 192 pixels per inch (13.5 million pixels total) while the iMac is at 217 pixels per inch (14.7 million pixels total), so the iMac clearly wins this round.

surface dimension
Microsoft Surface Studio and Apple iMac Display Comparison

In terms of aspect ratio, Surface Studio is at 3:2 and iMac 27″ is at 16:9, which is a big difference. The new Surface is more squarish than the iMac, which would probably miff a lot of people, especially those who are used to having a wider screen.

Looking at those numbers, iMac definitely wins. But honestly can the naked eye actually tell the differences? I’m going to leave you with that but not before I mention that the entire Surface Studio’s display is touchscreen? That’s one selling point.

Although if you are a photographer or a video editor, smudges on the screen is probably something you’d hate to see (it’s like touching the lens of your camera).

How powerful are they?

Things might still change for the Surface Studio since it is still on pre-order phase, but right now it offers Intel Core i5 or i7, 8GB to 32GB RAM, using Nvidia GeForce GTX 965M-980M at 2GB-4GB GDDR5 memory.

The Apple iMac, on the other hand, also uses Intel Core i5 or i7, 8GB to 32GB RAM, using AMD Radeon R9 M380, M390, and M395X at 2GB-4GB GDDR5 memory. It is important to note that this latest iMac model has been around since 2015!

There doesn’t seem much of a difference in terms of their Intel processors, but there is a big difference when it comes to their graphic processing chips. Microsoft decided to go Nvidia GeForce all the way while Apple went for AMD.

Where Surface Studio straight up murders the iMac

First Stab – All-in-One Desktop and Graphics Tablet
surface pro
Surface Studio desktop and studio form

The Surface Studio is after the professional creative class of Mac users who deal with graphics, photos, and videos daily. The biggest innovation that Microsoft has introduced to their line of hardware is Surface Studio’s display which enables its users to draw directly on it – acting like a touchscreen tablet and a computer all in one.

It’s going to be a big blow for Apple, especially if people are more willing to spend at least a thousand dollars more.

Second Stab – Sexy Base Support
surface base support

Another important thing to note, which probably should get more attention, is its Zero Gravity Hinge (the base support), which provides seamless transition between desktop mode to studio mode (tablet mode).

Users can change the angle of the display with just one hand, from an upright position to a more comfortable position for drawing.

Third Stab – Surface Dial (Major Damage)
third stab

One more thing: Surface Dial. It’s a new peripheral that Microsoft has introduced that definitely made a scene. It can be placed on the screen itself to allow users to choose colors just by turning the dial.

Meanwhile, Apple recently announced a new Macbook Pro with a Touch Bar. Check out this link for more on it.

touch bar

The TL;DR version

If all you care about are the numbers and the specs, this is what you are looking for.

Microsoft Surface Studio

You can learn more about the Surface Studio in-depth here.

Price Graphics Display Processor Memory Storage
$2,999 NVIDIA GeForce GTX 965M 2GB GDDR5 memory 28″ PixelSense Display, 4500×3000 resolution, 10 point multi-touch, 3:2 aspect ratio 6th Generation Intel Core i5 8GB 1TB Rapid Hybrid Drive
$3,499 NVIDIA GeForce GTX 965M 2GB GDDR5 memory 6th Generation Intel Core i7 16GB 1TB Rapid Hybrid Drive
$4,199 NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980M 4GB GDDR5 memory 6th Generation Intel Core i7 32GB 2TB Rapid Hybrid Drive

Apple 27″ iMac

Price Graphics Display Processor Memory Storage
$1,799 AMD Radeon R9 M380 graphics processor with 2GB of GDDR5 memory 27″ Retina 5K display with IPS technology, 5120×2880 resolution, 16:9 aspect ratio Intel Core i5 8GB 1TB Drive
$1,999 AMD Radeon R9 M390 graphics processor with 2GB of GDDR5 memory Intel Core i7 16GB 1TB Fusion Drive
$2,299 AMD Radeon R9 M395 graphics processor with 2GB of GDDR5 memory. Intel Core i7 32GB 2TB Fusion Drive

What’s the verdict? Surface Studio or iMac?

If you are buying a computer based on its numbers, then without a doubt the iMac wins. But don’t forget that the Surface Studio is something entirely different – it’s a hybrid, and with that the price is justified.

If you are among the creative class who is looking for an “entry-level” desktop computer for work-related matters, the iMac line of 2015 still takes the cake when it comes to price-to-hardware ratio. This is particularly true if you are under budget.

While the base model of the latest iMac series is significantly less powerful than Surface Studio, it still works as one of the finest desktop computers ever built.

But if you are looking to expand your creative arsenal and explore the possibilities of your imagination, and perhaps more importantly if you have the budget, and would like to work by hand, perhaps the Surface Studio is worth a shot.