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iMac Pro vs. Surface Studio: Clash of the Premium Desktops

Which beautiful high-end all-in-one desktop is right for you?

By Matthew Buzzi

The iMac Pro was perhaps the most impressive announcement at WWDC17, Apple’s developers’ event this year. This desktop promises to be the most powerful computer Apple has ever made when it arrives in December.

The $4,999 starting price will leave many eyes watering, but the iMac Pro is packed with extremely powerful hardware and features a beautiful display. Because of its design, size, specs, and price, it will go head to head with the Microsoft Surface Studio, the most comparable Windows PC. The most expensive Studio configuration (which is what PCMag reviewed) comes in at $4,199, so even the base iMac Pro is a pricier proposition.

Which one is best for you? The operating systems are the obvious difference, and you’ll have to wait to get your hands on an iMac Pro, but there are several other key differences between the two to consider.

Examining the specs, Apple’s desktop has a power advantage, with more recent (and generally faster) components. We dinged the Surface Studio for not having the most cutting-edge components at the time of launch, and the iMac will already had an advantage by coming out after the Studio. On the other hand, the Studio’s innovative design — notably, the reclining touch-screen display — might be more to your liking and offers new avenues to creatives for systems of this type.

To get more specific with the specs, let’s first take a look at the most visible aspect — the displays. They make up almost the entirety of both machines, and the Studio was clearly inspired by the design of past iMacs. Both have extraordinary, better-than-4K resolutions, albeit at different aspect ratios. The Studio’s 28-inch screen features a 4,500-by-3,000 resolution, while the iMac Pro’s 27-inch screen is 5,120 by 2,880 (the same as the 2015 27-inch iMac). The brightness has improved on all new iMacs, and they now support one billion colors.

Microsoft Surface Studio

Quality-wise, the screens are just about a tie, as you’ll hardly be left complaining about the resolution on either device, and they both support the P3 color gamut. That said, there’s a huge departure when you consider the Studio’s touch capability, which is an area Apple simply refuses to go to with its computers.

Touch — combined with ability to recline the Studio like a digital canvas — gives the Studio much more versatility for content creation, as discussed in depth in our review. If you draw or design only in programs with a mouse, touch may not be needed — but the inclusion does expand your future options. Streamlining the creative process from separate (and expensive) drawing tablets into one device could be very appealing to a digital artist.

In terms of computing power, though, the iMac Pro has the Studio beat. Apple is positioning the iMac Pro as a true workstation, and its Xeon CPU backs up that claim. The base model includes an 8-core processor and 32GB of memory, which will be lighting fast. As stated, the Surface Surface Studio was slightly behind at launch — it lacks a newer Kaby Lake chip, though its Intel Core i7–6820HQ Skylake CPU is still fast. Compared side by side, though, the iMac Pro will be much more capable at quickly crunching through data, encoding video, and general multitasking.

The iMac’s powerful AMD Radeon Vega graphics really set it apart, as well: These (still somewhat mysterious) cards from AMD are meant to compete with Nvidia’s top Quadro cards, so there should be tremendous 3D capability packed within the iMac Pro. The Studio does have discrete graphics, but its Nvidia GeForce GTX 980M, while capable, is not on the same level.

The iMac Pro has a leg up in gaming, where these cards typically come into play the most, but that’s not the target iMac Pro buyer. As a workstation, high-end graphics cards are for video and photo editors, animators, graphic designers, and more, as they accelerate rendering and load times in many of these processes. The Vega card will also be VR capable, something Apple pushed at WWDC, while the Studio’s card is not.

Apple iMac Pro

The two desktops are fairly similar in terms of port offerings — they both include USB 3.0, SD card slots, and Ethernet — but the Studio offers a mini DisplayPort for video output and lacks any USB-C connectivity. The iMac Pro doesn’t include mini DisplayPort, but USB-C is more versatile with adapters and is generally more useful for transferring media and other files.

An important note is that the Studio configuration we tested comes with 2TB of storage, while the base iMac Pro only has 1TB.

Overall, there’s no doubt the iMac Pro packs more powerful, newer hardware than the Studio. It does so at a higher price, and is launching about half a year later, but the advantage remains nonetheless. That said, the Studio offers a whole realm of options the iMac does not, thanks to its touch screen, making it more than just a speedy desktop. It can streamline the process of separate drawing tablets and other devices into one product thanks to its pen, the Surface Dial, and touch screen.

The operating systems are, of course, another major distinction. But if that’s not a restricting factor for you, the iMac Pro is the choice for pure power, and the less expensive Surface Studio can be your desktop and digital creation tool in one.

Read more: “Buy a New Apple iMac or Wait for iMac Pro?

Originally published at www.pcmag.com.



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