The $4,999 starting price of Apple’s iMac Pro might make your eyes water, but there’s no question that for some creative professionals, this all-in-one’s incredible computing power can more than make up for its expense by speeding up specialized tasks like rendering video and enhancing images. Plus, the iMac Pro sports the same beautiful 5K display that you may have fallen in love with if you use an iMac.
As impressive as Apple’s ode to creative professionals is, it lacks a touch screen and a few other features that you’ll find on Microsoft’s competing Surface Studio. It’s one of the iMac Pro’s closest competitors, and choosing between the two isn’t easy. The obvious diffrences are operating system, touch support, and price. (We reviewed the most expensive Studio configuration, which comes in at $4,199, so even the base iMac Pro is a pricier proposition). But there are several other points of comparison between the two to consider before you buy one.
Apple’s desktop has a clear power advantage, with more recent and in some cases much faster components, including a selection of Xeon processors with up to 18 cores. The Surface Studio’s sixth-generation Intel Core i7 is ancient and pokey by comparison. On the other hand, Microsoft’s innovative design—namely the Surface Studio’s reclining touch-screen display—might be more to your liking, and the optional Surface Dial offers a pioneering control interface for graphic designers in particular.
|Name||Apple iMac Pro||Microsoft Surface Studio|
|Processor Name||Intel Xeon W-2140B||Intel Core i7-6820HQ|
|Processor Speed||3.2 GHz||2.7 GHz|
|Operating System||Apple macOS High Sierra||Windows 10 Pro|
|RAM||32 GB||32 GB|
|Storage Capacity (as Tested)||1 TB||2 TB|
|Graphics Card||AMD Radeon Pro Vega 56||Nvidia GeForce GTX 980M|
|Screen Size||27 inches||28 inches|
|Resolution||5120 x 2880||4500 x 3000|
|Storage Type||SSD||HDD, SSD|
|Read the Review||Read the Review|
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 2017 27-inch iMac). The brightness has improved on all new iMacs, and it now supports 1 billion colors.
Quality-wise, the screens are just about a wash, and you’ll hardly be left complaining about the resolution on either device. They both support the P3 color gamut, too, which makes for an exceptionally wide range of displayable colors.
Reach Out and Touch
That said, there’s a huge divergence when you consider the Studio’s touch capability. Apple has remained steadfast in withholding touch support from Macs, and the iMac Pro is no exception. The Surface Studio’s touch screen—combined with the ability to recline the display like a digital canvas—gives it much more versatility for content creation, which we explore in depth in our review. If you only draw or design 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 can be very appealing if you’re 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 to rival Windows all-in-ones like the Dell Precision 5720, and its Xeon CPU backs up that claim. The base model we tested includes an eight-core processor and 32GB of memory. We found these components to be lightning fast both on our benchmark tests and actual video- and photo-editing tasks. The iMac Pro rendered a selection of Photoshop filters in just 2 minutes and 32 seconds compared with the Surface Studio’s 3:03, and it was much faster encoding video (30 seconds vs. 1 minute, 3 seconds) as well. Our review goes into more detail about just how fast it is at chewing through 5.2K video and editing 100MP Raw images, among other tasks.
As stated, the Surface Surface Studio’s CPU 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.
Graphics for Content Creators
The iMac’s powerful AMD Radeon Vega graphics sets it apart as well. The Vega cards are meant to compete with Nvidia’s workstation-quality Quadro cards, and there is indeed tremendous 3D capability packed into the iMac Pro. It recieved an exceptional score of 1,669 on our Cinebench rendering test, compared with the Surface Studio’s 702. The Surface Studio does have discrete graphics, but its Nvidia GeForce GTX 980M, while capable, is not on the same level as the iMac’s graphics.
Because of its superior graphics card, the iMac Pro also has a leg up when it comes to playing graphics-intensive games, but that’s not something that will matter to the target iMac Pro buyer. As a workstation, its 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. As an added bonus for game developers, the Vega cards are also VR capable, something Apple pushed during the iMac Pro’s introduction at WWDC last year, while the Studio’s card is not.
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 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. The iMac Pro’s 10GBps Ethernet port, a first on a Mac, can automatically switch between 1GBps, 2.5GBps, 5GBps, or 10GBps, based on the capabilities of your network infrastructure. That could give it a big leg up when used in studios that store video footage on network-attached storage (NAS) devices.
An important note is that the Studio configuration we tested comes with 2TB of storage, while our iMac Pro review unit only has a 1TB SSD. You can configure the iMac Pro with a 2TB SSD if you need more elbow room for editing large photos or lots of video footage.
With Great Expense Comes Great Power
Overall, there’s no doubt the iMac Pro packs more powerful, newer hardware than the Studio. It does so at a higher price, but for people who frequently wait hours for their video projects to render, the time savings can more than make up for the expense.
That said, the Studio offers a whole realm of creative interface 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 the touch screen and the optional Surface Dial and pen.
The operating systems are of course another major distinction, but that’s largely a matter of personal habit and preference. Many photography and movie studios have been using macOS for years, and aren’t planning on switching to Windows, while some game developers wouldn’t dream of making a Mac their primary workhorse.
These matters of preference aside, it’s clear that the iMac Pro is the choice for pure power, while the less expensive Surface Studio can be your desktop and digital creation tool in one.