I used to work in the creative industry and as a hobbyist artist and photographer, a lot of my friends today are creative professionals. Sometimes I get asked “Do you prefer a PC or a Mac?” and “What would you buy if you were me?”
Whether you’re illustrating a book, designing a virtual world, 3D modelling a prototype or editing your 4K video show reel, you need a creative workstation that can handle the intensive software you use today like Adobe’s Creative Studio and Autodesk, as well as future-proof you for the innovative work you’ll be doing in a years’ time. However, sometimes it’s hard to compare apples and oranges.
The thing I have always admired about Mac computers is that the hardware and software were built together so their computers have always had this harmony. Now that Microsoft is on the same page with their Surface devices, these computers are a bit easier to compare.
So without further ado, here is a comparison of Microsoft’s Surface Studio 2 and Apple’s iMac Pro.
Desktop computers are essential for any creative professional. They integrate all necessary components into an all-in-one package with a high-resolution display that provides enough screen real estate for any task required. With such demands, you often need to pay to play, but both Microsoft and Apple have some great hardware options.
Both devices are visually attractive and feature a minimalistic design with clean-cut lines and black bezels that nicely contrast their brushed metal frames.
The iMac Pro packs all of its storage and processing hardware behind its 27-inch screen and uses a slim, aluminium frame where the Surface Studio 2 packs most of its powerful hardware into a base station that is located at the bottom of its “zero-gravity hinge”.
The Surface Studio 2’s PixelSense display supports pen and touch allowing a completely different medium of interaction. Using its “zero-gravity” hinge, the Surface Studio 2 can be effortlessly changed from an upright desktop computer down to a near-flat digital canvas that has a similar angle and the feel of a drafts table.
Down in studio mode, you can sketch more naturally with the to quickly change on-screen tools and elements, whilst maintaining your creative flow. By pressing and holding the Surface Dial you can display a radial menu of tools. The dial works with a number of different applications including Adobe Premier Pro, Autodesk Sketchbook and DJ Pro. You can’t do anything like that with the iMac Pro, it’s non-touch, no-pen panel is mounted on a tilt-only stand that does not support digital styluses.
Pen and touch are the big differentiator here, as both screens are incredibly bright, with high clarity and feature wide colour support. Ultimately, it would come down to whether or not you need pen and touch in your work processes. Some people find that pen and touch can actually make your workflow more efficient.
The Surface Studio 2 comes with a seventh-generation Intel Core i7-7820HQ quad-core CPU, 1TB SSD, 16GB of RAM, and a Nvidia GTX 1060 with 6GB of GDDR5 memory. It can be configured with a 2TB SSD, up to 32GB and a more powerful Nvidia GTX 1070. These configurations will cater for the majority of high-compute tasks such as video editing or 3D modelling.
The iMac Pro on the other hand, has a much higher starting price but comes with a powerful array of hardware. It uses an eight-core Intel Xeon, with 32GB of RAM, a 1TB SSD, and an AMD Radeon Pro Vega 56 graphics card with 8GB of HBM2 memory. That is the base-model iMac Pro, you can upgrade RAM, memory and cores further… if you can afford it. While I like idea of being able to configure a desktop with 256GB of RAM and an 18 core Xeon processor, this is in my opinion a classic example of expensive over-engineering.
If you are working on a design or video editing project, you know how important it is to have a display that brings all of the colours and details in your artwork to life.
Both desktops, regardless of the chosen configuration, come with a single display choice. The Surface Studio 2 has a stunning 28-inch 4,500 x 3,000 resolution PixelSense display, which is similar to the first-generation Surface Studio. However, the Studio 2 display is much brighter and has improved contrast, which provides more depth in its final image.
The Surface Studio 2’s display uses the 3:2 aspect ratio, instead of the more common 16:9 widescreen ratio that you will find on an iMac. With a 3:2 ratio, the onscreen image better mirrors physical work in a digital space for creative industries. Graphic designers, artists, draftsmen, architects and other creative professionals will find it a much more natural experience to create and publish their work with the 3:2 ratio they typically work in. The 3:2 ratio also gives you more space in the margins for tools, palettes, and other onscreen elements in programs such as Adobe Photoshop.
The iMac Pro’s display is higher-resolution and uses the more traditional 16:9 aspect ratio. The display is one of Apple’s 5K retina displays with a resolution of 5,120 x 2,880. Its brightness is lower and is also slightly smaller at 27-inches.
Ports and connections are a1n important factor to consider when purchasing a new creative workstation. There is nothing quite like purchasing a device only to realise you need to purchase additional hardware just to plug all of your accessories in, or worse, realising that it doesn’t support them.
The Surface Studio 2 has four USB Type-A ports, a USB Type-C port, a full-size SD card reader, an Ethernet port, and a 3.5mm headphone jack. Embedded in the device is a TPM 2.0 chip for enterprise security; the Studio 2 also offers Windows Hello facial-recognition login support, which is achieved through the Studio 2’s 1080p 5-megapixel camera. To round it off the Studio 2 also features dual studio microphones, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth 4.0. When you’re ready to knock off for the day, the Surface Studio 2 also has built-in wireless Xbox controller support.
The iMac Pro’s connectivity is quite similar to the Surface Studio 2. The iMac also comes with four USB Type-A ports, a full-size SD card reader, an Ethernet jack, and a 3.5mm headphone port. The iMac also has an extra USC Type-C port (2 in total) and both of them support Thunder Bolt 3. With a lower resolution iMac’s 720p front facing camera isn’t as capable as the Surface Studio 2’s, it lacks the infrared-camera capabilities needed for facial biometric authentication that lets you unlock your Windows PC or your iPhone.
In my own spare time, I like to take photos, which is how I came to understand just a small fraction of the Studio 2’s full potential. I brought a demonstration device home from Data#3 over a weekend to do some photo editing. Normally I would edit these on my 4K monitor with my home-built desktop PC in Adobe Lightroom. One evening, while working away in Lightroom on the Studio 2, I caught a glimpse of the Surface Pen attached to the side of the display. This prompted a “eureka” moment, where I realised that I could use the Surface Pen directly on the display with the Adjustment Brush Tool, to edit selective areas of a photo more efficiently and with high precision. This was something I was never able to do before and completely changed my process for the better.
When deciding between these two powerful all-in-ones, you should consider how you intend to use the device and the type of work you’ll be doing now and in the near future. The Studio 2 might not quite stack up to ultimate power of the iMac Pro, but it offers a unique user experience that the iMac can’t compete with. The Studio’s PixelSense display is a massive canvas for you to draw and write on, pinch and zoom, and interact with in ways that is impossible on any iMac.
For organisations or individuals working in architecture, design, video editing or photography, the Surface Studio 2 offers an unrivalled experience. Being hands-on with accessories like the Surface Dial and the Surface Pen will change your workflow for the better.