Microsoft Surface Studio 2+ review: Elegant, flexible all-in-one PC gets an upgrade

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Pros

  • Elegant design, solid build
  • Flexible screen hinge
  • Excellent 28-inch 3:2 screen
  • Good GPU performance
  • Three Thunderbolt 4 ports

Cons

  • 11th-generation rather than 12th-generation CPU
  • Screen bezels could be narrower
  • No SD card reader

Launched back in October 2018, Microsoft’s Surface Studio 2, a 28-inch all-in-one (AIO) computer, was well received. However, by 2022 it had become distinctly long in the tooth, being based on 7th-generation (14nm) Intel Core processors — well behind today’s 12th-generation (10nm) chips, let alone upcoming 13th-generation silicon. That said, the Surface Studio’s innovative and versatile design with its clever ‘zero gravity’ screen hinge is holding up well, and clearly influenced the 2021 Surface Laptop Studio

So the Surface Studio 2 was due an update, and this duly arrived in October 2022 in the shape of the Surface Studio 2+. The new model retains the same industrial design as its predecessor, but now runs on an 11th-generation Core i7 processor for “up to 50 percent faster CPU performance”, adding a 30-series Nvidia GeForce RTX GPU for “double the graphics performance”, according to Microsoft.

However, that ‘2+’ naming drops a heavy hint that nothing revolutionary has occurred here, although the $1,000 price hike from $3,499.99 (Studio 2) to $4,499.99 (Studio 2+) for the entry-level configuration does suggest some significant evolutionary upgrades. Let’s look at the detail.

Microsoft Surface Studio 2+

The Surface Studio 2+’s Zero Gravity Hinge caters for upright and flattened orientations.

Images: Charles McLellan / ZDNET

Design 

The Surface Studio 2+, like its predecessors, is an unconventional AIO design because the main PC components are housed in the base rather than packed into the rear of the display. Freed from these duties and anchored by the base, the 28-inch touch screen moves easily between standard upright and drafting-board orientations, and points in-between, via Microsoft’s trademark Zero Gravity Hinge.

Think of the upright stance as a traditional mouse/keyboard-driven ‘productivity’ mode and the near-horizontal drafting-board orientation as a pen-driven ‘creator’ mode (the Studio 2+ comes with a Surface Pen that attaches magnetically to the left or right sides of the screen). These modes, along with the premium price, give a clue to the target markets for this AIO, which according to Microsoft are executives, creative professionals and higher education establishments.

The 28-inch touch screen is a PixelSense panel with 4500-by-3000 resolution (3:2 aspect ratio, 192ppi), sRGB and Vivid (DCI-P3) colour profiles and a 1200:1 contrast ratio. That’s unchanged from the previous model, which is no bad thing as the display is bright, sharp and a pleasure to work with. The Surface Studio 2+ screen does get Gorilla Glass 3 protection and Dolby Vision support, but the screen bezels, which looked reasonable back in 2018 and deliver a screen-to-body (STB) ratio of 83.5%, now appear a touch dated in today’s era of near bezel-free screens with STB ratios of 90%-plus.

The base measures 250mm wide by 220mm deep and 31.45mm thick (9.8in. x 8.7in. x 1.2in.) — that’s just a sliver thinner than the Studio 2 (32.2mm/1.3in.). The array of ports at the back have seen upgrades, and you now get two USB-A 3.1 ports (5Gbps), three USB-C USB4/Thunderbolt 4 ports (40Gbps), an RJ-45 Ethernet port (1Gbps) and a 3.5mm audio in/out jack. You can use the USB-C ports to drive up to three external 4K screens at 60Hz, giving knowledge workers and creators a potentially huge canvas. One thing missing from the Studio 2+ is an SD card reader, which was present on the Studio 2 and might be missed by photographers, in particular, who like to transfer files on SD cards.

Surface Studio 2+: ports

Ports at the rear of the base: 2x USB-A, RJ-45 Ethernet, 3x USB-C (Thunderbolt 4), 3.5mm audio out.

Image: Charles McLellan / ZDNET

The Surface Studio 2+ may carry a premium price, but you should be able to maximise its useful lifetime thanks to a good set of replaceable or repairable components (via a network of approved service providers). These include the display module, feet, SSD module, power supply unit, thermal module and motherboard, Microsoft says.

Features 

The Surface Studio 2+ gets a welcome CPU upgrade from the 7th-generation Intel Core i7-7820HQ in the Studio 2 to the 11th-generation Core i7-11370H. However, this is a laptop-class processor with a TDP of 35 watts, and Microsoft hasn’t seen fit to include a latest 12th-generation chip. When queried on this, a Microsoft spokesperson stressed that this CPU is sufficient for the workloads the Studio 2+ is likely to encounter and pointed to the benefits of the GPU, in particular, for creative users. The graphics processor is Nvidia’s GeForce RTX 3060 Laptop GPU with 6GB of dedicated video memory, a mid-range GPU capable of handling fairly demanding graphical applications. Along with 32GB of RAM and 1TB of SSD storage, this spec is equivalent to that of a high-end laptop — which makes sense as the base of the Studio 2+ occupies a similar volume to that of the non-screen parts of a powerful laptop.

Wireless connections get an upgrade from 2018-era Wi-Fi 5 and Bluetooth 4.1 to a more up-date Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.2. That’s not completely up to date, though, as Wi-Fi 6E is now pretty common, providing support for the 6GHz frequency band on top of 2.4GHz and 5GHz. Meanwhile, version 5.3 is the current leading edge in Bluetooth-land. Missing from the Studio 2+ spec sheet is built-in support for Xbox Wireless technology, which was present on the Studio 2. Elsewhere, you get the same 1080p webcam with IR support for Windows Hello face authentication, stereo speakers (now with Dolby Atmos support) and dual far-field studio mics.

The GeForce RTX 3060 GPU gives you access to Nvidia’s Broadcast suite of video and audio tools, which uses AI techniques to eliminate background noise from sources such as keyboards or cooling fans, add custom virtual backdrops to video calls, dynamically track your on-camera movements, and enhance image quality in low light conditions.

The Surface Studio 2+ meets Secured-core PC standards, says Microsoft, implementing zero-trust principles to deliver security from the on-board TPM 2.0 chip all the way to the cloud.

Performance 

The 11th-generation Intel Core i7-11370H processor in the Surface Studio 2+ delivers a significant boost to CPU performance over its predecessor’s 7th-generation Core i7-7820HQ, to the tune of 32% on the Geekbench 5 single core test and 45.6% on the multi core test. However, the quad-core Surface Studio 2+ is out-performed to a similar degree on the multi core test by Huawei’s $899.99 (~$1,114) MateStation X, which is powered by an octa-core AMD Ryzen 7 5800H chip. A 12th-generation Intel Core processor such as the 12-core (4 Performance, 8 Efficiency) Core i7-1260P in Huawei’s 14-inch MateBook X Pro would be much more competitive; it scored 1748 (single core) and 8489 (multi core) in ZDNET’s review.

Microsoft Surface Studio 2+: Geekbench 5 CPU

Chart: Charles McLellan / ZDNET

To assess performance under a range of workload types, we ran the PCMark 10 benchmark, whose component tests are grouped under Essentials (App start-up, Web browsing, Video conferencing), Productivity (Writing, Spreadsheets) and Digital Content Creation (Photo editing, Video editing, Rendering & visualisation):

Microsoft Surface Studio 2+: PCMark 10

Chart: Charles McLellan / ZDNET

The Surface Studio 2+ lags behind the MateStation X in all test classes except Digital Content Creation, where the former’s powerful discrete Nvidia GPU makes its presence felt compared to the latter’s integrated AMD Radeon Graphics. Still, both AIOs comfortably exceed UL Solutions’ recommended ‘good’ PCMark 10 scores — 4100 for Essentials, 4500 for Productivity, and 3450 for Digital Content Creation.

When it comes to demanding graphical applications such as games, the Surface Studio 2+, with its powerful Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 Laptop GPU, comprehensively turns the tables on the MateStation X and its integrated graphics. We ran two 3DMark benchmarks: Night Raid, a DirectX 12 test for PCs with integrated graphics, and Time Spy, a DirectX 12 test for gaming PCs (with discrete GPUs):

Microsoft Surface Studio 2+: 3DMark

Chart: Charles McLellan / ZDNET

The Surface Studio 2+ delivers 2x the Night Raid performance and 4.7x the Time Spy performance of the MateStation X, illustrating its credentials as an AIO that can handle demanding graphical applications — including some, if not all, games.

Microsoft Surface Studio 2+: thermal image

After one run through the PCMARK 10 benchmark suite, the base of the Surface Studio 2+ was no more than warm to the touch, with minimal fan noise.

Image: Charles McLellan / ZDNET

Conclusions 

There’s currently only one configuration of the Surface Studio 2+, so you’re stuck with the CPU, GPU, RAM and storage of the single $4,499.99 model. The Studio 2 offered 16GB of RAM as well as 32GB and 2TB of storage as well as 1TB, and also had an SD card slot, which the Studio 2+ lacks. The industrial design and 28-inch touch screen — both excellent — remain unchanged, while the new model adds Thunderbolt 4 support and upgrades the wireless connections to Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.2.

Should you buy the new Surface Studio 2+? If you’re a committed Windows user and are attracted to the flexibility and build quality of the Surface Studio range, then the processor, GPU and other upgrades do justify the premium price tag, bringing this AIO almost up to date, although we’d have preferred to see a 12th-generation Core i7 CPU. If you do go for it, you’ll probably want to make sure that you keep your Surface Studio 2+ going for longer than your average PC, in order to maximise the return on your investment. To that end, the ability to repair and replace a good range of components — via approved service providers — is welcome.

If you don’t need this particular combination of Windows, pen support and the Zero Gravity Hinge, and a powerful GPU, more affordable alternatives are available.


Microsoft Surface Studio 2+ specifications vs Surface Studio 2

Microsoft Surface Studio 2+ Microsoft Surface Studio 2
OS Windows 11 Pro Windows 10 Pro
Processor Intel Core i7-11370H Intel Core i7-7820HQ
Graphics Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 Laptop GPU (6GB) Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 (6GB), Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 (8GB)
RAM 32GB (DDR4) 16GB, 32GB (DDR4)
Storage 1TB (SSD) 1TB, 2TB (SSD)
Display 28-inch PixelSense touch screen, 4500 x 3000 (3:2, 192ppi), Gorilla Glass 3, Dolby Vision 28-inch PixelSense touch screen, 4500 x 3000 (3:2, 192ppi)
Bluetooth 5.1 4.1, Xbox Wireless
Wi-Fi Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac)
Camera 1080p + IR 1080p + IR
Audio stereo 2.1 speakers with Dolby Atmos, dual far field studio mics, 3.5mm headphone jack stereo 2.1 speakers with Dolby Audio, dual mics, 3.5mm headphone jack
Ports & slots 3x USB-C (USB4/Thunderbolt 4), 2x USB-A (3.1), RJ-45 Ethernet (1Gbps) 1x USB-C, 4x USB-A (3.0), RJ-45 Ethernet (1Gbps), SD card reader
Buttons volume, power volume, power
Sensors ambient light n/s
Accessories Surface Pen Surface Pen
Security TPM 2.0, Windows Hello authentication TPM 2.0, Windows Hello authentication
Design all-in-one with base and ‘zero-gravity’ screen hinge all-in-one with base and ‘zero-gravity’ screen hinge
Dimensions Base: 250mm x 220mm x 31.45mm (9.8in. x 8.7in. x 1.2in.) • Display: 637.35mm x 438.9mm x 12.5mm (25.1in. x 17.3in. x 0.5in.) Base: 250mm x 220mm x 32.2mm (9.8in. x 8.7in. x 1.3in.) • Display: 637.35mm x 438.9mm x 12.5mm (25.1in. x 17.3in. x 0.5in.)
Weight 9.56kg (21lbs) 9.56kg (21lbs)
In the box Surface Studio 2+, Surface Pen, Surface Keyboard, Surface Mouse, power cord with grip-release cable, quick-start guide, safety and warranty guide Surface Studio 2, Surface Pen, Surface Keyboard, Surface Mouse, power cord with grip-release cable, quick-start guide, safety and warranty guide
Price $4,499.99 from $3,499.99

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