iMac 5K vs Microsoft Surface Studio comparison review

Mac vs PC, it’s the age-old debate between those that opt to use Apple’s macOS Sierra and Microsoft’s Windows 10 and with the announcement of Microsoft’s Surface Studio, the debate is hotter than ever. We’ve pitted Apple’s and Microsoft’s all-in-one PCs against each other in the battle of the century to see which is more deserving of your hard earned cash. Read next: macOS Sierra tips.

iMac 5K vs Microsoft Surface Studio comparison review: Pricing and availability

So before we get into the details of the two big-screen all-in-ones, let’s first discuss pricing and availability for Apple’s 5k iMac and Microsoft’s Surface Studio. While the iMac comes in two sizes (21in and 27in), Microsoft’s Studio only comes in one variant (28in) so we’re going to focus only on the 27in iMac in this article, but it’s worth remembering that there is a smaller, cheaper iMac available for those interested.

The 27in 5K iMac starts at £1,749 for the basic model, with more powerful models available for £1,949 and £2,249. If this seems expensive to you, you’re not wrong. Apple announced a brand new MacBook Pro at its October 2016 event, but what the company forgot to mention was that it was bumping the price up of its entire Mac range (as well as upgrades, accessories, etc) to compensate for the fluctuating value of GBP. The iMac range went up by £300, £200 and £400 respectively.

Sadly, we don’t have UK pricing for the Microsoft Surface Studio just yet, so we’ll compare it in terms of US pricing. The cheapest iMac in USD is $1799 and while Apple products are usually more expensive than Microsoft, the Surface Studio is more expensive than the top-end $2,299 model, starting at $2,999. That’s not all, as there are also $3,499 and $4,199 variants of the Surface Studio, suggesting to us that it’s not for the average consumer and is more focused towards creatives/businesses.

While the iMac 5K is readily available to order via Apple’s online store or its physical stores, there’s no solid UK release date for the Microsoft Surface Studio. While the company announced it’d get a limited end-of-2016 release, it looks like those of us in the UK will have to wait until 2017 to get our hands on the top-end all-in-one.

iMac 5K vs Microsoft Surface Studio comparison review: Design and build

While the iMac 5K and Surface Studio may look very similar on the surface, there are quite a few differences between the two all-in-ones. The iMac 5K features a 27in display with the internals of the Mac built directly into it, providing a clean and tidy look. The display is held by a very thin stand that provides adjustment to the angle of the display, but not much else.

The 28in Surface Studio is somewhat different. First up, the internals aren’t actually built directly into the display – it’s all packed into a small silver box that sits at the base of the stand. While this is an extra component when compared to the iMac, this allowed Microsoft to make the display incredibly thin at 12.5mm. The Studio is also much more adjustable thanks to the intuitive hinge on the back of the screen, providing multiple viewing angles including one where the Studio is almost flat on the desk, perfect for stylus use.

Despite the thin design, both the iMac 5K and Surface Studio are fairly weighty computers, weighing in at 9.5KG, but can still be moved around without too much effort. Both also come with a wireless keyboard and mouse, although the Surface Studio also comes with a Surface Pen stylus to make use of the multitouch display.

Read more: Complete guide to Siri on Mac

iMac 5K vs Microsoft Surface Studio comparison review: Specs and hardware

Let’s get down to the nitty gritty of the comparison – specs and hardware. Before we go into too much detail, it’s worth mentioning that while the Microsoft Surface Studio was announced in October 2016, the iMac 5K is from late 2015 and this is reflected in its spec. We expect Apple to update the iMac 5K at some point soon, but we’re not sure when.

Display

Let’s first start with the display, the main talking point for both the iMac 5K and Surface Studio. As briefly mentioned above, the iMac 5K has a slightly smaller display than the Surface Studio, measuring in at 27- compared to 28in, but it’s the technology inside that makes the two wildly different. The iMac 5K features a 5K retina display with an IPS panel, boasting an impressive resolution of 5120x2880 and a pixel density of 217ppi, with smaller iMacs offering full HD or 4K resolutions.  

The Surface Studio on the other hand features a “PixelSense” display with a 3:2 aspect ratio and a resolution of 4500x3000 resulting in a 192ppi pixel density, just under that provided by the iMac. However, one advantage that the Surface Studio does have is that it is touchscreen-enabled, and can register up to 10 points of contact at the same time. It allows you to use both the Surface Pen and Surface Dial directly on the display, as well as your fingers to navigate your way around Windows 10.

Microsoft also allow Surface Studio users the option of changing the colour profile of the display on-the-fly, enabling users to quickly switch between Adobe sRGB, DCI-P3 and Vivid Colour profiles, again highlighting Microsoft’s focus on creatives with the PC.

Processor and memory

While there’s almost a year between Apple’s iMac 5K and Microsoft’s Surface Studio, the two feature the same sixth-generation Intel Skylake processors at either Core i5 or Core i7, depending on the model you want to opt for. However, while the Core i7 processor is only available on the top-end iMac 5K, it’s available across the mid- and high-range configurations of the Surface Studio (although with a much higher price point than the iMac, we’re surprised it’s not offered as standard).

What about RAM? All variants of the iMac 5K feature 8GB of RAM, comprised of two 4GB sticks, with the option of boosting that up to 16- or 32GB if you’re happy to pay a little extra on top. Microsoft offers similar options (8-, 16 or 32GB), although the amount of RAM increases with each option rather than it being an aftermarket upgrade.

Read next: Siri vs Cortana vs Google Now vs Amazon Echo Alexa

Storage

The two all-in-ones are fairly similar when it comes to storage, as you’ll get 1TB for the low- and mid-range options, and 2TB if you opt for the top-end iMac 5K or Surface Studio. However, it’s worth noting that the 2TB variant of the iMac 5K isn’t a Fusion Drive like the 1TB variant, although you can configure the iMac to either feature up to a 2TB Fusion Drive, or a 256-, 512- or 1TB SSD.

Graphics card

So, what does the iMac 5K feature in the graphics department? The iMac comes with an AMD Radeon R9 M380 GPU with 2GB of memory as standard, although the top-end model features a slightly improved AMD Radeon R9 M395 with 2GB memory, upgradable to a 4GB M395X if required.

The Surface Studio on the other hand features a Nvidia GeForce GTX 965M graphics card with 2GB of RAM, with the top-end model featuring a 4GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 980M. It’s an interesting move from Microsoft to opt for last-gen mobile graphics cards, especially when the GTX 10 mobile GPUs are now readily available to buy and the company’s recent VR push. Either way, the two graphics cards are fairly similar in spec and we’ll benchmark both once we get our hands on them.    

Other features

Beyond the above, it’s the smaller features of the iMac 5K and the Microsoft Surface Studio that’ll help you make the choice about which to buy, so here are a few notable differences between the two.

The iMac 5K features a 720p FaceTime HD webcam for video calling, stereo speakers, dual mics, a headphone jack (unlike the iPhone 7), SDXC card slot, 4x USB 3.0 ports, 2x Thunderbolt ports and an Ethernet port. It also features 11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0.

The Surface Studio on the other hand features a 5Mp camera supporting the Windows Hello facial recognition sign-in option along with 2.1 stereo speakers with Dolby Audio, dual mics, a headphone jack, SDXC card slot, 4x USB 3.0 ports, a MicroDisplay port, 11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetoth 4.0. Despite being focused on creatives, Microsoft also included built-in wireless Xbox One controller support, meaning gamers no longer need to buy the previously required wireless dongle.

The most obvious difference is in terms of software with the iMac 5K running Apple’s latest operating system, macOS Sierra, while Microsoft’s Surface Studio will feature the latest iteration of Windows 10 – but we won’t go into those differences here. Those interested in finding out the differences between macOS Sierra and Windows 10 can take a look at this: macOS Sierra vs Windows 10 comparison review.

OUR VERDICT

While we admit that the Surface Studio is an impressive bit of kit, the extremely high price tag makes it hard to recommend over the iMac 5K – and we thought the iMac was pretty expensive after its recent price hike. The Surface Studio would only be worth the extra money if you were really going to get use out of the touch-enabled display, and we think that for the most part, that’d only be full-time creatives. If you’re looking for a good looking, powerful all-in-one computer to edit video and more, we’d opt for Apple’s iMac 5K.

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