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Wednesday, 31 May 2017 08:18

Microsoft Studio – a masterpiece (review)


To call Microsoft’s Studio a Windows 10 computer is like calling da Vinci’s masterpiece Mona Lisa, a painting.

There is instant love — a wow moment — for this device for those who see it for the first time. Then the cardinal sins of lust, jealousy, greed, and envy set in followed by wrath when I tell them the price. Seriously, this is the stuff electric dreams are made of if you have deep pockets.

To be clear – there is no other all-in-one computing device like the Microsoft Studio on the planet and it sets the bar almost impossibly high as a creative tool and oh, yes, it’s a computing device too but let’s not sully it running spreadsheets! Stop press – Dell will be soon introducing its take on the Studio.

MS Studio screen tilt

To be technical it is a Surface styled, all-in-one (A-I-O meaning everything is built into the screen/stand), Intel Core i5 or i7 computer, NVIDIA GeForce GPU, up to 32GB RAM, with a 28”, 4500 x 3000, impossibly thin, touch/pen screen mounted on a zero-gravity hinge for a floating display that can act as a desktop, or a slightly inclined table top device. Add to that the Surface Dial, Pen, Keyboard and Mouse and you have the most desirable PC on earth.

OK, I will qualify that last statement. This is not really designed as an “office PC” and to use it as such would simply be to satisfy a desire to own the best – a bit like owning a Lambo, Porsche, Maserati, Bugatti … and then only being able to drive it on congested Sydney Streets. Bragging rights – ego is not a dirty word in this case.

This is really designed for the creative element who may have been perfectly happy with Macs and Wacom Cintiq and did not realise how seductive touch, pen, and the dial interfaces — all on the one workspace device — can be. Once you have tried it, you are unlikely to go back.

Out of the box – Microsoft Studio

Let’s start with the box – it is quite beautiful. You lay it down flat, release the two tabs and it opens clamshell-style to reveal the huge screen. The instructions tell you to gently lift the screen out (and with it the base) and place it on a desk. Plug in the power cable. unbox the keyboard, mouse and pen (Dial sold separately) and on inserting the batteries Bluetooth pairing begins – its ready to go. Absolute simplicity.

Set-up is typical Windows 10 Creator Edition (only released in mid-April) – asking permission, and advising you on security settings (yes, you can turn all options off without issue), a Microsoft account (you can use a local sign-in avoiding the account) and up comes this most beautiful 10-bit colour screen with 13.5 million pixels. This is the best screen I have seen on any large LED/LCD device – its colours are as good, if not better than the previous class leader Microsoft Surface Book.

MS Studio key mouse

Lust, jealousy, greed, envy – I want one, I just do. Alas, it goes back to Microsoft after they prise it from my cold, dead, hands …


It is almost counter-productive to talk numbers when Studio is all about what it can do – nevertheless, this is a tech publication.

Microsoft Surface Studio


I5 basic

I7 basic

I7 top level



Intel Core i5-6440HQ
Quad-Core, 2.6-3.5 GHz
6 MB Cache, 45W TDP, No Hyperthreading. TPM chip

Intel Core i7-6820HQ
Quad-Core, 2.7-3.6 GHz
8 MB Cache, 45W TDP, Hyperthreading, TPM chip



1024 CUDA Cores
944 MHz + Boost
2 GB GDDR5 128-bit memory

1536 CUDA Cores
1038 Mhz + Boost
4 GB GDDR5 256-bit memory




16 GB DDR4

32 GB DDR4



1 TB Hybrid Drive

1 TB Hybrid Drive
128 GB PCIe SSD Cache / 1 TB SATA HDD

2 TB Hybrid Drive
128 GB PCIe SSD Cache / 2 TB SATA HDD



4 USB 3.0 ports – one high power port
Full-size SD Card Slot Ultra III
Headset Jack
Gigabit Ethernet
Xbox Wireless Connectivity


28.125” PixelSense Display
4500 x 3000 resolution
3:2 ratio
192 DPI
sRGB, DCI-P3, and P3 D65 (Vivid) colour modes
2 x 96DPI scaling (200%)



5 MP Webcam, 1080p @30fps
Windows Hello Facial Recognition
2.1 Dolby audio via seven speakers
Dual microphones


Marvel AVASTAR 802.11ac
Intel I219-LM Gigabit Ethernet
Bluetooth 4.0


Surface Pen (N-Trig 1024), Surface Mouse (Blue light laser) and Surface Keyboard



Windows 10 Pro



A-I-O screen 63.7 x 43.9 x 1.25 cm W x D x H
Base: 25 x 22 x 3.22 cm W x D x H
Total 9.56kg



1 year


Elephants in the room

Before we get into the review let's address issues that have been mentioned by some commentators.

It uses a 6th generation Intel Skylake Core i5-6440HQ (2.6/3.5GHz, 6MB cache) or i7-6820HQ (2.7/3.6GHz, 8MB cache) mobile processor. These have a 45-Watt TPD needed for the enclosed A-I-O base.

The facts are that the 7th generation Kaby Lake processors focus on power management rather than raw horsepower. Sure, the latter would have been nice but you don’t buy a supercar based on the year of its engine design – nor should you deduct any points here because these CPUs will handle typical design or CAD work you throw at them.

It uses a NVIDIA GeForce GTX 965M GPU with 2GB GB GDDR5 in the base i5 and i7 units or the GTX 980M with 4GB GDDR5 memory on the top specified unit. Ditto – there may be newer versions of these mobile CPUs but there is a tonne of power for graphics, rendering, design, photo editing and more.

The is no USB-C or Thunderbolt 3 port. No, it is not a notebook – it is a fully-fledged A-I-O desktop with four full-sized USB-A 3.0 ports, an SD card reader, Mini-Display port (for an extra monitor), Gigabit Ethernet and 3.5mm combo audio jack. Still, a Thunderbolt 3 port would have been nice for expansion on a device that will last several years.

Hybrid drives (SSD and spinning disk combo) offer improved speed over spinning disks and higher capacities over SSD. I suspect that future updates will see this go to PCIe NVMe SSD when the capacity criteria is reached. Still, the hybrid drive performs very well and it is replaceable/upgradable.

Finally, is the price and if market response is anything to go by – it is well priced for creative types. Don’t try and compare it to a desktop or gaming PC, but more a MacBook Pro and Wacom Cintiq 27QHD.

The base unit is an i5, 8GB, GTX 965, 1TB (Rapid Hybrid) at $4699.

The next up is an i7, 16GB, GTX 965, 1TB (Rapid Hybrid) at $5499.

Top of the range is an i7, 32GB, GTX 980, 2TB (Rapid Hybrid) at $6599.

The display – the stunning 4.5K display is just 12.5 mm thick

It is 28.125”, 4500x3000, 13.5 million pixels, 3:2 ratio, 192ppi, PixelSense display with 10-point multi-touch and pen support covered in Gorilla Glass (unspecified). It has 63% more pixels than a 4K display.

MS Studio screen back

What Microsoft doesn't tell you is that PixelSense is driven by a separate Atmel ATSAMS70N21, 32-bit ARM Cortex-M7 processor – that is, in addition to the NVIDIA GPU that would normally handle this work. Its main job is to ensure the individual factory colour calibrated display can cover Adobe sRGB, DCI-P3 and Vivid Colour Profiles. This is the first known use of a co-processor just to handle PixelSense (or whatever anyone else calls it).

The 3:2 ratio has now become accepted as the perfect creative ratio allowing 50 square inches (32,258 square mm) more display than a 27-inch 16:9 display. It has 17% more screen space than a 27” iMac.

sRGB is the most commonly used colour mode – let’s call it realistic to the extent that inkjet and laser printers use the standard. Surface Studio achieves 100% sRGB – perfect for a desktop monitor.

Cinematographers will be familiar with DCI-P3 – it is what movies shoot for. Unless you are a video professional you probably won’t use this mode.

Finally, there is Vivid mode – and it is a mix of modes (P3 D65) to more accurately reflect real life colours. Most will use this as the default viewing mode.

Contrast is well over what is expected of professionally calibrated larger LED/LCD screens – 1040:1 and it is manifested by images that jump out at you. Brightness is 421 cd/m2 and what that means is typically you will view it at about 50% brightness. Saturation accuracy is as good as the Surface Book and Pro 4.

The 12.5mm thick screen is mounted on a zero-gravity hinge to the base. One finger is all you need to move it from desktop to tabletop mode (20° angle) – or anywhere in between.

In tabletop mode, it will still fit on a 600mm deep desktop with room for the Bluetooth keyboard in front. That is important as you need to have the screen close to you – leaning over and into it to use it as a creative tableau – just like a drafting board. I spent hours doodling, colouring and drawing and never felt fatigue. It is also the perfect device to accompany a “standing” desk.

It has one minor irritation – the expansion ports are all on the rear of the stand and it is a little difficult to get to them to insert a USB etc.

The screen is not the fingerprint magnet I thought it would be – an oleophobic coating minimises that, but get a micro fibre screen cleaner cloth anyway.

Microsoft has done an amazing job on this screen – there should be no complaints from professional users.

P.S. – as a doctor friend pointed out it can also be used as a light box/table with pure white light to show X-Rays, slides etc.


The review unit is an i7-6820HQ mobile, four-core, eight-thread processor whereas the Studio Book uses the i7-6600U mobile processor. PC Mark 8 has these at 3774 and 2995 respectively. What that means is that it will perform as well as any other using the same processor.

It handles most tasks with ease and has power for CAD/CAM/rendering but remember it is essentially a mobile processor. if you were going to do a lot of this you probably would be using a multiprocessor Xeon workstation, with a couple of 27” monitors.

What was impressive was that at idle it barely registered on the CPU (<1%) and memory usage was 10% - Microsoft has done an amazing job in turning Windows to this – as it should.

Video performance – no issues replaying 4K video @30fps. Games performance – no issues at HD @60fps.

The 2TB Seagate-Samsung, SpinPoint M9T, ST200LM003, 2.5”, 5400RPM, SATA 6.0Gbps drive uses a separate 32MB DDR cache enabling microsecond read/write for data in the cache. This is paired with a 64GB SATA SSD (i5) and 128GB PCIe NVME SSD (i7) and uses Intel Rapid Storage Technology to manage the two drives as if they were one.

I got over 200Mb/s read and 100Mb/s write moving 3-4MB photos around. As PCIe NVME SSD drives reduce in cost and increase in capacity expect later Studios to use pure SSD. At least here you can replace or increase the spinning disk if you wish.

Wi-Fi AC uses the same Marvel AVASTAR AC controller as the Surface Book. While adequate this controller varies in speed from 234 to 468Mbps (hooked up to a D-Link DLR-895 AC5300 router) compared to the new Dell XPS 13 using the Killer AC chipset and obtaining 866.7Mbps. My advice is to use the Gigabit Ethernet hard-wired connection if you plan to move big files.

Bluetooth Keyboard, Mouse and Pen

When I first saw the keyboard I was a little surprised – it was small and elegant like a Mac, not at all like the usual PC mechanical key-switch thumper keyboards I use as a writer. But after a while I realised it is the desktop version of the excellent chiclet keyboard on the Surface Book, perhaps with an even better feel and tactile feedback.

It has a separate left/right/up/down arrow section – great as I hate compact keyboards where these are tucked under the enter key. It has dedicated page up, page down, home and end keys – great as I hate it when you need to access these by a pressing a Fn button as well. I wrote this review on it so it is pretty good. Battery life from two AAAs is about a year.

The mouse looks modern, minimalist, and perhaps a little uninspiring – not like the edgy Arc Mouse Microsoft makes. But it performs very well, its blue light laser works on clear and coloured glass desks, and it has precise wheel placement.

The Surface Pen is the same as on the Book and Pro. It is an N-Trig device and supports 1024 levels of pressure. The Pen “app” allows easy customisation. The Pro 4 and Book nailed writing on glass making it very similar in feel to pen and paper – you can feel a little reassuring drag as you draw on glass. I love the ruler feature to draw straight lines and place shapes.

There is a new Surface Pen coming with 4096 pressure levels – artists will want this

Dial (optional $149.95)

I am not equipped to review the dial in the same manner as a professional artist, designer, CAD architect or draftsman would so my review is more about what the Dial can do. Let me simply say I did not know how useful it could be until I used it.

MS Studio dial

The Bluetooth Dial, really a companion to the Pen, is a new way to interact with the screen and what you are doing (context). It brings a raft of context-sensitive commands to your fingertips. It can be used on the new Surface Pro and soon, via a firmware update, the Surface Pro 4 and Book.

Essentially you press the puck down and it displays a radial menu of things you can select – that might be colour gamut, pen colour, thickness, style, or even to magnify, resize, rotate and orient images. It is a natural in 3D images where you can use it to wander around the image. In music it can adjust volume, stop and start play.

Dial uses haptic feedback to help you understand your actions are completed. Its SDK (software design kit) is freely available to developers so you will see more apps support dial – remember it is about bringing commands, actions to your fingertips instead of opening an app.

Importantly Dial does not need to be on the screen itself to be used and I found it easier to use placed near the mouse.

Initial apps include Sketchable, Mental Canvas, Drawboard PDF, MOHO 12, StaffPad (music), and BlueBeam Revu (plan/PDF mark-up). Most of the Adobe Creative Cloud apps also support it.

It works with Microsoft apps including Office, Groove, Maps, Edge and more. Se the updated list here.


Seven speakers — four downwards firing under the screen, two in the base and a subwoofer — make this an ideal movie device outputting 88dB. It provides 2.1 (L+R+subwoofer) Dolby Audio (capable) sound.

Its sound is the best of any A-I-O I have seen, able to fill a reasonably sized room (say 5 x 5m) with crisp, clear, sound and surprisingly good bass from the subwoofer.

THD (total harmonic distortion) appears low even at full volume. It is hard to give it a sound signature – good but recessed bass, good mid-range and good treble so it is more of a “Bright Vocal” which makes sense, providing clarity of speech for movies and Skype.

I could not find an equaliser app on the device nor in the Windows Store – Realtek High Definition Audio offers almost no EQ control. It does have NVIDIA HDMI sound output over the mini-DisplayPort to HDMI port.

The front-facing IR, 3D, Windows Hello enabled camera is fast and accurate. I can’t help feeling there is more potential for this device in scanning 3D objects etc.

The unit has two fans that for the most part are very quiet. After some heavy work, you could just notice the gentle whir.


  • Dead sexy device – elicits most of the seven cardinal sin emotions
  • Amazing screen with low reflectivity and the best colour quality of any 28” monitor I have seen
  • 3:2 ratio and 200% scaling is flawless for creative and office work
  • Three different colour presets
  • All-in-one form factor
  • Good sound quality and volume – could use an equaliser
  • The best build quality, zero-gravity hinge for ease of movement


  • Rear ports make it harder to slip USB drives in and out.
  • Not upgradable apart from the hard disk – but that form factor seldom is.
  • Would have preferred an all SSD option, perhaps Intel Optane, but the Hybrid is not a deal breaker.
  • Some may wait for the refresh in a year for later CPU and GPU tech but this is not a deal breaker – it is just not as future proof as the cost indicates.


As an “objet d'art” it is beautiful – a masterpiece that da Vinci could not improve on. You can desire this. Everyone who I have introduced it to has said, “I can’t believe I love a Windows computer.” As Satya Nadella said, “We want to move from people needing Windows, to choosing Windows, to loving Windows.” This and the rest of the Surface range really helps bragging rights.

As a computer, it is a powerful i5/i7 device capable of pleasing all bar extreme power users. And that includes things like the immensely CPU-hungry Adobe Lightroom.

To a Mac or Wacom Cintiq user — it is OK to covet it, even compliment Microsoft on it, but you won’t change secretly swearing that you wish Apple would go touch on a Mac, get a Pen for a Mac, and that Dial — it is something else too (Yes, I know you use a MacBook, Wacom Cintiq 27QHD, etc., and probably spent $4K more than the Studio costs).

As a creative tool, there is nothing like the Surface Dial and N-Trig pen on a 28” screen.

Yet this is version one – there is so much more scope for Studio 2, 3, 4 and steroid versions in the future that will address even the most hungry power users. And it won’t be long before Dell, Acer, Asus, HP and Lenovo pick up the Studio challenge – the Windows open OEM ecosystem is a wonderful thing.

Just to show that this review is objective have a read of the Reddit thread titled “Not one critical review of Microsoft Studio”

Rating: For what it is today with all its elephants – 4.5 out of 5. For what it heralds/portends 15 out of 10.

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Ray Shaw

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Ray Shaw ray@im.com.au  has a passion for IT ever since building his first computer in 1980. He is a qualified journalist, hosted a consumer IT based radio program on ABC radio for 10 years, has developed world leading software for the events industry and is smart enough to no longer own a retail computer store!





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