Microsoft’s new Surface Studio all-in-one desktop is, on the surface (yes, a bad pun), clearly meant to challenge Apple’s iMac, but just how alike are they? Lots of tech blogs have been quick to tag Microsoft’s product as an iMac copy, but there’s much more than meets the eye here. True, they both target the same market, which is creative professionals such as designers, but they do so in different ways.

Microsoft Surface Studio
Image source: Microsoft

As a result, there could be room for both desktops in the market, but the big question for Microsoft is whether it can successfully challenge Apple, which has dominated the creative professional market for a long time. Needless to say, this will be a tough nut to crack, but only because Apple has done an excellent job of convincing designers that its PCs are the ones to have. Microsoft certainly has a compelling challenger here that might be up to this difficult task.

Microsoft Surface Studio targets the high end

Microsoft isn’t wasting any time and is going right for the throat with a 27-inch display clearly designed to appeal to those whose jobs involve heavy work with graphics. Apple’s iMac comes in multiple sizes starting at 21.5 inches, but the 5K iMac is the one that is most similar to the Microsoft Surface Studio.

Purely by the numbers, the display on the 5K iMac is better than that of the Surface Studio. The iMac model’s display has 217 pixels per square inch and a resolution of 5,120 x 2,880, while Microsoft’s Studio has 192 pixels per inch and a resolution of 4,500 x 3,000. Real-world comparisons show just how comparable they are, as it’s difficult to discern a difference between them. However, it may take some time for reviews by those with their hands on both computers side by side to start rolling in.

One big noticeable difference between the two desktops is the fact that the Surface Studio has a touchscreen, while the 5K iMac does not. Design professionals will probably find a touchscreen on a massive PC with a beautiful display such as this very hard to resist because it should make it easier to manipulate images and move things around.

Microsoft is also offering a Studio pen, effectively turning the Surface Studio into a giant sketchpad. Another accessory for the new PC is a new radial controller that can be stuck to the screen and enables the user to change various settings without removing the pen from the display’s surface.

Surface Studio design is simpler than that of the iMac

In terms of design, nothing much has changed in the Apple camp, as the company continues to use a metal and glass design for its computers. The Surface Studio is thin like the 5K iMac, but it has more of a tablet-like appearance and an all-aluminum casing with chrome bars connecting the display to the base. In short, it looks like a giant tablet up on a stand, giving it an arguably sleeker feel to it than the iMac. Apple has long prided itself on simplicity of design, but Microsoft is clearly taking a jab here by making the design of the Surface Studio even simpler. The inclusion of touch in the display enhances this tablet-like feel further.

One interesting difference in the designs of the two desktops is Microsoft’s decision to pack most of the “guts” of the Studio into its base. This is why the huge screen can be so thin. Clearly the choice to slap the “Surface” tablet name on the PC was an apt one that brings continuity to Microsoft’s product branding.

The iMac, on the other hand, holds its innards behind its screen, which means it just can’t be as thin as the Studio. The Surface Studio’s stand also has a “zero-gravity hinge” on it so that it can fold down until it’s almost as flat as a tablet, but the iMac is more like a traditional desktop in that the display tilts.

Comparable performance

Microsoft has certainly done an excellent job of making the Surface Studio stand out in terms of design and the “zero-gravity hinge,” and it has done so while making a PC offering performance that’s comparable to that of the iMac. The Surface Studio comes in a handful of combinations, with the high-end model featuring an Intel Core i7 processor, a 2TB hybrid SSD/ HDD drive, 32GB of RAM and a GTX 980M graphics card. It’s safe to say that the only disappointment here is the use of the previous generation of NVIDIA’s graphics card, but the hinged design might be enough to make up for that. This version is priced at $4,199.

However, the top-of-the-line iMac is in pretty much the same boat in terms of graphics. It uses the AMD M395X card, although NVIDIA’s card performs better than AMD’s card. Of course Apple is expected to unveil new Macs today, so the new models should have improved graphics cards in them. The only question is whether there’s a replacement for the 5K Mac with an updated graphics card. The current top-of-the-line iMac is priced at $4,099.