When the Microsoft Surface Studio first came out, it seemed like a timely and ambitious project: An all-in-one, bendable desktop computer with a stunning screen and tons of designer-friendly features.
A closer look revealed some problems with this large addition to the Surface family, including an underwhelming processor and a few too many peripherals to keep track of. Fortunately, it looks like the Studio 2 is in the works, and we have some ideas on how Microsoft’s artist-friendly desktop could be a lot friendlier.
Let’s get this one out of the way early: The Studio 2 needs a far better processor if it’s going to be competitive. When the first Studio came out, it got some internal specs right. Storage options from 1TB to 2TB? That’s good (more on how it could be better below). RAM from 8GB to 32GB? Great. But then people took a look at the processor, and realized it was a 6th-gen Intel chip primarily intended for mobile computers… basically, the exact opposite of what the Studio should have had. The GPU was also an older generation, unimpressive model.
This was a drastic blow against the Studio right out the gate, and we’re still not sure why Microsoft made those horrible processor choices on a machine intended for top-tier professional work. The Studio 2 is the perfect chance to recover from this mistake and put in a processor that’s worth that giant screen and high price. Intel’s new Coffee Lake CPUs are a great opportunity to equip the Studio with what it deserves, and Nvidia has plenty of excellent graphics card lines that would be an excellent improvement. The Studio simply cannot disappoint a second time here.
The Studio had a tough time positioning itself in the market. Was it going to compete more directly against iMacs, or iMac Pros? Microsoft seemed to lean toward the iMac Pro comparison with a price tag that ranged from $3,000 to $4,200: Favorable when looking at the iMac Pro costs, but very high when looking at most everything else.
Microsoft may have better luck dropping the price a little to compete more against high-end iMac models, maybe starting in the $2,000-$2,500 range. Of course, it’s difficult to ask both this and that Microsoft improve the processors. Maybe the difference could be made up with a less-expensive display.
The first Studio had a hybrid drive, but it wasn’t the best: The SSD portion was used to manage the operating system, while the HDD portion was used to store all extra data. This essentially gave the Studio HDD speeds, which was another sore point for those expecting a particularly powerful desktop machine.
We would really like to see the next Studio embrace a full SSD drive for a big speed boost. The storage capacity could be lowered significantly from the 1TB threshold to help make up for the greater expense we are, after all, more accustomed to using cloud services like OneDrive these days. It would be an easy win for Microsoft and a much needed upgrade for the computer.
The Surface Book 2 was the first Microsoft computer to include a USB-C port, but the computer that really needs this option is the Studio. This would help fill in several gaps that the Studio has. First, a fully updated Thunderbolt 3 USB-C port could help people connect their external GPUs, making up for the lackluster Studio GPU (if this goes unchanged in the next model).
Also, such a port would be the perfect way to allow the Studio to connect to other 4K screens for bigger products, transfer large files faster, and of course, charge your extra devices. Microsoft has been hesitant to use USB-C in the past because their studies found that people didn’t understand how to charge laptops properly with USB-C ports (they kept trying to charge their phones in them). However, this wouldn’t really be a problem on the desktop-based Studio, so Microsoft doesn’t have an excuse here.
The Surface Dial was touted as the perfect companion to the Studio, a versatile, twist-happy dial that could be programmed for all kinds of design tasks to help make work easier no matter what you were doing. Unfortunately, the Surface Dial didn’t come with the Studio, so you had to buy it separately, a tall order for those who just spent thousands of dollars on a computer.
Microsoft should solve this problem by simply making the Dial a built-in feature of the Studio. Let’s face it, no one is using the Dial on any other device, and making it an extra accessory along with the Surface Pen is too much clutter. Instead, build it into the design of the Studio and let users program it themselves from there. It’s a tidier, more reasonable solution that works even when the Studio is vertical and doesn’t involve awkwardly stamping a big button onto the fragile screen.