Monday, December 4, 2023

Should you buy the Surface Laptop Studio or wait for the Surface Laptop Studio 2?


This story is part of our complete Microsoft Events coverage

Announced during the Microsoft September event, the Surface Laptop Studio 2 joins a growing family of Surface devices. Equipped with all the same flexibility we’d expect from the best 2-in-1 laptops, the Studio 2 may look very similar to the previous version, but it’s a lot more different than it seems at a glance.


  • Pricing and availability
  • Specs
  • Design
  • Performance
  • It depends on your needs

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How does the new version compare to Microsoft’s original Laptop Studio? Below, we’ll take you on a deep dive into these two devices and help you make your pick if you’re trying to choose between them.

Pricing and availability

Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

The original Surface Laptop Studio was first announced in September 2021, and it hit the market shortly after on October 5, 2021. The cheapest model was equipped with an Intel Core i5-11300H chip and integrated Iris Xe graphics paired with 16GB of RAM and 256GB of storage, and it had a price tag of $1,600. Businesses need to pay an extra $100 for each version of the convertible laptop.


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On the other end of the spectrum, the most expensive consumer Surface Laptop Studio is priced at $3,100. Double the price gets you significantly better performance, thanks to an Intel Core i7-11370H chip and Nvidia’s RTX 3050 Ti discrete graphics card. RAM is increased to 32GB, while storage skyrockets to 2TB. Business users have access to the even pricier $3,800 version of the Surface Laptop Studio, equipped with the same Intel Tiger Lake chip combined with Nvidia’s workstation RTX A2000 graphics card.

Announced during Microsoft’s September 2023 event, the Surface Laptop Studio 2 starts shipping on October 3, and it’s more expensive than its predecessor. The cheapest configuration starts at $1,999 and comes with an Intel Core i7-13700H processor from the Raptor Lake generation, integrated graphics (Iris Xe), 16GB RAM, and 512GB of SSD storage. The most expensive spec with a Core i7-13800H processor, RTX 4060 graphics card, a whopping 64GB of RAM, and 2TB of SSD storage costs $3,799 — and that’s for consumers, too.


Surface Laptop Studio
Surface Laptop Studio 2
Intel Core i5-11300H, Intel Core i7-11370H, Intel Core i7-11390H
Intel Core i7-13700H, Intel Core i7-13800H
Graphics card
Intel Iris Xe, Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 Ti
Intel Iris Xe, Nvidia GeForce RTX 4050, Nvidia GeForce RTX 4060
16GB or 32GB LPDDR4X
16GB, 32GB, or 64GB LPDDR5X
256GB, 512GB, 1TB, 2TB
256GB, 512GB, 1TB, 2TB
14.4-inch, 3:2, 2,400 x 1,600, 120Hz
14.4-inch, 3:2, 2,400 x 1,600, 120Hz
2x USB-C Thunderbolt 4, 3.5mm audio jack, Surface Connect dock
2x USB-C Thunderbolt 4, 3.5mm audio jack, Surface Connect dock, USB-A, microSD card slot
Battery life
18 hours (Microsoft’s estimate)
18 hours (Microsoft’s estimate)

Microsoft decked out both Surface Laptop Studios with various specifications, and you can mix and match to an extent. However, the major difference between the two generations is that Microsoft dropped Intel’s Core i5 processors in the Surface Laptop Studio 2, making the device better on the whole, but also more expensive.

Perhaps the best upgrade of all has been ditching quad-core processors in favor of something a lot more capable. The switch from Tiger Lake-H CPUs, each with just four cores, to the Core i7-13700H or Core i7-13800H with a total of 14 cores and 20 threads, is massive. The upgrade in graphics doesn’t go unnoticed, either, as both the integrated and discrete GPU have received a major boost. This should translate to an improvement in performance.


Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

Microsoft’s Surface Laptop Studio fits perfectly with the rest of the Surface lineup — it blurs the lines between a tablet and a laptop, delivering a 3-in-1 that’s actually not that wonky at all. With a fairly seamless transition between Stage Mode, Studio Mode, and Laptop Mode, it’s no wonder that it didn’t see any major design changes between the first and second generations.

At first glance, both Surface Laptop Studios just look like a regular laptop — not as thin as some of the top ultralight notebooks, but not bulky, either. However, there are many design choices that set it apart from the rest. For starters, the base of the laptop is cut in two — the first layer is wider and features all the ports, while the base layer is hidden beneath, sporting a massive amount of open vents. This helps with airflow, but also serves to vent audio.

The Surface Pen is hidden along the front, beneath the top “layer” of the laptop. The 14.4-inch touchscreen is gorgeous and speedy, with a 120Hz refresh rate and a 3:2 aspect ratio in both models.

Jacob Roach / DigitalTrends

You can use the Surface Laptop Studio entirely in laptop mode and not miss out on anything, but you can also adjust it into Stage Mode, which hides the keyboard, but leaves the touchpad available for use. Studio Mode essentially turns the laptop into a (very heavy) tablet, which is useful for artists who want to focus on using the Surface Pen without any of the other parts getting in the way.

All of the above is true for both versions of Microsoft’s Surface Laptop Studio. The only design change brought on by the second-generation device is the much-needed additions of a USB-A port and a microSD card slot.


Luke Larsen / Digital Trends

We’ve had the chance to get up close and personal with the original Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio (check out the results in our review of the device), so we know all there is to know about its performance. However, the second-gen version is still an enigma until we can get our hands on it and test it out. For now, let’s take a look at the performance of the first model and indulge in some speculation about the capabilities of the new Surface Laptop Studio.

As mentioned above, the Surface Laptop Studio had one major problem that held it back — the weak CPU. Not only were all the chips limited to just four cores, but they were also fairly low-power — which is great for battery life and thermals, but not so great for pure performance. For creators, it could be limiting, and that’s the target audience for both Surface Laptop Studios.

We took the Surface Laptop Studio for a spin in various benchmarks and programs, including Geekbench 5, Cinebench R23, PCMark 10, PugetBench Premiere Pro, and 3DMark Time Spy. Compared to similar laptops, it did a fairly decent job, although it was outperformed by laptops with better chips, such as the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 4 or the Dell XPS 15.

Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

The Surface Laptop Studio wasn’t bad across the board, though. It did better in PugetBench than it did in, let’s say, Handbrake. And while this is not a gaming laptop, we still tested it in some games, as that’s often a great way to tell real-world performance. When it comes to GPU-heavy games, the 2-in-1 can stand its ground, but again, the processor issue rears its ugly head and makes the device struggle with CPU-heavy titles like Civilization VI.

What about the Surface Laptop Studio 2? We haven’t had a chance to test it ourselves just yet, but it’s pretty much guaranteed to be a sizeable upgrade. The specs alone tell us that much.

With a much more capable processor across the board and an improved graphics card, the Studio 2 should surpass some of its current-gen rivals at similar price points. It might not rival some of the best laptops, but that’s not what the Surface Laptop Studio 2 was made for, anyway. We will know more as soon as we’re able to benchmark the laptop ourselves.

It depends on your needs

Luke Larsen / Digital Trends

No matter how you spin it, the appeal of the Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio lies not just in its performance, but rather in its flexibility. It’s a top-notch laptop for creatives and people who could really use access to its two special modes, be it Studio or Stage. For raw performance, there are better laptops out there, and the same can be said of the new Surface Laptop Studio 2.

Now, comparing the two generations is tricky, because the ultimate choice depends on whether you’re more worried about the budget or about getting a powerful laptop. Even without having tested it ourselves, the Surface Laptop Studio 2 should deliver a significant upgrade over its predecessor — those extra CPU cores are bound to help, not to mention the GPU, or even the extra RAM in the most expensive models.

However, all that extra juice comes at a steep price hike. The Surface Laptop Studio was never cheap, but now, it’s bordering on really expensive for the specifications that it offers. Again, you’re paying for the 3-in-1 aspect more than for the new hardware.

If you already own the previous Surface Laptop Studio and don’t need it to be any faster, this is an upgrade that you can skip. However, if this will be the first time you’re buying Microsoft’s Surface Laptop Studio, the second generation looks like a worthy pick — but it’ll cost you extra, that’s for sure.

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