Surface Laptop Studio vs. MacBook Pro: Which high-end laptop is for you?
Now that the new MacBook Pro and Surface Laptop Studio have hit shelves, there’s never been a better time to buy a ridiculously powerful laptop for getting serious work done. But while these two behemoths offer tons of speed, great keyboards and even look a bit alike, they also have some very key differences you’ll need to know about before you buy either.
Should you go for the Surface Laptop Studio’s unique folding design and touch capabilities, or spend your cash on the MacBook Pro for its plentiful ports and ridiculously fast new processors? After testing the new 14-inch MacBook Pro and the Surface Laptop Studio extensively, we’re here to help you make that decision.
The best high-end MacBook
The new MacBook Pro is ideal for folks who want some of the fastest processing power in a laptop, lots of ports and a best-in-class webcam. It’s also the better option of the two for folks deeply tied to the Apple ecosystem.
The most versatile Microsoft laptop
The Surface Laptop Studio is a good fit for artists, thanks to its unique 2-in-1 design, tall display and robust pen support, as well as anyone who wants a dedicated GPU for better graphics performance.
The Surface Laptop Studio and 14-inch MacBook Pro are both absolute beasts when it comes to performance — no matter which one you buy, you’ll be treated to zippy multitasking and enough power for basic creative work at the very least. But the ridiculously fast Apple M1 Pro and M1 Max chips that power the new MacBook Pro are in a league of their own.
We tested the 14-inch MacBook Pro with an M1 Pro processor, which turned in the highest laptop scores we’ve ever seen on the Geekbench 5 general performance test. Apple’s laptop put up a multi-core score of 12,463, which is more than double what we got from the 11th Gen Intel Core i7-powered Laptop Studio (5,108) — and a big leap over the M1-powered 13-inch MacBook Pro (7,628). While both of these machines held up great during everyday use, the MacBook Pro’s vastly more powerful CPU makes it more capable and future-proof for heavy multitasking and power-hungry apps.
However, if you want as much graphical power as possible for visually intensive tasks (and some light gaming), the Surface Laptop Studio may be a better pick for you. Microsoft’s notebook has the advantage of optional, discrete Nvidia RTX 3050 Ti graphics, which allowed it to significantly outperform the MacBook Pro (51,933 versus 36,326) on the Geekbench 5 OpenCL test that measures visual muscle.
That said, the MacBook Pro’s M1 Pro chip is far from a slouch in the graphics department. It still more than doubled many competing laptops on this benchmark, and matched the Surface Laptop Studio’s highly playable 47 frames per second when we ran both systems through the visually rich Shadow of the Tomb Raider game with all graphical settings cranked up.
It’s also worth noting that the performance of both machines will be highly dependent on how you configure them. The Surface Laptop Studio starts at $1,599 with an Intel Core i5 processor, 16GB of RAM and integrated graphics, which is far more modest than the $2,699 model we tested with a faster Core i7 chip, 32GB of RAM and dedicated Nvidia RTX graphics. The $1,999 14-inch MacBook Pro starts with an M1 Pro processor that comes in a few different variations based on how many performance cores you need, and can be upgraded to the even more blazing M1 Max chip. But based on our particular test units, the MacBook Pro is the clear winner when it comes to sheer processor speed and multitasking prowess, while the Surface Laptop has the better graphics option for the price.
Neither of these laptops blew us away when it came to battery life, but the Surface Laptop Studio proved more reliable for getting through a workday on our tests. Microsoft’s notebook lasted through eight hours and 14 minutes of continuous 4K video playback on our battery test, which beats out the six hours and 36 minutes we got from our MacBook Pro by a good margin. Again, these numbers will vary based on your specific configuration and what you’re using each laptop for, but the Laptop Studio came out ahead in our personal use.
TLDR: Get the MacBook Pro for the best overall performance for multitasking, or go with the Surface Laptop Studio for the best graphics performance for the price and slightly better battery life.
One of the biggest advantages the Surface Laptop Studio has over the MacBook Pro is its dynamic and touch-friendly 2-in-1 design, which makes it much more versatile than any of Apple’s computers. Thanks to what Microsoft calls a “Dynamic Woven Hinge,” the Laptop Studio elegantly transforms between a traditional laptop, a sturdy drawing tablet for your desk and a stand-up display for bingeing Netflix and taking notes. It also supports a number of stylus options, including the robust $129 Surface Slim Pen 2 that has haptic feedback to better simulate the feel of pen and paper.
But while the Laptop Studio looks pretty attractive (and suspiciously Mac-like) for a convertible, all of that functionality comes at the cost of a significantly bulkier design. Microsoft’s laptop weighs around 4 pounds and comes in at 0.7 inches thick, whereas the 13-inch MacBook Pro is a bit sleeker and more bag-friendly at 3.5 pounds and 0.6 inches thick. Neither of these are the thinnest or lightest laptops out there, but the MacBook Pro feels noticeably lighter to hold.
If you care about having lots of ports for plugging in accessories, the new MacBook Pro is the clear winner here. Unlike the stingy MacBooks of previous years, the latest 14-inch and 16-inch models offer three USB-C Thunderbolt 4 ports (ideal for 4K displays and external storage drives), an SDXC slot for transferring media from a camera, an HDMI port for even more TV and monitor connectivity and a magnetic MagSafe 3 charger. That’s a whole lot more than the Surface Laptop Studio, which has only two Thunderbolt 4 ports in addition to Microsoft’s proprietary Surface Connect charging port. We like that both of these laptops have magnetic chargers that detach easily and juice up fast, but you’ll get way more connectivity from the MacBook Pro.
You can’t go wrong with either of these laptop’s keyboards, which are among the best we’ve ever tested. Both Apple’s Magic Keyboard and the Surface Laptop Studio keyboard offer plenty of bounce and feedback, which kept us comfortable during hours upon hours of cramming away at work. We like the Laptop Studio’s keys just a bit more due to their overall depth and soft-touch coating, though the new MacBook Pro has bigger function and escape keys (and the awful Touch Bar is gone, thankfully).
TLDR: Get the Surface Laptop Studio if you want a convertible 2-in-1 design with a touch screen; get the MacBook Pro if you want a sleeker laptop with more ports.
The Laptop Studio has a taller display, but the MacBook Pro wins on speakers and webcam
The Surface Laptop Studio and MacBook Pro both have big, bright and gorgeous displays, but Microsoft’s laptop gets the slight edge here. For starters, the Laptop Studio’s 14.4-inch, 2400 x 1600 screen is noticeably taller than the MacBook Pro’s 14.2-inch, 3024 x 1964 display, thanks to a unique 3-to-2 display ratio that lets you see more at once when you’re poring over spreadsheets. The Surface Laptop Studio is also the only machine of the two to offer a touch screen for navigating with your fingers or drawing with a compatible pen — something you still can’t do on any MacBook.
Both of these screens offer deep blacks, rich colors and plenty of detail when watching videos and reading big chunks of text, though Microsoft’s laptop looked just a hair more vibrant when we watched an 8K nature video on both machines side by side. These displays both feature 120Hz refresh rates, meaning you’ll see things move very fluidly when browsing the web and swiping through your photo galleries. The MacBook Pro has the advantage of a higher resolution and slightly thinner bezels that help make content look more immersive, so long as you don’t mind the notch up top (we certainly don’t). So you’re really choosing between a taller display versus a slightly more seamless one — and they’re both great.
The MacBook Pro and Surface Laptop Studio also have similarly booming speakers, but while Microsoft’s notebook gets a little louder, the MacBook Pro did a better job preserving the finer details of our favorite rock tracks.
As far as webcam quality goes, it’s not even close. The 14-inch MacBook Pro has just about the best laptop camera we’ve tested, producing accurately colorful and sharp images that even outdo some of our best webcam picks in certain scenarios. The Surface Laptop’s 1080p shooter is fine for video calls but looks far more pixelated by comparison — especially in low light.
Microsoft’s laptop does have the advantage of Windows Hello functionality, which uses the webcam to let you instantly log in to the machine with a quick facial scan. The MacBook still doesn’t have this capability (despite Face ID being a thing on every other Apple device), though it does have a fingerprint reader for instant logins.
TLDR: Get the MacBook Pro if you want the best speakers and webcam you can find on a laptop; get the Surface Laptop Studio if you want a slightly taller and more colorful display that also offers touch controls.
Hardware is just one part of the equation, and your choice between the Laptop Studio and the MacBook Air just might come down to your preference between Windows and macOS.
The Laptop Studio ships with the new Windows 11 software, which happens to borrow a lot from the Mac. The user interface is sleeker and more colorful, it’s easier to quickly adjust settings like brightness and volume and you can even create multiple desktops (such as one environment for work apps and another for gaming) just like you can on macOS. We find Windows 11 to feel more intuitive than macOS for everyday multitasking, and if you care about gaming — which the Laptop Studio is perfectly capable of — there’s a much wider selection of titles here.
Macs continue to be the better option if you own lots of Apple devices such as iPhones and iPads, as you can sync your photos, notes and emails across all of them and even send iMessages and start FaceTimes right from your laptop. The latest macOS Monterey update adds some useful features, including a more robust FaceTime app that lets you invite Windows and Android users, AirPlay support for beaming content from your phone to your Mac and customizable Focus modes that let you minimize distractions when you need to go heads down on work. And if you’re a creative, certain apps such as Final Cut Pro and Pixelmator are exclusive to Mac.
TLDR: Get the Surface Laptop Studio for a better multitasking and gaming experience; get the MacBook Pro if you’re deep in the Apple ecosystem or want better creative apps.
Neither of these laptops is cheap, but the Surface Laptop Studio is the more affordable of the two with a starting price of $1,599. For that price, you’re getting an Intel Core i5 processor, 16GB of RAM, a 256GB solid-state drive (SSD) and Intel Iris X graphics — that’s decent for everyday performance, but you’re not getting a lot of storage, and those integrated graphics won’t help much with demanding visual tasks and PC games.
The 14-inch MacBook Pro starts at $1,999, which gets you an Apple M1 Pro chip with an 8-core CPU and 14-core GPU (the more cores the better, and there are a few upgrade options), 16GB of RAM and 512GB of SSD storage. That’s pretty comparable to the similarly priced $2,099 Surface Laptop Studio configuration that has the same amount of RAM and storage, but there are some notable discrepancies. The MacBook Pro’s M1 Pro chip runs circles around the still-speedy Intel Core i7 you get in the Laptop Studio at this price, but this version of Microsoft’s notebook also packs a dedicated Nvidia RTX 3050 Ti graphics chip that can outperform the M1 Pro on certain tasks.
If money isn’t an object and you want to kit your laptop out to oblivion, the MacBook Pro gives you more room to do so. Apple’s laptop can be upgraded with the higher-end M1 Max processor for even more processing and graphics power, up to 64GB of RAM and up to a whopping 8TB of storage, all of which would net out to a hefty $5,899. Meanwhile, the Surface Laptop Studio maxes out at a $3,099 configuration with a Core i7 processor, Nvidia RTX graphics, 32GB of RAM and 2TB of storage.
TLDR: Get the Surface Laptop Studio if you want to pay a cheaper starting price; go for the MacBook Pro if you want to splurge on lots of processing power and storage.