Both Apple and Microsoft recently made waves with brand-new laptops aimed at creative professionals. Microsoft’s Surface Laptop Studio is a new form factor for Microsoft and it’s the company’s most powerful Surface ever. At the same time, the new MacBook Pro is also Apple’s most powerful laptop ever, thanks to the Apple M1 Pro and M1 Max chipsets. So, if you’re a content creators, should you choose the Surface Laptop Studio or the MacBook Pro? That’s what we’re here to help you figure out.
While they’re aimed at similar audiences, the Surface Laptop Studio and MacBook Pro are radically different devices. They have different processors, form factors, displays, and operating systems. Just about everything is different. Let’s take a closer look to find out which one you should get.
MacBook Pro vs Surface Laptop Studio: Specs
Windows vs macOS
Let’s start with the obvious difference between the two laptops, the operating system. As you’d expect, the MacBook Pro runs Apple’s macOS, specifically macOS Monterey. macOS is often considered the more accessible operating system, being easier to learn and a bit more straightforward. macOS is also very popular among content creators, thanks to apps like Final Cut Pro that are exclusive to the platform.
On the other hand, the Surface Laptop Studio runs Windows 11 out of the box, and Microsoft’s latest operating system has its own advantages. Windows is far more popular, and thus, there are a lot more apps for it for all kinds of purposes. Many apps, especially games, are only available on Windows or get faster and better support on the platform. And with Windows 11, Microsoft has made some strides to make the OS more visually appealing and less complicated.
In the end, though, you probably already have a favorite operating system, and this will likely be one of the biggest factors when choosing between these two laptops.
Performance: The MacBook Pro is far ahead
Performance is one of the key improvements Apple touted with the MacBook Pro this year, and it’s all in the M1 Pro and M1 Max chipsets. These are incredibly powerful processors, at least according to Apple’s claims. We can’t verify the performance claims just yet, but based on the comparisons Apple presented, there’s hardly a contest in this regard.
Starting with CPU performance, the Apple M1 Pro and M1 Max both have a 10-core CPU, though there’s a model of the M1 Pro with an 8-core CPU instead. According to Apple. the Apple M1 Pro and M1 Max can achieve 1.7 times the performance of a high-end 8-core Windows laptop using the same amount of power, and this specifically refers to the Intel Core i7-11800H. But that’s a 45W processor, and Microsoft is using 35W processors instead, like the Core i7-11370H, which only has four cores. That means the gap in performance is likely even wider, and while the Core i7-11370H uses less power, it’s still likely to be less efficient than the Apple M1 Pro and M1 Max.
The story is similar with the GPU, though it’s worth noting here that the GPU in the Apple M1 Max is significantly more powerful than the M1 Pro. Apple claims that the M1 Max’s 32-core GPU has a similar level of performance to that of an NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3080 with 105W of power (as found in the Razer Blade 15 Advanced). The Surface Laptop Studio comes with an NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3050 Ti, which isn’t nearly as powerful as the RTX 3080. Again, the MacBook Pro is going to perform much better, especially with the M1 Max processor.
The Apple M1 Max has a GPU on par with an NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3080 laptop GPU.
Battery life is not that far off between these two laptops, at least according to each company’s claims. Microsoft touts up to 19 hours of typical usage with an Intel Core i5 (18 hours with the Intel Core i7), while Apple promises up to 17 hours of Apple TV video playback on the 14-inch MacBook Pro, and 21 hours for the 16-inch version. For wireless web browsing, Apple claims up to 11 hours and 14 hours for each model, respectively. Obviously, that will depend on your usage, and it’s rare that a laptop lives up to those claims. In our review of the Surface Laptop Studio we found it to last a lot less than Microsoft says.
As for RAM, the MacBook Pro is once again superior. You can have it with up to 64GB of unified memory, which is not only double the RAM you can get on the Surface Laptop Studio, but the fact that it’s “unified” means it’s accessible to both the CPU and GPU equally. That amount of memory is unheard of for a GPU, which makes certain workloads even faster on the MacBook Pro. And in terms of storage, you can get up to 8TB on the MacBook Pro and 2TB on the Surface Laptop Studio, so the difference is very clear. That’s still a good amount of storage on both devices, though, so you’re not getting a bad experience either way.
Display: Pure quality or versatility?
Turning to the display on these two laptops, things start becoming a bit more even, depending on what you’re looking for. Technically speaking, the MacBook Pro definitely has the better display. The 14.2-inch model has a 3024 x 1954 resolution, while the 16.2-inch version goes up to 3456 x 2234, both with the same pixel density and 16:10 aspect ratio. Not only that, but these are mini-LED displays promising a 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio. Plus it supports a 120Hz refresh rate, though it can adjust dynamically to what you’re doing.
Meanwhile, the Surface Laptop Studio has a 14.4-inch display and the resolution is much lower, at 2400 x 1600, with a 3:2 aspect ratio. That’s still a very sharp display, but it’s definitely a few notches below the MacBook Pro. Plus, it’s not mini-LED or OLED so it can’t get the same contrast ratios and dimming zones. However, it does also support a 120Hz refresh rate, and while it can’t adjust dynamically yet, a future driver update will enable this feature, too helping to save some more battery.
Where the Surface Laptop Studio gains points is in the versatility of this display. Like most Surface devices, this is a touchscreen, and it support the Surface Pen, too. That’s not only a more intuitive way to interact with the display, but if you’re a digital artist, using an active pen is something you might value a lot. Plus, with the new Surface Slim Pen 2, you even get haptic feedback when drawing in some apps, so it’s even more immersive. This ties into the form factor of the laptop, which we’ll get to in a bit.
Another potential advantage for the Surface Laptop Studio is that it doesn’t have a notch on the display, which Apple decided to add with the latest MacBook Pro. Apple did this so it could upgrade to a 1080p webcam, but the Surface Laptop Studio also has a 1080p webcam, it just uses the top bezel to house it, like any other laptop. The notch on the MacBook Pro may not be a problem for everyone, but it’s definitely an odd design choice.
The MacBook Pro has a notch on the display for the front-facing webcam.
As for sound, the MacBook Pro is likely better thanks to its six-speaker stereo setup that’s consistently been one of the best out of any laptop. Still. Microsoft is using a quad-speaker stereo system that’s one of the best in a Windows laptop, so it’s still a great experience.
Design and ports: The Surface Laptop Studio is more fun, but missing some ports
Design is one area where the Surface Laptop Studio easily ousts the MacBook Pro. Outside of being powerful, the MacBook Pro is just a laptop. It’s got the typical clamshell design, and that’s it. It comes in Silver and Space Grey options, which are also somewhat monotonous at this point. However, it is smaller and lighter than the Surface Laptop Studio, if you’re looking at the 14-inch model, that is.
The Surface Laptop Studio uses a similarly basic color and it’s a little less portable, but it’s the form factor that really sells this laptop. At first glance, it may look like a normal laptop, but then you can grab the display and pull it closer to you, covering the keyboard, if you just want to watch a movie or video. And you can go even further and lay the screen (nearly flat) over the base, turning it into a tablet-like experience. As we’ve already said, for digital artists, this versatility may be a big deal. You can take the Surface Slim Pen 2 and draw or color on a flat, stable surface (no pun intended), then go back to a normal laptop form factor when you’re done. You can argue whether you need that or not, but it’s undeniably more versatile and arguably more fun.
On the other hand, the MacBook Pro offers a much better selection of ports, which is odd to say considering so many MacBooks have had limited ports for the past few years. With the 2021 MacBook Pro, Apple is including three Thunderbolt 4 ports, HDMI, an SD card reader, headphone jack, and it’s bringing back the MagSafe charging connector, so if you trip on the charging cable, you don’t have to worry about dragging your laptop to the ground.
The Surface Laptop Studio has a much simpler setup – you get two Thunderbolt 4 ports, a headphone jack, and a Surface Connect port. Sure, Thunderbolt 4 is a versatile port, and with a Thunderbolt dock, you can do almost anything. But having some legacy ports like HDMI and an SD card reader make it much easier to connect any display or import photos from a camera, and even Apple recognized that this year. Similar to MagSafe, the Surface Connect port is magnetic, so it has the same benefit of not breaking your expensive laptop if you trip on the cable.
Deciding which is the best of these two laptops is well and truly up to your personal priorities. These are both fairly powerful laptops that are designed for creative workloads, but they clearly excel at different things.
The MacBook Pro is easily the most powerful of the two, and if you need the ultimate performance, it’s the way to go. Both the CPU and GPU are well ahead of anything inside the Surface Laptop Studio, you get more RAM, and more storage if you want it. The display is also sharper and using a mini-LED panel makes it better in other ways, too, with a high contrast ratio and pure blacks. And it has a 120Hz refresh rate like the Surface Laptop Studio, too.
The Surface Laptop Studio, on the other hand, isn’t quite as powerful or as sharp, but it has a much more interesting form factor. It can turn from a traditional laptop into a tablet-like experience and used with a Surface Pen, it’s a great tool for some types of digital artists. You can also use this form factor to bring the display closer to you for media consumption, so it’s a very versatile laptop.
The MacBook Pro is much more powerful, but the Surface Laptop Studio has a better form factor.
Each laptop has its strengths and weaknesses, and it all comes down to how much you value each of those aspects. Personally speaking, the Surface Laptop Studio is far more interesting, but there are good reasons to feel differently, too.
You can buy your preferred laptop using the links below. If you want to keep your new laptop safe, we also have lists of the best cases for the Surface Laptop Studio, as well as the best MacBook Pro cases.
Writer at XDA Computing. I’ve been covering the world of technology since 2018, but I’ve loved the field for a lot longer. And I have a weird affinity for Nintendo videogames, which I’m always happy to talk about.