There’s never been a better moment to get a massively powerful laptop for getting serious work done than now, with the new MacBook Pro and Surface Laptop Studio hitting shelves. While these two behemoths have plenty of speed, wonderful keyboards, and even a similar appearance, they have a few important distinctions that you should be aware of before purchasing either.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.