Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2 Review: Fancy, Expensive, and Very Hot

Over the past 11 years, Microsoft’s Surface hardware has evolved from a humble tablet running a stripped-down Windows operating system to a massive collection of devices that spans phones, desktop PCs, and tech accessories. Hybrid laptops of course remain the primary focus for the Surface, and these days you’ll find some of the most powerful—and expensive—portables represented under the brand umbrella.

Today Microsoft launches its most ambitious—and, again, expensive—Surface yet: the Surface Laptop Studio 2, a do-it-all hybrid designed for “I need everything” creative types with an unlimited budget and a distaste for MacOS. Building on the success of 2021’s Surface Laptop Studio, there’s no limit to how you can interact with the device. Flip it open and it works like a standard clamshell laptop, or pop the bottom half of the screen out to push it forward into a model called Stage Mode, which covers the keyboard but leaves the trackpad available. Keep pulling the screen toward you and you can lay it down flat against the bottom half of the chassis in a tablet-style setup Microsoft calls Studio Mode.

Both of the latter two modes are designed for interacting directly with the touchscreen, though if you want to use a stylus instead of a finger, note that the new Surface Slim Pen 2 is no longer included with the device. You’ll need to drop another $130 for that, which illustrator types will probably want to do, as it can attach and charge wirelessly when magnetically clipped to the laptop. I didn’t receive one for testing.

Design-wise, the Laptop Studio Pro 2 is similar to the original Laptop Studio, only more. The weird pedestal design remains, with the keyboard tray jutting out over a thick base that is recessed on all sides. This base is vented on both the right and left sides of the laptop; otherwise all heat dissipation occurs through the anodized aluminum frame. (More on this later.) It is a very strange and unique design that makes the laptop look like it’s floating above the desk when viewed from an angle, though when you pick it up, the heft of the machine will quickly dissuade you of its ability to levitate.

The Surface Laptop Studio 2’s design enables a number of configurations.

Photograph: Microsoft

The screen remains a focus of the Studio 2, and it’s still a 14.4-inch touchscreen model with 2,400 x 1,600-pixel resolution (which works out to a tall 3:2 aspect ratio). The screen is bright but not blinding, and touch controls are responsive and accurate. I don’t wholly love the keyboard, but it ultimately feels about average in today’s laptop world. Audio quality is exceptional, including a beefy subwoofer that offers ample bass punch. And the haptics-enabled touchpad remains a standout in the field; using it for any amount of time makes it tough to go back to a standard touchpad.

While the surface of the Surface is mostly the same, a whole lot of work has been done under the hood, giving the Studio 2 a well-advertised “2X the power” over … well, Microsoft doesn’t say over what, but it’s twice the power, so don’t worry about it. When I threw benchmarks at it, I didn’t really find a good comparison for what “2X the power” might relate to. On general business apps, it had exactly 1X the power of the Acer Swift Edge 16, a $1,000 AMD-based system that I just tested last week. It however had up to 4X the power of the same Acer laptop when it came to graphics-heavy tests and gaming-related benchmarks. If you’re hoping to be blown away by how fast the Studio 2 recalculates spreadsheets, you might be disappointed, but on GPU-heavy work, the system is right up there with some of the best on the market.

All of this is made possible by state-of-the-art components, which included (on my test unit) a 2.9-GHz Core i7-13700H processor, a massive 64 GB of RAM, and an Nvidia GeForce RTX 4060 graphics processor. The addition of Intel’s Gen3 Movidius 3700VC VPU AI Accelerator is designed to help power the new Copilot tool that’s being pushed out to Windows 11 PCs. I doubt many will get an immediate benefit from this addition—Microsoft says it will help make videoconferencing look better in some subtle ways—but the world of generative artificial intelligence tools is changing so rapidly that it isn’t something I’ll sniff at.

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