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Andrew Cunningham – Sep 22, 2021 4:00 pm UTC
The Surface Pro 8 got a major update today, but the biggest reveal was the all-new Surface Laptop Studio, a high-end convertible with dedicated graphics that provides a step-up in speed from the regular Surface Laptop. The “Surface Studio” name is borrowed from the (aging, and still not updated) Surface Studio desktop, and the Laptop Studio’s screen bends forward and uses the laptop’s base as a stand in much the same way. Most of the time, the Laptop Studio just looks like a regular laptop, but its display can be pulled out over the keyboard into “stage mode” and tilted to whatever angle is most comfortable for what you’re doing. It can also fold all the way down into “studio mode,” which covers the keyboard and trackpad entirely and makes the laptop into one big tablet.
The Surface Laptop Studio starts at $1,600 and is available for preorder today. The first preorders will begin shipping on October 5, the day Windows 11 launches.
Microsoft is positioning the Laptop Studio as a replacement for the old Surface Book, and there are some similarities—the all-metal keyboard decks, the ultrabook-class Intel processors, and the low-power Nvidia GPUs in the Laptop Studio should all be familiar to current Surface Book owners. But the laptops differ significantly in form and function. The inability to completely remove the laptop’s screen from its base will undoubtedly be a negative for some Surface Book owners, though using the Surface Laptop Studio’s display stand to prop up the screen is its own kind of useful, and I’m not sad to see the death of the Surface Book’s weird, bendy-straw hinge.
But unlike the Surface Book, the Laptop Studio only comes in one 14.4-inch screen size—that’s right in between the 13.5-inch and 15-inch displays in the Surface Book. Because of the slimmer display bezels (and because it no longer fits any of the computer’s guts behind its screen) the Laptop Studio is closer in size to the 13.5-inch Surface Book, though. That 14.4-inch screen has a 2400×1600 resolution and the same tall 3:2 aspect ratio that Microsoft uses across the Surface lineup. Like the Surface Pro 8, this screen can refresh at up to 120 Hz, twice as much as the typical 60 Hz.
The Surface Laptop Studio is compatible with a wide range of Surface Pen accessories, but it was made to be used with the new $130 Surface Slim Pen 2. Compared to the original Slim Pen, the new iteration shifts the button from the thin side of the device to the wide side, and it also includes a haptic feedback function that “gives you the same feeling you get with pen on paper when note taking and drawing” when used with the Laptop Studio or Surface Pro 8. When you’re not using it, the Slim Pen 2 is stored underneath a lip on the front of the laptop under the trackpad, where it can be recharged wirelessly.
The cheapest Laptop Studio configurations come with quad-core Intel Core i5-11300H processors and integrated Intel Iris Xe graphics, as well as 16GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. Intel’s Xe GPUs are a major step up from older Intel integrated graphics, but the more interesting configuration steps up to a quad-core i7-11370H and an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 Ti GPU with 4GB of GDDR6 RAM. The 3050 Ti isn’t going to max out your framerate in Cyberpunk 2077, but it’s a capable GPU for light gaming and 3D drafting and video work, and it adds ray tracing and a few other capabilities that Intel’s GPUs don’t offer.
The Laptop Studio can also be configured with up to 32GB of RAM and up to a 2TB SSD. As in the Surface Pro 8, that SSD is user-replaceable if you buy a smaller drive to start with and choose to upgrade later. It is a bit disappointing to see the Laptop Studio top out with quad-core processors. Thin-and-light workstations like Dell’s XPS 15 or Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Extreme weigh about as much as the Laptop Studio (3.83 lbs for the Core i5 model, 4 lbs for the Core i7 model) but are able to deliver better performance with six- and eight-core processor options. An AMD option also could have added more processor cores in the same power envelope, but as with the Surface Pro 8, Microsoft is sticking strictly with Intel for now.
The Surface Laptop Studio is definitely different from anything Microsoft has done with its Surface laptops before, but it’s not totally unique. Back in the heady days of Windows 8, PC-makers were throwing some utterly bizarre touch-equipped PC designs at the wall in the hopes that they would catch on. Most of them didn’t—that era’s only lasting legacy has been the tablet-plus-keyboard-cover model pioneered by the Surface and the 360-degree hinge introduced by the Lenovo Yoga—but Acer put out an oddball laptop called the Aspire R7 that seems like an early, backwards version of the Laptop Studio (HP has also tried something similar with its Folio series, and Acer has refined the idea with its Ezel laptops). Microsoft’s implementation looks better, not least because it looks and works like a regular-old laptop when the screen isn’t folded out. It’s just a reminder that there’s nothing new under the sun.
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