This year has been a transitional year for Apple’s MacBook Pro lineup of devices. It has made many impressive changes to the MacBook Pro, with some of those changes being a step back to familiarity and others a massive leap in performance. I have been doing a great deal of testing with the MacBook Pro with new M1 Max and M1 Pro chips. Last year, I wrote a blog comparing the MacBook Air M1 versus the Surface Laptop 3, which you can read about here. More recently, I tested the MacBook Pro 16-inch against the Asus Zephyrus m16 with Intel and NVIDIA hardware which you can read about here.
This go around, I want to compare the MacBook Pro to Microsoft’s Surface Laptop Studio. The Surface Laptop Studio is a first-generation Surface device that mimics the positioning of the Surface Studio but in laptop form. It is a device made for content creators, artists, and casual gamers. I chose the Surface Laptop Studio to go against the MacBook Pro because the Surface brand is most closely positioned to Apple with its premium-only line of devices for the Windows notebook ecosystem. The Surface Laptop Studio is the Surface that is content creator specific with its pen, touch, and modular support. Both laptops were released in 2021, and I have had a considerable amount of time with both of them.
This matchup will be in two parts, with the first part focusing on benchmarking and performance and the second part comparing each laptop’s creator-specific experience. I also want to mention that gaming should be wrapped into the content creation category since, statistically, I believe most content creators are also gamers. I chose both models based on similar specifications and the same price range. The specification of each is as follows:
14-inch MacBook Pro
· Apple M1 Pro with 8-core CPU, 14-core GPU, 16-core Neural engine
· 16GB of unified memory
· 1TB SSD
· 14-inch Liquid Retina XDR display; 3024×1964 (254 PPI) resolution
· ProMotion 120Hz refresh rate
· Three Thunderbolt 4 ports, HMDI port, SDXC card slot, MagSafe 3, 3.5mm headphone jack
· 1080p HD camera
· macOS Monterey 12.2
Surface Laptop Studio
· 11th Gen Intel Core H35 i7-11370H
· GeForce RTX 3050 Ti laptop GPU with 4GB dedicated GDDR6 GPU memory
· 16GB of memory
· 1TB SSD
· 14.4-inch PixelSense Flow Display; 2400x 1600 (201PPI) resolution
· 10-point multi-touch
· Two USB-C Thunderbolt 4 ports, Surface Connect port, 3.5mm headphone jack
Surface Laptop Studio Business
· 11th Gen Intel Core H35 i7-11370H
· NVIDIA RTX A2000 laptop GPU with 4GB dedicated GDDR6 GPU memory
· 32GB of memory
· 1TB SSD
· 14.4-inch PixelSense Flow Display; 2400x 1600 (201PPI) resolution
· 10-point multi-touch
· Two USB-C Thunderbolt 4 ports, Surface Connect port, 3.5mm headphone jack
While the processors look unevenly matched, the M1 Pro and Intel Core have the same number of threads since the M1 Pro is single-threaded (8 threads), and the 4-core Intel processor is multi-threaded (8 threads). One difference that should be kept in the back of our minds is that the M1 Pro has 32GB of unified memory and the Surface Laptop Studio has 4GB GPU memory and 32GB CPU memory.
I also want to mention that when considering the Surface Laptop Studio for business, the model with the dGPU comes with a slightly different NVIDIA GPU than the consumer model. The business model comes with an NVIDIA RTX A2000 mobile GPU, and the consumer model comes with a GeForce RTX 3050 Ti. The A2000 has slightly better performance as you will see in the benchmarks, but the performance difference should still be considered. I wanted to include the A2000 in the GPU benchmarks to show the difference and give some perspective from a business standpoint. The Surface Laptop Studio and the Surface Laptop Studio for business are also equivalent in everything except for the GPU, so you can expect the same performance for the CPU benchmarks with the same amount of memory for the benchmarks we ran. The Surface Laptop Studio model that I have has 32GB of RAM, so it was not considered in the CPU benchmarks.
Display and pen
While the MacBook Pro has a better display on paper, I am not giving it to Apple so easily. This year is the first year Apple has put an Extreme Dynamic Range (XDR) panel on its mobile workstation and, with HDR-enabled content, can reach 1,000 nits of sustained brightness and 1,600 of peak brightness. XDR on the MacBook Pro is great news for content creators because that means accurate colors, contrast, and overall content. The contrast ratio of the MacBook Pro is 1,000,000:1 compared to the Surface Laptop Studio’s 1,500:1. The contrast ratio helps measure the maximum and minimum brightness and, while it is true that the MacBook Pro has a 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio, I imagine it is only unlockable when viewing HDR content. However, with the higher PPI of the MacBook (254PPI vs. 201PPI), I will give the display quality to Apple.
Even though the Surface Laptop Studio has a less useful display for content creation, I believe its quality is a middle ground for content creation and gaming. Its 1,500:1 contrast ratio factory-calibrated PixelSense display has Dolby Vision when playing supported content. The 120Hz refresh rate and 2K resolution are also more than enough for competitive and casual AAA games.
Overall, I believe the Surface Laptop Studio has a more versatile and useful display thanks to its 10-point multi-touch screen and dedicated G6 processor for extra pen input on the Surface Slim Pen 2. The Surface Slim Pen 2 also has a haptic motor that brings a true-to-paper feeling to a touch display. Without hitting too much on the versatility of the display’s extra hinge, the touch display, and the pen input, in my opinion, is unmatched by any other laptop. By not having a touch display Apple has locked itself out of a whole audience of creators and artists who use touch or pen daily. Unless they buy an iPad Pro, too.
The pen can be used as an alternative to typing, or a tool for sculpting in a 3D modeling software like Blender. The Surface Slim Pen 2 has two convenient buttons that can open up Whiteboard or an alternative note-taking app for jotting down ideas. The Surface Slim Pen 2 can be used for calligraphy and, with the new responsiveness that the G6 processor brings, I believe the Surface Slim Pen 2 is favorable to any Apple alternative.
The MacBook Pro and the Surface Laptop Studio are able to run iOS and Android applications respectively. The MacBook Pro through its native support of iOS and iPadOS and Android on the Surface Laptop Studio through the YourPhone app and future Windows 11 updates. The Surface Laptop Studio has the advantage here because the experience of the Android apps is kept in a touch environment. For the MacBook, iOS and iPadOS applications are left to the keyboard and touchpad peripherals which makes iOS and iPadOS app support mostly gimmicky.
Design, ports, audio, and charger
I have decided to lump together design, ports, and audio to give Apple’s MacBook Pro design the notoriety it deserves. The new MacBook Pro has taken a step backward in terms of design that I believe everyone can appreciate. It resembles later models with a thicker as opposed to a slimmer look. The thicker design emphasizes port selection, a big win for content creators who rely on ports rather than dongles. On the other hand, the Surface Laptop Studio has limited its port selection to two USB-C Thunderbolt 4 ports, a Surface Connect port, and a 3.5mm headphone jack. I have to give it to Apple for offering a very content-creator-friendly port selection while maintaining its premium look. The Surface Laptop Studio does have an advantage when considering docking.
The Surface Connect port is Microsoft’s home-grown charging and docking port for the Surface Dock 2. The Surface Dock 2 has two USB-A 3.2 ports, a 3.5mm headphone jack, 1 Gigabit Ethernet, a Kensington lock, and four USB-C ports, two of them supporting 4K video at 60Hz. I have found the Surface Dock 2 to be much more reliable than Thunderbolt docks. It just works. Every single time. The Surface Dock 2 is 100% certified and warranted by Microsoft and beats having to rely on third-party docks which may or may not work as you want. The Thunderbolt docks I have tested have been a buggy mess and require a ton of wattage and a ginormous wall wart. The Surface Dock 2 is slightly more affordable at $259.99 retail compared to Thunderbolt 4 docks that can go way over $300.
The charger that comes with the Surface Laptop Studio also takes up less space than the 14-inch MacBook Pro when plugged into the wall. The Apple charger has the wall socket on the power brick itself which makes it difficult to plug when surrounded by other chargers. There is a way to attach an extender but that is not included with the charger. The Surface charger also has a USB-A power port on the brick of the charger that is very convenient. Instead of having to bring a phone charger and the Surface Studio Laptop charger you only have to bring the Surface charger. This feature has been on Surface chargers for quite some time and has saved me numerous times.
I think Apple gave audio a great deal of consideration for content creators. Its 3.5mm headphone jack supports high impedance headphones. The MacBook Pro’s audio is slightly better because Apple uses its “three-dimensional” Spatial Audio. In my use, the Surface Laptop Studio was also lacking bass compared to the MacBook Pro. However, the Surface Laptop Studio has some of the best audio on a Windows laptop. It has dynamically tuned Quad Omnisonic speakers with two-way facing woofers and tweeters that port through the keyboard. I believe Microsoft strategically optimized its speakers so that they sound good in the different modes. In my experience of watching content on the Surface Laptop Studio, I like to flip the display all the way back and turn the laptop around. Even though the speakers are behind the display in that mode, it still sounds great.
The Surface Laptop Studio and the MacBook Pro 14-inch are very similar in terms of design, with one big exception. The Surface Laptop Studio pulls ahead for content creators in its unique modular design and its unique base.
The device’s display has a hinge that allows the user to either hide the keyboard or lay flat onto the machine’s chassis—mimicking the Surface Studio’s movement. The laptop screen has two small magnets at the top and bottom that keep it attached to the display’s hinge. It has a hinge in the middle of the display that allows it to flip up and the bottom hinge to come forward to go into the different modes of the laptop. Admittedly, the transition of the display took slightly more effort than I would have liked. The base of the Surface Laptop Studio has what looks to be two layers, with the top layer being thin where it houses the ports, and the bottom layer is less wide with vents. At the front of the device is a magnetic charging area for the Surface Slim Pen 2 that is out of sight and out of mind. The charging for the Surface Slim Pen 2 is also convenient and has one less charger to worry about. There is never a moment that I have to worry about the Surface Slim Pen 2 being dead.
I think Apple’s classic laptop design gave it room to focus on higher quality audio and a respective port selection. I do believe the Surface Laptop Studio has more to offer with its modular display that, from a practicality standpoint, is better for a wider audience of content creators.
In Studio mode, when the display is flat on the keyboard, the screen is at a slight angle. The laptop is too heavy and awkward to hold in the hands for a tablet-like experience in this mode. However, the Surface Laptop Studio is not meant to be a tablet-like experience but rather a studio experience. I am no professional artist, but this Studio mode beats drawing on a non-touchscreen display or going out by a Wacom tablet or iPad to get the same experience. Depending on which iPad works best, it could cost between $329 to $1099 (starting prices for iPad and iPad Pro). Even in that situation, there is not a one-device experience like the Surface Studio. The Stage mode, where the display is at a slight angle covering the keyboard but not the touchpad, is the mode I use when connected to the Surface Laptop Studio as well as an immersive mode for gaming with a controller. I was skeptical of whether or not drawing at this angle was practical, considering the bottom part of the display is easily moveable away from the magnets. However, when resting my palm on display with a pen, the screen does not move, and it is a decent experience. It has less screen wobble and more support than when in laptop mode.
Keyboard and touchpad
Both laptops have some of the best typing experiences I have ever used on a laptop. MacBook Pros have always been known for having great quality keyboards and, in recent years, large touchpads. Although it might not look like it since the Surface Laptop Studio has a larger footprint, the touchpads of the Surface Laptop Studio and 14-inch MacBook Pro are the same sizes. The MacBook Pro’s touchpad is about a pinky’s length wider, but it is hardly noticeable. The Surface Laptop Studio has a more rubbery feel on the touchpad that I like better. I believe it comes down to personal preference, which is a familiar typing experience.
I wouldn’t say the Surface Laptop Studio has a gamer keyboard, but it does have more travel than the MacBook Pro’s keyboard. In other words, the Surface Laptop Studio keyboard is better for gaming. The concave feel of the MacBook Pro keyboard is slightly more noticeable because of its keyboard texture. The Surface Laptop Studio has more rubbery keys.
The difficulty of benchmarking
Benchmarks all have flaws but are telling of the performance and capabilities of systems. There are benchmarks for just about every system experience and subsystem, including read/write speeds, CPU and GPU performance, video and audio encoding, rendering, gaming, etc. While it may seem straightforward, benchmarking across platforms does not make it straightforward.
When Apple had Intel silicon in its MacBook, it was fairly straightforward because there was support for many of the same benchmarks since Windows and macOS ran on the same architecture (x86). When Apple switched to its M1 SoC, it lost most of its software compatibility, including software for benchmarks. If you read my last comparison of the 16-inch MacBook Pro M1 Max compared to the Zephyrus m16, you will see that all of the benchmarks except for one is for raw performance for CPU compute. There is only one benchmark that tested the performance of the GPU computes of the M1 Max with a 32 core GPU. The reason is that the consistency of benchmarks for supporting the correct GPU API frameworks for both systems is just not there. There are four APIs that I am specifically talking about for these benchmarks—OpenCL, Metal, CUDA, and Vulkan. OpenCL and Vulkan are cross-platform APIs, while Metal is proprietary for Apple hardware and CUDA is proprietary for NVIDIA hardware. Without getting too much into the weeds, there is an inconsistency with benchmarks using different API frameworks, like one benchmark having proprietary support for macOS but OpenCL for Windows or OpenCL for macOS and Vulkan for Windows.
The inconsistency influences the results of the benchmarks, and when the performance is down to single-digit percentages, it really matters. While I could make the comparison between both systems based only on CPU performance, I do not believe it would represent the full picture of performance for content creators considering many content-creation-oriented tasks rely on GPU. On the other hand, tasks like rendering a 3D graphic leave it up to the user to choose between the GPU or CPU. For example, I could benchmark Blender again with the MacBook Pro using its CPU compute and the Surface Laptop Studio using CUDA, and the CUDA would win. The only problem with that is Blender has support for GPU compute in its Cycles rendering engine as of last December. It is just not in the benchmark.
Unfortunately, this benchmarking predicament leaves the floor open for biased claims on both sides of the floor about M1 Pro and M1 Max performance without being able to have consistent testing. Keep in mind that I am talking about raw performance and the practicality in real-world content-creation-specific scenarios. That is why, in the process of deciding on which benchmarks to use, I looked for consistency and practicality.
Test methodology and expectations
For the testing of both systems, I ran both systems on AC instead of DC to give both devices the best chance to perform at their best. Both devices used stock chargers and were kept at stock performance settings. I also updated both systems to their most current OS versions and kept them in a room-temperature environment throughout the benchmarking. I benchmarked the MacBook Pro M1 Pro and Surface Laptop Studio in 3D Mark Wild Life Extreme Unlimited, V-Ray 5 Benchmark, Geekbench 5, and Handbrake. All four benchmarks address the content creation categories of 3D rendering, video encoding, real-world performance, and gaming. The systems were run through each benchmark three times back-to-back with a short cool-down time in between. I then took the average of those three benchmarks. The only benchmark where I did not run through three times was Handbrake, and that is because Handbrake already averages the frames per second (fps) throughout the encoding.
My expectation for these benchmarks is not for either system to blow the other out of the water. I do expect the MacBook to have better CPU performance and be competitive in GPU compute. However, the trade-off for the Surface Laptop Studio is that the performance it puts out is realized in its compatibility and support. While the MacBook may be able to meet the Surface Laptop Studio in gaming performance, it does not have the support. With that said, where I believe the Surface Laptop Studio lacks performance, it makes up for its versatile touch-screen and pen-supported design. Let’s jump into the benchmarks.
3D Mark Wild Life Extreme Unlimited
3D Wild Life Extreme unlimited is a cross-platform GPU benchmark for Android, iOS, and Windows. The 3D Mark Wild Life benchmark is a benchmark for mobile devices, and the “Extreme” version of it is for more intensive units. 3D Mark says it is three times more demanding than Wild Life with new effects, enhanced geometry, and more particles. It uses a 4K UHD rendering resolution before scaling it to the display. The “Unlimited” option runs the benchmark offscreen in a fixed time step. I want to emphasize that this benchmark is oriented towards mobile GPU performance and mirrors mobile games that are based on short bursts of intense activity.
I have two concerns with this benchmark that don’t completely compromise the benchmark but should still be considered. The first is that 3D Mark Wild Life Extreme is an iOS application. The second is that while Wild Life Extreme has support for Metal on the M1 Pro, it uses Vulkan API for Windows. I would have liked to see 3D Mark support CUDA to see the best performance out of the GeForce RTX 3050 Ti. Hopefully, in the future, there will be support for CUDA API in Wild Life Extreme or Vulkan on the M1 Pro side through MoltenVK.
The MacBook Pro score is about 500 points higher than the Surface Laptop Studio and about 700 points lower than the Surface Laptop Studio Business. According to the way the Wild Life Extreme score is calculated, it is based on an average FPS of the graphical rendering with a multiplier of 167. This scoring makes it easy to find the FPS of the mobile gaming test, which I believe will give us a better idea of that 500 and 700 points difference. The MacBook Pro ran on average at 55.6 FPS, the Surface Laptop Studio with a 3050 Ti ran at 52.5 FPS, and the Surface Laptop Studio Business ran at 59.3 FPS. In most cases, a 3 to 4 FPS difference in gaming goes unnoticed and makes no difference in the performance of a game. The MacBook Pro undeniably has the greater performance against the Surface Laptop Studio with a 3050 Ti, but it is minimal, and I believe it comes from the M1 Pro’s mobile background.
One of the reasons that the M1 silicon can have impressive PPW is its ability to provide high levels of performance in a short period of time. This type of behavior is exactly what the 3D Mark Wild Life Extreme is optimized and designed for.
V-Ray 5 benchmark
The V-Ray 5 benchmark is one of the rendering benchmarks that was used in the Zephyrus m16 vs. 16-inch MacBook Pro M1 Max comparison. I chose the V-ray benchmark because it reveals the performance of the M1 Pro under rendering conditions using the Rosetta 2 compatibility layer. The V-Ray 5 benchmark renders a sample scene in a one-minute time frame and comes up with a score in the form of vsamples. It has three benchmarks for CPU, CUDA, and Optix, but I am only doing the CPU benchmark since there is no GPU support for the M1 silicon. Somehow it is possible to run the CUDA benchmark on the MacBook Pro, but it isn’t worth doing since it still uses the CPU and not the GPU.
I chose the V-Ray 5 benchmark over the Blender Open Data benchmark because I wanted to keep the rendering benchmark strictly as a CPU comparison. As of December of 2021, Blender has GPU support in its Cycles rendering engine, but it is still not available on its benchmark. While I could benchmark the Surface Laptop Studio using the GPU and CPU and compare it to the benchmark of the MacBook using the CPU, it wouldn’t reveal the full story.
The Intel Core i7-11370H is fairly underwhelming compared to the MacBook Pro M1 Pro. The MacBook Pro outperforms the Surface Laptop Studio by a percentage difference of about 46%. In scenarios where content creators are almost exclusively using the CPU for rendering, the MacBook Pro M1 Pro is a clear winner.
Geekbench 5 (CPU compute)
The Geekbench 5 benchmark has a CPU compute benchmark that measures the single-threaded (ST) and multi-threaded (MT) performance of a system in real-world environments. It simulates real-world applications in tests that complete tasks like checking email, taking pictures, and playing music. It covers multiple performance categories, including PDF rendering, text compression, ray tracing, speech recognition, AR, and ML.
The MacBook Pro M1 Pro outperforms the Surface Laptop Studio in both ST and MT performances by about 38% and 65%. I believe this has to do with the M1 Pro’s advantage of better IPC and having 8 single-threaded cores and the Core i7-11370H having 4 multi-threaded cores. These scores reveal the Surface Laptop Studio’s biggest weakness, its CPU. While I am not saying the Intel Core i7-11370H is a bad processor, the M1 Pro with 8 single-threaded cores has a much better value. The Intel Core i7-11370H is definitely up for the task and what it has going for it that keeps it in the fight is the support for x86 programs.
Although the M1 Pro has 38% and 65% better performance in ST and MT workloads, I do not believe it should be a dealbreaker for gamers and content creators. The Intel Core i7-11370H gives relatively good performance when considering the form factor offered. If a content creator is looking for a system that has the best CPU performance at a similar price point of $2,100, the Zephyrus m16 from my previous benchmarking comparison would be my go-to. I am not arguing that the Surface Laptop Studio outperforms the MacBook Pro M1 Pro but whether or not the form factor of the Surface Laptop Studio is worth the drop in performance. The only other device with a similar form factor and content creator capabilities is Microsoft’s Surface Book 3, which has considerably less intensive specifications than the Surface Laptop Studio. Coming into the benchmarks, I did not expect the Surface Laptop Studio to outperform the MacBook Pro in CPU computing. I believe it held its own ground in ST performance but showed no competition in MT performance.
Geekbench5 (GPU compute)
The Geekbench 5 GPU benchmark is one of the few benchmarks where we have consistency in scoring and a level playing field in terms of GPU API support. It is a synthetic benchmark that tests the systems’ potential for gaming, image processing, or video editing. The Geekbench 5 benchmark has support for OpenCL, Vulkan, and CUDA for Windows and Metal and OpenCL for macOS. OpenCL and Vulkan are both open-sourced APIs, and CUDA and Metal are both proprietary APIs for NVIDIA GPUs and Apple GPUs. I decided to run all four APIs and show the results below comparing OpenCL versus OpenCL, Metal versus CUDA, and Metal versus Vulkan. Although OpenCL is deprecated on macOS, I believe the comparison of both systems on the same API is a great reference point. I also compared both systems on their respective proprietary APIs, NVIDIA with CUDA and M1 Pro with Metal. I then threw in a comparison of Metal versus Vulkan to shed more light on the Wild Life Extreme Unlimited benchmark.
In all three comparisons, both Surface Laptop Studios outperform the MacBook Pro M1 Pro by a considerable margin. The Surface Laptop Studio with the 3050 Ti outperformed the MacBook Pro M1 Pro by about 50% on the head-to-head OpenCL API and about 47% on the Metal versus CUDA API comparison. Although the MacBook Pro has the excuse that OpenCL is deprecated and hasn’t been touched for some time, I don’t think it is a good enough excuse considering the Metal API has about the same percentage difference. GPU compute plays a significant role in the workflow of a content creator. If I had to choose between a 50% drop in GPU performance or a 65% drop in CPU performance and a pen-supported form factor, I would choose the latter all day long. I believe many content creators value GPU performance and pen support in everyday workflows and that many would agree with me.
I believe the Vulkan versus metal comparison and the Vulkan comparison to CUDA and OpenCL reveal a lot about the 3D Mark Extreme unlimited benchmark as well. The Surface Laptop Studio saw a 30% jump in performance when using the CUDA API and a 25% jump in performance when using OpenCL. I say this not to bash Vulkan but to level the playing field.
Handbrake is an open-source, cross-platform video transcoder. It is used to convert videos from supported source formats to MP4, MKV, and WebM formats. Handbrake does not have an official benchmarking tool to test how quickly a system is able to encode a sample source. However, there is a community benchmarking guide here that I used to benchmark both systems that are easily replicate-able. The only change I made to the benchmark is that I used the 4K60 version of the open-source film Big Buck Bunny instead of the recommended 4K30. Since the benchmark is designed to take the average FPS entirety of the encoding, there is no need to take the average of the average of three encodings. Instead, I benchmarked three different presets—H.265 MKV 2160p60, H.264 MKV 2160p60, and Fast 1080p30. For those who have never used Handbrake H2.65, H.264, and Fast are the different encoders, MKV is the video format, and 2160p60 is the resolution of 2160×1440 and framerate of 60fps.
The MacBook Pro M1 Pro laps the Surface Laptop Studio in video encoding on all three levels of encoding. To put into perspective how much faster the MacBook Pro is, it took me 1 hour 33 minutes and 39 seconds on the MacBook Pro to encode Big Buck Bunny using the H.265 preset, and it took the Surface Laptop Studio 2 hours 16 minutes and 9 seconds to encode Big Buck Bunny using the H.265 preset.
Comparing by use case
While the choice between the MacBook Pro and the Surface Laptop Studio will mostly be a matter of preference, specifically OS preference, many content creators are making a choice between the two based on the use case. I believe that the modular offerings of the Surface Laptop Studio have more to offer in a lot of these use cases. Let’s take a look at some of those use cases.
Programming and app development
Programmers and app developers cover a wide range of different applications, development, and use cases but overall have the same needs from a laptop device. In most cases, peripherals, the best typing experience, and the most productive workspace matter for a programmer. While both laptops have a great typing experience and display, I believe the Surface Laptop Studio brings an extra level of convenience and productivity with the swivel down touch display.
The computing devices that people use largely around the world every day and all the time are devices with touch displays. Behind the scenes, many app developers are programming applications for touch screen devices and, in the process, testing out their applications. That process is difficult to do without a multi-touch display. The Surface Laptop Studio takes this task one step further with its modularity by bringing the display down into a tablet-like mode and testing out the app in a VM.
While this blog is primarily for content creation, gaming is an important use case for those who will be using their device for personal reasons. It is no secret that the MacBook Pro M1 Pro has very little support for gaming. While the MacBook’s lack of AAA gaming is because of incompatibility, I wouldn’t hold my breath for game development to come through because there is no promise of it.
To put into perspective how little development there is for games on macOS, Rocket League, a popular competitive esports game, runs well on M1 silicon but is not supported. Currently, you can go on Steam on the MacBook Pro and download Rocket League and play a game against bots. However, the game will tell you it is not supportedand will not be supported on macOS. Not to mention the whole Fortnite fiasco that left many game developers wary of including their games in any Apple hardware. The Surface Laptop Studio wins in every category of gaming, now and any time soon. If you want to have access to a larger library of games with thriving communities and player bases, the MacBook Pro is hardly an option. The closest experience of a thriving community and player base would be an iOS app but keep in mind there is no touch implementation.
While the MacBook Pro is lacking a great deal of support and Apple itself if struggling to maintain support for one of the popular games, the Surface Laptop Studio and Windows is the largest gaming platform in terms of breadth, depth, and maturity. Microsoft is also one of the most prominent gaming publishers in the industry and this will be even more true with the acquisition of Activision Blizzard. Of the 23 game development studios under Microsoft’s wing, it is responsible for some of the biggest franchises in gaming history including Minecraft which is most popular game in the world, Age of Empires, Gears of War, Halo, Fallout, Microsoft Flight Simulator, Doom, and Elder Scrolls. With the purchase of Activision Blizzards its portfolio would then include Call of Duty, Diablo Overwatch, World of Warcraft, Candy Crush, and StarCraft.
The MacBook Pro outperforms the Surface Laptop Studio by a significant margin in video encoding. I also do not believe the modular touch display has much of a use for a video editor other than in very specific scenarios. The SD card support on the MacBook is also a huge win for videographers and photographers. For these reasons, I believe the MacBook Pro is better for video editing and video encoding.
The MacBook Pro also has support for higher impedance headphones and the best quality laptop speakers on the market. While the Surface Laptop Studio has a great set of loudspeakers, the MacBook Pro speakers are unmatched.
For CPU-specific rendering, the MacBook Pro has better render speeds. However, the Surface Laptop Studio’s RTX 3050 Ti and Surface Laptop Studio Business’ A2000 have better GPU performance. The Surface Laptop Studio also has the added benefit of Studio mode and pen support for more accurate 3D modeling.
The Surface Laptop Studio is better than the MacBook Pro for illustrating because of its native touch and pen support. The Surface Slim Pen 2 has many great writing features and supported applications that make it the best illustrating experience on a Windows tablet. The Surface Slim Pen 2 has a haptic motor that, alongside the G6 processor in the Surface Laptop Studio, mimics a pen-to-paper experience. Windows Central has a great article highlighting some great applications for the Surface Pen, including drawing, note-taking, PDF editor, and music annotator. Microsoft has also integrated pen features into its Office suite for annotating Word documents, PowerPoint slides, and the one I use most often, taking notes on OneNote. The Surface Slim Pen 2 is also always charged, and with the Surface Laptop Studio, with its innovative magnetic charging slot. The Surface Laptop Studio is considerably better than the MacBook Pro for illustrators.
Both laptops are powerful mobile workstations. The MacBook Pro is about half a pound lighter than the Surface Laptop Studio, and when including the pen and charger, it adds up. Not to mention the larger form factor of the Surface Laptop Studio means it has more of a challenge with backpacks. However, the Surface Dock 2 is more reliable and value-packed, in my opinion, than Thunderbolt 4 docks. While I am all for more ports on a laptop, I believe the Surface Laptop Studio has better docking options and versatility with its modular design.
The Surface Laptop Studio and the 14-inch MacBook Pro M1 Pro are both one-of-a-kind laptops. It wasn’t easy to make this comparison considering both laptops are good at what they do. The MacBook Pro is a content creator-specific device. I believe Apple wants it to be that way, considering the support for anything else, especially gaming, is very limited. Apple has focused on audio, display, and battery quality in its 14-inch MacBook Pro while also making a very powerful CPU.
When we break down specific use-cases and the reality that not everyone falls into one creator category, I believe the Surface Laptop Studio offers a lot more than the MacBook Pro. I recommend the Surface Laptop Studio to content creators who use 3D modeling, programming, and touch-specific app development, those that do a mixture of every use case, and those that want to play games. The Surface Laptop Studio is in my opinion better than the MacBook Pro. This offer consideration is especially true when considering the difference in gaming between the two systems. The Surface Laptop Studio brings a level of versatility and practicality to the use cases of many content creators and people who will use their devices for more than just content creation. If you do anything with a pen or touch, the Studio is your only choice unless you want to buy a MacBook Pro and an iPad Pro. I did not expect the Surface Laptop Studio to rock Apple’s world in all benchmarks. I expected the Surface Laptop Studio to bring a premium Surface experience to content creators without compromising too much performance. And it delivered.
Note: Moor Insights & Strategy co-op Jacob Freyman ran all benchmarks and contributed to writing this article.