MacBook Pro 14-inch vs. Surface Laptop Studio: Flagship showdown

With the launch of Apple’s new MacBook Pros, you might be wondering how the latest from Apple compares to the most recent offering from Microsoft. Well, that’s why we put together this comparison between the MacBook Pro 14-inch and the new Surface Laptop Studio.

These two laptops are super-close in terms of price, but differ a lot when it comes to features, performance, and operating systems. Read on to learn for the true differences between these machines and which one is the best your money can buy.

Price

The MacBook Pro 14-inch and MacBook Pro 16-inch.

As always, we start with the price. It’s here where the Surface Laptop Studio and MacBook Pro 14-inch are the closest. Both of these laptops are expensive ventures, but one has to be better valued than the other.

We start first with the MacBook Pro 14-inch. This Apple laptop starts at $2,000. That gets you an 8-core CPU, a 14-core GPU, 16GB of RAM, and a 512GB SSD. You can then push things up to a mid-range model with a 10-core CPU, a 16-core GPU, 16GB of RAM, and 1TB of storage. That will cost you $2,500

In the case of the MacBook Pro 14-inch, you can add a faster CPU for anywhere between $200 and $700. Another $500 will get you the base M1 Max, and $700 extra will get you the top-end M1 Max with the best specs possible. That includes the 10-core M1 Max CPU with a 32-core GPU. For more details on these configurations, we set up a direct head-to-head comparison on the M1 Max vs. M1 Pro that you’ll want to read.

The Surface Laptop Studio is a little less complicated. The base model comes with integrated Intel Iris Plus graphics and starts at $1,600. That includes a quad-core Intel Core i5 processor, 16GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD. For an additional $200, you can swap in a 512GB SSD.

The back lid of the Surface Laptop Studio.

For the best possible experience — and what we think is closest to challenging the performance of the MacBook Pro 14-inch — an upgrade to the high-end model will be necessary. This Surface Laptop Studio model starts at $2,100 and includes the Intel Core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM, 512GB of storage, and the Nvidia RTX 3050 Ti graphics.

It’s a full $500 more than the base model. And adding 32GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD is also possible for $2,700. That price jumps to $3,100 for a 2TB SSD. However, do note that even with the GPU upgrade, the CPUs in the Laptop Studio are still stuck on quad-core. Similarly priced laptops like the XPS 15 have 8-core processors, so you’re paying for the Surface luxury here and sacrificing some performance.

Overall in terms of price, the starting model of the Surface Laptop Studio is cheaper than the MacBook Pro 14-inch, but you need to keep in mind that it doesn’t include a graphics card. For gaming and video and photo editing, the base model might struggle a bit, even with Intel’s advancements in integrated graphics.

The $2,100 Surface Laptop Studio with RTX graphics could be closest in performance to the base $2,000 MacBook Pro 14-inch, but it’s also $100 more expensive than the MacBook is. For most people, though, that price might be an apples to oranges comparison since the design is so different, as we get into next.

Design

The Surface Laptop Studio in Stage Mode.

When we reviewed it, we found that the Surface Laptop Studio was “weird and wonderful.” That was mainly thanks to the overall design and the different modes of use on the device. As for the MacBook Pro 14-inch, we haven’t reviewed one yet, but it does seem to be a little bit of rinse and repeat when it comes to the design.

Starting first with the MacBook, it again sports an all aluminum-enclosure, just as it has in the past. It looks exactly as it has in previous generations, but the machine is a bit heavier when compared to the previous 13-inch MacBook models. It’s now a bit heftier at 3.5 pounds, compared to 3.0 pounds on last year’s 13-inch M1 MacBook Pro. The thickness, meanwhile, comes in at 0.61 inches — the same as last year’s MacBook Pro.

Once you open the lid, though, things are a bit different. The MacBook’s Touch Bar is now gone. In its place is a new Magic Keyboard that’s set in a double-anodized black well to highlight the backlighting on the keys. The physical function keys are also back, including a wider escape key. Apple also changed the display to add a notch for the webcam, as we will get into in our forthcoming display section. Of course, you’ll still find the force trackpad, which has long been Apple’s signature MacBook feature.

2021 Macbook Pro Keyboard.

As for the Surface Laptop Studio, it’s on an entirely different level when it comes to design as there are three ways to enjoy it. The entire laptop is crafted out of magnesium, and it weighs in at around 4 pounds. It also is a bit thicker than the MacBook, at 0.7 inches. That’s even when considering the “hump” on the bottom base of the laptop, which is a signature design feature to help with cooling when the GPU is in use.

There are also two hinges at play on the Surface Laptop Studio. One hinge allows you to open the screen and use the device as a regular laptop. But the real bonus is with the second fabric hinge that is behind the screen. This hinge is held back by magnets, but when you want to, you can use it to pull the screen toward you and out for different modes of use.

Unlike the MacBook, on a Surface Laptop Studio, you can pull the screen out into a “Stage Mode,” putting it front and center. In this mode, the screen is held down right above the trackpad with magnets. You also can pull the screen down once more for “Studio Mode,” where you can touch and draw on the screen like a tablet.

The Surface Laptop Studio fully closed down in Studio Mode.

Oh, and as for the trackpad, Microsoft did borrow a feature from the MacBook. The trackpad on the Laptop Studio is haptic, just like the force trackpad on the MacBook Pro 14-inch. This means you can click anywhere on the trackpad and the computer will register your clicks. It’s a first for a Surface device, where you usually need to click in the corners of the trackpad.

The keyboard on the Laptop Studio, meanwhile, feels pretty similar to the one on the Surface Pro 8’s Type Cover. We found it enjoyable, with plenty of key travel and bottoming action.

At the end of the day, for around the same price, the 14-inch MacBook does not have the advanced modes of use that the Surface Laptop Studio does. It’s more of a standard laptop, but you can add touch support to your MacBook Pro 14-inch if you already own an iPad. With Sidecar, you can extend your Mac’s display to your iPad screen and use your Apple Pencil on the iPad for drawing. But it’s not as good as native inking, as we get into our display section next.

Display

The MacBook Pro 14 and MacBook Pro 16, with their new ports visible on the sides.

When it comes to the display, the real difference between MacBook Pro 14-inch and Surface Laptop Studio comes down to the support for touch. Both displays are very immersive, to say the least, but only one laptop has touch support, and it’s the Surface.

Looking at just specs, the MacBook Pro 14-inch has a 14.2-inch Liquid Retina XDR mini-LED ProMotion display. The resolution comes in at 3024 x 1964 at 254 pixels per inch (ppi). Refresh rates peak at 120Hz. There are also some really slim bezels, and an iPhone-like notch at the top, which Apple says is for the webcam and allows you to see more of your desktop. Brightness hits 1,000 nits, according to Apple, with a peak of 16,000 nits.

The use of mini-LED technology is the same as what Apple did on the iPad Pro, where the display can dim individual pixels as needed. Combined with the 120Hz refresh rate, that means things should feel vibrant and lively on your MacBook Pro 14-inch. We talked about this in a separate piece. 

With the Surface, you’re getting a touch display. The screen is the same size, but is a lot less dense compared to the MacBook’s. You get 2400 x 1600 resolution at 201 pixels per inch. You also get the same 120Hz refresh rate as the MacBook Pro 14 inch. Despite the lack of pixels, we really liked this display. We found it was one of the most vibrant on a Surface ever — and matches the 13-inch MacBook Pro.

The front of the Surface Laptop Studio in Stage Mode.

The Surface Laptop Studio might sacrifice the pixels, but it does have some cool in-display tech that the MacBook lacks. There’s a special sensor built in that can track the Surface Slim Pen 2 and provide haptic feedback as you’re inking on the screen. This was something we enjoyed, finding that it simulates the feeling of friction. Oh, and the Slim Pen 2 can also charge directly on the Laptop Studio. There’s no need for a separate charger.

Again, this is an apples to oranges comparison. The MacBook Pro 14-inch lacks the touchscreen of the Surface, but it has more pixels on the display and might be a little more vibrant for some. But for creatives, who are always drawing and in need of a pen, the Surface Laptop Studio might be best.

Performance

The interior of the Surface Laptop Studio.

If the display is one thing that’s different across the Laptop Studio and Surface Laptop, then performance is another. Of course, you need to consider MacOS versus Windows in your decision, too. Mac plays nice with other Apple devices, and Windows with Android phones.

Anyway, we’ve already laid down the performance benefits of Apple’s new M1 Pro and M1 Max processors, but now it’s time to put that up against the Laptop Studio.

In the Windows space that the Laptop Studio falls under, it’s hard to compare its performance to what Apple has done until we conduct more testing in our labs. Right now, it seems as though Apple’s new M1 Pro and M1 Max processors pack lots of power and seem to be perfect for developers, video editing, and other CPU-intensive tasks. The way Apple has managed high-efficiency cores, performance cores, and unified memory makes these ARM-based CPUs very efficient with performance as well as battery life.

Die shot of the M1 Max chip.

In terms of the Laptop Studio, it’s a traditional x86 Intel processor, tuned at 35 watts, with four CPU cores. That falls behind what Apple has done on the M1 Pro and M1 Max (eight or 10 CPU cores, 14 or 16 GPU cores) — and even the eight CPU cores you can find on other laptops — but that’s not to say things are bad.

When we encoded a video on the Surface Laptop Studio, we noticed Microsoft’s special sauce. The system can dynamically allocate both power (up to 50 watts for the RTX 3050 Ti) and fan speed, and make moment-by-moment decisions to manage both the CPU and GPU. We saw that in gaming, where we hit 105 frames per second 9fps) in Civilization VI. We also encoded a video in Handbrake, and the Laptop Studio fell behind a bit, but not by much. The Laptop Studio can do video editing and gaming just fine, but don’t push it too far.

Apple has laid down a lot of performance claims, noting that the new M1 Pro and M1 Max Macbooks are faster than anything in a Windows machine. It said the M1 Pro can deliver more performance while using up to 70 percent less power, and is also seven times faster than the integrated graphics on the latest eight-core PC laptop chip. We have to wait to see if that’s true, but it does seem like the MacBooks have the edge in terms of performance over the Surface Laptop Studio.

Portability and battery life

We’ll end with portability and battery life. It’s here where we get into ports, as well as how long the battery inside will last you. It’s not an even contest here, as the MacBook Pro-14-inch will win out.

The MacBook Pro 14-inch has a full-size SDXC card slot, an HDMI port, and a 3.5 mm headphone jack, as well as three Thunderbolt 4 USB-C ports and a MagSafe 3 charging port. Compare that to the Surface Laptop Studio’s two Thunderbolt 4 ports, headphone jack, and Surface Connect port. There’s much more variety on the MacBook Pro 14-inch.

As for webcams, both devices have 1080p webcams. So, you should look good on FaceTime, Skype, and Zoom or Teams calls.

Finally, with battery, the Surface Laptop Studio is rated at 18 hours of typical usage. In our tests, we get to around 10 hours, tops. Apple’s M1 MacBooks are known to be good on battery, and the M1 Pro and M1 Max 14-inch MacBook Pro should be just as good. Apple rates the 14-inch models at up to 17 hours of battery life for video playback.

It’s a draw for now

Between the MacBook Pro 14-inch and Surface Laptop Studio, it’s a draw. For creatives, the Surface Laptop Studio ‘sinking support and touch display, plus multiple modes of use, are hard to beat.

However, the MacBook Pro 14-inch does seem to have the edge when it comes to ports, raw CPU power, and battery life. We’ll need to test the 14-inch MacBook Pro, but for now, it’s as tight of a battle as it gets.

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