Conventional wisdom has always been that one of the advantages of PCs running Microsoft Corporation’s (NASDAQ:MSFT) Windows over Apple Inc.’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) Macs is upgradability. Apple has a habit of locking things down and soldering components. But it turns out that’s not the case when Microsoft itself makes a PC. The new Surface Studio one-ups AAPL, by soldering even the RAM to the motherboard of its new all-in-one desktop PC.
MSFT started shipping its highly anticipated Surface Studio all-in-one PC last week. Noted repair website iFixit immediately got its hands on one and, as it does with many popular devices, it performed a tear down.
The Truth Behind the MSFT Surface Studio
The Surface Studio was completely disassembled to determine what components were inside and how easy it would be to repair or upgrade.
And the results were somewhat surprising: MSFT has outdone even Apple’s iMac when it comes to a desktop computer that lacks upgradability.
One of the most frequently upgraded components on any PC is the RAM. Because computer manufacturers typically charge a significant premium, many buyers order their PC with the base amount of RAM, then upgrade it themselves.
That ability to upgrade RAM is also an inexpensive way to extend the useful life of a computer. What’s good enough for today can be supplemented with more RAM in a year or two if the PC starts to slow down with a new operating system or more demanding software.
Of course it was Apple that first began to chip away at that practice when it began soldering the RAM in its laptops — making memory another component that couldn’t be upgraded by users — but even AAPL left it alone in desktop PCs. Although it is the furthest thing from an easily user upgradable computer, the company’s flagship 27-inch iMac with 5K Retina display still has an access hatch for the memory slots. Owners are free to install their own RAM in what is literally a two minute procedure that requires no tools.
Surface Studio: The Cost of RAM
The iFixit teardown confirms that MSFT has soldered the RAM to the Surface Studio motherboard, making it impossible to upgrade.
The Surface Studio starts at $2,999, but that configuration has just 8GB of RAM. For a professional user — the target demographic for the Surface Studio — 8GB of RAM is laughable. When using RAM-intensive applications like Adobe Systems Incorporatated‘s (NASDAQ:ADBE) Photoshop, 16GB or 32GB is a more common configuration. But the only current Surface Studio configuration with 32GB of RAM goes for a whopping $4,199.
To be fair, that model also includes an upgraded processor, more storage and more memory for the video card. But the point is, in order to configure a Surface Studio with the amount of RAM its target demographic is accustomed to having, instead of a $150 outlay for a few sticks of RAM, Microsoft is requiring they fork over an extra $1,200.
Suddenly, Price Is the Expensive 5K Retina iMac’s Advantage
Windows PC advocates often derided AAPL’s 5K Retina iMac as being too expensive and impossible to repair or upgrade. So it’s somewhat ironic that Microsoft’s take on the all-in-one PC is both significantly more expensive and even less upgradable.
The entry level Surface Studio is $2,999 and the cheapest configuration with 32GB of RAM is $4,199. The 5K Retina iMac starts at $1,499 and the cheapest configuration with 32GB of RAM is $2,399 –although you could spend $150 and upgrade that $1,499 iMac to 32GB yourself.
The Surface Studio offers several key advantages over the iMac, primarily in its touchscreen input and ability to transform into a drafting table form factor.
However, the Surface Studio has turned the 5K Retina iMac’s Achilles Heel(s) — price and lack of upgrade options — into a competitive advantage. It will be interesting to see if AAPL’s marketing department runs with this.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.