An Array of Choices: Finding the Right Mac for Your Needs
Last year’s Mac Studio was the super-powered Mac mini many Apple fans were begging for. But, for the most demanding users, it was unclear if it was worth shelling out $3,999 for the high-end Mac Studio with an M1 Ultra chip, or if they should just wait for the inevitable Mac Pro refresh. Now that Apple has revamped the Mac Pro with an M2 Ultra chip, the company’s desktop lineup finally has something for everyone.
At the most basic level, there’s the $599 Mac Mini. If you need a bit more power, you can get that same slim machine with an M2 Pro chip for $1,299. Meanwhile, all-in-one fans have several iMacs to choose from, starting at $1,299 (though it’s probably worth waiting for an M2 spec bump).
Mac Studio: The Powerhouse for Apple Enthusiasts
That leaves the $1,999 Mac Studio as the ideal machine for Apple power users. It’ll be enough for video editing work, and it also comes standard with 32GB of RAM (it could use more than 512GB of storage, though). Step up to the $3,999 model with an M2 Ultra chip, and you’ve got a system that can destroy just about any task you put in front of it. The few professional users who need PCIe expansion can now opt for the M2 Ultra-equipped Mac Pro, which starts at an eye-watering $6,999.
All of sudden, the higher-end Mac Studio makes so much more sense. It has the same raw power as the Mac Pro, a ton of ports, and it won’t take up much room on your desk. What seemed like a curiosity last year, now feels like a tremendous value for power users.
The Specs: A Deep Dive into the M2 Max and M2 Ultra Chips
The base Mac Studio is now equipped with an M2 Max chip, featuring a 12-core CPU (with eight performance and four efficiency cores) and a 30-core GPU, as well as 32GB of RAM. Compared to last year’s M1 Max, the new chip has two more efficiency cores and six additional GPU cores. What’s most notable is the additional upgrade options: You can configure the M2 Max chip with a 38-core GPU and 96GB of RAM (previously you were capped at 32GB of memory).
Step up to the M2 Ultra and you effectively get two M2 Max chips: It starts with a 24-core CPU, 60-core GPU and 64GB of memory. If you want to truly push your system (and wallet) to the limit, the M2 Ultra can also be configured with a 76-core GPU and 192GB of RAM. With all that power, who needs a full-sized PC tower?
The M2 Ultra in Action: Performance in Real World Conditions
And really, that’s what I kept asking myself as I tested our review unit, which was equipped with an M2 Ultra and 192GB of RAM. The Mac Studio is so ridiculously overpowered, only the most demanding users would need the Mac Pro’s PCIe expansion. Since the M2 chips feature unified memory integrated alongside the CPU and GPU, there’s no way to add additional RAM down the line, which used to be another reason to get the Mac Pro. At least you can stuff the Mac Studio to the gills with RAM, if you need it.
Design and Aesthetics: The Artistry of the Mac Studio
Physically, the Studio is no different than what we saw last year. It’s a beautifully polished box that looks like two Mac minis stacked together. It’s far more prominent than that slim desktop, but for Apple devotees, that may be more of a feature than a bug. Now that it no longer seems like a stopgap solution for people eagerly waiting for an upgraded Mac Pro, the Mac Studio looks like the purest expression of what Apple wants a desktop to be in 2023. Why fiddle around with internal hardware when the package Apple delivers is so fully featured?
Conclusion: Assessing the Mac Studio’s Value Proposition
As I said in my review last year, the Mac Studio isn’t meant for everyone: It’s a system targeted at people who know their demands are lightyears beyond mainstream users. They won’t balk at a $1,999 starting price, or even the $3,999 for the M2 Ultra model, if it means they’ll be able to deliver projects faster. On the PC side, you’ve got alternatives like Intel’s NUC Extreme small-form factor desktop, but that system has ballooned in size so much that you can’t really compare it to the Mac Studio.
I’ve gone from being intrigued by the Mac Studio to truly impressed. It continues to blow PCs away when it comes to heavy-duty work, and it has so much connectivity I don’t miss the lack of internal expansion. It’s more than just the big Mac mini – it’s a compact Mac Pro that many creatives can actually afford.