Apple Mac Studio 2023 review: The dream Mac desktop
The dream Mac desktop
Note: This review was first published on 18 July 2023.
Designed for Pros
Unless you were paying attention, you probably didn’t know Apple released a new Mac Studio at WWDC 2023. The new one looks just like the old one. It’s the same size, has the same connectivity, and even weighs the same. So what has changed, and is this the machine for pros to have? Or should they opt for a Mac Pro instead? The answer to these questions and more below.
The TL;DR version:
The Mac Studio is an excellent machine for professionals or anyone who simply wants the best Mac desktop computing experience. Just be prepared to pay.
Let’s get the obvious thing out of the way. This is a spec-bump update. The big change is in the processors. That’s no bad thing because the rest of the Mac Studio remains very good and didn’t really need any changes.
I’ll talk about the new processors later, but the other improvement worth mentioning is better external display connectivity. This could be crucial for users who run many external monitors. The old Mac Studio could support up to five displays (four 6K displays and one 4K display), but the new one can support up to eight external displays if you opt for the M2 Ultra model (eight displays at 4K, six at 6K, or three at 8K resolutions). The M2 Max model still supports up to five displays like the previous generation Mac Studio.
Apple didn't make this new model any bigger. It takes up the same space on a desk as a Mac mini, except that it’s thicker. I had no problems positioning it under my monitor. Build quality is stellar. It only comes in silver, and the finish is matte. Apple is usually good at making its products look good, and I think most people would consider the Mac Studio to be stylish and modern. Certainly, it channels some vibes of the legendary G4 Cube.
Connectivity is also the same, so you have two USB-C ports on the front and an SD card reader. On Mac Studios with the M2 Max, these two ports are USB 3.1 Gen 2. And on models with the M2 Ultra, they support Thunderbolt 4. Behind, both models get the same four USB-C Thunderbolt 4 ports, two USB-A USB 3.1 Gen 1 ports, a 10Gb Ethernet port, and an HDMI 2.1 port.
Say hi to M2 Ultra
Joining the M2 family of chips is the new M2 Ultra. Like the M1 Ultra before it, the M2 Ultra is the result of fusing two M2 Max chips together using Apple’s ultra-high-speed UltraFusion interconnect. This means that in its ultimate form, the M2 Ultra chip has:
- 134 billion transistors
- 24 CPU cores
- 76 GPU cores
- Up to 192GB of unified memory
- 800GB/s of unified memory bandwidth
- 32-core neural engine
These are noteworthy increases over the M1 Ultra, which had up to 20 CPU cores and 64 GPU cores and could “only” support up to 128GB of unified memory. I don’t know many people who felt that the M1 Ultra was slow or that 128GB of memory wasn’t enough, but if you are one of those, then rejoice, because Apple has clearly heard your complaints.
Users who work with ProRes will also be happy to know that the M2 Ultra can playback up to – get this – 22 streams of 8K ProRes simultaneously. The M1 Ultra could “only” do 18.
Apple claims the new M2 Ultra chip will offer up to 20% more CPU performance and 30% more GPU performance compared to the M1 Ultra chip, which are bold claims considering the M1 Ultra chip is only over a year old. Let’s run some tests and see if it’s true.
Performance for days
I ran a lot of tests and I won’t inundate you with the charts here – they are on the next page. What I would say, however, is that Apple’s claims that the new Mac Studio with the M2 Ultra chip will offer up to 20% more CPU performance and 30% more GPU performance compared to a Mac Studio with an M1 Ultra chip is mostly spot on.
There’s no question the new Mac Studio, with its M2 Ultra chip, is really fast, but the more pertinent question to ask is if you can take advantage of all this performance and whether or not it makes a significant enough real-world difference. If you are coming from something with a less powerful M1 chip like the M1 Max or M1 Pro, then, yes, the M2 Ultra’s performance can be very compelling. And if you are coming from something even older, like an Intel Mac, then it’s a complete no-brainer.
For owners of a Mac Studio with an M1 Ultra, the answer is probably no. The M1 Ultra still remains incredibly fast and the sensible thing to do is to hold out for a more significant upgrade in the future.
What’s also impressive is how quiet it runs. Even when I tried to tax it by running CPU and GPU-intensive benchmarks at the same time, the fans are but a mere whisper. You have to strain your ears to hear them.
Not just for pros
Although the Mac Studio is marketed primarily as a system for professionals, I think power users will find plenty to like too. To be sure, the amount of computing performance is overkill for most users, but there’s no denying that, overall, it’s just a nicer system to use. Don’t underestimate the extra two ports and SD card at the front, they are extremely useful and make a huge difference to daily usability.
And then there’s the subject of price and value. The Mac Studio starts at S$2,999, which might sound expensive until you realise a Mac mini with the most powerful version of the M2 Pro chip and 32GB of memory is S$2,899. In other words, if you are trying to build the ultimate version of the Mac mini, you might as well just get a Mac Studio. It’s only thicker and it comes with a more powerful M2 Max chip.
|Mac Studio||Mac Studio||Mac Pro|
|Processor||M2 Pro||M2 Max||M2 Ultra||M2 Ultra|
The value argument applies to professionals too. A Mac Studio with the same M2 Ultra chip, memory, and storage as a Mac Pro is nearly half the price. If you don’t need the PCIe slots of the Mac Pro, the answer is obvious. Furthermore, the Mac Studio is far more compact. Who doesn’t like a more compact system?
Of course, the Mac Studio isn’t perfect. While the value proposition is quite good for a high-performance system, there’s no denying that it’s still a very expensive machine. The bigger problem with it is that it can't be upgraded. Because of the way Apple Silicon is designed and how tightly integrated it is, you cannot upgrade memory or even storage. That can be an issue particularly if you are thinking of using it for a long time. If memory starts being insufficient, there’s no way you can increase it and extend its lifespan.
To be sure, for most people, the Mac mini would be enough. But even so, there’s no denying that the Mac Studio is an absolutely cracking little system, and it currently offers the best Mac desktop computing experience you can buy. Ah, if only I had the money…