The Mac Studio is the next evolution of Apple's desktop platform that takes full advantage of the powerful M1 Ultra processor in a compact package. It is roughly the size of two Mac minis stacked on each other with a ton of ports and output capabilities. It is the top-end of the Apple Silicon Mac lineup.
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Apple places the new desktop firmly between the Mac mini and Mac Pro despite it outperforming the Intel Mac Pro in some metrics. The company hinted that the Mac Pro was the next, and final, Mac expected to transition to Apple Silicon.
Mac Studio Features
Apple described the Mac Studio as a modular platform, which is true when compared to the rigidity of other devices like a MacBook Pro. Customers can choose the mouse, keyboard, monitor, and various peripherals for the compact desktop, while a laptop is stuck with what it was manufactured with. However, that's where modularity ends because, unlike the Mac Pro, the components are not user-replaceable or upgradable. In fact, the case appears to lack any point of entry for customers.
The Mac Studio has a 7.7-inch-square base that is 3.7 inches tall. The enclosure is machined from a single aluminum block with over 2,000 perforations in the rear for exhaust airflow.
The base is a circular plate with more perforations that act as an air intake for cooling. Two fans take up a large portion of the internal structure and move large volumes of air through the structure, but Apple says the fans will be whisper-quiet except under the most extreme loads.
The bottom plate appears to be removable, but this is likely only for specialist access and repair. The solid-state and integrated nature of the internal components likely prevents users from upgrading RAM or storage after purchase.
The design had been rumored since early 2021, which was described by Jon Prosser as a G4 Cube-like design with the compute unit on the bottom and heat sink on top. The machine's high performance seems to earn it the "small Mac Pro" description even if Apple gave it the Mac Studio moniker.
The Mac Studio can be configured with Apple's top-end M-series processors: the M1 Max and M1 Ultra. These high-performance processors make this the most powerful Apple desktop running Apple Silicon. The most expensive configuration runs about $8,000, which is much more powerful than the Intel Mac Pro at the same price. However, the Mac Pro has an even higher ceiling since it can use more RAM and have multiple graphics cards.
The M1 Max has a 10-core CPU and can be configured with up to a 32-core GPU and 64GB of RAM. It was originally introduced in the 14-inch MacBook Pro and 16-inch MacBook Pro as the top processor option for those machines.
The M1 Ultra has a 20-core CPU and can be configured with up to a 64-core GPU and 128GB of RAM. It is the first desktop-only Apple Silicon processor, and it was built by essentially combining two M1 Max processors with an UltraFusion connector.
The M1 Max is a somewhat known entity thanks to it existing previously in the MacBook Pros. This new form factor allows for better peak performance thanks to the better cooling system.
Apple says the M1 Max is up to 2.2x faster at processing well-threaded filters in Adobe Photoshop than the 10-core Intel i9. It is up to 3.5x faster than a Radeon Pro 5700 XT graphics card at rendering 8K footage in Final Cut Pro.
The M1 Ultra is a new processor that needs real-world testing to be believed. Apple says the 20-core processor can outperform a 28-core Xeon-powered Mac Pro by 60% during normal operations. Early benchmarks are divisive because the benchmarking tools are not optimized for Apple Silicon and aren't delivering the numbers that Apple promised at the event.
Even with all of this performance, the M1 Ultra consumes 1000KWh less power per year than competing high-end PCs.
The back of the Mac Studio has four Thunderbolt 4 ports, a 10GB Ethernet port, power in, two USB-A ports, an HDMI port, and a headphone jack. Connect up to four Pro Display XDR and a 4K television all at once using these ports.
The front has an SDXC card slot and two ports that change based on configurations. Customers get two Thunderbolt 4 ports with M1 Ultra or two USB-C ports with M1 Max. Even when configured with the two additional Thunderbolt ports, the external display limit remains the same.
Mac Studio Review
While we don't believe the Mac Studio is for everyone, it does make us excited for what it means for the future of the Mac. Apple surprised everyone with the M1 Ultra and the phenomenal power it brings in such a small enclosure.
Instead of Apple just shoving faster chips in the Mac mini, it created an enclosure almost three times its size to make space for the high-end M1 Ultra. Almost as impressive, the rumor mill didn't catch this until the Friday before launch.
This review summary covers top-level discussions around the design and use cases of the Mac Studio. Read more about benchmarks and specs in the comparison sections below or via our full review.
The Mac Studio bears a strong resemblance to the Mac mini with its rounded-square shape, flat top, and black Apple logo. It is more than twice as tall but has the same width and depth as the Mac mini.
The M1 Max model weighs 5.9 pounds, but our M1 Ultra is much heavier at 7.9 pounds thanks to the copper heat sink. Copper is a much better heat sink thanks to its higher density, but it is also more expensive.
Apple departed from its usual minimalistic approach in design and allowed the front of the Mac Studio to have ports. There are two Thunderbolt 4 ports on our model thanks to the M1 Ultra configuration — M1 Max models get standard USB-C.
There is also an SDXC Class II card reader on the front, a welcome return after losing the SD card reader on the M1 Mac mini. And, since it is front-facing, the user doesn't need to struggle to insert the SD card sight unseen.
Fan noise and cooling
The rear ports are arranged at the bottom half of the enclosure with 4,000 holes perforating the top for cooling. The heat sink and fans take up most of the case.
This isn't a "silent" Mac desktop, but you'll struggle to hear it unless the room is absolutely quiet. With a baseline ambient sound of 36 dBa, the M1 Max model hit 39 dBa idle and 42 dBa under load. That's opposed to the M1 Mac mini being virtually silent when idle and 40 dBa under load.
Anyone who's worked around Macs for years will know what Mac fans sound like, with a specific tone and character. We found that the tone is slightly different and may take a period of adjustment.
Not quite modular
We're not sure why Apple called the Mac Studio "modular" during the reveal event. There isn't any modularity in this desktop unless you count adding peripherals or stacking multiple together on your desk.
This Mac isn't upgradeable, so don't make a purchase based on what some inaccurate and irresponsible video said. There are multiple SSD slots, but those exist for high-end configurations with 8TB of storage and service repair, not users. Everything else is soldered down and serialized to the motherboard.
We recommend buying what you need right out of the gate and don't count on an upgrade path later. While this may be more expensive, it will serve you better in the long run.
Not for everyone
The Mac Studio fits in the middle of the lineup and acts as a promise of what's to come in the future Mac Pro. Its configurations from the $2,000 starting model to the top-end M1 Ultra powerhouse should be enough options for most users.
Photographers, videographers, and developers will gain a lot from the power available in the M1 Ultra and Apple's new desktop class. This power will eventually trickle down to Apple's other gear, but not for some time.
There are a few, however, who would benefit from real modularity and higher RAM configurations than what exists at this level. If that's the case, you may be waiting a while for a Mac Pro running Apple Silicon, so stick to your five-figure Intel Mac Pros or get a Mac Studio to hold you over until then.
- Incredible speed
- G4 Cube or Mac mini desk footprint
- Front-mounted ports
- Quieter than alternatives under load
- Not silent when idle
- RAM and SSD prices are borderline extortionate
- Apple has a funny definition of modular
Mac Studio compared
M1 Ultra vs. M1 Max
The Mac Studio straddles the line between the 14-inch MacBook Pro and mid-range Mac Pro, thanks to the two processors available for the product. The M1 Max and M1 Ultra versions of the Mac Studio may look the same, but they are very different machines.
The model running the M1 Max starts at $1,999, while the M1 Ultra starts at $4,999. The price isn't the only thing that's doubled between the models, as available RAM, base storage, and processing cores are doubled too.
Spec to spec comparisons
|Mac Studio with M1 Max||Mac Studio with M1 Ultra|
|RAM||32GB, expandable to 64GB||64GB, expandable to 128GB|
|Front ports||2 x USB-C, 1 x SDXC||2 x Thunderbolt 4, 1 x SDXC|
|Back ports||4 x Thunderbolt 4 ports, 2 x USB-A, 1 x HDMI, 1 x 10GB Ethernet, 1 x 3.5mm headphone||4 x Thunderbolt 4 ports, 2 x USB-A, 1 x HDMI, 1 x 10GB Ethernet, 1 x 3.5mm headphone|
If you want to configure the base M1 Max to be more similar to the base M1 Ultra model, then increase the RAM to 64GB for $400 and upgrade the storage to 1TB for $200. This raises the price to $2,599, still $1,400 lower than the model running M1 Ultra, but you're missing the additional processor performance.
Even when users configure the M1 Max model with more RAM and Storage, one factor can't be changed: the ports. The six Thunderbolt port arrangement is limited to the M1 Ultra Mac Studio, but both models still only support four Thunderbolt displays and one HDMI display total.
While benchmarking tools may not be the most accurate depiction of how these processors compare, the raw numbers give an idea of what to expect. The single-core operations were near identical for both chips since they essentially use the same processor cores. However, multi-core is where performance becomes clearly differentiated.
The Geekbench 5 scores for the M1 Max are 1798 single-core and 12822 multi-core. M1 Ultra showed a similar single-core and 23778 multi-core, basically doubling the number as expected.
The Metal scores from Geekbench 5 show 60,629 for the 24-core M1 Max GPU and 91,938 for the 48-core M1 Ultra GPU. That's roughly a 50% increase in performance for M1 Ultra graphics.
Exporting 4K video appeared to not tax either processor since both showed near-identical results for the same process. A one-hour 4K video exported as "Apple compatible" in Final Cut Pro took both machines about 18 minutes to finish. Increasing export resolution and complexity widened the gap, however.
Even 8K video appeared not to need the M1 Ultra for leaps and bounds in gains. While the M1 Max took five minutes and five seconds for export, the M1 Ultra took four minutes and 42 seconds. Which shows the M1 Max may have peaked out, but the M1 Ultra didn't add much to the workflow.
Ultimately, the choice between which Mac Studio model to get comes down to price and user needs. Taxing the M1 Ultra takes a great deal of effort, so most customers may be served by the M1 Max, however, the RAM limitations may be a determining factor.
Read the full comparison between the Mac Studio with M1 Max vs. Mac Studio with M1 Ultra.
Mac Studio vs. Mac Pro
The Mac Studio exists between the consumer-focused Mac mini and the ultra-professional Mac Pro. However, there are a variety of metrics where the newer, Apple Silicon-driven Mac Studio outperforms the large desktop tower.
The Mac Pro is still the best option for those seeking out maximum configurability and modularity, but that comes at a price. The base-model Mac Pro starts at $5,999 while the most expensive Mac Studio you can configure is $7,999.
Those who need the Mac Pro won't flinch at its price structure, however, even when spending up to $45,000. This is because at that level, every minute shaved off a render pays for itself in the long run.
One of the largest differentiators between these products is the amount of RAM that can be shoved into each machine. The Mac Studio is configured at sale and cannot be modified by the user after the fact, and it has a maximum of 128GB of RAM.
The Mac Pro has twelve DIMM slots available for user-upgradable RAM. The base model has 32GB of RAM, but for $25,000 more it can have up to 1.5TB of RAM.
CPU and graphics performance tests show that the Mac Studio can hold its own, if not outperform the Mac Pro at its lower configurations. The key here is that users can add more RAM, more graphics cards, and even use external GPUs with the Mac Pro.
Most use cases can be covered by a Mac Studio at a fraction of the Mac Pro cost, but there are a select few use cases that will benefit from the larger machine. Those users already know who they are, so for everyone else, it is easy to recommend the Mac Studio.
We break down the multiple configuration options and how they compare in the full article: Mac Studio vs. Mac Pro.
Mac Studio vs. Mac mini
The cheapest Mac in Apple's lineup starts at $699 and can be maxed out for just $1,799. That's still $200 under the Mac Studio, but there are some tradeoffs.
The Mac mini has the M1 processor no matter what configuration you purchase and tops out at 16GB or RAM, half of the base model Mac Studio. The maxed-out Mac mini may be the cheapest way to get 2TB of integrated SSD storage in a Mac, but you're trading price for performance.
Most users considering a $1,799 Mac mini would be better off getting the base Mac Studio with an external drive. That $200 price jump gets you the M1 Max with better CPU and GPU performance with double the RAM.
If budget is your primary concern then the Mac mini is an obvious choice, but you'll still need a display, keyboard, and mouse. If you aim for modestly priced accessories and a mid-tier Mac mini, you can still come well under the $1,999 price of a Mac Studio.
Choosing the cheaper Mac also means losing a few key features, like the Media Engine found in the M1 Max. Video processing is much faster thanks to this dedicated engine only available in higher-end Macs.
There are also fewer ports on the Mac mini, since it only has two Thunderbolt, two USB-A, an HDMI port, and an Ethernet port. Also, the Mac mini can only drive one Thunderbolt display and one via HDMI at once, which may be a deal-breaker for some creatives.
Read the entire comparison and spec breakdown in the full article: Mac Studio vs. Mac mini.
Bring your own experience
Apple positions the Mac Studio similar to the Mac mini as a headless desktop computer where users bring all the needed peripherals. Of course, users will be able to add a mouse, keyboard, and monitor at checkout, but it may not be necessary for most buyers.
Desktop users coming from docked MacBooks or a Mac mini will already have everything they need to get started with a new Mac desktop, which saves the buyer some cash. However, Apple did release some new accessories to tempt customers.
The Magic Keyboard, Magic Mouse, and Magic Trackpad were all updated with tweaked designs and color schemes when the 24-inch iMac was launched. But, Apple hadn't made these accessories available for purchase beyond the basic white color palette until now.
The Magic Trackpad and Magic Mouse are available with a two-tone color scheme with black tops and a silver chassis. The Magic Keyboard uses the same silver body but has black keys instead of white and a Touch ID button.
One of the biggest "finally" moments of the 2022 March event was the Studio Display. It is a new pro display that doesn't break the bank, starting at $1,599 and configurable with a better stand or nano-texture display.
It is a 27-inch 5K panel with P3 color and 600 nits of brightness. Thanks to the direct Thunderbolt connection, it supports macOS features like True Tone.
There is a Thunderbolt 3 port and three USB-C ports in the back of the display for connections. Also, it has a 12MP ultra-wide webcam with Center Stage support and a six-speaker sound system with Spatial Audio.
Mac Studio Price
Customers can get the Mac Studio starting at $1,999 with a base configuration of M1 Max, 512GB of storage, and 32GB of RAM. The model with an M1 Ultra, 1TB of storage, and 64GB of RAM starts at $3,999.