Mac Studio review – even the base model is amazing [Video]

I’ve been working on formulating my Mac Studio review for a few weeks, and I’ve finally been able to spend enough time with the machine to share my thoughts on Apple’s most powerful desktop offering.

I have had the opportunity to test both the advanced Mac Studio with M1 Ultra system on a chip along with the M1 Max base model at entry level. Is Mac Studio a valuable purchase for those looking for a desktop solution? Need to spend money on M1 Ultra? Watch my hands-on video review as I share my observations and results, and be sure to subscribe 9to5Mac on YouTube for more Mac Studio related videos.

Form factor and design

In terms of design, Mac Studio is the definition of an overcorrection. Its powerful chassis, which is almost the size of three Mac minis stacked on top of each other, is neither beautiful nor elegant.

Unlike previous approaches, Apple designed this computer by first determining what users needed in terms of performance and capacity, and sculpted the machine around these parameters. Mac Studio is not an ugly machine, but it’s a clear departure from Jony Ive’s vision of what a desktop computer should look like, and frankly, it’s a breath of fresh air.

This is not to say that Mac Studio does not have its well-thought-out designed areas. For example, the device is just short enough to fit snugly under Apple’s recently launched 27-inch Studio Display. It also has a beautifully designed intake and exhaust system. Mac Studio is not dead-quiet, but it is quiet enough for where you need to strain to hear it, even when it is under considerable load.

Video: Mac Studio Review

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IN ISLAND

Outside of the Mac Pro, Mac Studio is the only computer that Apple makes with more than four USB-C ports. On the M1 Ultra version of the machine, all the USB-C ports are Thunderbolt 4-ports, which proves to be extremely convenient for those like me who are imbued with the Thunderbolt ecosystem.

Cheaper M1 Max-enabled Mac Studios lack the necessary bandwidth to have six Thunderbolt ports, which instead shifts the front two ports to “10Gbps” USB 3.1 Gen 2 ports. To me, this is disappointing, but for most people, four Thunderbolt 4 ports + two USB 3.1 ports provide more than enough USB-C I / O.

Next to the two front-facing USB-C ports is a UHS-II-enabled SDXC card slot. This is a perfect addition to those who regularly upload photos and videos from digital cameras. Although SD cards are not nearly as fast as something like CFExpress, a storage medium used by many modern cameras, SD cards remain far more widespread. Even some of the latest cameras that can record 8K video support recording directly to an SD card.

I recently tested the Canon’s R5c hybrid mirrorless camera and it has an updated HEVC codec with a very reasonable data rate of 540 Mbps. Such a data rate happens to be perfect for V90 SD cards. In fact, card maker Wise has just announced a V90 offering up to a maximum of 512GB, the largest V90 card to date and one capable of storing up to two hours of 8K video recorded with the R5c. Stay tuned, because in an upcoming post and video I will discuss why the R5c is such a great camera and an ideal Mac Studio companion.

You would not be mad to think that you were looking at the back of an Intel Mac mini when you looked at the back of the Mac Studio. Outside the arrangement of the gates, the type of I / O is very similar. Mac Studio has four Thunderbolt 4 / USB 4 ports on the back, a 10 GbE port, two USB-A ports, an HDMI 2.0 port and a 3.5mm headphone jack.

Unlike the Mac mini, 10GbE comes standard on all Mac Studio machines, which is great for connecting to NAS boxes, or even something like Blackmagic Design’s recently introduced Cloud Store. Although not as fast as the Thunderbolt, 10GbE can travel far longer distances, and entire networks can be designed around it.

In my case, I have my Mac Studio connected to a TP-Link 10G Unmanaged Ethernet Switch, Synology NAS with 10GbE card and a 5Gbps AT&T Fiber Internet connection. The good thing is that all of these network components are located in a different area of ​​the house away from my office, which means I do not have to worry about the noise coming from the Synology NAS when a Time Machine backup decides to drive.

Of course, I can not forget to mention one of the biggest I / O advantages of Mac Studio compared to M1 based machines. M1 Mac mini only supported one Thunderbolt monitor up to 6K resolution, while Mac Studio supported four 6K Pro Display XDRs or 5K Studio monitors simultaneously. In total, Mac Studio supports five monitors at once, if you count its ability to also connect to a 4K monitor via HDMI.

Performance

I have tested both the base model Mac Studio and a much more powerful M1 Ultra model with a 20-core CPU, 64-core GPU, 128 GB unified memory and 1TB SSD. I have a lot of thoughts about both machines, but one of the discussion points you are likely to hear around in the technology world is how the M1 Ultra is a bad value.

This discussion is more or less true in some areas. E.g, 9to5 Macs Miles Somerville put both machines to the test for video editing and found that although the M1 Ultra provided slightly better export and playback times in Final Cut Pro, the differences for his workflows were nowhere near the $ 2,000 + price difference.

Build-to-order options

But this is where it gets interesting. Like everything else, different needs and workflows will determine whether you need to upgrade any of the build-to-order parts when setting up a Mac Studio.

Here are my main observations after testing these two machines back to back, primarily from a video editor’s perspective, but also touching on other areas. First of all, I’m glad Apple chose to give users 32GB of total memory as a starting point. 16 GB is just not enough memory for a desktop computer and you will quickly start to run out of memory and switch to the much slower SSD with only a few apps open. If you edit video, especially 6K or 8K higher resolution workflows, you will start switching to disk as soon as you open some Final Cut projects.

Disk replacement can be done quickly with only 16 GB of RAM

That said, I think 64 GB total memory is the sweet spot if you can a). advice on collection, and. may wait weeks or maybe months due to backorders of build-to-order configurations.

I’ve always noticed that storage is, in fact, the only thing that can be “upgraded” on modern Apple computers, due to the existence of the Thunderbolt connection. In the past, I was quick to reject internal stock upgrades because of how expensive they were compared to external media.

However, depending on the type of work you perform, internal storage upgrades are an area that should not be overlooked on Apple Silicon. If you regularly work with huge files – 3D rendering, video editing, etc. – then you should consider upgrading internal storage if you can afford it.

I do not think most people really appreciate how extremely fast Apple’s internal storage is and how much of an impact it has on overall system performance when working with large amounts of data. Not only does a larger SSD help from the perspective of being able to store more files, but the drives get faster as the size increases. In any case, the speed of Apple’s internal SSD will more times than not run around on external media. Even most Thunderbolt SSDs will not be able to compete unless you dive into some of the really expensive NVMe-based RAID setups, and by comparison, Apple’s $ 2,400 offering price for the 8TB SSD is quite competitive.

If you haven’t noticed, the machines that Apple uses to benchmark Mac Studio’s ability to handle multiple streams of 8K Pro Res video have 8 TB of specified storage. I do not believe this is a coincidence, for brutally fast storage is essential when you start moving a dozen and a half streams of 8K video at the same time. Apple notes that Mac Studio configured with M1 Ultra can play an insane 18 streams of 8K Pro Res 422 video at the same time, and although my Mac Studio has the necessary CPU and GPU credentials, 1TB of storage space to act as a bottleneck that causes the last four streams of 8K video to drop frames during playback during real-time levels in my test.

While basic video workflows will not see major gains when upgrading to the higher-specified version of Mac Studio, it will certainly benefit from the more powerful work, such as. feature film editing with multiple streams of 8K video. build-to-order configurations There is also the issue of machine learning tasks that apps like Final Cut Pro become more dependent on. With its 32-core Neural Engine, the M1 Ultra will be able to perform operations such as motion tracking and the new voice isolation features of Final Cut Pro 10.6.2 even faster.

But Mac Studio was obviously not just made for video. Application developers will take advantage of the reduced compilation times made possible by the M1 Ultra’s 20-core CPU, while training ML models using platforms like the TensorFlow stand to take advantage of the extra GPU cores. While these are far from my areas of expertise, I was able to see tangible benefits from running tests across both disciplines.

9to5Mac’s take

The following people should consider buying a Mac Studio:

  • Mac mini users looking for more I / O and power
  • Mac Pro users whose work translates to Apple Silicon
  • Other Apple users are looking for a desktop solution that is always on

Even the basic Mac Studio is a great overall computer and a massive step up in usability over any M1 Mac that Apple sells. It has much more I / O than any of the other Apple Silicon-powered desktop options, runs quieter than any of the company’s laptops, and has relatively generous $ 1,999 base model specs.

One of the biggest disadvantages of Mac Studio is that, like the Mac mini, you have to own a monitor or buy a monitor. Of course, this device pairs perfectly with Apple’s new 27-inch Studio Display, but it adds an additional $ 1599 on top of the purchase price. If such a scenario is a non-starter, consider the M1 Pro 14-inch MacBook Pro, which is a very capable laptop that has a screen that is out of size better than Studio Display in several tangible ways. Either that, or wait until the cheaper M2-powered Mac mini arrives later this year.

While the Mac mini acts more like a niche product, the Mac Studio is extremely usable on pretty much every front. Simply add a monitor, keyboard, and mouse, and you’re good to go. I just wish it came in black, because it would look much less awkward that way.

What do you think of Mac Studio? Have you bought one or are you planning to buy one? Sound off below in the comments with your thoughts.

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