Hey friends, hope you’re well!
Apple does product line pricing exceptionally well: starting with the MacBook Air, Pro, iMac, Mac Mini, Mac Studio, and finally, the creme de la creme: the Mac Pro, prices and performance steadily rise.
That is until Apple released the Mac Studio with the M2 Ultra chip a few weeks ago, and I believe we may have a Mac in their product lineup that makes the Mac Pro look silly.
Here’s my review of the new Mac Studio after 200 hours of real-world use since launch day: I’ll go over the setup, real-world uses over the last two weeks, and even some gaming: I think many will want to consider the new Mac Studio to grace their setup seriously.
The New Setup
At first glance, Apple hasn’t changed the Studio’s beautiful design – it appears to be two Apple TVs fused together.
At the same time, pricing hasn’t changed: the M2 Max starts at $1,999, while the M2 Ultra starts at $3,999.
So this is my first Mac Studio, and it replaces my previously docked MacBook Pro M2 Max setup, to which the Mac Studio will be compared.
I’ve paired it with the LG 40″ Ultrawide 5K monitor, Apple’s Magic Keyboard, the MX3 mouse, and G-RAID storage: I think it’s a powerful, clean setup.
And, while nothing has changed on the outside, the Mac Studio now looks exactly like the far more expensive Mac Pro, which changes everything.
M2 Ultra Power
The most notable addition is the new M2 Ultra chip, which is essentially a double M2 Max chip with 24-Core CPU, 60-Core GPU, 64GB memory, and 1TB SSD.
On paper, it’s virtually identical to the Mac Pro, which, remember, is $3,000 more expensive.
The raw power of the M2 Ultra has translated to some real-world benefits in recent weeks, even coming from the 14″ MacBook Pro with the M2 Max chip, which is already very powerful.
Using Figma, a design tool that stores and renders information about layers even when they aren’t visible, has been a breeze.
Working with the entire Adobe suite is faster than ever before; for example, the healing brush in Lightroom is near instantaneous, whereas it used to take a few seconds to render out on my M2 Max MacBook.
Working with terabytes of 4K footage on Final Cut Pro is one of the biggest differences I’ve noticed. Even with a slew of effects, timeline scrubbing now feels like I’m watching a pre-rendered video, and rendering times have been reduced by about 25% compared to the M2 Max MacBook.
So, if you do any large-scale 3D modeling, you’ll get even more out of the M2 Ultra. It’s truly amazing how fast the Mac Pro — I mean, the Mac Studio — is.
The M2 Ultra also outperforms the Intel Mac Pro. Whereas X86 chips must conform to X86 architecture, Apple’s bespoke internals have no such constraints: because they continue to create the chip, the hardware surrounding the chip, and the operating system all at the same time. It’s similar to a custom-made piece of furniture rather than, say, IKEA furniture.
Value for Money
It’s not surprising that the M2 Ultra is an extremely powerful chip. What’s surprising is that there’s almost no difference between the Mac Studio and Mac Pro. I’ve scratched my head over this, but here are the differences I’ve discovered that may persuade someone to spend an extra $3,000:
1. The tower encasing but it also adds 30 pounds to the weight!
2. SSDs may benefit from faster read/write speeds because they are housed in a PCI slot rather than a thunderbolt enclosure.
3. There are expandable slots as well as PCI support.
4. Not to mention the case wheels.
The fact that the Mac Pro can’t use a dedicated GPU and that you can’t upgrade the memory because it’s all unified in the M2 Ultra adds to my confusion.
So the Mac Pro is really only for people who need the Mac operating system for intensive work, don’t care about RAM/GPU upgrades, and need multiple PCI-e expansion slots. Except for MKBHD, I can’t think of anyone who needs something so specific.
The Mac Studio represents excellent value for money. Even those considering the Mac Mini and wanting to upgrade its RAM to 32GB would be wise to consider the Mac Studio at that point.
Its SSD read and write speeds on BlackMagic are also ridiculously fast; I got an average read speed of over 6,000 megabits per second and a write speed of 5000megabits per second, which handles literally everything you throw at it, including 12K video editing.
When you add this to the $3,000 savings from the Mac Pro and its much smaller physical package, the Mac Studio may as well dethrone the Mac Pro.
I’ve also been enjoying how the Mac Studio looks on my desk: it has a small footprint and I’m glad they didn’t change the design.
It has the same design and size as the previous generation Mac Studio with the M1 chip. In fact, it reminds me a lot of the PowerMac G4 Cube, if anyone remembers that – just without the see-through encasing that people adored in the 2000s.
It’s large enough to command attention on the desk while also being small enough to fit almost anywhere on the desk, which the Mac Pro cannot claim.
The Mac Studio operates quietly thanks to an ingenious airflow intake on the bottom. Even when under heavy load, I cannot hear it; it is completely silent.
It’s also one of the few Macs with ports on the front, and they’re very useful: two Thunderbolt 4 ports and an SD card reader. The M2 Max’s USB-C ports are limited to 10GBPs, whereas Thunderbolt 4 can reach 40GBPs.
It’s been great having these ports within reach and not having to rely on my CalDigit TS4 underneath the desk.
It’s small, but it’s a heavy boy, with the cooling system accounting for both its weight and height. The M2 Ultra is two pounds heavier than the M2 Max because it has a copper cooling system rather than an aluminum one. Again, great value for money for power users.
Moving on, the Mac Studio with the M2 Ultra chip is the first Mac I’ve ever used that can legitimately be called a gaming machine.
I’ve been playing Borderlands 3 and Counter-Strike GO, and they all run at a consistent 60 frames per second, even on my ultrawide display.
The exciting part is that it’s only going to get better. We currently have a very limited selection of Mac-compatible games, but with the upcoming new Sonoma OS, Apple is providing developers with the tools to port their games to Mac via the Game Porting Toolkit.
Furthermore, the new Sonoma Game Mode appears to reduce bluetooth latency and prioritize the CPU and GPU when running a game, which should result in even better framerates and gaming performance.
So it’s quite promising, especially since the foundation of this Mac Studio has proven to run the games I’ve been playing very well.
Let’s get to the negative stuff: I’ve discovered some things that are a little disappointing.
To begin, I find the Mac Studio base to be surprisingly unstable. When you plug in cords or an SD card, it moves around on the desk, which is dangerous when most people sit at the edge of their desks, as I do here. Adding adhesive underneath can solve this, but given its weight, I expected it to be more stable.
The speakers are also underwhelming. It may be unfair to judge the Mac Studio based on its speaker, but for $4000, you’d think something more than a single-driver speaker would be reasonable. This is my first Mac Studio, and I was expecting MacBook spatial audio quality sound, but they sound awful and should only be used for system sounds.
An included Thunderbolt 4 cable would’ve been nice as well – I was scrambling to find a spare TB4 cable long enough to connect it to my monitor, as you can see here. The longer Thunderbolt 4 cables sold by Apple are quite expensive, so I settled for one from Cable Matters on Amazon, which works perfectly well.
Finally, RAM and storage upgrade costs are exorbitant. They’ll cost you hundreds of dollars, and a fully loaded Mac Studio will cost you even more than a Mac Pro. But, hey, it’s the result of Apple owning the entire ecosystem as well as the Mac architecture.
The Mac Studio provides significant, not incremental, improvements over the M1. It’s been a joy to work with, annihilating every single work task I throw at it without a hiccup, and it truly is a powerful desktop computer best suited for power users and creatives.
The fact that this year’s Mac Studio with the M2 Ultra chip is essentially a much cheaper and significantly slimmed-down version of the Mac Pro has raised eyebrows.
For the time being, the Mac Studio reigns supreme. If you want as much Mac computing power as you can currently get, the Mac Studio with the M2 Ultra chip is the way to go. Now I just have to figure out how to pay for Apple’s Vision Pro.
I’ll also post a video here about my favorite Mac Apps to help you get the most out of your Macs.