Apple Mac Studio Review: Ultra-Utilitarian Mac

Mac Studio is a new highlight for Apple’s desktops. But is the new model also for you? You can read it in our Mac Studio review.

Mac Studio review

Let’s be honest: The desktops that Apple has released over the past decade are disappointing to say the least. The design remained the same for too long, fans began to sound more and more like fighter jets due to hot Intel chips, and repairs and upgrades were made almost impossible without Apple for good reason – in addition to financial gain. Mac Pro got a better treatment with the return of a traditional tower in 2019 that you can put in whatever you want. But with a starting price of $ 6499, the Mac Pro is only manageable by established professionals, so others have had to settle for faulty iMacs and Mac minis.

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Intel’s move to Apple’s proprietary processors and designer Jony Ive’s departure now quickly turns the tide for Apple’s desktops. The new 24-inch iMac makes any interior more cheerful, and at the same time performs great thanks to the M1 chip. Mac mini has been given a new life as an affordable entry-level Mac that is now fast. And now there’s a brand new desktop: Mac Studio. This new box should fill the gap between the Mac mini and the Mac Pro as the ultimate ‘in the studio’ computer: think about starting a professional, self-employed and small business as a target audience. But does he succeed?

Maximum M1

First, Mac Studio does not abandon the closed box principle. Add memory? It is not possible. Expand storage space? Not possible. It’s a shame, but unlike Intel-based Macs, Mac Studio has good reason for these limitations. The Apple processors in Mac Studio – MacBook Pro’s M1 Max and the all-new M1 Ultra – have fully integrated memory and storage space. As a result, these parts can not be replaced, but they are much faster than with computers with traditional processors.

Mac Studio review

The result of this is clearly noticeable, even with something as simple as opening a program. If you click on an app, or for that matter twenty apps at a time, you never have to wait. But that was actually already the case with other Macs with an M1 chip. What sets Mac Studio apart is the M1 Ultra. This new chip actually consists of two M1 Max chips that are connected to a special connector so that they act as one chip.

The result is pretty insane on paper with as many as 16 performance cores and up to 64 graphics cores. For comparison: the normal M1 is stuck on 4 performance cores and 8 graphics cores. The M1 Ultra also has a maximum of 128 gigabytes of central memory. It’s a lot smaller than the Mac Pro’s maximum of 1536 gigabytes, but unlike the Mac Pro, this memory is also used for graphics applications – and then 128 gigabytes suddenly becomes a lot. In addition to plenty of cores and memory, the M1 Ultra has a Quadruple Media Engine for encoding and decoding videos and Apple’s Neural Engine for machine learning tasks. In short, it’s the fastest Mac ever, and even the much more expensive Mac Pro can’t keep up.

In practice

But hey, specifications are one thing, actually use another. What do you notice in practice with the M1 Ultra? It mainly depends on the apps you use. If the app is optimized for Apple processors, nothing feels like a challenge for Ultra. Final Cut simply does not falter, and Logic Pro can handle a ridiculous number of audio tracks and channels at once. 3D apps on Ultra are also much smoother as they have more power and video memory at their disposal than ever before. Think, for example, of Cinema 4D and Blender, both of which are optimized for Apple chips. And in our test of opening all apps at once – 39 in our case, including apps like Final Cut and Logic Pro – Mac Studio finishes in eight seconds. Even the technical demos of Unreal Engine 5 – the latest graphics engine at the moment – are no problem for Mac Studio.

Mac Studio apps

Performance gets less extreme as soon as you run apps written for Intel – Mac Studio runs it via a translation layer called Rosetta 2. This works well, but the speed drops with these apps to such an extent that the M1 Ultra no longer has a head start, shoulders of Intel chips on Mac Pro. Unfortunately, there are still many apps that need to run via Rosetta 2, including popular applications like Maya, Pro Tools, AutoCAD, and some features in Photoshop that often limit the capabilities of the M1 Ultra. This is primarily due to slow developers, but given that the M1 has been around for a year and a half, it leaves some doubt as to whether each app will eventually get an Apple Silicon version. For now, it’s not a deal breaker, but it could be a problem if Apple ever drops the Rosetta 2 from macOS – and the odds are pretty high if we look at the Mac’s past.

Function rather than form

Mac Studio’s chassis is more compact than you would expect for a “superpower”, as Apple so beautifully calls it. It is as deep and wide as a Mac mini and about 2.5 times its height. This means it still fits easily on your desk or even under your monitor. So you get the performance of an old-fashioned tower, but without the tower. And without the noise of a tower, because our Mac Studio with an M1 Ultra is whisper-quiet even during the toughest tests. This is mainly due to the Mac’s internal layout, which is two-thirds copper radiators and fans: the cooling is almost too high for the 215 watts that the M1 Ultra consumes in the most extreme case.

Mac Studio design

Moreover, the story of the design is almost the same as the new MacBook Pro: not the most beautiful, but functional. Mac Studio is the first Mac since 2012 to have connections on the front: two USB-C (or Thunderbolt 4 with M1 Ultra) and an SD card reader. It does not deserve the beauty award – in fact, this is probably the ugliest Mac since the 1990s – but a professional desktop does not have to be beautiful either. On the back you will find an impressive amount of ports, which are also very fast: four Thunderbolt 4, once 10 gigabit Ethernet, two normal USB ports, HDMI 2.0 and a mini-jack connection. In any case, you do not need to deal with dongles and adapters.

Both internally and externally, Mac Studio therefore has a functional design, and for a computer for professional use, this is only logical. For, of course, a powerful processor requires good cooling, and of course professionals want as many super-fast connections as possible: It’s all so obvious, but Apple seemed to have forgotten it in recent years. As a result, we can now appreciate this design even more. Function rather than form seems to be Apple’s new motto, and it works really well for Mac Studio.

Mac Studio is for sale through the (online) Apple Store and online stores like Amac and Coolblue.

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  • Ultimate speed
  • Lots of connections
  • Silent home
  • Takes up little space

  • Not all software is optimized yet
  • No upgrades possible

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