The Mac Studio is Apple’s latest workstation that’s aimed at creative professionals. Looking a bit like a Mac mini that’s hit the gym, the Mac Studio is an impressively compact PC that comes with a huge amount of power. Remember the hugely powerful M1 Max that powered the MacBook Pro 14-inch and MacBook Pro 16-inch? Well, the Mac Studio comes with one as well, offering you the kind of performance that’ll make light work of even the most intense projects, from editing ultra-high definition videos in Final Cut Pro, to working with multi-tracked audio projects in Logic Pro.
Still not enough power? Well, the Mac Studio can also be configured to come with the brand-new M1 Ultra chip. This is essentially two M1 Max chips connected together via a low latency, high bandwidth connector, turning them into one large M1 Ultra chip, which offers double the cores, memory and bandwidth of the already uber-powerful M1 Max. With an M1 Ultra installed, the Mac Studio is one of the most powerful machines Apple has ever built, coming close to rivalling the most expensive Mac Pro configuration, all while keeping the overall size of the machine small enough to fit on a desk. With specs like these, it seems the Mac Studio is likely to go straight to the top of our best computers for video editing and best computers for graphic design buying guides, but is Apple's latest machine really a viable purchase for most creative professionals? We tested it to find out...
Mac Studio: price
A brand-new Mac in an ultra-compact chassis and sporting the latest and most powerful tech Apple has created was never going to be a budget device, so it’ll come as no surprise that the Mac Studio comes with a high price tag.
The entry level model of the Mac Studio, which comes with an M1 Max chip with a 10-core CPU and 24-core GPU, 32GB unified memory and 512GB SSD costs $1,999 / £1,999. While this is a high price, compared to other creative workstations, especially ones with discrete professional graphics cards, the price isn’t that outrageous.
However, if you go for the Mac Studio with the M1 Ultra chip, with a 20-core CPU, 48-core GPU, 64GB unified memory and 1TB SSD, the asking price is a huge $3,999 / £3,999. This is a large step up – essentially you’re paying double for double the specs, and while that may seem fair enough, there’s no getting away from the fact that this is going to be a huge investment for many people. While the new M1 Ultra may be tempting for a lot of people, it offers a level of performance that not everyone will need, while the M1 Max is more than good enough for most creative workloads.
Of course, you can also configure both models. The Mac Studio we got in for review comes with an Apple M1 Ultra with a 20-core CPU, 64-core GPU, 128GB RAM and 2TB SSD. Apart from the SSD (which goes up to 8TB), this is the highest-end model you can buy, and it will set you back $5,999 / £6,199.
That’s a huge asking price, and higher than the Mac Pro’s entry level model, which costs $5,999 / £5,499. With these kind of prices, you may have made your mind up already if the Mac Studio is right for you.
Mac Studio: features
The biggest feature of the Mac Studio is the raw power it provides, especially with the M1 Ultra. According to Apple, the Mac Studio with the M1 Ultra offers 3.8 times faster CPU performance compared to the most expensive 27-inch iMac.
It also offers 90% faster CPU performance than the Mac Pro with a 16-core Intel Xeon processor, and up to 60% faster CPU performance than a Mac Pro with a 28-core processor.
Those claims are certainly impressive, but they get better, as not only is the M1 Ultra incredibly powerful, but it’s also incredibly efficient. Again, according to Apple, the M1 Ultra offers 90% higher multi-thread performance compared to a 16-core PC chip whilst using the same amount of energy.
It can also offer faster GPU performance than the highest-end PC GPU, while using 200W less. What this means in practice is that running costs are lower (especially important in these times of rising energy bills), and the M1 Ultra also runs cooler. This means it’s nearly silent in use, without the need for fans to spin up to keep it cool, and it’s also allowed Apple to make the Mac Studio so compact. If you hate the look of big, bulky, tower PCs, then you’re going to fall in love with the Mac Studio.
Whilst Apple’s performance claims don’t quite add up (more on that in a bit), there’s no doubting that it's made an impressive little PC with the Mac Studio.
Mac Studio: design
When we said the Mac Studio looks like a Mac mini that’s been hitting the gym, we meant that it resembles a beefed up version of Apple’s smallest PC, while still being remarkably small. Its chassis is a single aluminium design, with a square footprint of 7.7 inches and a height of 3.7 inches. It can easily be picked up in a single hand, and the size means you can place it on a desk and it won’t take up much room at all. You could even pop it in a bag and carry it around with you.
The M1 Ultra model weighs slightly more than the M1 Max model (3.6kg vs 2.7kg), despite being the same size, and this is because the M1 Ultra uses a large copper thermal module, whereas the M1 Max, which doesn’t run as hot, uses a lighter aluminium heatsink.
Apple has also adorned the Mac Studio with a very good selection of ports: four Thunderbolt 4 ports, a 10Gb Ethernet port, two USB-A ports, an HDMI port and audio jack on the back. On the front, there’s another two USB-C ports, and an SD card slot, making this a great choice for photographers. Having the SD card slot and USB-C ports at the front means they are easy to access on a desk, though Apple has placed the power button at the back, which is a bit fiddly. There’s also Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5 for wireless connections.
It's one of the nicest looking workstation PCs around, and its compact size really is remarkable, considering what the Mac Studio is capable of.
Mac Studio: performance
Unsurprisingly, the Mac Studio offers excellent performance, especially for creative workloads. We say ‘unsurprisingly’ as we’ve seen what the M1 Max is capable of with the MacBook Pro 14-inch and MacBook Pro 16-inch, so it makes sense that the Mac Studio is equal to that when it’s running on the M1 Max, and far outclasses the two latest MacBook Pros when it’s configured with the M1 Ultra.
We ran several creative apps on the Mac Studio, and they all performed exceptionally well. In Photoshop, for example, we loaded up high-resolution photos in a few seconds, and applying effects and filters was instantaneous. The ‘Neural Engine’ cores of the M1 Max and M1 Ultra also allow the Mac Studio to make use of the artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning tools of Photoshop. These tools, such as one which identifies the sky in your photos and lets you edit or even replace it, or a tool which makes it easy to remove objects from a photo by intelligently filling in the background.
The great thing about these tools is that it can help make what were once tedious and time-consuming tasks quick and simple, and Photoshop is a great showcase for what AI and machine learning can bring to creative workflows. So, the fact that the Mac Studio can utilise these (and do them well), is a big selling point.
The Mac Studio also coped well with us editing a complex video project in Final Cut Pro, with certain scenes incorporating multiple 8K sources. All while remaining basically silent in use. It also rendered our 3D footage in Houdini incredibly quickly. Unless you’re doing Pixar-grade 3D animations, the Mac Studio offers more than enough power.
Mac Studio: should you buy it?
There’s a lot to love about the Mac Studio, particularly its excellent performance and compact design. If you’re after a powerful and petite workstation for doing your creative work on, you’re not going to find a better machine.
But is it a product we’d unanimously recommend to people? The answer is no. This is a niche device aimed at quite a specific audience. If you do heavy creative work and want a small workstation, this is absolutely the right product for you.
However, if you don’t need the kind of performance on offer here – and many people simply won’t – then you’d be better off buying something more affordable, such as the Mac mini. If you’re looking for something to work on while you travel, a laptop, such as the 14-inch MacBook Pro, may also be a better bet.
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