Should You Buy the Mac Studio?
The Mac Studio is Apple's most powerful custom silicon-based Mac, offering extreme performance and a wide range of ports in a modular, desktop form factor. The Mac Studio starts at $1,999, and was released alongside the $1,599 Studio Display.
The Mac Studio is one of the newer Macs in Apple's lineup and is fairly early in its product cycle. Since it is an entirely new Mac product line and there have been no previous models, we have no indication of how long Apple usually waits to update it. Now is a relatively good time to buy the Mac Studio and customers should not wait for a new model to launch.
While the Mac Studio is now Apple's most powerful Mac, for an Intel-based desktop machine with an interchangeable, modular design with more ports, there is the Mac Pro, which starts at $5,999. On the other hand, if the Mac Studio is out of your price range but you still want a similar Apple silicon-based desktop Mac, there is the entry-level Mac mini, which starts at just $699.
Everything You Need to Know About Mac Studio
- Should You Buy the Mac Studio?
- Everything You Need to Know About Mac Studio
- How to Buy
The Mac Studio is Apple's newest Mac product line, positioned as a cross between a Mac mini and a Mac Pro, as well as a potential replacement for the now-discontinued 27-inch iMac. Designed to look like a taller version of a Mac mini, the Mac Studio is aimed at "studio" professionals, as the name suggests, and it uses Apple's most powerful M-series chips.
Apple says the Mac Studio is meant to provide "outrageous performance, extensive connectivity, and new capabilities" in a super compact form, transforming any space into a "studio."
Priced starting at $1,999, the more affordable entry-level version of the Mac Studio is equipped with an Apple M1 Max chip that features a 10-core CPU, 24-core GPU (upgradeable to 32-core), 16-core Neural Engine, Media Engine, 400GB/s memory bandwidth, and up to 64GB Unified Memory. The more expensive $3,999 model is equipped with an all-new M1 Ultra chip.
The M1 Ultra chip is essentially two M1 Max chips connected together on a single die and able to perform as one chip, which Apple calls UltraFusion architecture. It features a 20-core CPU and a 48-core GPU (upgradeable to 64-core), along with a 32-core Neural Engine, 800GB/s memory bandwidth, up to 128GB Unified Memory, and a Media Engine that's twice as fast.
According to Apple, the M1 Ultra's CPU is up to 3.8x faster than the highest-end Intel Core i9 iMac (which has now been discontinued), and up to 60 percent faster than the 28-core Mac Pro with Intel Xeon W processor. As for the GPU, the M1 Ultra is 4.5x faster than the 27-inch iMac and 80 percent faster than the highest-end Mac Pro with AMD Radeon Pro W6900X graphics.
The M1 Ultra supports playback of up to 18 streams of 8K ProRes 422 video, which Apple says no other personal computer in the world is able to do, plus it offers performance on par with top-of-the-line PC chips and graphics cards at a fraction of the power.
Designed to look like a taller version of the Mac mini, the Mac Studio features a square-shaped 7.7-inch all-aluminum enclosure that's 3.7-inches high. The size is meant to allow it to fit "perfectly" under most displays on the market.
The Mac Studio is designed for quiet operation, with a unique thermal architecture that pulls air in through the airflow channels on the bottom using double-sided blowers and pushes it out through additional perforations on the back of the chassis.
There are four Thunderbolt 4 ports at the back of the Mac Studio, along with a 10Gb Ethernet port, two USB-A ports, an HDMI port, and a 3.5mm headphone jack with support for high-impedance headphones. At the front, the M1 Max Mac Studio has an additional two USB-C ports and an SDXC card slot, while the M1 Ultra has two Thunderbolt 4 ports and the same card slot.
The Mac Studio supports up to four 6K Pro Display XDRs along with one 4K display over HDMI. The M1 Max version comes with a 512GB SSD and the M1 Ultra model comes with a 1TB SSD, but both are configurable with up to 8TB of SSD storage space with read speeds up to 7.4GB/s.
As for wireless connectivity, the Mac Studio has Wi-Fi 6 for the fastest Wi-Fi speeds, and it supports Bluetooth 5.0.
The Mac Studio is designed to be paired with Apple's matching $1,599 Studio Display, a 27-inch 5K resolution display that has a built-in 12-megapixel camera with Center Stage support, as well as high-quality microphone and speaker arrays.
Apple has the Mac Studio available for purchase now, although supplies are tight following the March 18 launch.
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How to Buy
Some Mac Studio owners have noticed that their machines are making a high-pitched "whining" sound that appears to be coming from the fan. There are pages of complaints on the MacRumors forums about the issue, and it seems to be affecting a number of users.
Most of the complaints are coming from Mac Studio owners who opted for the M1 Max Mac Studio rather than the Ultra version, which is not a surprise as the two machines have different thermal setups.
Users who are experiencing issues have described the noise as a high-frequency sound that is difficult to ignore, and it is in addition to the standard fan noise. The M1 Max and M1 Ultra have different heatsinks, which explains why one machine is experiencing issues while the other is not. The M1 Ultra is equipped with a much larger copper heatsink, that likely prevents the fan from kicking on as often, and there also appears to be a problem with the M1 Max setup that causes the whine.
It is worth noting that not all M1 Max Mac Studio models appear to be experiencing this problem, as some people have said that they do not hear an unusual sound beyond the standard quiet fan noise. There are also some complaints just about the level of the fan noise alone without the whine, but many of the people who are unhappy with their machines seem to be experiencing the high-pitched sound rather than the typical fan noise.
Mac Studio buyers who are within their two-week return period can get a replacement from Apple, but there are reports that replacement machines have seen the same issue. It is not clear if this is something that can be addressed in a software update or if it's a hardware issue that Apple is dealing with.
The first reviews and unboxing videos of the Mac Studio praised the device's performance and connectivity.
While the Mac Studio resembles a larger Mac mini, it is far more powerful. The computer can be configured with the same M1 Max chip available for the 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro, or the new M1 Ultra chip, which features a 20-core CPU, up to a 64-core GPU, and a 32-core Neural Engine. With the M1 Ultra chip, the Mac Studio has faster performance than a 28-core Mac Pro tower released in December 2019.
Specifically, the Mac Studio has earned a multi-core score of around 23,500 to 24,000 in many Geekbench 5 results, compared to an average multi-core score of 19,956 for the Mac Pro with a 28-core Intel Xeon W processor. This is especially impressive given that the Mac Studio with the M1 Ultra chip starts at $3,999, while a Mac Pro tower configured with a 28-core processor is over three times more expensive at $12,999.
My first stop was Becca Farsace, our video director who edited the entire video review of the Mac Studio and Studio Display (which you should go watch if you haven't already) on our Studio unit. I watched her work in Premiere and Media Encoder for hours, and even to my amateur eyes, it was clear that the Studio was flying. It was miles better than our two-year-old Mac Pro (which Becca uses for most of her work) at basically everything. Becca was able to play 4K, 10-bit 4:2:2 footage from a Sony FX3 at full resolution in Adobe Premiere Pro at 4x speed with no proxies. It was lightning fast. On any other machine, she'd have had to be in half-resolution at most. There was also no lag between hitting the spacebar and stopping playback when playing footage at 2x or 4x speed, something she finds to be a big annoyance on the Mac Pro.
On the back of the Mac Studio, connectivity options include four Thunderbolt 4 ports, two USB-A ports, one HDMI port, one 10-Gigabit Ethernet port, and a 3.5mm headphone jack with support for high-impedance headphones. On the front, there is an SD card slot, along with two USB-C ports for M1 Max configurations or two Thunderbolt 4 ports for M1 Ultra configurations. The computer supports Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.0.
But that may be the point: this is a computer designed to be used, not to be looked at as a piece of art. When you choose to stick ports on the front of a computer—hey everybody, Apple put ports on the front!!—you are choosing function over form. That's the story of the Mac Studio. Apple hasn't skimped on the Mac Studio when it comes to what a certain portion of its customer base wants—connectivity. I used the SD card on the front of the Mac Studio twice on the very first day I had it connected. I also plugged a keyboard into that front USB port. (My test unit was an M1 Max model, so those front ports were USB-C; on models with the M1 Ultra chip, they're full-fledged Thunderbolt 4.) And then there's the full array of ports on the back: Four Thunderbolt 4, two USB-A, HDMI, a headphone jack, and 10Gb Ethernet. While I didn't fill up all of those ports, I did transfer an array of cables and adapters from the back of my iMac Pro to the Mac Studio and didn't have to dig out a single adapter or find a USB hub to accommodate them.
The Mac Studio takes design cues from both the Mac mini and the Mac Pro with an all-aluminum enclosure and unique thermal design. It uses the same "squircle" shape as the Mac mini, with a square-shaped design that has rounded corners.
It is essentially a much taller version of the Mac mini, measuring in at 3.7 inches tall and 7.7 inches wide at each side. Apple says that it is sized to fit perfectly under most displays, including the Studio Display that is being sold alongside it.
As for weight, the M1 Max version weighs 5.9 pounds, while the M1 Ultra version weighs 7.9 pounds. The extra weight in the M1 Ultra version is due to a difference in thermal needs. The M1 Max version has an aluminum heatsink while the M1 Ultra version has a larger copper thermal module.
To dissipate heat and allow for quiet operation, the Mac Studio has a series of airflow channels at the back and at the bottom. The machine pulls in air from the bottom and pushes it out through the more than 4,000 perforations at the back and bottom of the chassis to cool the internal components.
There are a total of 12 ports on the front and back of the Mac Studio. The back features four Thunderbolt 4 ports, a 10Gb Ethernet port, two USB-A ports, one HDMI port, and a 3.5mm headphone jack that supports high-impedance headphones. There is also a built-in speaker to go along with the headphone jack.
The front of the M1 Max Mac Studio features an additional two USB-C ports along with an SDXC card slot, while the front of the M1 Ultra Mac Studio includes two Thunderbolt 4 ports and the SDXC card slot.
Up to four 6K Pro Display XDRs and one 4K TV or 4K display can be connected to the Mac Studio.
M1 Max and M1 Ultra Chips
The Mac Studio can be purchased with either M1 Max or M1 Ultra chips. The M1 Max is the same chip that was first introduced in the MacBook Pro, while the M1 Ultra is essentially two M1 Max chips working together in tandem to form a single chip for double the performance of the M1 Max. Apple uses UltraFusion, a custom-built packaging architecture, for the M1 Ultra.
The M1 Max chip features a 10-core CPU with eight high-performance cores and two high-efficiency cores, while the M1 Ultra chip features a 20-core CPU with 16 high-performance cores and 4 high-efficiency cores. Apple says that the M1 Max offers 2.5x faster performance than the Core i9 chip in the now-discontinued 27-inch iMac, while the M1 Ultra offers 3.8x faster CPU performance.
The M1 Ultra is in fact faster than the 28-core Intel Mac Pro, earning a single-core score of 1793 and a multi-core score of 24055 in a Geekbench 5 benchmark. Comparatively, the highest-end Mac Pro earned a single-core score of 1152 and a multi-core score of 19951.
Apple says the M1 Ultra is able to offer 90 percent higher performance than the fastest 16-core PC CPU within the same power envelope, and it can deliver the PC chip's peak performance using 100W less power.
It offers similar performance to "one of the most popular discrete GPUs" while using 1/3 as much power, and it provides faster performance than the highest-end discrete GPU using 200W less power.
There are multiple GPU configurations for the M1 Max and M1 Ultra. The base Mac Studio with M1 Max features a 24-core GPU, but can be upgraded to a 32-core GPU.
The base M1 Ultra chip features a 48-core GPU, but it can be upgraded to a 64-core GPU.
Apple's M1 Max chip offers 3.4x faster GPU performance than the 27-inch Core i9 iMac, and the M1 Ultra offers up to 4.5x faster GPU performance.
According to Apple, the M1 Ultra GPU is 80 percent faster than the highest-end Radeon Pro W6900X graphics card used in the Mac Pro.
The M1 Max Mac Studio can be upgraded to 64GB unified memory and 400GB/s memory bandwidth, while the M1 Ultra Mac Studio supports up to 128GB unified memory and 800GB/s memory bandwidth.
The M1 Max features a 16-core Neural Engine, and the M1 Ultra has a 32-core Neural Engine. The 32-core Neural Engine can complete up to 22 trillion operations per second for machine learning tasks.
The Media Engine in the M1 Max and M1 Ultra offers dedicated acceleration for the ProRes video codec, along with video encode/decode engines and hardware accelerated support for H.264, HEVC, ProRes, and ProRes RAW.
The M1 Max has a video decode engine, two video encode engines, and two ProRes encode and decode engines, while the M1 Ultra has double that. The M1 Ultra can play up to 18 streams of 8K ProRes 422 video, while the M1 Max supports up to nine.
Both the M1 Max and M1 Ultra Mac Studio machines support up to 8TB of SSD storage with read speeds up to 7.4GB/s. The M1 Max Mac Studio comes with a 512GB SSD by default, while the base M1 Ultra Mac Studio ships with a 1TB SSD.
The Mac Studio models support 802.11ax WiFi 6 connectivity and Bluetooth 5.0, the latest WiFi and Bluetooth protocols. There is no WiFi 6E support, which adds a 6GHz band to the WiFi 6 standard.
There are two base Mac Studio configurations available from Apple, one with an M1 Max chip and one with an M1 Ultra chip.
- $1,999 - M1 Max chip with 10-core CPU, 24-core GPU, and 16-core Neural Engine. 32GB unified memory, 512GB SSD, and two front USB-C ports.
- $3,999 - M1 Ultra chip with 20-core CPU, 48-core GPU, and 32-core Neural Engine. 64GB unified memory, 1TB SSD, and two front Thunderbolt 4 ports.
Base model Mac Studio Upgrade Options
- M1 Max w/ 10-core CPU, 32-core GPU, 16-core Neural Engine - +$200
- M1 Ultra w/ 20-core CPU, 48-core GPU, 32-core Neural Engine - +$1,400
- M1 Ultra w/ 20-core CPU, 64-core GPU, 32-core Neural Engine - +$2,400
- 64GB unified memory - +$400
- 1TB SSD - +$200
- 2TB SSD - +$600
- 4TB SSD - +$1,200
- 8TB SSD - +$2,400
Higher-end Mac Studio Upgrade Options
- M1 Ultra w/ 20-core CPU, 64-core GPU, 32-core Neural Engine - +$1,000
- 128GB unified memory - +$800
- 2TB SSD - +$400
- 4TB SSD - +$1,000
- 8TB SSD - +$2,200
Apple is selling the Mac Studio alongside the Studio Display, a 27-inch 5K display that's designed to be used with it. The Studio Display is compatible with other Macs and iPads, but it was designed to match the Mac Studio.
The Studio Display features a built-in A13 chip that powers a 12-megapixel Ultra Wide camera with Center Stage and a six-speaker sound system with Spatial Audio, plus it includes a studio-quality three-microphone array and a tilt and height adjustable stand option. More information on the Studio Display can be found in our dedicated roundup.