Apple Mac Studio: what is it?
Apple’s Mac mini and iMac offer decent entry points for creatives on a budget, and the popular Apple Silicon M1 processor provides enough power to satisfy many users.
But what if you need a little more punch? As it stands, you can opt for a high-end MacBook Pro, the highly expandable but very expensive Mac Pro, or Apple’s new desktop solution, the Mac Studio.
Based on the company’s latest 10-core M1 Max and 20-core M1 Ultra processors, the Mac Studio effectively has four main variants determined by CPU and GPU configuration. These are then further refined by your SSD storage and memory choices.
The base machine is the M1 Max with 32GB of memory and 512GB of storage and costs $1,999 / £1,999. The top M1 Ultra machine with 64-core GPU, 128GB of memory and 8TB of storage costs $7,999 / £7,999.
Our review machine has the M1 Max processor but with the best 32-core GPU, 16-core neural engine, 64GB RAM and 2TB SSD, and retails for a hefty $3,199/ £3,199.
The Mac Studio comes without a keyboard or mouse. Apple’s latest line of input devices (full-size Magic Keyboard with Touch ID, Magic Mouse, and Magic Trackpad) come in white or black, with the latter being slightly more expensive. Either way, if you need a mouse and keyboard, you’ll need to budget accordingly.
Finally, the M1 is a “system on chip” design, so the CPU, graphics, and memory aspects cannot be changed or upgraded. Whether you can upgrade or replace the SSD remains to be seen, but early teardown attempts indicate that the SSD is accessible and removable, so fingers crossed.
Apple Mac Studio: performance and verdict
In typical Apple fashion, the Mac Studio is exquisitely packaged, and when released from its spring-loaded box, the extruded aluminum enclosure looks and feels impressive.
At just under 20cm square it has the same footprint as a Mac Mini, but at just under 10cm it’s a lot bigger.
Nonetheless, it’s incredibly compact. Its circular baseplate raises it slightly off the desk, and if you flip it over, you’ll see ventilation on the underside to complement the rear vents.
Connectivity is split between the front and rear sides, with two USB-Cs (it’s Thunderbolt 4 on the Ultra) and an SDXC slot up front. The rear features four Thunderbolt 4 ports, Ethernet (10GB), two USB-A ports, HDMI, mini headphone jack, and power input.
The power switch is also on the back, with a small LED power indicator on the front, and there’s an internal speaker but no internal mic. Everything is very clean and tidy and we can’t fault the impressive number of ports.
Based on the teardowns, it’s clear that a lot of the internal space is used for the heatsink and twin fans. Luckily, while they’re audible, like in an iMac, they’re pretty quiet, even with the unit sitting next to you on the table top.
With 18 months on the clock, Apple Silicon is now widely supported by third-party DAW and plugin developers. However, for our tests we used Apple’s own Logic Pro, with stock plugins and integrated audio.
DAW performance tends to be hampered by CPU-intensive plug-ins such as reverbs and software synthesizers. We tried two tests for the Mac Studio. One using Logic Pro’s ChromaVerb inserted on multiple audio tracks, and a second using the CPU-intensive Alchemy synth playing a 5-note chord.
In the audio preferences we changed the processing threads from automatic (8 cores) to 10 cores and throughout the tests we tried different audio buffer sizes.
The Mac Studio has always managed an impressive 418 tracks with the ChromaVerb. With reverbs bypassed, the CPU meter was below 20%.
In Alchemy’s test, Logic Pro consistently played 85 tracks. We found the buffer size sweet spot to be 128 samples, with the highest settings (512 and 1024) being the least effective.
Surprisingly enough, the fans didn’t move at all during these stress tests and the case remained cool to the touch. We also ran Geekbench for our test device, and the scores (1784 single-core, 12539 multi-core) put it easily among current Mac Pro setups.
For some time, creatives have been dreaming of a compact, screenless Mac that’s powerful without being ridiculously expensive. The Mac Studio delivers that and even outperforms many Mac Pro processor setups.
So as long as you’re happy with the lack of scalability and can stomach the price, we think it’s a pretty compelling proposition.
Apple Mac Studio: practical advice
Apple Mac Studio: Specifications
- Mac Studio with Apple M1 Max chip
- 10-core processor with 8 performance cores and 2 efficiency cores
- 24-core GPU configurable to 32-core GPU
- 16 Core Neural Engine
- 400 GB/s memory bandwidth
- 32 GB of unified memory configurable to 64 GB
- 512 GB SSD configurable as 1 TB, 2 TB, 4 TB or 8 TB
- Four Thunderbolt 4 ports (supports DisplayPort, USB 4, USB 3.1), two USB‑A ports, HDMI, two USB‑C ports, SDXC card slot
- Supports up to five displays simultaneously, up to four 6K/60Hz over USB‑C and one 4K/60Hz over HDMI
- Built-in speaker, 3.5mm headphone jack, multi-channel audio output via HDMI port
- Wi-Fi (IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n/ac compliant, Bluetooth 5.0, 10 Gb Ethernet
- Weight: 2.7kg
- Size: 9.5 (h) x 19.7 (w) x 19.7 (d) cm
- Contact: Apple