REVIEW OF THE APPLE MAC STUDIO
Professional Mac users have been waiting for Apple’s 2019 desktop release, and it was supposed to be it. It could be configured in an infinite number of ways with powerful Intel CPUs and AMD graphics chips, and the top-end system cost . It was poised to be the first Apple computer that could really give the power that professionals in creative industries — historically, the ones who turn out in droves to buy these Apple machines — really need after the utter failure of the trashcan 2013 Mac Pro.
But, while it was a beautiful and powerful computer, it was not without flaws. We went with a $16,599 model because, while it wasn’t the most well-equipped machine, it was one that creative pros at Vox Media thought could manage their hefty editing workloads. That computer was given to a variety of artists, producers, and designers. They didn’t like it at all. They didn’t think it was any faster than their old configurations, and they encountered the same problems as before. There was insufficient software tailored for the Mac Pro‘s high-performance desktop computing strategy, particularly when it came to GPUs.
Since then, Apple has made a commitment to developing its own Apple Silicon CPUs rather than relying on Intel and AMD. The M1 series, the first of these chips, has been a huge hit in, , and the . And now it’s in the new , which comes in M1 Max and M1 Ultra chip configurations. The Studio is Apple’s first professional machine to run Apple Silicon, and it brings with it a new approach to chip design that makes it easy for apps to use all of the available capability.
I’ve shown this device to a group of pros on team once more, and the emotions I’ve seen are nothing like what we observed in 2020. They were blown away. It’s faster than anything they’ve ever utilized for their workloads. It has altered their capabilities.
So I’m relieved to be able to write this in a review: the is the professional Mac machine that consumers have been waiting for.
The is a stylish and portable computer. Someone told me it looked like two Apple TVs were stacked on top of each other, and now I can’t stop thinking about it. It may also be viewed as a taller Mac Mini, but either way, it’s a design familiar to Apple enthusiasts.
The Studio, like the Mac Mini, is designed to sit on your desk – it has the same footprint as the Mini, but is nearly twice as tall. It’s not like the Mac Pro, which sits on the floor (or is moved about if you’re fancy). It is, however, dense, particularly if you have the most powerful M1 Ultra model, which includes a heat sink and is two pounds heavier than the beginning setup with an M1 Max chip. The Studio isn’t supposed to be carried around, but you’ll sense its weight if you pick it up.
The port selection is one of the best aspects of the chassis. There are connectors on the front of the device, including an SD card slot, which is a significant plus for creative workers. I had no idea how pleased these easily accessible ports would make me. It made my day a little bit better every time I could plug things in without having to get up and sneak behind my machine.
There are also two USB-A connectors in the back, which I’m glad Apple didn’t remove like it did with the iMac 2021. These are a significant plus for professionals who utilize flash drives to transfer software and assets between clients, in addition to being useful for those like me who refuse to give up our USB-A mice and whatnot. On the back, there are four Thunderbolt 4 connectors and an HDMI port – and yes, you can use a single to power five screens at once.
All of this is fine and dandy, but the real story of the Mac Studio is what’s inside.
While the can be customized, there are two basic variants available. (It’s also not modular or user-upgradable, so you’re stuck with whatever you buy.) The M1 Max, a super-powerful chip with 10 CPU cores and up to 32 GPU cores, is included in the, which starts at $1,999. That’s exciting in and of itself, because for the past year, the MacBook Pro has been the only location to acquire that processor.
However, the , which starts at over , is much more pricey. This one includes Apple’s brand-new M1 Ultra chip, which makes its debut in this smartphone. This chip is a monster – it’s basically two M1 Maxes stapled together, resulting in a monster with double the CPU cores (20), double the GPU cores (up to 64), and double the memory bandwidth (800GBps).
Apple isn’t the first company to try to cram two GPUs into a single chip; other businesses have done so in the past. Of course, if your software allows it, you can always use two graphics cards on one machine. The concept appears to be a no-brainer: if you’re performing a computing operation that’s heavily graphics-intensive, you can split it between the two GPUs.
But this isn’t a simple task. Individual applications have had to figure out how to make those GPUs operate together in the past, and dividing a demanding activity between two different cards is actually quite tough to automate. It takes a lot of effort to maintain the chips in sync with each other; if one is slightly out of sync with the other at any moment, the entire operation can be thrown off. As a result, most software simply assigns the two GPUs to separate tasks.
Apple is attempting something new with the M1 Ultra. Instead of just putting two M1 Maxes into one computer, it uses a technique called UltraFusion to connect the two processors in such a way that the system perceives them as one. The chip die itself has a built-in connection for this technology, allowing for an astounding 2.5 terabytes per second of bandwidth between the M1 Maxes. Apple claims that this massive datastream will allow these two CPUs and macOS to communicate with each other well enough to divide any given task correctly. To put it another way, an application like Premiere won’t need to be changed to accommodate a dual-GPU system because it will recognize the M1 Ultra as a single GPU, assign it tasks, and the Ultra will simply complete them.
The point is, it works.
With a 20-core M1 Ultra processor, a 64-core GPU, and 128GB of unified memory, Apple offered us the most powerful money can buy. It will set you back $6,199 if you decide to purchase it. (Adding up to 8TB of internal storage raises the price to $7,999, but it doesn’t get any more powerful than this.) We also received an M1 Max review unit, which costs $3,199 and has a 10-core CPU, 32-core GPU, 64GB of unified memory, and 2TB of storage.
Because many of my perceptions are based on observation, this piece will differ from my usual reviews. I could have spent the entire day on the playing with Google Docs. But I’m not the intended audience for this gadget, and The team has lots of specialists who work on video, audio, and graphics all day.
So I lugged the eight-pound M1 Ultra-equipped around the office, setting it on various people’s desks and watching them work.
The first thing I saw was that every professional I handed this machine to was able to sit down and start cooking on it almost right away, with no serious issues. That was not the case with the Mac Pro, where users had to constantly correct numerous software glitches before they could accomplish their jobs properly.
Another point I’d like to make is that, given its capability, this machine is quite quiet. Even while we were working on complex projects in Adobe After Effects and Blender, which would have made the fans on any Intel desktop I’ve ever used scream, the Studio was completely silent. While I could feel the fans vibrating beneath me, they were still silent when I put my ear to the case. And the only time we noticed it blowing hot air was when we were playing games, which we’ll discuss later.
Adobe, on the other hand, has had plenty of time to catch up. Apple has sold a large number of M1 devices, indicating that there is a market for them, and Adobe has responded. Premiere, Photoshop, Lightroom, Audition, Media Encoder, and more applications are natively supported on Apple Silicon (and After Effects is available in beta). And now, the situation has flipped: the appears to be one of the few PCs capable of fully exploiting Adobe’s tools.
THE MAC STUDIO SEEMS TO BE ONE OF THE FEW COMPUTERS THAT CAN UNLOCK ALL OF ADOBE’S SOFTWARE’S POWER.
Before I go any further, let me state that I am aware that creative professionals are not the only “pros” out there. It’s possible that the programs we were able to test here aren’t the same as the ones you use. For NDA reasons, the perspectives we can get for a review like this are limited to the people we have on our team, and I’ll always prefer a review with a small group of people who really know what they’re talking about over one that tries to cover thousands of use cases I’m not familiar with. That said, you should never rely on a single review as your sole source of information, and I encourage you to seek out people from a variety of industries who have tried it out.
Having said that, the professionals with whom I work adore the . And I didn’t see a single spinning during the entire review process.
My first stop was with Becca Farsace, our video director, who edited the entire video review of the and Studio Display on our Studio unit (which you should check out if you haven’t already). I spent hours watching her work in Premiere and Media Encoder, and it was evident even to my inexperienced eyes that the Studio was flying. It was far superior to our two-year-old Mac Pro (which Becca uses for the most of her work) in almost every way.
Without the use of proxies, Becca was able to play 4K, 10-bit 4:2:2 video from a Sony FX3 at full quality in Adobe Premiere Pro at 4x speed. It happened in a flash. She’d have had to be in half-resolution on any other machine. When playing footage at 2x or 4x speed, there was no lag between pushing the spacebar and halting playback, which she finds to be a major inconvenience on the Mac Pro.
I asked our video staff if they’d test Apple’s Final Cut Pro, but they declined because none of them use it. The truth is that Premiere is the industry standard, and any machine offered to video pros must be capable of running it. I’m sure Final Cut Studio is fantastic, and more power to you if that’s your program of choice, but there’s nothing Apple could do to persuade our staff to convert.
I then spoke with Andrew Marino, our senior audio director, who produces The oversees the audio mixing for our videos. He sped through tasks in Avid’s Pro Tools and Adobe Audition, with minimal lag or spinning wheels. I saw him go through a 36-track project, and things that took a few seconds on his work MacBook Pro were done in a matter of seconds here.
Andrew thought the Studio would be overkill for his podcasting job, which is often light enough for Intel MacBooks to manage, especially since podcasters, in his experience, need to edit on the fly. However, he believed it would make a significant impact in music production in a studio situation. The , in particular, can be utilized for professional music work, while his MacBook cannot. On both machines, I watched him mix a music project with seven tracks and a slew of plugins. The Studio breezed through it, while the MacBook only played it back for a fraction of a second before the CPU overheated and crashed the program.
Alex Parkin, our video art director, was the individual whose workload caused the most problems for the Studio, as he experimented with colors, glows, gradients, motion blur, and other effects at full resolution in Adobe After Effects. Alex noticed a tiny lag between pressing the spacebar and playback beginning or ending, and the playback speed wasn’t particularly impressive. However, he was still able to do his tasks far faster than he could on the several Intel iMacs we have in our office. He said it felt roughly twice as fast as his current iMac, which has a Core i7 processor and Radeon R9 M395X graphics card.
When it came to rendering one of his graphics, the Studio was more than twice as quick as a 2019 Core i9 iMac. The fact that Alex returned an hour or so after he completed testing the Studio for me and asked to borrow it for an export is the most telling thing.
Our illustrator Alex Castro, on the other hand, experienced the most noticeable improvement. I witnessed Alex utilize the Studio to combine an image in Photoshop – he imported high-resolution photos from Unsplash, color corrected, and added details after taking renders from Blender. Processes like de-noising, he said, took roughly 10% of the time they did on his typical PC, which has a Core i7, a GTX 1080, and a GTX 1070. Material previewing was also considerably faster, and he claimed that if he had a Studio, he could do more with hair and cloth.
However, the Ultra allowed Alex to use Photoshop features that he had never been able to use previously. The brushes were the process that blew all of our experts’ minds. Alex was able to paint a white layer with a media brush in a matter of seconds, and it looked exactly if he was using a physical brush. That tool demands so much computer power that many modern PCs are incapable of handling it. For the Studio, it was a piece of cake.
After his trial session, Alex informed me, “Having a machine like this in my everyday workflow would alter everything.”
That is, in the end, my most important takeaway from the testing process. Throughout my career, I’ve assessed a large number of computers geared at this market. I frequently purchase a workstation that appears to be capable of handling a variety of creative tasks. I’ve never reviewed one that appeared to have the potential to revolutionize the types of things that creators can create. That’s what I’ve heard from everyone. Not only did this gadget allow them to experiment with more powerful, complex tools, but the speed with which it provided also allowed them to devote more time to other projects.
Our team’s conclusions were generally supported by the benchmarks we ran. The M1 Ultra is in a class by itself when it comes to CPU performance. When we compared this to our Mac Pro model with a 16-core Intel Xeon W, there was no contest in our CPU benchmarks: the Xeon was clearly outclassed.
We conducted a variety of benchmarks in Premiere Pro and After Effects, and the M1 Ultra outperformed our Mac Pro model in each one. In Premiere Pro, the Mac Pro took over two minutes longer than the Studio to export a 4K video. In fact, in the , the Ultra was so dominant in Premiere that it was beating systems with AMD Ryzen Threadripper chips left and right. It’s outperforming almost everyone.
Our Intel Mac Pro simply couldn’t keep up in a number of programs. On Geekbench multi-core, our $12,000 PC with a 32-core Ryzen Threadripper 3970X outperformed the M1 Ultra, but the Ultra was considerably closer to the Threadripper than the Xeon. Given the 3970X’s more cores, this is a significant accomplishment (and also the fact that a Threadripper PC is going to be massive and loud, while this thing is small and silent).
Oh, and yeah, the M1 Ultra is roughly twice as powerful as the M1 Max in several benchmarks. The M1 Ultra consistently outperformed the M1 Max in multi-core Cinebench and Geekbench benchmarks. This didn’t translate to doubled performance in real-world tasks like the, gaming, and the we ran to simulate scientific workloads — there are clearly bottlenecks here that aren’t just based on throughput, and performance will always reflect how well the program you’re in can use all these extra cores and threads. Still, it’s incredible that Apple was able to pull off UltraFusion so well.
This is why, despite the fact that critics generally find such upgrades uninteresting, firms like Apple release slightly more powerful versions of the same computers every year, and why people keep buying them. It is in order for people to be able to accomplish more and do it better.
The is the incorrect computer for a variety of people for a variety of reasons. When a reviewer evaluating this product, I’m less concerned with those features than with the device’s overall dependability: the smoothness with which you scrub the timeline, the snap of windows opening and closing, the wonder in people’s voices as they say, “Wow, this is fast.”
UltraFusion isn’t some wacky new concept that Apple is trying to sell us. It’s true. For nearly a decade, companies have been attempting to combine two GPUs into one, and Apple has finally succeeded. This computer represents a watershed moment in computing history. It also feels like a pleasure to use it.
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