Mac Studio With M2 Ultra Review: Apple’s Real Pro Machine

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Three years ago, Apple stunned the computing industry when it announced it will stop using industry standard Intel processors to power its computers. Instead, Apple would build its own custom silicon using the same simplified architecture as smartphone chips.

The transition would take years, Apple boss Tim Cook said at the time, and last month it was finally completed when Apple replaced its last Intel-powered computer, the Mac Pro, with a 2023 model running a new Apple chip named M2 Ultra.

This review is not about the Mac Pro, the highest tier professional computer that starts at $6,999 for just the body and will easily jump into five-digit pricing with a bit of configuration upgrades.

Instead, this review is of the Mac Studio, a slightly lower tier Apple computer that can still be powered by the M2 Ultra chip. It’s still not cheap, starting at $3,999 for the M2 Ultra model, and a couple of basic upgrades would bump the price closer to $5,000 or more. But it’s still a more affordable machine.

And truth be told, the Mac Studio is “pro” enough for 99.9% of people on earth. You don’t need the Mac Pro unless you’re literally working for James Cameron building graphics for the next Avartar movie (and yes, the FX artists behind the movies do use a Mac Pro).

Some readers may be wondering: “If both the Mac Pro and Studio can run on the same chip, then what sets them part?” Well, the Mac Pro is like a traditional PC tower, with upgradeable/swappable components thanks to its PCIe expansion slots. You can, for example, add more RAM down the line, or change to a bigger SSD (solid state drive). This modularity and upgradability is actually very un-Apple like.

The Mac Studio, on the other hand, is classic Apple. It’s a super sleek (relatively speaking) and minimal box with all the computing bits integrated inside. It’s not meant to be opened by the user, the internals are not meant to be swapped around. It’s just something you buy, plug in a screen, and begin using.

That’s exactly what I have been doing for the past two weeks. And the Mac Studio is the most powerful computer I’ve ever tested. I must mention that the model I’m testing is almost spec’ed out, with 128GB of unified memory, a 24-core CPU, a 76-core GPU, and 4TB of storage that retails for $6,800. I can easily drop down a tier in all of those components and not notice a difference, because the machine is so powerful I’m not sure I’m even using half of its power.

If I have to summarize the computing powers I need, I’d say I’m an mid-tier creative professional. In addition to writing words and snapping photos for a living. I also create 4K videos for my YouTube channel. I shoot, edit, and produce all my own videos on an Apple computer. While the videos aren’t going to win any cinematography awards, they’re above amateur quality, and enough to generate income.

This means my basic day-to-day work include typing words into a content management system on a web browser, edit photos in Adobe Lightroom, and edit 4K video files in Final Cut Pro. The M2 Ultra-powered Mac Studio handled anything I threw at it for two weeks, exporting 10- to 12-minute long 4K videos in two-three minutes (just a couple years ago, when I used an Intel-powered MacBook Pro, the same process would take at least 10 minutes).

Just to push its power, I loaded a bunch of 8K video footage, and Final Cut Pro didn’t skip a beat, allowing me to scrub through the timeline rapidly without stutter. This takes major computing power.

I’m also happy to report that the Mac Studio is not lacking in ports. In addition to having a dedicated SD card slot, there are six USB-C ports—four of which are Thunderbolt 4—a pair of USB-A, a headphone jack, ethernet port and HDMI port. The machine can support up to eight 4K screens or three 8K displays.

I am not really a benchmark person, but I ran benchmarks just for the sake of testing too. The numbers all top the charts.

It’s trying to handle gaming too

For nearly two decades, the conventional wisdom was that if you want to game, you play on a Windows machine, as Macs aren’t for gaming. Apple’s trying to change this by convincing game developers to port over existing AAA titles to Apple silicon. While the Mac is still far, far away from overtaking Windows as a gaming platform, I played Resident Evil Village on the Mac Studio, with graphics at highest setting, and framerate hovered well over triple digits, reaching 200 digits at one point.

The machine to get for most pros

Even though the Mac Pro is more even more capable, I think most creative professionals would be more than satisfied with the Mac Studio. Apple’s silicon is so far ahead of the competition and so efficient that it rarely needs a fan.

Even if you’re not a creative professional, the Mac Studio is still a very premium and sleek deskbound computer. Though to be honest, if you are not creating videos, animation, graphics, you can get the exact same performance out of a MacBook Pro or even MacBook Air, and those machines can be deskbound just fine.

But whatever the case, the Mac Studio is the rare Apple machine to not get a Pro naming, but it’s the one most Pros should get.

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