By Jason Snell
June 12, 2023 10:00 AM PT
M2 Ultra Mac Studio review: Top of the line
The M1 Mac Studio arrived last year with a shock, an entirely new class of Mac that debuted as the fastest Mac around. But with the Mac Pro presumably coming down the road, what role (if any) would the Mac Studio fill in the long-term future of high-performance Mac desktops?
With the release of the new M2-based Mac Studio, we have our answer, and it’s a pretty good one: At least for now, even with the arrival of the first Apple silicon Mac Pro, the Mac Studio is the fastest Mac around. Or, at the very least, in a dead heat with the Mac Pro. In the long run, it seems hard to believe that most pro-level Mac users will need a Mac Pro, with its high price tag and large set of PCI slots. With its M2 Max and M2 Ultra processor options, the Mac Studio provides enormous processing power to serve almost any pro user’s needs.
For this review, I was able to spend a few days running an M2 Ultra Mac Studio with 24 CPU cores, 76 GPU cores, and 128GB of memory. And what can I say? This new Mac Studio has all the benefits of the M1 model but with boosted performance. As someone who has spent the last year using an M1 Max Mac Studio as my primary Mac, I highly recommend the Mac Studio lifestyle to anyone who needs pro performance on (or, in my case, just beneath) the desktop.
Presenting the M2 Ultra
The new M2 Ultra chip is, like its predecessor, essentially two Max chips connected by Apple’s UltraFusion technology. The result is that it’s got twice of everything the M2 Max has—24 cores instead of 12, a maximum of 76 GPU cores instead of 38, and 32 Neural Engine cores instead of 16.
As with the last generation, choosing Ultra over Max will not necessarily double the speed of the computer—the M1 Ultra Mac Studio was between 50 and 90 percent faster than a comparable M1 Max Mac Studio. And while I couldn’t test a Mac Studio with the M2 Max processor, the speed gap between the M2 Ultra and a MacBook Pro with an M2 Max processor was pretty similar.
Of course, you’ll pay for the privilege. A base-model Mac Studio with an M2 Max processor costs $1999. The M2 Ultra versions start at $3999. Twice the chip, twice the price.
Overall, the M2 generation of Ultra takes advantage of extra processor cores, each of which is also a bit faster on its own, to be a bit faster than the last generation. If you already have an M1 Ultra Mac Studio, it’s probably not worth the upgrade—the improvement is real, but it’s incremental. The M2 Mac Studio is a much better buy for people who have a slower M1-based Apple Silicon device or who are very patient types still waiting to jump from Intel. I also know several people who bought MacBook Pros recently, mostly leaving them docked to displays—and those people should think very hard about selling those underused laptops and embracing the Mac Studio desktop life.
A sound decision
One of the more puzzling aspects of the design of the M1 Mac Studio was the fact that it had a new cooling system that seemed to make noise even when the system was idle. As I wrote last year:
It’s very quiet, throwing out low-level white noise that I couldn’t hear unless I sat in my office when it was completely quiet. But the sound is very much there, in a way my iMac Pro fan never was, and if you’re ultra-sensitive to fan noise in quiet environments, you will notice it.
In the end, I solved the problem of the audible fan noise by mounting the M1 Mac Studio underneath my desk, where it’s completely inaudible. (Yes, I liked the M1 Mac Studio so much that I bought one.)
I’m happy to report that Apple has rejiggered the cooling system in the Mac Studio. I could only hear the fan blowing when I turned the Mac Studio around so that its vents were pointing right at me, and even then, it was pretty quiet. When I properly oriented the computer on my desk, I couldn’t hear the fan. I placed my M1 Mac Studio on a nearby table and could still hear it blowing, in fact.
I wouldn’t call the M2 Mac Studio silent, but it’s noticeably quieter than the M1 model, and if you were to keep it on top of your desk, you probably wouldn’t hear it.
The ultimate Mac
So here we are. The Mac Studio is still the fastest Mac you can buy, though it’s now tied with the Mac Pro for that honor. While people who want the absolute best that Apple offers will want the M2 Ultra configuration, I can say from personal experience that the lower-cost Max-class chip configuration is a pretty great combination of speed and value.
I’m thrilled that Apple has embraced the Mac Studio and updated it for a new chip generation. For users who have more expansive needs than the Mac mini can fulfill, the Mac Studio offers the two fastest chips in Apple’s current Mac offerings—and it still does so in a compact package. Yes, there’s an Apple silicon Mac Pro now, but the Mac Studio is still the champion.
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