Apple’s desktop strategy has taken an interesting turn this year. Not only has the company finally updated the Mac Pro, which was its last Intel-based computer, but there’s also a new version of the Mac Mini with a more powerful processor. This means there are more choices than ever, with new options at the ultra-high end as well as the mainstream-pro level. In between those sits the updated second-gen Mac Studio, with your choice of M2 Max and M2 Ultra processors.
We had thought this device might replace the Mac Pro or serve as the default option for content creators, but there’s more to it than that. In this review, we’ll check out what’s new with the 2023 Mac Studio and help you decide whether it’s the perfect middle ground, or whether any of its siblings would better suit your needs.
Mac Studio price in India
The Mac Studio is sold without a monitor, keyboard or mouse – all you get in the box is the unit itself, a power cable, and some documentation. Prices start at Rs. 2,09,900 for the base variant with an M2 Max SoC (12-core CPU, 30-core GPU), 32GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD. A slightly more powerful M2 Max with 38 GPU cores instead of 30 will cost Rs. 20,000 more.
In typical Apple fashion, nothing can be upgraded post-purchase, and configuration options are extremely expensive. For example, you’d have to pay a shocking Rs. 40,000 more to step up to 64GB of RAM and Rs. 20,000 more to double your storage to 1TB. The SSD is actually removable, according to teardowns, but you can’t swap or upgrade it yourself due to software-level locks.
Options with the M2 Ultra SoC, which we’ll talk about later in this review, start at Rs. 4,19,900, which means you’re in a whole different class – this isn’t just a simple spec bump. This version of the Mac Studio will have 64GB RAM minimum, and a 1TB SSD. There are two versions of this SoC as well, with 16 extra GPU cores on the higher-end one raising the price by Rs. 1,00,000. You can step up to 128GB or 192GB of RAM (for an eye-watering Rs. 80,000 and Rs. 1,60,000 more respectively) plus up to 8TB of storage (another Rs. 2,20,000). That means the top-end spec goes for Rs. 8,99,900 – and that’s before adding any software.
Apple’s Studio Display would be well suited to the Mac Studio, and if you want to know whether it’s worth the Rs. 1,59,900 base price, check out my impressions of it in my recent Mac mini review. I also used Apple’s Magic Keyboard With Touch ID and Number Pad, Magic Mouse, and Magic Trackpad during this review. Those are priced at Rs. 19,500, Rs. 9,500 and Rs. 14,500 respectively – so that’s well over Rs. 10,00,000 right there.
Mac Studio (M2 Max, 2023) design
The most obvious way to describe the Mac Studio is to say it looks like a taller Mac mini. It’s a simple, effective design that belies the amount of power inside. The Mac Studio is exactly as wide and deep, but over twice as tall, making it much less easy to tuck away than the mini. Stackable Mac mini accessories such as hubs should look right at home. It’s made of the same silver aluminum and has the same body texture. The Apple logo on the top is also larger, and the base a little more raised. This device is clearly meant to sit on your desk. I’m most thrilled to see ports on the front; something I’ve complained about with multiple generations of desktop Macs.
There’s very little else to say about design – the power LED on the front is surprisingly large. The back is where all the rest of the ports are, and you’ll also see a large air vent. In India, the AC power cord you get in the box unfortunately has a 16A power plug, and I’ve noted the inconvenience of this before, especially when power consumption shouldn’t be anywhere near that high. If you’re using a Mac Studio with a Studio Display, you’ll need two of these uncommon outlets at your desk. At least the power supply is built in, and you don’t have to deal with an external brick.
The M2 Max-based version weighs 2.7kg while the M2 Ultra-based version is a surprising 3.62kg, probably due to a needing a more robust cooling system. Both are still portable enough to be carried around if you need to work on location often. In fact, the box it comes in has a cloth handle so you can do just that. Plenty of companies also sell rack-mount adapters so you can slot one or more of these units into a standard equipment cage.
Mac Studio (M2 Max, 2023) specifications and software
I received an M2 Max-powered Mac Studio for this review, with the 30-core GPU, 32GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD, which would be priced at Rs. 2,29,900 in India. The M2 Max is superior to the M2 and M2 Pro (which is where the Mac mini tops out), but fits below the M2 Ultra and even the M1 Ultra. The entire M2 family is fabricated on a 5nm process.
Apple says the M2 Max is made up of 67 billion transistors. It features the same 12-core CPU block and 16-core ‘Neural Engine’ AI accelerator as the M2 Pro but GPU resources jump up to 30 or 38 cores and RAM support goes up to 96GB. You also get double the video encoding resources in hardware, including acceleration for Apple’s own ProRES format, compared to the M2 Pro. That’s a large part of how the Mac Studio is positioned above the Mac mini – these differences won’t matter much for everyday photo and video editing but will certainly come into play when editing or recolouring multiple 4K or higher-res video streams, processing 3D models and visual effects, and even training machine learning models.
Compared to a previous-gen Mac Studio with the M1 Max SoC, Apple says this model with the M2 Max can render motion graphics in Adobe AfterEffects up to 50 percent faster, or build Xcode projects 25 percent faster.
If you’re splurging on a higher-end Mac Studio, you’ll get the M2 Ultra SoC which is Apple’s current top-end in-house processor and essentially doubles everything about the M2 Max – in fact, it’s two M2 Max dies joined together with a custom high-speed interconnect. That’s around 134 billion transistors, according to Apple, and means you get 24 CPU cores and either 60 or 76 GPU cores, plus twice the Neural Engine capacity, memory bandwidth, and media encoding resources.
A 2023 Mac Studio with an M2 Max SoC can drive up to four 6K displays plus another at 4K 60Hz, or two 4K displays plus one 8K at 60Hz. If that wasn’t enough, the M2 Ultra-powered variants can handle up to eight 4K, six 6K or three 8K 60Hz displays – and you can use that headroom for higher refresh rates on fewer displays, and play with different permutations thereof.
On the rear panel, you get four Thunderbolt 4 (40Gbps) Type-C ports, two USB 3.1 Gen2 (10Gbps) Type-A ports, 10Gb Ethernet, HDMI, and a 3.5mm combo audio socket. There’s also the three-pin AC mains inlet and a power button. It’s nice to see legacy USB Type-A ports, but connectivity on the front is even better. On M2 Max-powered units these two Type-C ports work at USB 3.1 Gen2 (10Gbps) speed but the M2 Ultra can drive more Thunderbolt 4 ports so you get all that bandwidth. The card slot supports SDXC cards but not the newer SDExpress format.
Like the Mac mini, there’s a built-in speaker which is decent enough for notifications but you wouldn’t want to use it for music. If you’re connected to a Studio Display which has its own speakers, or any other external ones, this speaker will be bypassed. As for wireless communications, there’s Wi-Fi 6E and Bluetooth 5.3.
MacOS is of course preloaded and you’ll need an iCloud account to set up any current-day Mac. You get all of the preloaded apps including Safari, Apple Music, Apple TV, Books, FaceTime, iMovie, GarageBand, Mail, Pages, Numbers, Keynote, and Maps. There is of course the company’s own App Store, and all the iCloud ecosystem tie-ins such as Find My. If you also use an iPhone, iPad and/or AirPods with the same Apple account, you’ll be able to sync content across them easily.
Mac Studio (M2 Max, 2023) specifications and software
When you first power up the Mac Studio, you’re guided through a fairly lengthy setup process. You’ll have to sign in or create a new Apple ID, and you can import data from iCloud or another Apple device automatically. A few security features are enabled by default – your SSD is encrypted, the version of macOS you have installed is verified to be unmodified, booting from other media isn’t possible. Your SSD is also encrypted by default. These are the first signs that the Mac Studio is intended to be used in a production environment. My Apple accessories were detected automatically and I was able to enroll my fingerprint seamlessly. On first boot, I was offered upgrades to macOS Ventura 13.5 and the Apple Studio Display firmware 16.4.
There’s really nothing to be said about everyday performance – it’s perfectly fine. If you want to know more about using macOS and Apple’s monitor and accessories, check out our Mac mini review. In short, everything’s very expensive but you won’t get the same experience and some features such as Touch ID with third-party products. One little note is that as much as I like having USB Type-C ports on the front, you’ll need to hold the Mac Studio down with one hand when plugging in or unplugging devices with your other hand, since it isn’t very heavy.
Things only really start to feel different when running benchmarks. Starting with Geekbench 6, I got scores of 2,664 in the single-core CPU test, 14,508 in the multi-core test, and 74,465 in the GPU OpenCL test. For reference, the Mac mini (M2 Pro, 2023) scored a completely unsurprising 2,654 and 14,208 in the CPU-based scores but its GPU score was significantly lower at 49,686. Cinebench R23’s render test posted single-core and all-cores scores of 1,660 and 14,539 respectively, which are again at par with what the Mac mini managed.
SSD performance, as measured by AmorphousDiskMark, indicated sequential read and write speeds of 6,497.12MBps and 7,044MBps, which is also on par with what the Mac mini was capable of. As you can see, depending on your workload, you might be perfectly fine with Apple’s much less expensive desktop. In such cases, you’ll have to spend far more on the M2 Ultra SoC to get to the next performance tier.
We start to see the M2 Max-based Mac Studio set itself apart when it comes to content creation and more holistic tests. The browser-based WebXprt benchmark managed 255 points, Basemark Web test showed a score of 2,285.41, and Jetstream 2 posted 320.501. The LuxMark render test posted a score of 39,217 for the standard LuxBall scene, and IndigoBench’s Bedroom and Supercar scene tests managed 1.679 and 3.848 Megasamples per second respectively. Blender’s popular Barcelona Pavilion Demo took 7 minutes, 2 seconds to render and the Classroom scene took 5 minutes, 50 seconds.
Using Final Cut Pro to transcode a 23.8GB ProRES 4K file shot with an iPhone 13 Pro to H.254 1080p took approximately 37 seconds, and keeping the resolution at 4K, that only rose to approximately 1 minute, 48 seconds.
Coming to graphics performance, GFXBench’s Aztec Ruins and Car Chase test runs both maxed out at 60fps, likely due to being constrained by the Studio Display. The same tests set to render off-screen at 4K pushed out a whopping 144.934fps and 589.78fps respectively, which is considerably higher than what the Mac mini managed. Unigine’s Valley benchmark posted 114.6fps at 1920×1080 using the Ultra quality preset with AA set to 4X. AAA games are still relatively rare on the Mac platform, but the trusty Rise of the Tomb Raider averaged 111fps at 1920×1080, 75fps at 2560×1440, and 38fps at 4K, all using the High quality preset.
The Mac Studio’s cooling system was barely audible. At no point during testing did I even notice fan noise. The top of the unit only got slightly warm.
All of our performance testing and observations apply to the M2 Max-based Mac Studio. This SoC is notably faster than the M2 Pro in some areas but not all and you should really examine your workload and future requirements carefully before spending your money on the Mac Studio vs the Mac mini. You should really consider the M2 Ultra version of the Mac Studio a completely different product. Its performance and price puts it in another class altogether, and the target market is also different. This machine will likely suffice for anyone who has heavy creative production work.
That relegates the brand new Mac Pro to an extremely niche audience – it’s only for those who need expansion cards for specific workflow environments such as a fibre-based network interface, more NVMe storage, and low-latency audio/video interfaces. The Mac Studio offers none of this expandability (aside from what you can do with external Thunderbolt devices), but that should be fine for a lot of creative workers.
Considering how powerful the Mac Studio is, it’s quite remarkable how Apple managed to keep it this small. The tradeoff is upgradability – absolutely nothing about the Mac Studio’s internal components can be upgraded or even swapped out. Apple’s RAM and storage configuration options at the time of purchase are infuriatingly overpriced, but there’s nothing anyone can do about that.
Video editors, 3D artists and software developers who deal with a lot of high-resolution content seem to be the primary target audience for the Mac Studio. It’s potentially good value for money, but you should really study all the options available to you within Apple’s current catalogue before deciding to buy it.
Price: Rs. 2,09,900 (as reviewed)
- Very good performance
- Compact and quiet
- Ports on the front
- RAM and storage not upgradeable
- Expensive configuration options
Ratings (out of 5):
Value for Money: 3.5