The Mac Studio Is Actually Kind of Weird

But the nerds are going to love it

Key Takeaways

  • The Mac Studio is like a Mac Pro in the body of a tall Mac mini.
  • It cannot be upgraded after purchase.
  • The $2K entry-level model is no more powerful than a MacBook Pro.
Mac Studio features breakthrough performance and extensive connectivity to support a variety of creative workflows.

Apple

For more than two decades, Mac fans have been dreaming of an xMac, a "headless" (screenless) Mac that's smaller and less powerful than the huge Mac Pro. Finally, in March 2022, here it is.

The xMac concept is a little less relevant today because both the Mac mini and the MacBook Pro are more than powerful enough for any home- or studio-based task, but here it is. Apple's cool new Mac Studio is a little workstation Mac with more power than most people need, in a tiny package, and reasonably priced, starting at $2,000.

"The Mac Studio is very much the desktop Mac I've wanted for years. A Mac mini… just more of it. Faster, more expandability, more displays," says long-time Apple journalist Andy Ihnatko on Twitter.

In the Studio

The Mac Studio looks like two Mac minis stacked up, with lots of extra grilles for cooling. It’s available with either the M1 Max chipset found in the latest MacBooks Pro or with the new M1 Ultra, which is literally just two M1 Max’s joined together via a special ultra-fast interconnect.

Like the rest of Apple's M1 Mac lineup, the Studio manages to be both incredibly fast and powerful and run cool. Apple says it "will use up to 1,000 kilowatt-hours less energy than a high-end PC desktop," but doesn't say which PC model it's referring to so that comparison isn't particularly useful.

As for its capabilities, one snippet from Apple's product page illustrates the power of this machine perfectly: It can play back nine streams of 8K ProRes video simultaneously.

But the Mac Studio is actually quite an odd computer. So who is it for, exactly?

Tweener

The Studio is a lot more like the Mac mini than the Mac Pro. Once you buy it, there’s no way to upgrade any internal hardware. There are no SSD replacements or expansions, no extra graphics cards, and no weird proprietary internal cards for your specific video-editing needs. In this way, the Studio is very much a modern Apple computer. You buy what you need, and that’s it. Any extras have to be plugged into its external ports.

And that could get messy, fast. While some people buy desktops for the extra power, others prefer them for their expandability. It’s a pain to unplug all those SSDs, USB audio interfaces, and other devices every time you want to move your laptop. A desktop is perfect for this as it has more ports, and it doesn’t matter so much that you have a rats nest of stuff hooked up.

But if you have all those peripherals hanging around, why not just connect them to a MacBook Pro via a Thunderbolt dock? A Mac Pro is even better because much of that extra stuff can live inside the computer.

Front view of the new Mac Studio

Apple

So the high end-Mac Studio is a weird in-betweener. It has a lot of power but still makes a mess on your desk. And for many folks who might prefer a desktop, it's too powerful. Apple's demo videos featured a developer from Ableton, the Berlin-based music app company, but very few musicians need more than even the entry-level MacBook Air. Music just isn't that demanding compared to video or software development.

"I miss having a high-end desktop," graphic designer and video editor Graham Bower told Lifewire via direct message. "Right now, the main reason I don't [have one] is space. [And it's] annoying trying to [edit video] on my MacBook and perpetually running out of storage. I'd like to have a huge amount of storage, so I don't need to archive any of my work."

But plenty of people will buy this because the Mac Pro is too big, and the Mac mini isn't quite powerful enough. The Mac Studio is the Goldilocks solution, balancing size, price, and power. It also looks amazing. I presume that it will be a huge hit.

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