The Apple Mac Studio is the first computer equipped with the M1 Ultra chip, which promises very good performance in a finally very compact case, all in a marble silence.
Bigger than a Mac Mini, but much smaller than a Mac Pro, the new Mac Studio from Apple intends to reconcile the two worlds with a compact and silent format hosting the manufacturer's new flagship chip: the M1 Ultra. There are also cheaper Mac Studios equipped with the M1 Max. Apple promised high performance when it announced this new computer, but what is it really like? To find out, we compared it with competing processors and graphics cards.
The Mac Studio is an almost exact copy of the Mac Mini in terms of design, even if it is obviously higher in order to integrate the M1 Ultra chip and a new ventilation system. We find the anodized aluminum chassis with rounded edges, overhung by the apple logo. The quality of construction and finishes are, as always with Apple, impeccable. This Mac Studio weighs 3.6 kg with an M1 Ultra and 2.7 kg with an M1 Max; it is therefore quite transportable. At just 9.5 cm high and with 19.7 cm sides, it can be slipped into a bag without any problem and takes up much less space on (or under) a desk than a conventional PC case.
The connectivity is also a bit different, since we find a SDXC card reader (UHS II) and two Thunderbolt 4 ports on the front of the M1 Ultra version, against two classic USB-C 3.2 ports for the M1 Max version. At the back, there are four Thunderbolt 4 ports, a 10 Gb/s high-speed Ethernet port, two USB-A 3.2 ports, an HDMI 2.0 port and a headphone output. Finally, we connect to networks through wifi 6 and Bluetooth 5.0.
Under the case is a ventilation grid that serves as an air intake for the ventilation, whose flow is rejected at the back, above the connectors. Here again, Apple is a master at managing the temperature and silence of its computers. The ventilation is inaudible in the office and we had to launch several resource-intensive programs simultaneously for it to really kick in. Even in this case, the result is impressive, as we only found 33.7 dB with our sound meter (50 cm from the computer), which is barely noticeable.
Unlike the Mac Mini, it seems very difficult to open the Mac M1 yourself. Anyway, you can't upgrade the computer since everything is soldered to the motherboard, RAM and SSD included. We know Apple's reluctance to let users (and unofficial repairers) tinker with its computers - too bad for the machine's repairability.
This is probably the part that everyone was waiting for after the grandiloquent words of the manufacturer during its presentation of the Mac Studio and their M1 Ultra. It must be said that the M1 Max was able to convince us in the frankly successful portable machines that are the MacBook Pro 14 and 16. Here, however, the challenge is not the same, since Apple comes up against dedicated desktop processors and graphics cards, which are much more powerful and not limited by battery use. Our test Mac Studio is a very high-end model that embeds an M1 Ultra with 20 CPU cores and 64 GPU cores (there is a version with 48 GPU cores, just to remind you), an impressive 128 GB of unified memory and a 2 TB SSD.
In reality, the results are good, but perhaps not as good as we could have hoped. We tested this new chip on the same software as our processor test procedure with photo and video processing in Photoshop, Premiere and HandBrake, as well as 3D rendering with Blender.
According to our tests, the M1 Ultra outperforms the most powerful 11th-generation Intel processors and falls between AMD's Ryzen 7 5800X and Ryzen 9 5900X. Overall, the M1 Ultra performs on par with an Intel Core i5-12600K, although results vary widely depending on the application. The M1 Ultra delivers an excellent score under Cinebench R23, for example, largely superior to that of this Core i5 processor (24 218 against 17 211), and remains notably faster under Blender, but the other tests are in favor of this Intel.
The interest of the M1 SoC lies in the fact that it is also composed of GPU cores that allow it to accelerate the processing times of certain compatible applications. Blender has just been updated to version 3.1 and now takes into account the hardware acceleration of the M1. In this software, the M1 Ultra still lags behind Nvidia's GeForce RTX graphics cards. In Adobe Premiere, it was a little slower than an RTX 3060 Ti and on par with an AMD Radeon RX 6900 XT. Under Photoshop, however, it is much faster than its competitors. We were also able to use the Mac Studio with Lightroom, which is perfectly smooth, while a video editing project (demo) with Final Cut with 18 8K video streams running simultaneously is also perfectly smooth.
It is worth noting that not all applications are optimized yet to take into account the huge number of CPU cores of the M1 Ultra. It will probably take a few weeks or months before this is the case, and then the results could change significantly. Also, we don't test Apple's own software like Logic Pro or Final Cut, which can't be tested on PCs, and we can't evaluate the performance of this M1 Ultra against the M1 Pro and Max, for example. It is undoubtedly particularly well optimized for these programs, and users who work in the Apple ecosystem will be able to take advantage of the gains brought by this chip.
Apple offers a computer that is much more compact than most PC cases, with a particularly quiet operation. In addition to this, the power consumption is much more limited: in intensive CPU use under Blender, our power meter indicates a consumption of about 83 W and 125 W when activating the GPU part. This is a far cry from the 232 W of AMD's Ryzen 7 5800X, or even worse, the 320 W delivered by Intel's Core i5-12600K, especially if you add the consumption of a dedicated graphics card!
If Apple does not communicate on the presence of speakers integrated into its Mac Studio, it is because they are anecdotal. They are only used to produce macOS system sounds or to help the user if the computer is connected to a screen without speakers. Their volume is very limited and the manufacturer clearly relies on the presence of an external device for listening, whether it's a headset or its new Display Studio screen - which also delivers an impressive sound.
The headphone output is as usual excellent. The distortion at 0.002 is minimal, the dynamic range at 103 dB is sufficiently wide and the crosstalk at -60 dB remains imperceptible. The output level of 340 mVRMS is in any case capable of supporting any hifi or monitoring headphones.
With the Mac Studio and its M1 Ultra, Apple has once again produced a particularly interesting machine. Its performance is good, especially with hardware acceleration of applications, even though the latest generation of high-end AMD and Intel processors and the Nvidia RTX 30 series graphics cards are generally faster. However, future optimization of 3D rendering and video post-production software could narrow the current gap. The main reason for this is the compact size, quiet operation and low power consumption, which are currently unmatched.