Apple’s got a new processor, a new creative workstation and a new pro display that take on the Mac Pro range for just a fraction of the price.
Apple has launched a series of Ml processors alongside different consumer products over the last couple of years, and each has dramatically changed our perceptions of what’s possible from a laptop computer processor. The Mac Studio is the first time Apple has attempted to use its own processors in a creative workstation going head-to-head with the best consumer processors Intel and AMD make.
The new Ml Ultra processor used on some models of the Mac Studio is essentially two Ml Max processors fused together using a novel UltraFusion silicon interposer that allows enough low latency bandwidth for the chips to act as a single SoC. This system works so well that only one $6K plus AMD workstation CPU – the Threadripper 3990X – just barely outperforms the Ml Ultra in popular CPU benchmarks. When you consider you can get an entire Ml Ultra Mac Studio, starting at $6,099, it’s a pretty amazing outcome.
The mighty Ml
We took a deeper dive into the Ml Max for our MacBook Pro review in APC 501, and at the time this processor outperformed the best laptop processors we had on file from both AMD and Intel.
Intel has since overtaken it with the mobile i9-12900HK, but the Ml Max processor is still good enough that Apple is releasing a variation of the Mac Studio that uses the Ml Max as its foundation. This starting configuration comes with a 24-core integrated GPU, 32GB of Unified Memory and 512GB of SSD storage for $3,099 – some $1,550 less than an equivalently specced MacBook Pro 14.
While this entry Mac Studio is competitively priced and will offer more than enough power for many creative workflows, if you are looking for a serious workstation, the Ml Ultra configuration is where the truly amazing performance is. Apple sent us one of the highest spec Mac Studios to benchmark, with an Ml Ultra CPU, 64-core GPU, 128GB SSD and a 2TB SSD that retails for $9,399 locally. On both Cinebench R32 and Geekbench 5 multi-core benchmarks the Ml Ultra offered almost double the performance of the already impressive Ml Max.
If you compare the Mac Studio we tested to an $8,436 Alienware Aurora R13 we tested at the end of 2021 – which included an Intel Core i9-12900KF CPU, 32GB of RAM and a Nvidia RTX 3090 GPU – then you see that the Mac Studio outperforms it by 38 percent on Geekbench 5 multi-core and by 9.9 percent on Cinebench R23 multi-core tests. This isn’t overly surprising considering the Mac Studio is more expensive, it’s got 16 high-performance cores rather than just eight, and its 128GB memory allocation is almost incomparable to the R13’s 32GB RAM allocation, but there’s a bunch of ways you can skin this particular apple.
The most obvious is that the Mac Studio is a 20 by 20cm, 3.6kg compact desktop box rather than a 59cm tall 16.5kg gaming tower, and yet even when you really push the Mac Studio to its limits you can barely hear its fans engage, a feat that is only possible because of the significantly lower power draw from using Arm-based processors and advanced low-impedance thermal architecture. But then, if you follow Apple’s marketing angle, the Mac Studio also only uses a fraction of the power of what this Aurora R13 does, which may add up to meaningful power savings over years of heavy use.
Mac OS 12.3: Apple Ml Ultra 20-core CPU, 64-core GPU, 32-core Neural Engine: 128GB Unified Memory: 2TB SSD Storage: 19.7 x 19.7 x 9.5cm: 3.6kg.
Apple has made some highly asterixed claims about GPU performance that have led to angry online rebukes outlining how the Ml Ultra is not more powerful than an RTX 3090. According to the benchmarks we use this is true -the Ml Ultra achieved less than half the score on Geekbench 5 (Open Cl) compute benchmarks, and while some games like Metro: Exodus played at over 90fps on 1080p Ultra settings, which wasn’t too far off 3090 performance, other titles did not do well at all.
While these are the ways we generally benchmark performance, it’s perhaps an unfair comparison since the Mac Studio isn’t designed, or pitched, as a gaming PC. The Ml Ultra GPU has 10,432 fewer cores than the 3090, but it can access up to 5.3 times the memory, so performance is going to vary considerably depending on the task. Apple is reporting meaningful gains on a wide range of software from Final Cut Pro to Houdini FX compared to earlier Macs, so while it might be inferior to leading gaming PCs when it comes to games, it should hold up really well for any work tasks.
The Mac Studio is compact, quiet and sleek looking. It’s got more Thunderbolt ports than you have peripherals and enough other handy interface options to keep everyone happy. You’ll have to factor in the cost of a display, keyboard and mouse or trackpad, but even adding those it’s still a reasonably priced offering for a top-shelf workstation.