Apple Mac Studio 2023 Review: Still the Creative Choice for Mac – CNET

Like

  • Fast and quiet
  • Relatively compact
  • HDMI 2.1

Don’t like

  • M2 Max model has two less Thunderbolt connections than the M2 Ultra

There isn’t a lot to say about the latest generation of the Mac Studio: From a “put it on your desk and use it” perspective, it feels almost exactly like the model that preceded it, with the expected generation-over-generation tweaks we see routinely in laptops and desktops.

In sum, it delivers up to about 20% better performance over the equivalent last-generation M1 chip because it has more CPU and GPU cores, and because of the updated Wi-Fi (from 6 to 6E) and Bluetooth 5.3, it has more stable and potentially much faster wireless. That, plus upgraded HDMI 2.1 — what Apple refers to as “enhanced” HDMI — are certainly important new features, they just don’t change the experience much.

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<!----> <span class="c-shortcodeImage_credit g-inner-spacing-right-small g-outer-spacing-top-xsmall g-color-text-meta g-text-xxxsmall">Lori Grunin/CNET</span>

As much as I like the system — and I really do like it quite a lot — it’s a little hard to make a case for the M2 Max model. If you really need CPU and/or GPU power, you’re better off with an Ultra configuration at a not-cheap $4,399 ($3,999 if you lop a terabyte off the storage of our $3,199 test configuration). If you just want the CPU performance and are OK with a decent-ish GPU, the M2 Pro Mac Mini can be had for $1,000 less. 

Apple Mac Studio 2023

Price as reviewed $3,199, £3,299, AU$5,099
CPU 3.3GHz Apple M2 Max 12 cores (8P/4E), 16-core Neural
Memory 64GB LPDDR5 unified
Graphics Integrated 38 cores
Storage 2TB Apple SSD, SD card slot
Ports 6x USB-C (2x Thunderbolt 4), 2x USB-A, 1x HDMI 2.1, 3.5mm audio
Networking 10Gbps Ethernet, Wi-Fi 6E (802.11ax), Bluetooth 5.3
Operating system MacOS Ventura 13.4
Dimensions 3.7 x 7.7 x 7.7 in (9.5 x 19.7 x 19.7 cm)
Ship date June 2023

Many creative apps, notably photo editing, still tend to use CPU resources more than GPU, and the M2 Pro has the same Neural cores as the M2 Max. And, while the Max handles some basic high-res video editing, you can get away with the cheaper model for 4K, but will probably want to bump up for higher resolutions.  

Much also depends on what creative applications you’re using as well as how you’re using them. You’ll see a lot more custom MacOS optimization from, say, DaVinci Resolve than Premiere Pro, so throwing money at the Max over the Pro may not help you. And features that might theoretically benefit from more Neural cores (the Ultra has 2x the Max and below), may not perform the processing locally. For instance, the processing for Photoshop’s new Generative Fill takes place remotely, so your system doesn’t really have to do any heavy lifting.

The Pro also has the same encode/decode accelerators as the Max, while the Ultra has twice as many. And the Ultra configuration has two more Thunderbolt ports — its dual Max processor configuration means another Thunderbolt controller — which is important if you plan on using external drives for that. 

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Watch this: Mac Studio Gets an Upgrade With M2 Max and M2 Ultra Chips

That doesn’t mean there isn’t a group of buyers for whom the M2 Max combination of solid CPU and GPU performance is just right for the money — it’s just easier and probably sufficient to go cheaper or necessary to go pricier.

The upgraded HDMI means it can handle a 4K monitor at a refresh rates of up to 240Hz. It does enable variable refresh rate for monitors that support it, and as with the MacBook Pro you don’t have much control over it; you enable it in MacOS and it’s out of your hands. 

Aside from gaming, where it’s key for avoiding artifacts caused by the disconnect between game frame rate and display screen update, one of the main reasons for VRR (ProMotion) is to save power on devices like the iPad and iPhone. That’s not a huge issue for a desktop, so unless you’re gaming you’re better off just setting it to a high but fixed rate and leave it. 

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<span class="c-shortcodeImage_caption g-inner-spacing-right-small g-text-xxsmall" readability="27"></p> <p>The port layout is the same as it&#8217;s been since the system launched.</p> <p></span> <span class="c-shortcodeImage_credit g-inner-spacing-right-small g-outer-spacing-top-xsmall g-color-text-meta g-text-xxxsmall">Lori Grunin/CNET</span>

If you do plan on gaming, I’d wait for MacOS 14 Sonoma before committing. Depending on how many game developers take advantage of Apple’s DX11/DX12 emulation so you can run Windows games, and depending on how they perform, you may want to adjust your GPU requirements. At the moment, there aren’t many native Apple silicon games; most are mobile games running on top of Apple’s Rosetta emulator. You can run a virtual Windows machine like Parallels, but I’d probably vote Ultra for that.

Performance

Apple silicon’s performance remains remarkably consistent, in the sense that it’s more or less directly correlated with the number of cores (though that doesn’t mean it’s true for any specific application, because they’re too squidgy when it comes to producing generalizable results). 

The 38-core GPU in the Studio’s M2 Max delivers about 20% better Metal performance over the 32-core GPU in the M1 Max, almost entirely because of the increase in the number of cores. For a frame of reference, the 38-core performance puts it roughly comparable to an Nvidia GeForce RTX 4060 Ti, at least in one cross-platform benchmark (3D Mark Wild Life Extreme Unlimited), but there are a variety of metrics that simply aren’t reflected by that test. 

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Using it, though, we can extrapolate that the M2 Ultra’s 76-core version should provide a little less than twice that of the 38-core M2 Max and fall a little short of the RTX 4070 Ti. One interesting pattern that I see is that the more GPU cores there are the less you get out of each individual core within a given generation and about a 5% increase per core from M1 to M2.

As we’ve seen with the M1 generation, multicore CPU performance is almost identical for a given core configuration — in other words, the 12-core M2 Pro’s as fast as the 12-core M2 Max — and about 20% faster than the 10-core M1 Max. Because more cores. Single core speed is up by about 14%. For reference, the CPU performance seems about the same as an Intel Core i7-13700H.

I’ve only had a few days with the system, so I’m still sorting out the various performance nuances. I’m comfortable with the conclusions I’ve drawn thus far — it remains the excellent system it was when it debuted last year — but if necessary may update with more about this particular configuration for creative work and gaming.

Cinebench R23 CPU (multicore)

Apple MacBook Pro 14 (M1 Pro 10/16, 2021) 12,302Apple MacBook Pro 16 (M1 Max 12/32, 2021) 12,365Apple Mac Studio (M1 Max 10/32, 2022) 12,389Apple MacBook Pro 16 (M2 Pro 12/19, 2023) 14,803Apple Mac Mini (M2 Pro 12/19, 2023) 14,814Apple Mac Studio (M2 Max 12/38, 2023) 14,846

<strong class="u-text-uppercase">Note:</strong> Longer bars indicate better performance

Cinebench R23 CPU (single core)

Apple Mac Studio (M1 Max 10/32, 2022) 1,535Apple MacBook Pro 16 (M2 Pro 12/19, 2023) 1,646Apple Mac Mini (M2 Pro 12/19, 2023) 1,649Apple Mac Mini (M2 8/10, 2023) 1,650Apple Mac Studio (M2 Max 12/38, 2023) 1,749

<strong class="u-text-uppercase">Note:</strong> Longer bars indicate better performance

3DMark Wild Life Extreme Unlimited

Apple Mac Mini (M2 8/10, 2023) 6,925Apple MacBook Pro 14 (M1 Pro 10/16, 2021) 10,264Apple MacBook Pro 16 (M2 Pro 12/19, 2023) 12,989Apple Mac Mini (M2 Pro 12/19, 2023) 13,048Apple MacBook Pro 16 (M1 Max 12/32, 2021) 17,640Apple Mac Studio (M1 Max 10/32, 2022) 20,297Apple Mac Studio (M2 Max 12/38, 2023) 25,317

<strong class="u-text-uppercase">Note:</strong> Longer bars indicate better performance

Configurations

Apple Mac Mini (M2 Pro, 2023) MacOS Ventura 13.2; Apple M2 Pro (12-core CPU,19-core GPU); 16GB LPDDR5 RAM; 1TB SSD
Apple Mac Mini (M2, 2023) MacOS Ventura 13.2; Apple M2 (8 CPU cores, 10 GPU cores); 8GB LPDDR5 RAM; 256GB SSD
Apple Mac Studio (M1 Max, 2022) MacOS Monterey 12.3; Apple M1 Max (10 CPU cores, 32 GPU cores); 64GB RAM; 2TB SSD
Apple Mac Studio (M2 Max, 2023) MacOS Ventura 13.4; Apple M2 Max (12 CPU cores, 38 GPU cores); 64GB RAM; 2TB SSD
Apple MacBook Pro (14-inch, 2021) MacOS Monterey 12.4; Apple M1 Pro (10 CPU cores, 16 GPU cores); 32GB LPDDR5 RAM; 1TB SSD
Apple MacBook Pro (16-inch, 2021) MacOS Monterey 12.4; Apple M1 Max (12 CPU cores, 32 GPU cores); 32GB RAM; 512GB SSD
Apple MacBook Pro (16-inch, 2023) MacOS Ventura 13.2; Apple M2 Pro (12 CPU cores, 19 GPU cores); 32GB LPDDR5 RAM; 1TB SSD

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