Mac Studio – Which One to Buy?

Short answer – buy the entry-level and add as much storage as you need.   Why.  I’ve been using the M1 MacBook Air with 8 CPU cores and 8GPU cores with 16GB RAM for around a year now and for photo editing and ‘stuff’ it is all the computer you need.  I dare say as photographers just wanting a desktop computer the Mac Mini or iMac are enough.  Just add a bigger screen.

Some of you will want more than this however and that’s where the Mac Studio comes in.  You may need more RAM, want more than 2 monitors or simply need a faster CPU than the base M1 can provide.  However unless you are into high-end video or graphics workloads the entry level Mac Studio is enough.  It has 10 CPU-cores and 24 GPU cores, but it also has a lot more of the video encoders and machine learning components that speed up graphics and video task.  While on paper the M1 Max only has 2 more CPU cores than the standard M1 it is significantly faster and comes with 32GB RAM as standard.  This base spec machine with 2TB SSD (probably the minimum you should consider for internal storage these days) is £2600.  This may sound like a lot, but it is very good performance for the price and nothing else comes close to it.  Yes you need to add a monitor making it more expensive than the last iMac, but it’s a much better machine and won’t sound like an aircraft taking off when you push it as it has much better cooling.  You also are free to choose whatever monitor you like.

From a storage perspective you could increase the SSD to 4TB for an extra £600 (over the the 2TB price) and yes it’s a bit pricy but not terrible given the convenience of having it internal.  8TB is overkill though, you’d be better off spending the extra £1800 on a decent NAS and getting much more storage.  Let’s face it most of our data isn’t used all of the time to having a NAS to park all the old stuff is a good solution.

If you need more than 32GB RAM chances are that you need extra CPU cores too, so probably best look at the M1 Ultra at this point as it starts with 64GB.  I’m not sure the extra 16 graphics cores on the 64-core version of the Ultra is worth £1000 for most people, so probably best stick with the standard 48 GPU cores as that is the only difference between the two.

Regardless of which configuration you choose the Mac Studio looks great for people like us and I really don’t see any need for the Mac Pro unless you need specialised expansion cards.  I’ve always considered the current Mac Pro to be an utterly overpriced piece of ****.   I’m sure the new Mac Pro based on Apple Silicon will change this, but you will only need this machine if you have massive workloads or need expansion cards.  Even geeks like me won’t need one of these.  

What about iMac?  It doesn’t look like there will be another high-end iMac.  Apple has positioned the iMac as a low-end consumer device, and the Mac Studio with the Studio display has replaced the 27″ version.  Apple could surprise us with a ‘one more thing’ announcement this year, because the iMac has always been popular, but I think it has realised the limitations of cooling big processors in an all-in-one design like the iMac so it would be a surprise if they do.

I’m looking at the Mac Studio and the only thing I can think of adding to it is the AppleCare option that is available in the US as an annual subscription ($69) that doesn’t end after 3 years – Apple will still repair a machine that is older than this as part of AppleCare.   That is really worth having, and also means support for these machines in terms of OS updates could be provided for a very long time making the purchase price worth it.  Other than that everything seems of have been thought of, all ports are present and correct and there’s even ports on the front of the machine.

Published in Member Blogs
  1. Thanks Shaun – very interesting info here.

  2. Interested in your opinion on the G Raid 4 too!

  3. Thanks Shaun, nice to have a cool view from an IT Pro cut through the hype. ( or should that be a view from a cool IT pro 🤔) not in the market at the moment but, like Birth, Death, and Taxes, IT kit replacement is, at some point, inevitable.

  4. Sounds interesting, and an upgrade is needed soon…🤔. Thanks for sharing Shaun.

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