Mac Studio 2 Weeks Later — Lies, Locked Drives, and Cable Rage

So, a few quick things. Because some of you all have been… savage about this in the comments. No, the plug on the Studio Display isn’t permanently attached. You can pull it out if you yank like… Nilay or Linus hard. It’s not MagSafe, because you need an external power brick in order to have MagSafe, and Apple didn’t want to put a brick on the display like they did the 24-inch iMac. It is super shallow, though, because the Studio Display is hella thin, so you probably shouldn’t make a habit of yanking it out anyway, in case you bust it, which was the whole entire point of making it hard to pull out to begin with. And you can absolutely think that’s the dumbest design decision ever, that Apple shouldn’t have made the Studio Display this thin, or should have gone with a brick and MagSafe combo anyway, or made any of a dozen other trade-offs, because all design is compromise, that’s fine, but Apple’s aesthetic obviously appeals to a certain segment of the market, but just stop and take a breath and maybe be a little curious about it and get answers before you make a blog or video weaponizing your audience and turning them loose on everyone else’s comments. Because constantly minting rage-bait complaining a Lambo isn’t a Land Cruiser, while you keep buying or never buy Lambos, is either cringy, performative or both. Love up.

Same with the price. Subjectively, if you don’t care about 5K at native 2x resolution, then the Studio Display isn’t worth any amount of dollars to you. Just get a cheap 4K display and enjoy. But if you care very much about those things, then it’s worth every bead blasted aluminum penny, because there’s almost nothing else like it on the market. With that “almost” being the LG UltraFine 5K. Which… I’m more than half convinced now Apple only made the Studio Display because, after working from home the last two years, they finally — like the Rock comes home finally — understood why so many of us Mac nerds had been asking for it so often for so long. But that also means we can in fact be objective about the price. LG is $1300 retail. Studio Display is $1600. And that extra $300 costs you the built-in height-adjustable stand, which legit sucks, but buys you 600 nits instead of 500 of brightness, which Apple uses for extended dynamic range, way better materials and build quality, way, way better speakers with spatial audio, better mics, a camera… yeah… in desperate need of a bug fix, Siri for no-mic or remote Macs, TrueTone, Apple reference modes, and an A13 Bionic chipset. For $300 more than the LG. As someone who’s bought 3 or 4 of the LG over the years, I’d have paid that difference in a heart beat just to avoid all the build-quality issues I had so always.

And I might still buy this. I’m just waiting to see what the rumored MiniLED versions ends up being. If it’s 27-inches and 5K for $2K plus, I’m in. I just want the HDR. Since 120 Hz still isn’t physically possible over Thunderbolt at over 4K. If it’s 36-inches and closer to 7K for $7K, I’ll leave that for the Pixar’s, ILMs, and… you know, the mega-YouTubers. If you don’t care about HDR but you do care about 5K, and a lot, then… who am I kidding, you already ordered. Didn’t you?

So, just falcon punch that subscribe button, because… second, no… Mac Studio storage isn’t user-expandable, was never advertised as user-expandable, and if some Kyle Weiens level hak-zor genius figures out how to user-expand it, that’ll be icing, not cake. See, the Mac Studio doesn’t just have one storage chip and two storage slots. The low end configs people rushed to crack up only needed one of those two storage slots, because low end config. But it goes all the way up to 8 TB, and Apple needs dual slots for those higher capacity options. It’s not soldered onto the board, like MacBooks, because desktops don’t get bounced around like laptops, which used to cause frequent errors due to accidentally unseating, but also because high-end desktops are far less popular than laptops, and it’s more economical and efficient for Apple to be able to customize the storage for build-to-order shipments on the fly rather than having to stock a bunch of different SKUs, or shop keeping units, for a smaller-batch product. That’s just… how Tim Cook supply chains, son.

They’re also not SSD slots like on a PC. That’s not how the Mac works and hasn’t been for years. Part of what gets the Mac such terrific performance, and features… like real-time encryption, is that Apple builds custom I/O and storage controllers right into the silicon. They’ve been doing that since the T2 chip in 2018, essentially a repurposed A10 chip from the iPhone 7, on Intel Macs, and M1 does a much more modern and performant version of the same. It’s another trade-off, and one hobbyists will hate and PC users will drag, but it’s also why the Mac Studio is clearly marketed as a Mac mini Pro, not a Mac Pro mini, and why Apple has and will continue to make the actual Mac Pro for people who do want an expandable, upgradeable system. And you can argue that’s dumb as well, and nothing should be an appliance, but some very smart pros really couldn’t care less about getting into a box and just want to throw it at whatever their current problems are, and they keep voting with their wallets for what Apple’s making. And that doesn’t mean they’re any more or less intelligent or cunning than anyone else, it just means they have different priorities, ones that don’t include giant RGB, water-cooled PCs with a stack of hellicarrier loud cards inside.

And yeah, Apple was asking for grief with that 3090 graph, especially considering how well the PCMR took to their previous graphs. But you know what, M1 Ultra really can go toe-to-toe with a 3090 in some benchmarks and workloads, and if you’d told anyone that a few years ago, especially anyone pre-dismissing M1 as just an iPad chip, they’d have thought you were a certified Steve Jobs era crazy one. Very, very few people imagined Apple could scale their CPUs to true desktop class, and almost no one thought they had a glass of ice water’s chance in hell of getting within the same megelanic cloud as a big AMD card, never mind Nvidia. Don’t get me wrong, they still have miles and miles to go when it comes to people who want CUDA cores or gaming. But you know, game studios, bubbies, as long as you’re going all-in on APUs for the new consoles, why not come test the SoC waters as well. Mac may not be a huge market, but Mac and iPad. Check a box? Feeling me?

Anyway, if I seem uncharacteristically based or salty today, it’s only because I’ve spent two weeks hammering away on these new Macs, learning everything I could about them, so I could provide you, my community, the best, most accurate information and reviews possible, only to have my comments filled up by people who were rage-baited by file-first, ask questions never rush-to-gotcha gate hot takes, accusing my community of being stupid, me of lying, or being biased, when I literally gave up sleep for days to defend all of you, customers, who work very hard for your money, and deserve the truth, because you can absolutely handle the truth.

It’s so annoying, because in my heart I’m a huge optimist. We live in an age of wonders. Of phones that unfold into tablets, of electric trucks, and, yeah, basically super computers in tiny aluminum cubes. Is everything perfect? No. Is every product for every person? Hell no. Someone who wants an iPhone 13 doesn’t want an iPhone SE and someone who wants a Studio Display doesn’t want a 4K Dell. And that’s why it’s fan-freaking-tastic that we have different options for different people. And part of the job is figuring out if a product meets the needs of the people for whom it’s intended. Even if that person isn’t always us.

That’s why I made my benchmark LARP video last week, and it’s why I’m making this video on performative hot take theater now. Because answering comments and being there for my community is hard enough without having to waste so much time copy/pasting “tell me you don’t understand Thunderbolt 4 or native 2x or MagSafe or modern Mac storage without telling me you don’t understand it…” into every third reply. Please and thank you. Sincerely.

Now, as for me, I did order an M1 Ultra Mac Studio. But the truth is, after 2 weeks, I’m kinda looking forward to going back to my M1 Max 16-inch MacBook Pro. I like the MiniLED display, I love being able to move around from my Kitchen counter to standing desk to studio to couch. And the Max is a big enough breakthrough for me, essentially doubling my render speeds and getting them off the CPU so I can still do other things like thumbnails in Photoshop and video prep in Safari, that I can finish my work and put it on to upload before I go to bed, instead of waiting forever for it to finish… before I can go to bed.

And the Ultra does speed that up even more. Between 1.5x to 1.75x on the Neural Engines, between 1.5x and 1.9x on the Media Engines, 1.9x on the CPU and GPU cores, depending on workload. The Max was the difference between like 25 minutes and 5 minutes. The ultra is the difference between 5 minutes and just under 3. And, honestly, that just means I don’t even have time to grab a coffee while I’m waiting any more. And what good is doubling my speed if I’m halving my coffee? Honestly? Kidding. I swear. Kinda.

If I was doing client work, where time was literally money, I’d go Ultra faster than the Apple Store could come back online after an event. Well… just as fast. Obviously. No question. No doubt. But it’s not about me, right? So, I think, for a good 80% of people out there looking for a Mac desktop, the M1 Mac mini or M1 iMac are more than powerful and porty enough. Don’t sleep on them just because of the new hotness. For 15% of the rest, whether it’s more power or more ports, the M1 Max Studio is literally a dream machine. And for that final 5%, you just need to figure out if you want a sealed box with M1 Ultra, or wait and see what Apple is going to do with the custom silicon, expandable Mac Pro, and maybe compute power that’s even more… Extreme.