I made a video. Marques made a video. So many videos. But you still had questions. So many questions. So many concerns. You still had years of myths, misconceptions, and misinformation just… harshening your charging chill. So, I spoke to a bunch of super smart battery engineers and testers, and I’m going to address all of them, right the FAQ now!
We’re missing a Pro. Somewhere between the M1 Mac mini and the M1 Max and M1 Ultra Mac Studios, we’re missing an M1 Pro Mac mini or Mac Studio. It’s just a giant, gaping gap… of a hole in what’s otherwise the best all-in-none lineup Apple’s ever had. Or will have, once the Mac Pro ships later this year.
After using using and reviewing it for about a month now, that’s the biggest thing, the main thing I’d change about the Mac Studio. Because otherwise, as far as G4 Cube, Mac mini, J90 Mac Pro-style high-compute appliances go, it’s almost impeccable. Almost.
So, if I were to pec, in a perfect world I’d like to see Apple use more of those double I/O controllers in the M1 Ultra model to really plus out the ports. HDMI 2.1, specifically the higher resolution and higher refresh-rate options. SDUC and UHS-III on the card reader, and… or… maybe even a second 10 GBs Ethernet port, if it fits in the available bandwidth. I don’t know. I suck at I/O math. But with 6 Thunderbolt ports you can dongle into anything, it’s hard to be super salty about any of it.
And I know some people don’t see a difference with the Ultra or think it’s being underutilized or constrained in some way, but like I said in my Benchmark LARP video, a lot comes down to actual workload and understanding the differences, for example, between how Apple silicon works, as opposed to Intel and their more recent TJMAX-Turbo-and-throttle nanosecond cycles. But I suspect, or rather hope, everyone will figure all of that out eventually and we’ll get back to higher signal to noise ratios again. Maybe. I’m an optimist!
But yeah, the only remaining missing piece in the puzzle for me, and I suspect for many others looking for this type of Mac, is that ongoing lack of a Pro option. We have M1 Pro and M1 Max to choose from in the MacBook Pro, and M1 Max and M1 Ultra in the Mac Studio. But no M1 Pro in the Mac Studio. Or Ultra in the MacBook, but it would melt, or look like an ASUS, or… whatever, topic for a future video.
I still think many people, most people, will still be perfectly fine with the M1 Mac mini. Even if you’re worried about future proofing, you can wait on M2 for slightly better single core speeds increased efficiency, and better graphics, but unless you’re planning to radically escalate your workloads in a few years, 16GB will still do you. And if you are, you should consider radically escalating your Mac in those few years as well, especially if it’s paying for itself like it should.
But there are people who legitimately do need the extra memory, extra performance cores, and extra graphics cores that M1 Pro offers, and or just the extra ports, especially if they want to drive extra displays. And right now the next step up that can handle that, is the M1 Max Mac Studio, which is less of a step and more of a leap.
We can argue among friends as to whether a more limited M1 Pro Mac mini or a more expensive M1 Pro Mac Studio is the best goldilocks in the middle there, but I think we’d all agree we need something there. So fingers crossed those reports of an M2 Mac mini Pro pan out, at the very least.
For the Studio Display, you know, despite all the complaints from people who were never actually in the market for a 5K native pixel resolution display, I think Apple mostly delivered on what the people who were actually in the market for one really wanted. Namely, 5K at native pixel resolution in a non-janky plastic enclosure.
Apple still has to fix the camera, because damn. It’s the exact same hardware as the iPad 9 so it should function exactly like the iPad 9. But beyond that, I would personally have preferred it if they’d just stuck with the 1080p wide angle from the iMac, and not gone with the 12 megapixel ultra-wide angle. Center Stage is fun, and is absolutely one of those “only Apple” features that justifies slapping an A13 Chipset into a display in the first place, but it seems like something better aligned with a less-expensive, more consumer-targeted display, like a 4K for $1K display, not a more studio-as-in-prosumer-targeted 5K for $2K display. I’d even be temped to say swap it with the 24-inch iMac at this point. And then bring back Target Display mode already, and let people use it that if that’s what they want to do. Covers so many bases with so few players.
I get people who would have preferred a MagSafe plug on the Studio Display, even though MagSafe requires an external power brick. It would still be a proprietary cable, which some people seem to be forgetting, but the added utility just makes for a better trade-off. I’m always going to lean towards MagSafe all the things, but it’s not a huge deal to me on this.
I would love to see HomePod style stereo pairing for those who do want a twin display setup and could benefit from the wider virtual sound stage. It’s super niche but it’d be super nice.
And I would all-caps love to see a huge simplification in the stand situation. The engineering on the height-adjustable stand is ludicrously good, it’s just super tough for anyone who’s not influencer rich — sorry, that’s so dumb — it’s just super tough to justify a $400 stand on top of a $1600 display. It just comes off looking all shades of over-engineered for something that’s not marketed as Pro but as Studio. I really don’t want the ID team to cut me with what I’m sure are supremely elegant, bead-blasted aluminum coffee spoons, I just think it’s fair to ask why not just one, way simpler stand, that can do it all? What’s more quintessentially Apple than that?
After a month of daily use, I personally still don’t care that it’s EDR and 60 Hz. Never mind Apple would need to use Display Stream Compression to push HDR 120 Hz up a Thunderbolt cable, and there’s currently no HDR 5K120 panel in production for it to even plug into, those would both result in an increase in price that just isn’t justifiable for this display’s target market. Namely, Apple developers and designers, and creative pros outside high-end video pros. Because that’s the Pro Display XDR market, and I imagine we’ll be seeing just exactly those features, more or less, in the next generation Pro Display… for a price. I mean, I’d love 5K for $3K but I fear it’s going to be 7K for $7K this time. I’d love to be wrong on that, but either way I can’t imagine that much mini-LED is going to come cheap.
For now, people complaining it’s 7-year old panel are right, but I still want it, like I still want 7-year old connector tech, namely USB-C, on my iPhone Pro. But I’ll also happily take better.
I do wish it had Wi-Fi and Bluetooth built-in though. We can debate the merits of wireless display tech all you want, but since the Studio Display is already running iOS 15, it would just open the door to all kinds of cool, even if more fringe features, like stand-along AirPlay and Sidecar. Like, you just want to quickly check something on a big screen from your iPhone, iPad, or Mac, without going to hassle of attaching and booting up a dedicated Mac, or plugging in a cable. Especially because the iPhone still needs a dongle for that.
iPhones have Wi-Fi. iPads have Wi-Fi. MacBooks. iMacs. Mac Pros. Apple TV. Apple Watch! Has Wi-Fi. 6 product tabs on Apple.com… like 5 of ‘em have Wi-Fi. And yet Apple does not sell a Wi-Fi router. Not any more. Not since they murder death killed the AirPort Express and AirPort Extreme line ups back in 2016. Not even when Google launched their router, and bought Nest, when Samsung bought SmartThings, and Amazon bought Eero. No, they left arguably one of the most important connections customers ever make, between our Apple gear and the internet… just all shades of naked and afraid. Like this channel if you don’t Shinku Hadoken that subscribe button so we can build the best community in tech, together.
So, what do you do? Well, if you’re Apple. Maybe, just maybe, you do what you just did with displays and bring the routers back. Or… no… scratch that… You create something new. Something… more. An ecosystem, of mesh routers, HomePods, Apple TVs, and other gear that can do what every product Apple makes has to do in order to survive — offer unique differentiation — a combination of hardware, software, and services — that only Apple can do.
That’s how Apple brought back displays after canceling them for being little more than bead blasted aluminum commodity panels. After essentially out-sourcing them to LG, which just never lived up to expectations. They added an A13 Bionic chipset, the same chipset as the iPhone 11 and iPad 9, and that gave them way more functionality — iMac-style functionality — with TrueTone, SmartHDR, currently buggy, spatial audio, noise canceling mics, voice activated Siri, and more. That made them Mac-centric display that very literally only Apple could make.
Since Apple canceled AirPorts for the same reason — being little more than iPod plastic commodity routers, and efforts to outsource them to other companies, even helping them with HomeKit Secure Router tech, hasn’t really lived up to expectations either, why not bring them back in the same way?
And - real quick, while I’m mentioning it — can we please, pretty please, rename HomeKit to Apple Home already? HomeKit was good, it was fine, when it really was just a framework. But now that smart accessories are mainstream, it just banshee blasts some assembly required, which is the exact opposite of Apple’s brand promise.
Start with the basic routers. AirPort mini and AirPort Pro. Maybe the mini has a dual-core Apple S6 system-in-package, which is based on the A13 bionic’s Thunder efficiency cores. And maybe the Pro has an A12 like the Apple TV. It’ll really depend on the exact capabilities Apple needs to deliver.
But make ‘em Wi-Fi 6E, because, like Enterprise-E, it’s just best in class. They set up super easily, yeah, with barely any inconvenience. One-tap pair like AirPods, and then propagate to all your iCloud and Family Sharing devices, so it’s close to zero setup. And you can use the mini by itself if you just have small area you want to cover, like a studio apartment or dorm room, but you can also use them as mesh nodes for an AirPort Pro to cover everything from your old, chock-full of interference house, to your fancy valley mansion. But also, next generation HomePods and Apple TVs, maybe even desktop Macs. Basically, any mostly stationary Apple gear with an antenna in it not only uses the mesh network but boosts and propagates it, so you only actually need to buy minis… if you actually need to buy more minis.
And while those minis really only have basic I/O, like ethernet in and a couple out, the Pro is stacked. Multiple ethernet and a Thunderbolt for storage, Time Machine style. And, yeah, sure, Pro Max with 10 Gb Ethernet and dual Thunderbolt, because a Mac nerd can dream.
The software lets you do everything you need to do to manage the network, device access and sharing, and maybe it even ties into Screen Time for some parental control action. And all the HomeKit secure router functionality, you know, so those kids across town can’t make your lights flash red white and blue every night at 3am just for the lulz.
Then the services. If you have storage attached, it could near-line iCloud for you. Both to keep your most recent and frequently accessed files immediately available on the local network, and to keep files that maybe you just don’t want on the Internet but do want integrated into all your iCloud-aware apps. Also to stage software updates, downloaded at night or whenever there’s no other activity to slow down, and then ready for you to install whenever you want, over the local network, with zero congestion or lost connections.
But wait, there’s more. iCloud Private Relay on the network, so if you have some devices in your home that can’t run it locally, whether they’re other phones, computers, or gaming systems, they still get that protection against carrier and social network snooping.
And then, if and when Apple rolls out new hardware, like a TheaterPod or HomeTheater or whatever, and the long-anticipated VR headset, maybe there’ll be new and even more interesting features for this mesh system as well, like if everything has a U1 ultra wide band, spatial positioning chip, you could drop in additional HomePods into your TV room, and it would just know where they are and auto-magically use them to increase the size and quality of the virtual sound stage. Or if you have multiple headsets, the nodes could help make local co-op gameplay incredibly robust and low-latency. And if Apple ever gets it’s Handoff for Media act together, whatever you’re watching or listening to or playing on one device could be immediately available, at the exact same place, on any other device you want to switch to. Drop your phone, pick up your TV controller, slap on your headset, then grab your iPad and head to bed. Whatever. Whenever.
These are all just my undoubtedly super dumb creator ideas, and anything you’re not personally responsible for implementing, shipping, and supporting is by definition incredibly easy… according to the internet. Especially when you’re virtually spending all Tim Cook’s money.
But looking over at the Studio Display, seeing a modern Apple display, an only Apple display, just really makes me want to see an AirPort, a modern Apple mess networking… never mind system, ecosystem, beside it… In an only Apple way.
Apple has just announced their annual Apple’s World Wide Developers Conference. WWDC 2022. Dub Dub if you’re OG. And here’s what they say:
"Call to code: Join developers worldwide from June 6 to 10 for an inspiring week of technology and community. Get a first look at Apple’s latest platforms and technologies in sessions, explore the newest tools and tips, and connect with Apple experts in labs and digital lounges. All online and at no cost.
"In addition to the online conference, Apple will host a special day for developers and students at Apple Park on June 6 to watch the keynote and State of the Union videos together, along with the online community. Space is limited and details on how to apply to attend will be provided soon."
So, what's happening... and why?
I’ll spare you the unbox pron and the benchmark LARP… I mean a bit… and get right down to it. The M1 Ultra is pretty much the ultimate expression of Apple’s scalable silicon architecture and delivers on that promise… almost linearly. Almost..
Basically, if there’s anything you couldn’t do on an M1 Max MacBook Pro, if there were any limitations you were facing or walls you were hitting, you can break right through them, most of them, with the M1 Ultra in the Mac Studio.
Two years ago today I quit my big media job, started this channel, and then 2020 happened, and I panicked. But you were all so very here for it. Beyond any expectation. And so, 400 videos, 320K subs, and almost 50 million views later, we’re going celebrate… with an AMA, YouTube-style! Let’s do this!
So, where’s Apple going to cram some custom silicon all up in next? I mean, besides the recently patent-sparked M2 Magic Keyboard computer speculation, the one that’ll somehow re-invent the Apple II and obsolete the Mac mini box at the same time, right? More on those in a perf per watt minute! And, I only ask because… they just put… an A13 Bionic, basically the whole entire board from the current iPad nothing, memory, 64 Gigs of storage, the all of it, into… a monitor. A screen. The Studio Display. Basically because the Tim Cook doctrine says Apple’s only ever going to enter — or re-enter — markets where they can provide unique differentiation and value. Doing things that only Apple can do, as the mantra goes. They’re a huge company but they still use small teams with limited bandwidth so if you’re not the next iPhone, you have to prove you’re worthy of some of that time and attention, because it’ll always come at the expense of something else.
So, using custom silicon to give a desktop display the same features that Apple’s MacBook displays have been enjoying for the last few years is just exactly the kind of unique differentiation that’ll get you bandwidth — and sign off! — True Tone ambient color temperature matching, spatial audio speakers, noise canceling mics, Center Stage pan and zoom webcam — the freaking thing actually runs iOS 15! It even gets software updates… and experiences software bugs… like a computer.
What’s a computer?
Don’t start! Just Kuzu Ryu Sen that subscribe button like your name is Kenshin. And then stick with me here. Because, turns out, that’s pretty much exactly the right question. See, around the same time Apple deleted displays they began selling truly wireless headphones with the AirPods. And the unique differentiation and value they offered was powered entirely by custom Apple silicon. The W1 ship at first, currently the H1 chipset. That’s up to 10 active audio cores on the AirPods Pro and AirPods Max. And they don’t run iOS, but they are tiny computers for our ears, and they have gotten software updates over the years. Significant ones. Updates like Spatial Audio support, which makes headphones sound like speakers, not turning with you but letting you turn around them. Conversation boost, to help you if you have low hearing. Full on Find My support. And, just recently, a bug fix for Find My Support!
Does that mean Apple could announce new features for the Studio Display as well? Kinda? I mean, I’d all-caps love that. It’d just be limited to things like HomePod-style stereo pairing if you happen to have two displays and want to create a wider spatial audio sound stage. Which, don’t get me wrong, would be hella cool. But since there’s no Wi-Fi in there — like the one device Apple doesn’t stuff Wi-Fi into — there doesn’t seem to be any way to give them the… Heller cooler features I’d really want. Like built-in AirPlay and Sidecar. Which, I know you can do when you have the display already connected to another Mac. But if Apple is really going all-in on wireless to the point where there are persistent rumors they’ll be cancelling the port on the iPhone and soon, just being able to mosey my MacBook up to a display and take it over for a bit without having to plug in. When you have custom silicon in the Mac — what’s more uniquely differentiating, more Only Apple than that?
I mean, aside from cramming custom silicon into the keyboard. Which… just… in an era of hyper-nostalgia… what could be more Apple II Retro Chic than going back to future with the computer that started it all?
And quick shout out to whomever on Apple’s marketing and industrial design team saw the 2020s coming like the burning space hulk they are and had prescience enough to know we’d want and need a little nostalgia round about nowish.
And I know… I know… You know I know that you know I know… a computer in a keyboard sounds ridiculous at best and the Spider Ham Universe Variant of the Netbook at worst… but here’s the thing — Apple silicon could make it kinda all shades of awesome?
Most people have figured out the wicked obvious thing about M1 is the battery life it allows on MacBooks like the Air and Pro. But the subtler benefit is the enclosures it allows on desktop Macs like the iMac and Studio. Enclosures that would be impossible… with modern Intel silicon, like… they’d throttle on startup chime and leave a giant aluminum puddle on the table.
But with Apple silicon, we have a MacBook Air that’s not struggling to scroll a Chrome tab on Y-Series CoreM but going toe-to-toe with the big cores, and without a fan. We have an iMac that no longer needs back bump for all the U-Series heat junk in the trunk, and can basically sustain workloads even though it’s flat as an iPad. And we just got a whole swole Mac mini on Hulk Serum in the Mac Studio that can indeed legit hold its own, in yes, a very few specific workloads, with the baddest Intel and Nvidia hellicarrier-sized boards on the planet.
And that’s only with the very first generation of M-series. That’s One — Year M1 — on TSMC’s couple of year old OG 5 nanometer process. Imagine when we get to M2 on 5 enhanced, maybe even 4 optimized. Or M3 on 3 nanometer legit when they finally get there? When Apple gets a few more generations of super scale CPUs, GPUs, and silicon features under the shipped column?
The long-anticipated VR headset, for sure. I’m working on that video soon. So, seriously, button up. But I could just as easily see that kind of obscenely high perf-per watt chip going into something like a latter day Apple II. A Magic Keyboard that just so happens to be the whole entire computer. A Mac mini that’s even more mini. Like, let the Mac Studio take over the box space, this is the new basically invisible space.
I mean, unless you hate Apple keyboards, in which case wait a few more generations and I’m sure Apple’ll be patenting an M5 in a damn Magic Mouse. But you still charge it like this… so whatever.
Point is, even with limited I/O on the back and sides, like a couple of Thunderbolt ports and an HDMI, you have a quote-un-quote desktop Mac that’s every bit as portable as a laptop. Hell, Sidecar it to your iPad at the coffee shop if you really want ultra minimalist macOS on the go. Then pair it back up with your Studio Display when you finally stop at work or at home.
I’m being beyond ridiculous right now, but only to make this point — with Apple silicon scaling from AirPods to, very soon, Mac Pro, across displays and devices, the potential is… limitless. Like Tim Cook Mission Improbable-ing chips into pretty much anything and everything that makes sense and offers that unique differentiation, that only-Apple angle his doctrine has defined.
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.
Apple’s working on a 15-inch MacBook that could launch sometime in 2023. That’s according to supply chain exfiltrators Ross Young and Kuo Ming Chi. But… are they though?
Ross says it’ll be 15.2-inches, or slightly smaller than the 15.4-inch displays on Apple’s older, pre-16-inch MacBook Pros.
Kuo, riffing off Ross, predicted that it could go into production 4th quarter of 2023, that the goal was to use the same 30W power supply as the current MacBook Air, but that it might not be branded as… an Air.
But that’s all in stark contrast to Mark Gurman of Bloomberg fame, who reported a year ago that Apple was exploring a 15-inch MacBook Air but ultimately decided to not… not push that model into production, at least not back then.
And I’ll explain the discrepancy in a minute, so hit that subscribe button for an emoji cookie… or three, and let’s break it down!
Small things first. Ross also reported that the 13-inch MacBook Air would be going from 13.3 to the 13.6 inches. And… if true, this kinda bums me out.
Because I, like some of you, all-caps loved the really small MacBooks and Airs of generations past. 12-inch PowerBook, 11-inch MacBook Air, 12-inch MacBook, and were kinda high-key hoping Apple would use the next big redesign to cut the bezels and casing size rather than increase the display size, at least on the most ultra-portable end of the product line.
And I realize that has precisely zero basis in recent history, where the 11-inch iPad Pro got a bigger display and the 12.9 inch got a smaller casing, or both MacBook Pros got bigger displays… but… like I always say, the Mac nerd heart wants what the Mac nerd heart wants, and going bigger on the Pro displays could be a real opportunity to go smaller on the non-Pro casings. I’m just saying.
Anyway, 15.2 being ever-so-slightly smaller than 15.4, combined with the ongoing Thanos snapping of every bezel Apple can get its redesign gauntlet on, means a 15-inch MacBoo would not only be lighter than the old 15-inch Pro, but smaller as well. By a good amount.
And, combined with reports of a bigger iPhone 14 non-Pro Max, it would show Apple finally de-coupling bigger displays from pro-level products and pricing. Which… Cleo Abrams level huge if true.
Because, currently, on everything but Apple Watch, they are very much like British-level sitcom Couplinged.
The only bigger iPhone is the 6.7-inch Pro Max, the only bigger iPad is the 12.9-inch Pro, the only bigger MacBook is the 16-inch Pro. The only bigger iMac is… oh, yeah… damn…. Well, You get my point!
But, if we get a 6.7-inch iPhone non-Pro Max, just Max, and a 15-inch non-Pro MacBook, just MacBook, then that flips the tables, the giant Apple retail tables on the whole entire product story. Because if you just want or need a bigger display for any reason, from web app productivity to visual accessibility, you’ll be able to get it without the pro-level performance, sure but also without the pro-level weight and pricing that currently comes with it.
And since the MacBook Pros have gotten their retro future CHONK back with the last redesign, instead of trying to go as light and thin as Air like the one before, that opens up a ton — not literal ton, more like a pound — of room for differentiation based only on weight, not just size.
So, why the discrepancy in reports? Why Ross and Kuo yes, Gurman nope. Well, last year versus this year. Then versus now. But actually for exactly the reasons I outlined in my iMac Pro video from earlier this week, link in the description below the like button.
Apple’s probably studying our reactions to the first wave of M1-based Apple Silicon Macs, and seeing what overlaps there are, what gaps remain, and how they can cover the most customers needs as possible with as few products as possible. Because that’s how they roll.
And right now, there’s the 13-inch M1 MacBook Air, and the step-up is the 13-inch M1 MacBook Pro for people who either just want the pro name for the pro flex, or who want a fan for longer sustained perf, or, sure, a Touch Bar. But maybe a 15-inch Air or whatever the branding is would be an even better step up for an even larger swath of people. Not between the $1000 Air and $2000 Pro, because the redesigned 13-inch Air would probably go back up to $1100 or $1200 for a year or couple first, but still between that and the $2000 Pro. So, call it $1600.
Now, me, personally, if I got to run God Mode over at Apple, this is the lineup I’d love to go with
13.3-inch MacBook, same physical size as the old 12-inch MacBook, but with the bigger, bezel-snapped screen. And 15.2-inch MacBook. Both ultra-light and fanless, with the bigger size allowing for bigger battery to compensate for bigger display. That, and bigger efficiency for A15-based M2.
Then, 14-inch MacBook Pro and 16-inch MacBook Pro. Exactly what we have now. Because, they just got their redesigns and they’re aces, both.
And I know, I know, I can hear some of you yelling at the screen. Screw smaller! Go big or go iPad! You want your Kaiju-class back, the return of the battleship — an 18-inch MacBook Pro the size of the old 17-inch, with all the ports of a Mac Studio, and just about as portable too! With M1 Ultra under the hood. So what if it burns down to the earth’s core. I’m just not sure there’s a market as big as that MacBook, not that even Tim Cook’s pivot tables could tell. But… I have some ideas, so let me know if you want a video on that!
Otherwise, basically, that’s it. 4 MacBooks: 2 ultra-portables, 2 ultra-performance. 2 sizes each.
Ok, real talk, so don’t judge — I was testing M1 Max vs. M1 Ultra GPU performance on the Mac Studio and… I just wasn’t seeing the difference I expected. Then, I realized, I was testing GFXBench Aztec at 1440 on screen, and… that just wasn’t enough load. Like… testing towing capacity between a Camry and a … Tacoma… with all the weight of a MacBook Air. I was barely putting a dent on the Max, never mind the Ultra. I needed to test with 4K off-screen in order to actually see what the Ultra could do. Then… it was like… boom… up to 1.9x. Same with Wildlife. I had to put it into Unlimited mode.
Then I was trying to decipher Apple’s M1 Ultra vs. GeForce 3090 graphs. Like, what were they even saying? Performance per watt up to max watt for the Ultra? Is that like… gas mileage with a 100 mile-per-hour speed limit? Couldn’t the Nvidia card just keep burning fuel to 300? Did I care most about peak high number or being able to actually fit into a small enclosure without melting into Super Mario lava?
Until I realized was it actually only measuring power on GPU, not power through system, which varies radically between Apple’s SoC-based approach compared to Nvidia’s discreet card-in-a-slot. Like… gas in both tanks vs. everything consumed to get that gas into the tank as well.
And it gets even weirded. Because I was looking at Shadow of the Tomb Raider tests, which run cross platform, but run as x86 through Rosetta translation on M1 Macs. They do target Apple’s low-level Metal API, which can theoretically perform as good or even better on M1 than it does on Intel Mac, but that depends entirely on the quality of the API implementation, and how well its optimized for Mac compared to Windows… and wow look at all those frames Nvidia gets. But then Topaz Video Enhance AI frames on the M1 Ultra, when you take the limiters off… and…
Honestly, so what if M1 Ultra does slightly better than 3090 on Aztec 4K off-screen and slightly worse on Wildlife Unlimited, no one who wants CUDA cores or high-end, Ray-traced gaming really cares how the M1 Ultra compares anyway. And anyone who just wants massive GPU with massive RAM on their Mac… can’t even use Nvidia… much less get it there.
So, while UltraFusing two separate 32-core GPU blocks into one massive 64-core GPU Metal target with up to 128GB of RAM and 800GB of memory bandwidth is an unprecedented table slap of silicon nerdery, it doesn’t really change anything fundamental about either ecosystem. It’s just chum in the headlines and comments sections for people who don’t really get how benchmarking really work anyway.
Mostly because, so many benchmarks now have been all wrapped up into neat little apps or games that literally anyone, including, terrifyingly — me! — can just download, run once and done. They spit out numbers, sometimes highly relative and abstract, with almost zero time and effort, all pretty for posting. But they don’t really tell you how to run them, what the numbers actually mean, or give you any of the context needed to interpret them. They’ve become pop culture, or what I’ve been calling Benchmark LARP, live action roll-play. Especially when compared to say… what outlets like AnandTech and a few others still manage to produce, with incredible talent, and a ton of high-order-bit work and effort.
Because the ugly truth is, while running benchmarking might be easier than ever, understanding them is significantly more complex.
I’m not even talking about the simple stuff, like if you’re testing single core perf, realizing all the M1 SoC have the exact same single cores, it’s just the bigger ones literally have way, way, n-to-the-way multi more of them. Or… like… if you’re comparing the M1 Ultra package size to the Intel or AMD CPU package size… when M1 Ultra is a whole entire SoC with CPU, yes, but also 64 GPU cores, 32 ANE cores, never mind the media engines, the I/O controllers… the RAM chips. Because you never want your take to be so hot it burns you.
Or if you’ve been paid for coverage by the Intels and Qualcomms, but also super salty Apple doesn’t pay for that, you’ve got to at least disclose that in your snark-tweets or you’re basically putting the PC in NPC.
But usually it’s way more complicated and nuanced. Like.. don’t laugh. Testing the 13-inch M1 MacBook Air Pro against the Intel 10th Gen 13-inch MacBook Pro with video rendering, and realizing H.264 encoding doesn’t hit the M1 Firestorm cores or the Intel Icelake cores, it hits the A14-generation media engines on the M1 box and the A10-generation media engines on the T2 coprocessor on the Intel box. To test the M1 vs. Intel, you’d have to test with something like ProRes, which is still CPU-bound on those boxes. Otherwise, the only thing it’s testing is Apples vs. Apple’s older Apples.
Never mind figuring out what’s hitting efficiency cores vs. performance cores, which may matter given M1 has 4 e-cores and M1 Pro and Max have 2 e-cores but M1 Ultra has 2 times 2 e-cores. We saw that blow up spectacularly with early A14 vs. A15 hot takes, where the efficiency cores ended up being significantly faster, and the performance cores, only slightly faster but quite a bit more efficient, which along with double the system cache, just ended up making the whole die way better for battery life. That burned a lot of bloggers and re-bloggers kinda badly… and since M2 may well be based on A15, like M1 was based on A14, history could repeat itself with the next Mac mini and MacBook Air as well.
Also, what’s hitting the Apple Neural Engine or ANE cores, vs. the CPU cores, even the AMX accelerators on the CPU cores. Because the machine learning controller taps into all of them, and they all vary in scale, to lesser or grater degrees, across the M1 family. And unlike Metal and the GPU, CoreML can’t treat them as a single target, but it can dispatch between them, so where you’d expect up to 1.9x scaling on M1 Ultra graphics workloads, you can really only expect close to 1.5x scaling on M1 Ultra machine learning workloads. Similar if not the same with CPU and media engine scalability, which can handle as many compute units as you throw at them… give you close to linear scalability, until they don’t… until some gnarly bit of code or codec hits them and flattens those hockey sticks.
Never mind how many other things can affect benchmarks and performance in general. Like ambient temperature. Radios, if you forget to go into Airplane Mode first. Errant processes, if you forget to reboot first. Other tasks, if you forget to make sure no other tasks are running at the same time. Even settings, if you forget to triple check they’re exactly the same between machines and tests.
Which is why it’s so easy to mark those benches but so damn hard to do it right, and why I don’t do very much of it, not beyond superficially validating performance claims at least. I just don’t want to contribute to the LARP culture or comment toxicity, and would rather just point you to AnandTech and the other experts. But also point out that if none of those numbers are meaningful or important to you, that’s fine too.
Just simplify it all the way down. Start with the M1. Is it enough for you? For the vast majority of people, the answer is an easy yes. But if you really do need more built-in ports and more performance, step up to M1 Pro. Especially when and if Apple rolls out tweener Mac mini Pros, maybe even iMac Pros, with that as an option. It’ll cover almost everyone at that point. But if you know your workload, and you know even M1 Pro isn’t enough, and you want basically double the GPU, media engines, and memory, jump up to the M1 Max. And only… only in the rare cases where even that isn’t enough, but double everything again will be, including price, only then leap up to the M1 Ultra. Or, if you really, truly need PCIe expansion slots, wait on the Apple Silicon Mac Pro.
But if you’re concerned about the price, if you’re worried about the money it’ll be costing you instead of the money it’ll be making you… if the time it’ll be saving you or the scale it’ll be giving isn’t worth way, way more than the money it’ll be costing you, that’s a giant, neon, omega-level mutant alert. Unless you already have all the money, and just want to flex the new shiny, in which case, you spend you!