My Thoughts On The Mac Studio Two Weeks After It Was Announced

It’s been a couple of weeks or so since Apple announced the Mac Studio. And there’s three recurring themes that seem to be popping up in my inbox and Twitter that I’d like to comment on.

  • If you’re not a professional, you probably shouldn’t buy the Mac Studio: First let’s define professional. I define that as someone who makes a living doing things like editing video or photos. Or perhaps its someone who does 3D modelling or rendering. Or someone who runs large mathematical models every day. In other words, it’s someone who living revolves around the saying “time is money”. If that’s you, then the Mac Studio is for you. At least until the new Mac Pro with Apple Silicon appears. For everybody else, the fact is that if you need an Apple desktop, the M1 iMac or the M1 Mac Mini are both very good computers with a lot of power. So if you’re in that camp, save a few bucks and skip the Mac Mini.
  • Why does Apple have removable drives if they don’t plan on letting you upgrade your Mac Studio: This became a issue of sorts when the first Mac Studio units started appearing, and YouTube channel MaxTech did a teardown and discovered that the Mac Studio had removable storage in the form of two slots. One unused in his case. Then YouTuber Luke Miani did two videos attempting and failing to upgrade the storage on the Mac Studio, which turned into a rant about “right to repair.” The fact is that Apple says that the Mac Studio isn’t upgradable. And unless some above genius level IQ type comes up with an upgrade kit that works. Or Apple actually offers one the way they do with the Mac Pro, I would take them at the word and assume that upgradability is a bonus if it ever happens and not an expectation. To go further, if you need upgradability, my advice is to wait until the upcoming Apple Silicon Mac Pro and see what that brings to the table. Finally, my thinking is that the non-existent upgradability is not because of some evil Apple plot. I suspect that it’s because of the following reasons:
    • Apple has removable slots for the storage because it likely costs them way less to have one or two motherboard part numbers as opposed to say 10 of them with every storage configuration and processor configuration. Less cost means more profit for Apple.
    • Apple likely needs both slots to facilitate 8TB (or perhaps even 4TB) of storage by using two storage modules and using RAID 0 to stripe them so that they show up as 1 volume. If they don’t need the second slot, it stays empty.
    • Various YouTubers call these storage modules SSD’s. I’ve been told by Apple Genius Bar employees that I know that they are not SSDs. They are NAND storage modules which are controlled by the storage controller that is built into the M1 Max or M1 Ultra processor. Without going way into the weeds, these storage modules have no intelligence on them. They’re simply storage. But the use of these specific modules give the Mac Studio the insanely fast disk read and write speeds that they are capable of. It also means that without a whole lot of gymnastics, upgrades are likely a non-starter. Or at the very least they will require the same sort of gymnastics that the Mac Pro upgrade kit requires. Because unlike SSDs, these storage modules are likely tied to the logic board in some way. If I had to make a guess, I suspect that Apple did this for security reasons and not to screw their customer base over.
    • Finally, unlike say a 16″ MacBook Pro, the Mac Studio is sitting on a desk and typically not moving. In a portable use case, soldering the storage modules to the logic board eliminates issues due to vibration. Since the Mac Studio isn’t moving, this likely didn’t make sense. Thus it has slots.
  • Apple says that the Mac Studio and the M1 Ultra Chip should beat an Nvidia RTX 3090, but it doesn’t: Various websites and YouTubers have run benchmarks on the M1 Ultra equipped Mac Studio and can’t figure out how Apple was able to make the claims that it did in the event where the Mac Studio was announced. I can see two reasons for that. The first is that Apple is lying. And I have to throw this out there as a possibility even though I can’t see that as being factual because that’s a great way for Apple to get a class action lawsuit served up to them that they won’t win. Which brings me to my second reason. The benchmark tests simply don’t push the machine hard enough for you to see the true power of the computer. And that’s the thing about benchmark tests. They’re synthetic and only are great tools for figuring out how fast a computer is or isn’t, until they aren’t good at doing that. Ditto for applications which may require updates to fully use the power of the M1 Ultra. And this article supports that based on looking at this whole issue and going deep into the weeds to explain why people are seeing the benchmark results that they are. So the take home message is that you should use benchmark results as a guide, but not as an absolute.

So those are my thoughts on the Mac Studio a couple of weeks after it was announced. What are your thoughts. Please post them in the comments and let me know what you think.

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