The Mac Studio

I’ve had a Mac Studio for a month now, so I have thoughts to share.

tl;dr – It’s great and is what I’ve wanted from Apple for a long time.

The product line gap

There’s been a gap in Apple’s Mac product line for years, though most consumers wouldn’t have noticed, and that’s the reason it existed.

Here’s a user who fits the profile:

  • Wants a desktop
  • Wants complete control over their displays
  • Wants modularity
  • Wants a bunch of ports
  • Wants high(er) performance
  • Needs macOS

The user is me.

The Mac Mini checks most of these boxes until you get to performance. The standard M1 currently offered is an amazing chip that gets you quite far, but the 16 GB RAM limit just won’t cut it for users who need higher-end performance. I have this configuration in my current MacBook Pro and have hit the limits.

The Mac Pro checks all of these boxes until you factor in the price. $6000 is simply out of reach for most, if not all, “prosumers”. $4000 would be my upper limit and even that’s hard to fathom. In 2009 I had a “Cheese Grater” Mac Pro with a quad core Xeon that I paid around ~$2200 as a refurb. It’s the best computer I’ve ever owned, but Apple’s made it clear with the modern models (aka bigger cheese grater) that I’m no longer a member of their target audience.

Until the Studio I’ve been “compromising” (I understand that sounds extremely privileged) with a 2019 i9 8-core iMac. Performance-wise it’s been incredible – no complaints there, but I’ve just never been the iMac type. An all-in-one is great for many, but to nerds it introduces unnecessary complexity while reducing modularity. It’s hard to compute* a hypothetical scenario where one must send a fully working computer in for repairs just because the display failed.

*Pun was intended.

Enter the Mac Studio

A good operating system is invisible, and we should think the same about hardware. This is how I’ve felt about the Studio since using it as my primary desktop – you forget it’s there. The fans are unwaveringly quiet, unlike those on the iMac that would roar to life every time I built our Xcode project. I’m fairly certain I saw the iMac hover a few times when they were at full speed. On the flip side I haven’t gotten the Studio’s fans to ramp up to an audible level no matter how hard I push it.

Performance has been as great as I’d hoped. I went with the M1 Max with 64GB of RAM and the 32-core GPU. There’s nothing new to report here that hasn’t been reported already – it’s quick, cool, quiet, and sips power. I don’t plan to game on it, because that’s what PCs are for (as well as making up for the energy savings). 😀

The only item that the Mac Studio doesn’t fulfill in the list above is modularity. It’s better than the iMac in that it separates the displays from the unit, but that’s the only benefit, albeit a huge one for me. Because it’s not truly modular you’re stuck with what you purchased, so choose wisely. I made an enormous mistake only getting a 512GB SSD for my iMac. Never again.

I’m also disappointed that there’s seemingly no easy way to clean the internal fans. Tear-down videos show that the Studio wasn’t designed for self-servicing, and it’s not like I expected any better from Apple, but it would be a nice plus. Time will tell if this will be a real-world problem, so maybe they know best here.

Front of the Mac Studio.

The design isn’t going to win any awards, that’s for sure. For the most part it’s an extruded Mini. That may contribute to its invisibility, though. It’s not there to be a beautiful distraction (I’m thinking of you, computer-1), it’s there just to work, and so far it’s dependably done just that.

In conclusion

It’s a thumbs up from me. 👍 It’s not perfect, but it’s a drastic step in the right direction from Apple. I’m excited to see the desktop Mac get love again after the laptops have stolen the show for so many years, while iPhones and iPads have stolen the show from them.

Adios iMac! 👋