M2 Mac Studio guide: Is there a future for Apple’s mini powerhouse?

Apple introduced the Mac Studio with M1 Max and M1 Ultra chips in March 2022. Positioned as a brand-new pro-tier Mac, it’s best described as a Mac mini on steroids. However, now that the M2 Pro Mac mini has arrived, the decision to buy a desktop Mac is a little trickier. There’s also the overdue Apple silicon Mac Pro that is set to soon join the mix.

With a trio of pro-tier Macs, all eyes are now on the second-generation Mac Studio: When it will arrive? How fast will it be? And how Apple will differentiate it from the Mac mini and the Mac Pro?

Mac Studio: Release date 

Now that the M2 Max chip has arrived in the 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro, it’s seemingly only a matter of time before the chip makes its way into the Mac Studio, and with WWDC just around the corner it looks like the perfect time for an update.

Those hoping for an imminent update will be glad to hear that hidden references to three new desktop Macs have been spotted in Apple’s Find My app. Developer Nicolas Álvarez spotted the references to three unknown desktop Macs: Mac14,8; Mac14,13; and Mac14,14 in the Find My app. The reason he believes these are desktop Macs is that these Macs have the “left behind” notification disabled and desktops tend to stay in one place. This could indicate that both the Mac Studio and the Mac Pro could be updated at WWDC in June 2023.

Another indication that a new Mac Studio could launch at WWDC is a report from Mark Gurman that suggests Apple is about to open Mac Studio trade-ins on June 5.

However, the fate of the new Mac Studio is complicated by the fact that the Mac Pro is widely expected to launch at WWDC on June 5. Based on the current model, the Mac Studio should ship with an M2 Ultra chip as well as the M2 Max. However the M2 Ultra is also expected to debut as the only option for the first Apple silicon Mac Pro, and herein lies the problem.

There is some uncertainty about how Apple will distinguish the Mac Studio from the Mac Pro if they share the same chip and launch at the same time. Hence there is an expectation that, in order to make the Mac Pro more attractive, Apple will hold off updating the Mac Studio for now.  

In a February 2023 installment of his weekly PowerOn newsletter, Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman wrote that he “wouldn’t anticipate the introduction of a Mac Studio in the near future. The upcoming Mac Pro is very similar in functionality to the Mac Studio—and adds the M2 Ultra chip rather than the M1 Ultra. So it wouldn’t make sense for Apple to offer an M2 Ultra Mac Studio and M2 Ultra Mac Pro at the same time.”

Gurman thinks it’s most likely that “Apple either never updates the Mac Studio or holds off until the M3 or M4 generation.” Could the Mac Studio be just like the iMac Pro—a stop-gap that Apple never updates and eventually discontinues? It’s starting to look like that might be the case. Instead of an expected 2023 update to an M2-based chip, we might not get an update until 2024 or 2025, if at all.

Based on the market for such devices, surely it would be an illogical move for Apple to neglect the Mac Studio in favour of the Mac Pro. As Macworld’s Jason Cross asked: Why does the Mac Pro even need to exist? The Mac Pro is a niche product, geared for a high-end user-base, with a very high price. While Apple focuses on the Mac Pro as a flagship product that few will buy, it is neglecting the iMac and Mac Studio. There is no logical reason why Apple can’t add the M2 Pro and Max, that are already available in the MacBook Pro, to these devices. Read: Mac Pro may be to blame for the Mac Studio hold up for more information.

Next Mac Studio: Price 

Assuming that Apple does launch a new Mac Studio, what will it cost? When Apple added the M2 Pro and M2 Max processors to the lineup with the introduction of the new MacBook Pro and Mac mini in January 2023, it updated pricing for some Macs in countries outside the U.S. For example, in the U.K. each iMac model now costs £150 more. 

However, the price of the Mac Studio stayed the same, indicating that Apple is either satisfied with the pricing, or that it is going to increase when the new models are introduced. 

One indication that the price of the Mac Studio could go up in the U.S. and elsewhere is the pricing of a similarly specced M2 Pro Mac mini, which we think makes no sense next to the Mac Studio. For example, if you were to configure a Mac mini with M2 Pro 12-core CPU, 19-core GPU, 32GB unified memory, and 512GB of storage, it would cost you $1,999/£2,099, the same as a standard Mac Studio with M1 Max 10-core CPU, 24-core GPU, 32GB unified memory and a 512GB SSD. All things being equal, you’re getting a better chip and more expansion with the Mac Studio for the same price. So something has to give. Unfortunately the most likely answer is that Apple will increase the price of the Mac Studio.

Next Mac Studio: Design 

The Mac Studio has a very similar design to the Mac mini. Both are silver and have an Apple logo on the top. The base of the Mac Studio is exactly the same size: 7.7 inches square (19.7cm) as the Mac mini, but the Mac Studio is taller: 3.7 inches (9.5cm) rather than 1.41 inches (3.58cm). This is unlikely to change, although it would be nice to see a Space Gray option. 

Roman Loyola / Foundry

Next Mac Studio: Processor and specs 

We already know what to expect from the M2 Max. As for the M2 Ultra, we can infer some details about the chip from rumors and our experience with the M1 Ultra, which is two M1 Max processors fused together. Here’s how the chips break down:

M2 Max

  • CPU: 12 cores
  • GPU: 30 cores/38 cores
  • RAM: 32GB/64GB/96GB (with 38-core GPU)

M2 Ultra

  • CPU: Up to 24 cores
  • GPU: Up to 76 cores
  • RAM: Up to 192GB

If Apple waits to update the Mac Studio until the M3 Max/Ultra or M4 Max/Ultra arrives, it’s hard to say how much faster the chips will be, but with an expected move to 3nm with the M3, the speed boost could be significant.

Next Mac Studio: Ports 

The Mac Studio already has a good selection of ports, with four Thunderbolt 4 ports, 10Gb ethernet, two USB-A ports, HDMI 2.0, and a 3.5 mm headphone jack. That was an impressive array of ports for 2022, but it came with some limitations.

For one, the HDMI 2.0 port means users can only connect a display with 4K resolution at 60Hz. The 2023 Mac mini has an HDMI 2.1 port with support for 4K at 240Hz and 8K at 60Hz. Additionally, the 2023 Mac mini brings Bluetooth 5.3 and Wi-Fi 6E, both of which are likely to make an appearance in the next Mac Studio.

Source : Macworld