We had the pleasure of testing out the new Mac Studio M1 Ultra and Studio Display over the last week. Is this the fastest Mac Apple has ever made and more importantly, how fast does Final Cut Pro run?
Mac Studio: What's Good
- Enormous processing power, it's a very quick Mac
- Small form factor - can easily sit on a desk under the display
- Connectivity, we especially like the inputs on the front
- Very quiet operation
- Very fast boot
Mac Studio: What's Not So Good
- External storage needs to be fast to keep up
Studio Display: What's Good
- Well engineered case
- Built in camera and mic array give good results.
Studio Display: What's Not So Good
- It’s not a small Pro Display XDR, only 600 nits brightness
- Fixed refresh rate
- Unimpressive audio output
- Expensive compared to similar other brand displays, especially when you factor in the stand options
First thing that strikes you about the Mac Studio is the size, just take a look at the size of the box compared to an unboxed Mac Pro!
Unboxing both the Mac Studio and Studio Display is very similar. They are both packed well and the level of cardboard engineering in the boxes would amaze an origami master. Apple has completeley removed any polystyrene and plastic from the packaging and everything is held in place nicely to the millimetre.
No peripherals with the Mac Studio, you will have to supply your own keyboard, mouse and of course, screen. The mains cable is rolled up underneath the Mac Studio.
The adjustable angle of the studio display is held in place with these cardboard ‘chocks’. The coil on the back is the non-detachable mains cable. That means that unit is country specific, you can't just swap an IEC lead out for another country's plug style.
One downside, getting everything back in the boxes requires a GCSE in Tetris and it always ends with a flap out. If you intend to move either on a regular basis, a more permanent shipping solution might make sense.
The display, once extracted from its snug cardboard encapsulation, has a couple of paper-based screen covers held on with adhesive down the edges. Take them off slowly if you want to use them again as they rip easily. You don't get the handy soft foam bag you can drape over the display when not in use.
After unboxing the Mac Studio, it looks even smaller compared to the Mac Pro. Hard to believe it is more powerful and almost half the cost.
For peripherals, we also took delivery of a new two-tone Magic Mouse, Trackpad and Magic Keyboard with Touch ID. The keyboard and trackpad come with coiled USB-C to Lightning connector cables to charge them. The braiding of the cable matches both mains cables of the Mac and the display as well as the 1 metre Thunderbolt cable that comes supplied with the Studio Display. The braiding again replaces unwanted plastic.
The three peripherals have all had a silver and black makeover. Not too sure about the black slabbed trackpad, we think we prefer the silver one to match the Mac Studio and Studio Display cases. It won't show the greasy toast marks in the morning either!
Mac Studio: First Impressions
It's solidly built and weighs more than it looks. There is a 0.9 kg difference between the two models, the M1Max uses an aluminium heat sink and the M1 Ultra has a copper cooling system for the chips. As the Mac Studio is not dependent on any third-party chip power and heat requirements, there shouldn't be any thermal throttling with the machine. In fact, it is really hard to make the fans spin faster than their usual idle.
It's designed to sit on a desk, but the width of the Mac and the fact that the connectors are on the front and back mean that two will happily fit side by side in a 19" rack. The size also means it is portable. We wouldn't recommend moving it often, but certainly we would think of taking it home at the weekend to finish a project or putting it in hand baggage and getting on a flight.
Connectivity is excellent. On the back you will find four Thunderbolt 4 ports, a 10Gb Ethernet port, two USB-A ports, an HDMI port (4K resolution at 60Hz) and a pro audio jack for high-impedance headphones or external amplified speakers. We read online that somebody questioned why the USB-A ports were on there, well one reason would be the ability to plug in a dedicated FCP keyboard without an adaptor for a start!
You will find two USB-C ports on the front, the M1 Max supports 10Gb/s USB 3, and on this model, the M1 Ultra supports 40Gb/s Thunderbolt 4. There is also an SDXC card slot (UHS‑II) on both.
With the Ultra, all the ports are fully provisioned, which means that each Thunderbolt port will run independently at 40 GBs no matter how many you are using. The 10G Ethernet connection will also run full chat at 10G without having to share I/O resources. Again, another benefit of Apple designing its own silicon and not having to rely on third party Thunderbolt chip controllers.
Although on the Ultra there are 6 Thunderbolt 4 ports, the machine will only (only!) support five displays, four Pro Display XDRs and a 4K display via the HDMI.
The machine powers up in a couple of seconds with the familiar chime. The unit we are testing is a Mac Studio M1 Ultra 20-Core CPU, 64-core GPU, 128GB of unified memory and 4TB of storage. You will also notice the Mac Studio is running Monterey 12.3, this is needed for the Studio Display's camera and sound input/output.
The Blackmagic Speed Test reports the SSD storage running at 7267 MB/s write and 5570 MB/s read. Just 5862 frames per second of 1080 video playback! This test is important and we will be coming back to this a little later on.
The demo we saw in Apple's presentation of 18 streams of 8K playing on the screen at once was pretty impressive. But let's put this in to perspective with the Mac Pro. The Mac Studio with M1 Ultra can play more streams of 4K and 8K ProRes video than a 28-core Mac Pro with Afterburner. Apple are quoting this Mac Pro configuration on their site for $15,000 and that's with the stock GPU, 32GB of RAM and 512 GB of SSD storage. Or put it another way, for the cost of just the Afterburner card alone, you get better performance.
Skimming up and down an 8K timeline with 18 streams of 8K resized and moved footage is quite deceptive, it's really snappy and you are unaware of the 19 billion pixels going past every second.
But we thought we would return to the project we used to test the new 16" MacBook Pro back in October. It's a fairly complex three minute timeline of a broadcast item that consisted of ProRes 4444 clips resized, colour corrected and overlaid with graphics. The timeline was 1080i, so there was a lot of pixel shifting going on, so how would the Mac Studio cope rendering out into the three different 1080 codecs?
A slightly disappointing 20% speed increase for ProRes 422, a 26% speed increase for H264 and a whopping thirteen times faster for a HEVC 10 Bit export!!!
Impressive stuff for the HEVC codec which is going to be great for those who need to make proxies, although the transcoding inside Final Cut Pro won't allow you to do that at the moment.
But as the Mac Studio has two M1 Max chips inside, we were expecting half the export time compared the the single M1 Max chipped MacBook Pro.
Then it hit us. The footage and library were stored on an external portable SSD - was this now the bottleneck in the system? Remember the Blackmagic Speed Test? The external SSD only managed 700 MB/s. So, all the files got copied over to the internal storage on the Mac Studio and we ran the test again.
That's more like it! The ProRes 422 export is now half the time of M1 Max MacBook Pro and the H264 export was a third of time it was before. Even the mega-fast HEVC 10 bit export went 25% faster. Also rather comic that the iMac Pro took 15 minutes longer to do the same job. (Is that Ebay I spot on a Safari tab?)
We had already tested a straight 4K UHD ProRes 422 export out of the Mac Studio, but repeated it again with the media now on the internal SSD. The timeline was three minutes long, no filters or colour correction.
The Mac Studio was a touch slower with external media, but faster, but not half as fast again with internally stored media. We think some of this is down to the short export times and our clumsy timing.
Worth noting again that this is all happening in the ProRes ecosystem. Other codecs that won't multithread will not get the big speed boost, same goes for Long GOP footage.
However, the main takeaway from this test is that you need fast external storage, or copy your media over to the internal SSD to get the full performance. We would have suggested spending money on maxing out the GPU cores and unified memory and having a 1TB boot drive. After the tests above, if you want the fastest performance possible, get an internal SSD that will handle a project's footage.
It's also made us think not to trust any third-party review that is using media external to the Mac Studio! Things will only go as fast as the slowest pipe and that's now external storage as we can't see many editors with SSD RAIDS running at 7GB/s.
Also as this is probably the fastest Mac Apple has made, we had to run Geekbench to benchmark the speed against other machines.
As you would expect, it did well and in the comparison charts and it would top both the single and multi-core results.
Single-core performance is very slightly higher than the M1 Max MacBook Pro, but this match is expected seeing as the chip is used in both machines.
The multi-core performance is way head of the top of the range 28 core Mac Pro. A staggering 20% faster.
It's one fast machine, especially if you stay within the ProRes family as the on-board media engine in both chips will provide speed gains with ProRes acceleration. It is slightly hard to believe that such a small quiet box contains so much processing power. The limiting factor is going to be your peripherals as the Studio needs to be fed a high data rate as we have seen in the tests above.
The M1 Max Studio starts at $1999. The base model is a good machine for those who want the power of the M1 Max chip on a desktop with all the added connectivity a laptop can't offer. Yes, you can share a laptop Thunderbolt port through a hub, but that's going to also share the bandwidth. This model will be perfect for photographers wanting to attach multiple drives, or graphic designers running multiple screens.
The machine tested here was a loaded Mac Studio M1 Ultra retailing for $6,799.00. This is squarely aimed at video content producers although the grunt will also appeal to app developers, musicians with complex arrangements loaded with plugins in their DAW and those who require the image crunching ability for scientific and medical use. An example of this is the running of a medical program that examines a CAT scan in 3D. Before the Mac Studio, a $100,000 computer was needed to do the same job
If you think it's pricey, then it's probably not the machine for you. Based on the potential speed of proxy generation for editing, it will save huge amounts of time and as we know, time is money.
Would we buy one? Yes, as this is a Mac for the future. Apple have made the Mac that will make editing 8K video as easy (and as possibly as quick) as HD. Whilst we broadcast people are still pumping out 1080, this Mac is ready to serve the first streaming services and video sharing websites that will support the extra large format.
Studio Display: First Impressions
The first impression is that it is well built. The display is enclosed in an all-aluminium case, one depth for the whole of the screen area and smooth across the back apart from the ports. It has a perforated edge across the top and bottom. The bottom perforations allow the sound out from the six speakers arranged in the two bottom corners. There's also some acoustic treatment throughout the body and sound can escape from the top perforations as well.
The display has the choice of being ordered with a tilt adjustable, a tilt and height adjustable stand and a VESA mount adapter option. The one we paired up with the Mac Studio is the tilt and height adjusting variety that retails for $1999. The other two are priced at $1599. There's also the option of nano-texture glass for reflection free viewing. That's an extra $300.
The power cable exits the back and then routes through a slot in the stand. Although it looks removable, the cable arrived connected and a quick waggle didn't loosen it, so it looks like it's a permanent connection. Connection to the Mac is by the 1 metre Thunderbolt cable that comes in the box. That plugs into the right hand port with the Thunderbolt icon over the top.
The other three ports are USB-C. Consider getting an Ethernet to USB-C adaptor to connect to a network, then you will have only one wire to a MacBook Pro for display, USB peripherals, internet and charging.
Probably the easiest thing to do first is say what it isn't. It is not a mini Pro Display XDR or a scaled up new MacBook Pro screen. It is a healthy 5120-by-2880 resolution at 218 pixels per inch, but it only tops out at 600 nits brightness, not the 1600 maximum of the two models mentioned. Side by side with an iMac Pro, the displays look very, very similar. The P3 600 nits option is the default preset in the display preferences. There is no Pro Motion option and the refresh rate is fixed.
The screen contains a A13 Bionic chip which powers the camera and audio system. We didn't test the 12 megapixel camera and Center Stage, or the three-mic array, but we did test out the audio.
Slightly underwhelmed. The audio on the display is ok, but having listened to the amazing Dolby Atmos from the new MacBook Pros, we were expecting more, quite a bit more to be honest.
Playing the same spatial music on both the Studio Display and the iMac Pro shows up differences. The iMac Pro has a better lower end grunt and the Studio Display sounds a bit 'boxy' in comparison even though both have been analysed in a lab environment and the Studio Display has better figures.
Maybe it is because all of the speakers are flush with the bottom edge, the sound possibly loses something when reflecting off the desk. Although we got a 'wider' soundstage, there wasn't that wow sensation that the MacBook Pro gives.
As an all-in-one unit that plugs into the Mac Studio or a Mac laptop, it makes a good partner, especially if you do a lot of videoconferencing where Centre Stage and the mic array will help make you look and sound better in a meeting. Also being Apple, it just works, although you will need to run macOS Monterey 12.3 to get the bionic chip and its benefits working.
In a creative office, not everybody needs a Pro Display XDR and the Studio Display makes a good option for those who don't need HDR or the huge real estate.
However, we can't help feeling that this is a product that should have been out a few years ago. The 27 inch monitor market is very competitive, indeed this is being typed whilst looking at a 27 inch LG monitor, it's only 3180 x 2160 and 400 nits, but it has the same Thunderbolt connectivity & charging and has a tilt, swivel and rotate stand. The Studio Display won't twist to go portrait on the stands.
But here's the killer, the LG is only $550. Granted, it is plastic cased not metal, there's no built-in camera or mic array and the speakers are complete garbage, but for the money it does a very good display job. It also has a couple of USB-A ports for plugging in a dedicated FCP keyboard. It also has an HDR mode for watching AppleTV!
Is the Studio Display four times better? No. Would we like one? Yes. Are we going to buy one? No. Would we buy a Studio Display XDR, Yes.
Both of these products will be popular. The Mac Studio is going to be the machine to buy for video editors, even the base model has a lot of grunt.
Is the Mac Studio the machine that brings pros back to the Mac who left when Intel development went stagnant? It seems that this machine has already caused a buzz in the professional community and we know that a lot of orders were put in the moment the Studio was announced. The Studio is going to make those mini-fridge sized PCs look very old and slow. Not to mention hot and loud.
As for the display, it's a great display and many users will be happy, maybe we were expecting too much in the wake of the amazing new MacBook Pro models. But as always, the only way to know is to check it out for yourself. No doubt these are being unboxed at Apple stores around the world as this is being typed.
Exclusive chat with the Apple Team
Finally, we were also very pleased to have had a discussion about the Mac Studio and Studio Display with Tom Boger, Vice President of Mac & iPad Product Marketing, Shelly Goldberg, Senior Director, Mac & iPad Product Design and Xander Soren, Director of Product Marketing, Pro Apps
We will publish the highlights from that very soon, some good inside knowledge about the development of Apple Silicon and how the new Mac was designed and tested. Stay tuned :)