The early Mac Studio Ultra reviews are in, and the consensus seems to be that Apple’s new creator PC is not only ridiculously powerful and fast, but could also be too much computer for most filmmakers’ needs. Is there such a thing? Well, that depends on what you’re doing with it.
We recently did our own review of the Mac Studio and Studio Display, but it's always good to have a second opinion—in health, and in electronics. So we did just that.
The Mac Studio, Reviewed
On paper, the Mac Studio, with two M1 Max chips fused into the incredibly powerful M1 Ultra, seems to be a force not to be reckoned with.
Apple says it can outperform the MacPro by up to 90% on some applications, and 40% more than the M1 Mac Studio. Twice the hardware for twice the performance? That’s a huge leap, to be sure.
But as some independent tech reviewers on YouTube have discovered, while the M1 Ultra does indeed outperform the M1 Max version, there are some basic rendering tasks where the M1 Max actually has the advantage.
Luke Miani, the YouTuber who broke the news of the M1 Ultra before the official announcement, performed benchmarks head-to-head on the two systems and discovered that the M1 Max could keep pace with the M1 Ultra, and on occasion outperform it.
And this is where it becomes especially key for video editing.
Miani found that even when the M1 Ultra outperformed the M1 Max or the Mac Pro in export times, it was only by a few minutes or even seconds. Running the same export benchmark in DaVinci Resolve had similar results.
Multi Core BenchmarksCredit: Luke Miani
It wasn’t until Miani ran GPU-heavy applications, like 3D model rendering, that he found the M1 Ultra’s next gear, which decreased render times significantly, cutting them in half with each leap in the number of cores it was using.
“The Mac studio is a bit of a mixed bag,” Miani said. “It depends on what you’re doing. Apple Silicon is, in many respects, astonishingly fast. But it only gets you a few extra minutes on a really beefy render.”
Miani also ran the same benchmarks on his M1 Max MacBook Pro, and it was able to keep pace with the Mac Studio, and at times, even outperform it. By comparison, he also tested a similarly-specced Windows i9 RTX 3090 machine running OpenGL and he found that it outperformed a Mac Studio running Metal by a wide margin. So you get better performance for half the price. But even Miani admits that general conclusions will require further testing.
Let’s move on to Marques Brownlee, who summed up his review by saying, “This M1 Ultra machine is incredible, but I'm not switching yet.”
What does he base that conclusion on?
Similar benchmarks as Miani, it seems. Testing a top-end M1 Ultra Mac Studio, he found that it outperformed his 28-core MacPro with the highest single-core score he’s ever seen.
“Basically, the CPU benchmarks are killer,” Brownlee said.
Multi Core BenchmarksCredit: Marques Brownlee
However, moving to the GPU settings, Brownlee discovered that Apple is using a rather narrow definition of performance results for running the GPU benchmarks head-to-head against the RTX 3090. Since Apple’s MacStudio only has a 340-watt power supply, the GPUs can only render to that point, while the RTX 3090 can draw on more power and go faster. Far faster.
Thus, if you’re using the RTX 3090 in your Windows rig to render 3D Models or VFX, you’re going to pull ahead.
Running against the M1 Max, the M1 Ultra “feels faster” than the M1 Max. Brownlee ran Final Cut Pro in his workflow, and while the M1 Ultra did outperform the M1 Max Mac Studio, it really wasn’t by much.
It wasn’t until Brownlee added visual effects, titles, and multiple streams that the M1 Max version started to bog down, as the Ultra was able to draw on more horsepower. In a straight-up ProRes video export, however, the M1 Ultra was unable to surpass the M1 Max version. They both essentially performed the same.
So What’s the Consensus?
As is usually the case, when it comes to what version of the M1 Mac Studio to buy, the thing that matters is what you’re planning to do with it and what the “real-world impact” is going to be.
If you’re a one-person crew producing wedding videos or corporate pieces, then the M1 Max Mac Studio may be a solid solution for your daily driver. But if you’re doing 3D modeling, doing VFX-heavy projects, or processing 8K streams from multiple sources, then the M1 Ultra may be a better solution.
It’s kinda like driving a supercar. If you’re just driving around town running errands, then why pay more for a car that is stuck with a speed limit it has to follow? But if you’re on a race track, why wouldn’t you?