Apple Mac Studio M2 Ultra
4.5 / 5
pros and cons
- Boasts the same CPU/GPU as Mac Pro
- Performance is off the charts
- Very small desktop footprint
- Limited internal expansion after purchase
- Doesn't include a mouse or keyboard
- M2 Max model is a better deal if you don't need extreme performance
more buying choices
For creatives, developers, and media producers, the Mac ecosystem is now loaded with an impressive set of hardware choices at the high end. And, there's a strong case to be made that the Mac Studio with the M2 Ultra chip is Apple's new flagship desktop -- having relegated the new Apple Silicon-powered Mac Pro to specialist status. I'm in that camp, as this review will explain.
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It's wild to think that just four years ago at WWDC 2019 -- when the new Intel-based Mac Pro was first unveiled -- the Mac desktop market was just emerging from an era where many high-end creatives had been reluctantly buying Windows desktops. That was because there simply wasn't a desktop Mac that was powerful enough or expandable enough to run the kinds of audio, video, special effects, and 3D modeling software that the most demanding projects required.
That's clearly no longer the case.
At the entry-level, the Mac Mini with the M2 Pro, 10 CPU cores, 16 GPU cores, and 16GB of memory is strong enough to handle a lot of professional workloads with a budget-friendly starting price of $1,300. And then there's the Mac Studio and the Mac Pro -- built for the biggest, the most demanding, and the most mission-critical workloads that creative professionals have in today's media-saturated, AI-infused, software-powered world.
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In between the base Mac Studio M2 Max and the Mac Pro now sits the Mac Studio M2 Ultra starting at $4,000 with 24 CPU cores, 60 GPU cores, and 64GB of memory. Do those specs sound familiar? That's because they are now the same ones found in the standard configuration of the Mac Pro.
|Processor||Apple M2 Max or M2 Ultra|
|Ports||6x Thunderbolt 4 (2 on the front, 4 on the back), 1x HDMI, 2X USB-A 3.1 Gen 2, 1x 10GB Ethernet, 1x 3.5mm headphone jack|
|Memory||64GB to 192GB|
|Storage||1TB to 8TB|
|Supported displays||Up to eight displays with 4K resolution at 60Hz|
|Connectivity ||Wi-Fi 6E, Bluetooth 5.3|
|Operating system ||MacOS|
|Dimensions and weight||3.7 in. x 7.7 in. x 7.7 in.|
|Included accessories||Power cord|
The Mac Studio M2 Ultra, at $3,000 less than the base price of the Mac Pro, has virtually all the same computing power. That's why I think it's accurate to call it the new flagship desktop of the Mac line. The Mac Pro is a specialist's machine designed to meet extreme performance and expandability needs. The Mac Studio M2 Ultra should be the default choice if you need a high-end Mac to power through very demanding Adobe Creative Cloud, Final Cut Pro, Logic Pro and many other professional software workloads.
The performance of the Mac Studio M2 Ultra is so impressive that you'll be hard-pressed to find a task to slow it down. I've been testing a model with 24 CPU cores, 76 GPU cores, and 128GB of memory for the past month and throwing video work, photo editing, and other Adobe Creative Cloud tasks at it. And I can barely even get it to flinch.
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For the purposes of this review, I'm leaning into real-world upgrade scenarios more than benchmarks, speed tests, and raw power measurements. If you're interested in those technicals, then I'd recommend taking a look at Jason Snell's review on Six Colors, where he breaks down the impressive benchmark numbers. You can also take a look at iJustine's video where she rendered 11 8K ProRes streams at the same time and watch the Mac Studio M2 Ultra power straight through it. Snell and iJustine were running the same Mac Studio configuration as I tested.
Testing the Mac Studio M2 Ultra
Most of the buyers of the Mac Studio M2 Ultra are likely to be upgraders, or former Mac users still returning from high-end Windows machines after having to buy Dell, HP and other systems to run their Adobe apps or other creative software during Apple's dry spell in desktop Macs up until 2019.
Many of these folks are likely just reaching upgrade time and deciding whether to make the leap back to Mac. This system will be a powerful draw. For buyers who are more cost-conscious, the Mac Studio M2 Max will offer plenty of performance to burn at half the price of the Ultra.
Another set of potential upgraders for the Mac Studio M2 Ultra are professionals coming from the old "Trash Can" Mac Pro, the 2017-era iMac Pro, 27-inch iMac owners with maxed-out specs, and even Intel-based MacBook Pro owners who have mostly kept their systems tethered to a desk. These folks are probably sitting on systems that used to fly through workloads but might be having trouble keeping up with the latest software or file sizes.
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I have a 2017 iMac with a 4.2 GHz Quad-Core Intel Core i7 CPU, an 8GB Radeon Pro 580 graphics card, and 64GB of memory. I have used this machine for everything from editing tons of videos in Premiere Pro, endless photo editing and processing in Lightroom and Photoshop, designing logos and artwork in Illustrator, laying out a book in InDesign, and pouring through audio edits in GarageBand.
It has run like a champ for years, but it has recently started buckling under the pressure -- especially when editing video in Premiere Pro or when running multiple projects at the same time. I typically have 5-6 Spaces in use on that machine, sometimes running Premiere Pro, Lightroom, GarageBand, and Safari and Brave web browsers each with a zillion tabs open, all at the same time. It's also gotten especially slow at logins, taking 5-10 seconds or more to start (whether typing out the login password or unlocking automatically with Apple Watch) -- which quickly adds up when logging in 10-20 times throughout the day.
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In my month-long test with the Mac Studio M2 Ultra, I used it in place of my high-spec 27-inch iMac and it burned through every workload with virtually no pauses or slowdowns. That's not surprising considering it's designed to handle far heavier workloads and simultaneous work streams. But, it's very encouraging to know that this machine has all that extra power to burn if I have anything to throw at it -- particularly any intense projects on tight deadlines.
ZDNET's buying advice
If you are a professional with high-intensity projects, the Mac Studio M2 Ultra is now Apple's flagship high-end desktop, challenging you to throw everything you've got at it. It will likely take years for your workloads to catch up with its capabilities. If you are coming from a former high-end Mac that's at least 4-5 years old and you have a scenario similar to the 27-inch iMac scenario I mentioned above, you'll likely be extremely happy with the performance of the Mac Studio M2 Max at $2,000.
One last buying tip: I'd recommend adding the Magic Keyboard with Touch ID or the Magic Keyboard with Touch ID and Numeric Keypad. The security and speed of using your biometric fingerprint to instantly authenticate during the 10-20 times a day you likely have to log in further enhances the perception of the Mac Studio's performance. It's a small thing that adds one more usability and performance boost to one of the world's most powerful and useful desktop computers.
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