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Apple Mac Studio vs. Mac Pro

Apple announced the new Mac Studio during the Apple Spring Event 2022 that is basically a supercharged version of the Mac Mini. It features Apple’s own silicon — either the M1 Max found in the MacBook Pro or the new M1 Ultra chip — and it’s targeted at creative pros.

It has a lot of overlap with the Mac Pro, which itself is a high-powered desktop aimed at creatives. Ahead of the official release, we’re going to compare every aspect of the Mac Studio and Mac Pro so you know which is best for you.

Price and availability

A person works at a station equipped with the all new Mac Studio and Studio Display.

One of the largest differences between the Mac Studio and Mac Pro is price. The Mac Studio starts at $1,999 with the M1 Max, while the Mac Pro starts at $5,999 for an older Intel Xeon processor and AMD Radeon Pro GPU. For creative pros looking for peak performance, the Mac Studio with the M1 Ultra looks like a better fit, and it starts at $3,999.

The Mac Pro is a few years old, so you can order one from Apple’s website right now. The Mac Studio is available for pre-order, and Apple says units will start shipping March 18. The recent MacBook Pro with the M1 Max experienced shortages shortly after launch, so the Mac Studio may suffer a similar fate.

Although $2,000 separates the Mac Pro and Mac Studio on paper, the reality is the that Mac Pro is significantly more expensive. The Mac Studio comes with everything you need for $3,999, while the Mac Pro can run about $20,000 with a similar configuration.

Design

Apple's Mac Pro sits on display in the showroom during Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference.
Brittany Hose-Small/AFP via Getty Images

There’s a large difference in price between the Mac Studio and Mac Pro, but an even larger difference in design. The Mac Pro is a full tower computer with carrying handles and feet, while the Mac Studio is a beefier version of the Mac Mini. If space is a concern, the Mac Studio is for you.

The Mac Studio is significantly lighter, too. The Mac Pro weighs just shy of 40 pounds, while the Mac Studio clocks in at a light 6 pounds for the M1 Max and 8 pounds for the M1 Ultra. For size, the Mac Studio is only 3.5 liters in volume, while the Mac Pro is a massive 51 liters.

Although the Mac Studio saves a lot of space, the Mac Pro still has its place. The larger size enables expansion with MPX modules, and Apple offers a rack-mountable version. We also don’t know how heat will fare in the Mac Studio with its small size and high computing power.

Performance

A close-up view of the Mac Pro's cheese grater design.
Simon Hrozian/Unsplash

We may not have our hands on the Mac Studio yet, but we have a good idea about how it will perform. You can configure the machine with either the M1 Max or M1 Ultra chip, and the M1 Ultra is basically two M1 Max CPUs stitched together. We’ve tested the M1 Max extensively, and it’s seriously impressive.

For a short answer, the Intel Xeon processors and Radeon Pro GPUs available for the Mac Pro don’t even come close. Apple seems to know this, too. During its Peek Performance event, Apple said the Mac Studio with an M1 Ultra is up to 60% faster than the Mac Pro with 28-core Intel Xeon CPU. Mind you, this CPU is a $7,000 upgrade on the Mac Pro.

It’s also up to 5.6 times faster than the Mac Pro when transcoding video, and up to 80% faster than the fastest Mac graphics card available today. It’s not clear if Apple was referencing the recent Radeon Pro W6900X GPU available for the Mac Pro, which may outclass the GPU inside the M1 Ultra.

Although we haven’t tested the Mac Studio yet, we’ve handled enough Apple silicon to know how it stacks up. Until Apple decides to update the Mac Pro, the Mac Studio will likely be the performance king.

Ports

A presenter stands on a stage in front of a large image showing the Mac Studio's connectivity ports.

One of the reasons to go with a full desktop is extra connectivity, but that’s not true of the Mac Pro. The base configuration comes with two USB 3.0 ports, two Thunderbolt 3 ports, and two 10Gb Ethernet ports. Meanwhile, the tiny Mac Studio comes with four Thunderbolt 4 ports, two USB-A ports, 10Gb Ethernet, and a 3.5mm headphone jack.

In addition, the Mac Studio features either two USB-C ports with the M1 Max or two Thunderbolt 4 ports with the M1 Ultra on the front of the machine. The Mac Pro doesn’t have any ports on the front, but it has two Thunderbolt 3 ports on top.

The Mac Studio not only comes with more ports but also features the latest USB and Thunderbolt technology. This is an easy win for the Mac Studio over the Mac Pro.

Upgradability

A side view of MPX modules inside the Apple Mac Pro.

The Mac Pro features Apple’s MPX modules, which allow users to upgrade the machine with slot-in modules and basically no experience with building a PC. It’s a great concept, but almost three years later, Apple hasn’t delivered on the modules in the way creative pros expected.

The only area that Apple has focused on is GPUs, with new MPX modules launching for AMD’s latest Radeon Pro graphics cards. That’s great, but the upgradability is hampered by older CPUs and platform technology, meaning modularity comes with a big asterisk.

The Mac Studio doesn’t have any modular elements. The machine you get is the one you’re stuck with. However, many MPX modules cost as much as the Mac Studio with the M1 Ultra, meaning you could reasonably upgrade to a new machine for around the same price as a component swap in the Mac Pro.

Caught in limbo

Apple Mac Studio desktop sits next to a Studio Display.

Right now, Apple’s pro lineup is caught in limbo. The Mac Studio is a transitional desktop that allows Apple to offers its own silicon without going all out on the Mac Pro. The Mac Pro should, theoretically, outperform the Mac Studio. But that’s not the case.

Across the board, the Mac Studio offers better value, performance, space, and efficiency. Apple hinted at its spring event that it would talk about an update to the Mac Pro soon, and that will likely shift the balance back in favor of Apple’s full desktop.

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