I bought a Mac Studio: Here are the specs I chose and why | Jobs Vox


Apple Mac Studio Neural Engine

Image: Cliff Joseph/ZDNET

Here is an interesting observation. Before I did my day-to-day work on a Mac, I upgraded my main work computer every 18 months. Most of the time I’ve been using Intel Macs, my typical usage life has been between 7.6 and 9.9 years.

But I recently upgraded from an M1 MacBook Air that I started using in June 2021.

That’s 17 months and the fastest startup for my daily driver Mac in a decade.

Let’s talk about that for a minute. My wife and I work from home. We have it very early before the pandemic.

As such, everything we need to do our jobs, including objects most often found in a company office, should be available in our home.

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This includes, in particular, computing resources, from our desktop machines to a wide range of servers.

Understanding my workload

I put in huge hours of work every week. My daily driver’s desktop machine is the device that helps me get everything done. I switch off on other machines depending on my workflow, but I always go back to the main desktop. My desktop machine of choice can either shave hours off my weekly workload — or add to them. Over the years, as I saw my daily driver start to slow me down and frustrate me, I improved.

Strictly speaking, it’s not this update’s fault M1 MacBook Air. It’s a sweet little car. But with a maximum of 16GB of RAM and only 1TB of Apple’s famously fast onboard flash memory, it’s starting to slow me down. It’s even a relatively fast base M1 chip at the heart of it all.

Overview: M1 MacBook Air long-term: A year later, here’s what I want to know

There’s one more thing you should know before I talk about the car I just bought: my workload. Here’s what my main machine is going to do:

  • Video production: I edit with Apple’s Final Cut Pro. In fact, Final Cut is the main reason I use Macs. I used to use Adobe Premiere Pro on Windows, but it was giving me such a headache that I switched to Final Cut. While Premiere Pro has improved a lot over the past few years, I now have Final Cut muscle memory, so I stick with it. Video editing requires a lot of memory, a lot of RAM, and a lot of GPU and CPU oomph.
  • Code: I do a lot of coding and run my entire development stack on this machine. This includes virtual machines used to simulate destination servers. This requires a relatively large RAM contribution, and while 16GB was bearable, it was tight.
  • Support servers: I manage ten active websites and each of them requires some attention. Server management usually doesn’t put much of a load on my main desktop (it’s mostly about moving files and choosing configurations), but I do occasionally simulate a live server in a local container on my desktop.
  • 3D design: 3D modeling (I mainly use Fusion 360, SketchUp and Tinkercad) takes CPU, GPU and RAM resources. The more the better.
  • Write for ZDNET: It basically consists of lots and lots of emails. From mail, writing in Notion (which I’m doing now) and a lot of image editing. I also produce videos for ZDNET and some of the products I review require separate machines or virtual machines for testing. But mostly, my writing work requires a fast browser and Photoshop.
  • General business management: Can you say Excel? of course. I knew you could.

Of the six job classes described above, three (server support, article writing, and general business management) can be handled well and probably forever with a MacBook Air. But video production, coding and 3D design will benefit from the upgrade. It’s the video production workload, however, that prompted my upgrade. Editing and rendering videos just takes too much time.

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FYI, this little M1 MacBook Air won’t go. I still need a laptop to use when I’m out and about in the FAB Lab and other projects, and if I want to work when I’m at my desk. I have an older 2015 MacBook Pro, but it no longer accepts OS updates. That way, I have the current M1 MacBook Air to do what MacBook Airs do best: drive around and just work.

Remember: my workload will probably be different than yours. Choosing a computer is a very personal decision, and how you intend to use it is the number one factor in determining what you buy. This article is just going to show you my process so you can see how I think about making these decisions.

Choosing a car

At first I thought I’d upgrade the M1 MacBook Air to a 14-inch or 16-inch MacBook Pro. Yes, I know they exist M2 MacBook Airs Now, but the larger M1 chips are still faster than the base M2.

Also: Apple Silicon, Rosetta, M1, M2, SoC: Why These Terms Matter to Every PC Buyer

If I wanted more CPU and GPU performance, as well as more system memory, it would be a step up from the M1 to the M1 Pro, M1 Max, or dual-chip M1 Ultra.

Here, it mainly depended on the price. Equivalently equipped 14 or 16-inch MacBook Pro is about a thousand dollars more than Mac Studio. That added value is for the MacBook Pro’s beautiful display.

But I didn’t need the MacBook Pro’s screen. In fact, I probably wasn’t going to use it. I mostly work on a 32 inch monitor with a side monitor or two. If I were to buy a MacBook Pro, I’d live with the external video, not the internal display.

So it made sense to save a thousand dollars and take a more serious look at Mac Studio. As a bonus, the Mac Studio has nearly three times as many ports as the MacBook Pro.

But with Mac Studio, I also had two main choices. Did I go with him or not? M1 Max or M1 Ultra?

Let me break this down for you: The M1 Ultra is nearly twice as powerful as the M1 Max for most workloads. It is also $2,000 more. Here’s where it gets interesting though. For video editing, testing showed that the M1 Ultra didn’t do much to improve on the M1 Max.

Overview: With Apple Mac Studio M1 Ultra

Given that my main reason for upgrading from a base M1 MacBook Air was to do some video editing, it didn’t seem to make sense to add a whopping $2,000 to my cost for something I couldn’t see much return on.

I was thinking of buying an M1 Ultra model just to future proof the car for a few more years. But I would spend more that in terms of pure cost, it probably makes more sense to upgrade again in a few years and save $2000 now.

my configuration

I started with the base M1 Max configuration, which is $1,999. The car I bought consists of the following:

  • chip: I paid $200 to go from an Apple M1 Max with a 10-core CPU, 24-core GPU, 16-core neural engine to one with a 32-core GPU. Adding 25% more GPU would be useful for some of the work I do.
  • RAM: The M1 Max Mac Studio is offered with 32GB or 64GB of RAM (Ultra lets you go up to 128GB). I paid an extra $400 to get the 64GB version. Note that this is all part of the system-on-chip, so there is no subsequent memory upgrade.
  • Save: This is where I suffered. Apple pays a huge amount for storage compared to the rest of the industry. But Apple’s internal storage system is surprisingly fast. I couldn’t afford to add $2,400 to my budget to upgrade to 8TB, but I wanted a decent amount of internal storage. So I added $1,200 to bring my machine up to 4TB. I can always add an external SSD to one of the Thunderbolt ports.

He is. This brought my cost to $3,799. Adding three years of AppleCare+ (worth it considering how expensive this car is) added another $169, bringing my total to a whopping $3,968.

also: Mac Studio vs Mac Pro vs Mac Mini: How to Choose

It’s far from cheap, but I used my Apple card to get 0% financing, and hopefully the added performance will give me enough extra time to make it pay for itself.

Stay tuned. I will let you know about that in about two years. Now, I can’t wait for the new machine to arrive. It should be here on Friday.

What is your daily driver like? Do you have Mac Studio? Let us know in the comments below.


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