Archive for March 10, 2022

Thursday, March 10, 2022

New Mac Studio and Studio Display Change Mac Buying Calculus

Adam Engst:

The 27-inch iMac has been such a bastion of the Mac lineup—and the computer I’ve used nonstop for almost 8 years—that I couldn’t even conceive of Apple dropping it. But drop it Apple did, replacing it with the Studio Display and your choice of M1-based Mac. Which Mac? The Mac Studio may be the most obvious option, but even the MacBook Air, Mac mini, or one of the MacBook Pros would easily best the performance of the most recent 27-inch iMac.

So if a 27-inch iMac no longer holds the sweet spot where performance and screen size/quality intersect, I may have to rethink my usual strategy of combining an inexpensive laptop Mac with a high-performance desktop Mac with dual displays.

I’m really happy that Mac Studio exists, but on reflection I don’t think it’s the Mac for me. For my purposes (mostly Xcode), I don’t think the M1 Ultra would offer much benefit over the M1 Pro or M1 Max. I have no use for that much GPU power (except maybe for big Lightroom imports). It’s not clear that Xcode can really take advantage of the M1 Ultra’s extra CPU cores. I’m on the fence about whether I want 32 GB or 64 GB of RAM, but either of those can be had with the M1 Max.

I’ve been happy with my 27-inch iMac, after many years of laptops-as-desktops before that, so I had kind of been assuming I would either get a new iMac or a desktop Mac with an external display (to go along with the non-Retina Dell that’s attached to my iMac). There’s no more big-screen iMac, so the Mac Studio seemed like the obvious choice.

But the more I thought about the potential switch, the less sense it seemed to make. Although I don’t travel a lot, there are still significant benefits to having my main Mac be potentially portable at any moment. I can grab it and go without having to do a lengthy sync first. If the power or Internet goes down, I can easily relocate (and not have to worry about powering the desktop with a UPS while syncing).

One of the nice things about the Mac Studio is all the ports it has, but it doesn’t have enough that I could avoid using a hub. M1 Ultra aside, it may have some performance benefits over a MacBook Pro due to better thermals, but I don’t expect a large difference.

Another consideration is what will happen the next time I upgrade. I don’t really have the space in my office, nor a spare display, for a second desktop setup. But a laptop could rotate from primary use and becoming my ready backup and test Mac. This is what I used to do when I was a laptop person. Pro laptops are more expensive than the Mac Studio, but I won’t have to buy a new laptop for travel when I retire the current one.

Thinking back, the two reasons I got the iMac were that it was much faster than the MacBook Pros at the time, and that it had a 27-inch Retina display. But both of those are now moot: MacBook Pros are now available with M1 Pro and M1 Max, and there is finally a display to connect to them.

The next big question is which size of display to get. I like to have as much screen space as possible—I still miss the 17-inch MacBook Pro. But the oversized trackpad on the 16-inch (Intel) MacBook Pro drives me crazy with its accidental input and misclassified clicks. There’s no way I’m buying another one of those, so 14-inch it is.

Dan Moren:

But what if you’re someone who falls in the middle, what once was called the “prosumer” market? There’s actually a surprising dearth of options on the desktop side. The Mac mini and iMac offer only the 8-core CPU/8-core GPU M1 processor—even in the top of the line iMac, starting at $1699. To get anything more than that, you’d have to jump to a $1999 Mac Studio, and then add a display like Apple’s new $1599 Studio Display. That’s $2000 more than that top of the line iMac.

Moreover, because of the limitations of the M1 chip, the iMac and the Mac mini offer only a maximum of 16GB of RAM and two Thunderbolt ports—the same as an M1 MacBook Air.


It sure feels like there’s another shoe to drop here. The most obvious option would be to offer better chips in the iMac and Mac mini, and fortunately, Apple’s already got a template for that over on the laptop side: namely, the M1 Pro.

Nick Heer:

There still seems to be space to offer something to a midrange user who has outgrown the M1 iMac, but does not need the raw performance of the Mac Studio. It seems possible to me this could take the form of a different-sized iMac as much as it could a higher-specced version of the 24-inch model.