Apple blew our minds this week with its all-new and somewhat unexpected Mac Studio. The diminutive desktop, which has the same footprint as Mac mini but is almost three times as tall, is by far Cupertino’s most powerful machine to date when you buy it with the incredible new M1 Ultra chip.
There’s just one problem with that. The impressive M1 Ultra model, which is significantly more powerful than even the fastest Mac Pro, starts at a whopping $3,999 — a considerable jump from the M1 Max model, which starts at $1,999. And I can’t work out how it’s so darn expensive!
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Mac Studio with M1 Ultra is mighty pricey
When you compare Mac Studio with Mac Pro, it seems like Apple underpriced it. With an M1 Ultra chip, it’s up to 60% faster in processing and up to 80% faster in graphics than even the high-end Mac Pro configuration with a 28-core GPU and the most powerful graphics card available — the Radeon Pro W6800X Duo.
A Mac Pro with those specifications costs a crazy $22,399. Seriously. So, a $3,999 Mac Studio looks like an absolute bargain in comparison. But when you visit the Apple Store to buy a new Mac, you don’t see Mac Studio with M1 Ultra alongside Mac Pro. You see it alongside Mac Studio with M1 Max.
And when you think about what’s inside both those machines, it’s pretty difficult to see how the $2,000 price difference makes sense.
Understanding M1 Ultra
The new M1 Ultra chipset is literally two M1 Max chips. Apple fuses them together using a technology it calls UltraFusion, which eliminates the traditional drawbacks of dual-CPU setups, like added latency. That means everything that makes the M1 Max so spectacular is doubled when you get the M1 Ultra.
M1 Ultra packs 20 CPU cores (up from 10), 48 GPU cores (up from 24), 32 Neural Engine cores (up from 16), and up to 128GB of unified memory (up from up to 64GB). It also offers twice the memory bandwidth at 800GB/s. And as an added bonus, Apple throws in 1TB of storage as standard (up from 512GB).
It’s an incredible feat of engineering, and it makes M1 Ultra “the world’s most powerful chip for a personal computer,” according to Apple. And yet, other M1 chips, it’s still significantly more efficient than any rival, consuming 100W less than a 16-core PC CPU, and 200W less than the most powerful GPU.
But … M1 Ultra is still just two M1 Max chips fused together.
$2,000 for an extra M1 Max
So, it’s going to cost you $3,999 — the same price it would cost to buy two Mac Studio machines with M1 Max chips — to buy a single Mac Studio with two M1 Max chips inside it. How is an additional M1 Max chip a staggering $2,000 more than an entire $2,000 desktop with the same chip?
It makes even less sense when you compare Mac Studio to MacBook Pro. A 14-inch model with M1 Max starts at $2,899. So, you can get a complete computer — with a gorgeous Liquid Retina XDR display, Touch ID, a FaceTime camera, and a built-in keyboard and mouse — that matches the entry-level Mac Studio in CPU and GPU performance, for $1,100 less than a second M1 Max chip.
I can’t get my head around it. And as much as I’m impressed by Mac Studio with M1 Ultra (and desperately want to buy one anyway), I can’t help but think this is a stark example of Apple charging one heck of a premium just because it can.
We got another example of that on Tuesday. Apple also dropped a new Thunderbolt 4 Pro Cable that’s available now in a 1.8-meter option, and coming soon in a 3-meter option. The price? $129 and $159, respectively. For a Thunderbolt 4 cable?! OWC sells a certified 2-meter alternative for $57.