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Apple’s Mac Studio Is the iMac Pro Reboot You’ve Been Waiting For

Apple’s new Mac Studio just altered the desktop computer landscape in a big way. Will it stick around longer than its predecessor, the discontinued iMac Pro?

By Brian Westover

Apple announced the newest member of the Mac desktop family this week, and it’s exciting, but it’s also a head scratcher. Is it the new pro-grade Mac desktop? Yes. Does it replace the Mac Pro? Not entirely. What it seems to be is actually the return of the Apple middle-child desktop, offering a mid-level price point and a more powerful big brother to the Mac mini.

The Mac Studio certainly owes a debt to the Mac mini’s design. The Studio desktop looks like a double-decker Mac mini, raising the height of the iconic aluminum chassis to 3.7 inches tall while retaining the all-metal construction and 7.7-by-7.7-inch square footprint of the mini. But this is way more than just the two-patty version of Apple’s Mac mini hamburger.

More Power in a Mini PC Package

To recap the key news from the March 8 launch: Inside the Mac Studio is your choice of processors, with options for the M1 Max or the newly unveiled M1 Ultra, Apple’s new professional powerhouse CPU.

The M1 Max gives you a 10-core CPU, up to a 32-core GPU, and as much as 64GB of memory, with an impressive 400Gbps memory bandwidth. It starts at a fairly reasonable $1,999.

The M1 Ultra model takes things a lot further, with a new chip that doubles the performance by welding two M1 Max dies together with an interconnect technology that Apple calls UltraFusion. (See more about the significance of UltraFusion from our colleagues at ExtremeTech.) The result is a 114-billion-transistor monster that reportedly outclasses even Apple’s Intel Xeon-powered Mac Pro for raw power, and allows for up to 128GB of memory, lightning-fast 800Gbps memory bandwidth, and a price tag that reaches (gulp) $7,999 when fully loaded.

There’s also a new cooling system inside, with dual fans and a perforated back panel that offers plenty of ventilation. According to Apple, the whole thing is usually silent, and it stays whisper-quiet under the heaviest loads.

But the Mac Studio isn’t just the new big brother to the Mac mini. It’s also the first time in a long time that Apple has offered a midrange standalone desktop. With the affordable Mac mini and the oppressively expensive Mac Pro, the only middle ground that Mac users have had for years has been the various flavors of the iMac, which is great, so long as you want the all-in-one form factor, and the non-upgradable display that comes with it.

Is Mac Studio the New iMac Pro?

Interestingly enough, Apple is not positioning the Mac Studio as a consumer model that steps up from the Mac mini. Instead, Apple is touting the powerful processing as the ideal tool for media and software creation.

In many respects, the Mac Studio is looking a whole lot like like the old iMac Pro, a powerful machine that’s got more muscle than consumers need. (Take extravagant specs like the 128GB RAM ceiling with the M1 Ultra.) And the high-end processor options make it a great fit for demanding professionals. But, like the iMac Pro, it doesn’t look like the Mac Studio has any user-accessible interior upgradability, relying instead on Thunderbolt 4 connectivity to let users add more storage or power multiple displays.

In fact, given the M1 Ultra’s ability to outperform the Intel Xeon-powered Mac Pro in some situations, it might be more accurate to say that the Mac Studio is the smaller, more compact incarnation of Apple’s biggest and most powerful desktop.

It’s even getting a version of the Mac Pro’s display. The new Studio Display is a 27-inch, 5K Retina monitor, with a potent webcam and audio system built in. That’s smaller than the 32-inch Pro Display XDR that sells alongside the Mac Pro, which also has 6K resolution and Apple’s own twist on HDR. But if you want expensive extras like nano-textured glass or a premium tilt- and height-adjustable stand, the Studio Display offers all of that.

Does the Mac Studio Mean Curtains for Some Classic Macs?

The biggest questions hanging over the Mac desktop line right now are what will happen to the Mac Pro, and to the rest of the iMac line. Tuesday’s Apple event included a cryptic reference to the Mac Pro, explaining that the Mac Studio was the more powerful of the two, at least for now. The stated aim is to transition entirely to Apple silicon by the end of 2022, so it’s a safe bet that we’ll be getting a new Mac Pro before the year is out.

The implications for the iMac line are more ambiguous. We have the M1 version of the 24-inch iMac, of course, which we reviewed in the middle of last year. That model is decisively geared toward mainstream, Mac-loyal consumers for home computing. The Intel-based 27-inch version of the iMac, meanwhile, was removed from Apple’s online store with the debut of the Mac Studio. And of course, the iMac Pro, for some time now, has only been available from third parties.

That makes us wonder about the longtime staple 27-inch size of iMac. The $1,599 Apple Studio Display, for all its relatively high pricing for a 27-inch panel (ordinary 27-inch panels can be had for the low $100s, of course), looks to be a possible powerhouse display, with its built-in, very high-res camera, onboard audio/camera processor, and amped-up audio system. Pairing that panel with a Mac mini or with the base model of the new Mac Studio could well take the place of the classic 27-inch iMac. And remember: Those iMacs required you to rebuy that big, glorious display panel every time you wanted to upgrade.

We wouldn’t bet against a consumer-minded M1 27-inch iMac coming to market eventually, or perhaps one based on the next generation of Apple silicon. We’re just surprised to not to see one yet. But one thing’s pretty clear: The various combos of Mac Studio and Studio Display have likely put the iMac Pro on ice for good.

Originally published at https://www.pcmag.com.

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