Battle of M2 Ultras: Mac Studio 2023 vs Mac Pro 2023

Apple finally updated the Mac Pro to the latest Apple Silicon, completing the transition from Intel-based central processor to their own Apple Silicon. But the Mac Pro is an oddball: Why would you pay an extra $3,000 for what is essentially an M2 Ultra Mac Studio? Posted by erwinkarim on 11:16 AM, June 30, 2023 Last updated on 11:14 AM, July 7, 2023 Filed in: mac pro, macos, apple, m2 ultra, pcie, customization,

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Apple finally updated the Mac Pro in WWDC 2023, thus completing the transition from Intel processors to their own Apple Silicon. In the same event, Apple also updated the Mac Studio lineup to feature the M2 Max and for the first time, M2 Ultra.

What’s surprising is Apple released a Mac Pro which is essentially an M2 Ultra Studio but with PCI-Express slots. Everything else is basically what you get in the Mac Studio: the memory and storage options, the graphic options, and no option for upgradability. Is the Mac Pro worth the $3,000 premium that it commands?

Background

Over the decades, Apple has sold a “professional” Mac for the top users and the form factor is pretty much the same: a tower-like PC with Apple customization. The only hiccup was the 2013 Mac Pro aka the “Trash Can” Mac Pro where Apple designs a cylindrical Mac. Everyone hated that Mac Pro but I think it was too ahead of its time. That 2013 Mac Pro is today’s Mac Studio which everyone loves, proof that a lot of power users are OK with the form factor is the internals are good enough.


Mac Pro over the years

The Mac Pro always commands top dollar because it has top performance and more importantly, it’s very customizable. When released in 2019, the Mac Pro uses Intel’s top-of-the-line Xeon Processor and can support up to 1.5 terabytes of memory. Today, the 2023 Mac Pro uses the same M2 Ultra which can be found in the Mac Studio as an option.

So, who is the target audience for the Mac Pro? The people who seek maximum performance for very long tasks?

Performance

As expected, performance in the Mac Pro, for all intent and purposes, is identical to the M2 Ultra counterpart in the Mac Studio. Yes, the Mac Studio provides superior cooling than the copper heatsink in the M2 Ultra Mac Studio, which translate into a little bit of performance improvement. However, that infinitesimal improvement does not justify the $3,000 premium that the Mac Pro commands.


At almost every level, Apple provide two chip options for their hardware. With so much headroom in the Mac Pro, one would expect that Apple would field a 'M2 Extreme', something that is double the power of the M2 Ultra. Photo credit: MKBHD.

PCIe: Where it matters


The PCIe slots, which are located at the bottom two-thirds of the Mac Pro chassis is what professionals want in their ultimate Mac.

Enter the PCI Express, commonly known as PCIe. These are electronic slots that sit on a computer motherboard. They are commonly seen in custom computers which computer enthusiasts would put in expensive graphic cards like the Nvidia GTX 4090 for improved graphic performance.

While technical generational improvements of the PCIe standards are driven to cather high-performing graphic cards, PCIe standards provide an avenue for non-standard capabilities that are simply unavailable from the bulk of Macs: customization.

While, you can’t upgrade your memory, storage, or graphic choices with the M2 Ultra Mac Pro, the PCIe slot is a very useful slot that caters to the demanding professional.

Ultimately, these PCIe slots are remembered for being graphic card slots, but here are some of the customization that you can do with your Mac Pro because of the PCIe slots:-


OWC Accelsior 8M2 allows your Mac Pro to have 64TB of internal storage with a significant speed increase.

Conclusion

The Mac Pro, in its present state, is one step forward and two steps back. While moving to Apple Silicon is the right step for the Mac Pro, the lack of an upgradability path for the major components such as CPU, graphics, and memory is an issue when compared to the previous generation of Mac Pro. Yes, raw performance is better than the last generation of Mac Pro, but the memory support for only 192 GB looks far inferior to the 1.5TB support in the Intel box.

The Mac Pro, for now, is a niche in a niche market. There’s perhaps 3% of power users need an M2 Ultra for their work. And a small percentage of that power user will need a PCIe expansion slot which only the Mac Pro provides. But those top users are the ones that are pushing the boundaries of what is possible, hence why Apple is still keeping a foothold on these incredible machines.

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Base Pro
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Watch Apple Watch SE (Amazon) / Apple Watch Series 9 (Amazon) Apple Watch Ultra 2 (Amazon)
AirPods AirPods 3 (Amazon) AirPods Pro 2 (Amazon) / AirPods Max (Amazon)
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Tags: mac pro, macos, apple, m2 ultra, pcie, customization,