Tested: Mac Studio with M1 Max vs Mac Studio with M1 Ultra

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They look the same, they’re both impressive, but one Mac Studio setup costs twice as much as the other. We test the differences between the M1 Ultra and M1 Max versions.

Two machines, both equally worthy – and both with so much to offer professionals in the creative, scientific and engineering industries. However, there are important differences, and not just in how one is double the other.

If you have the budget for a Mac Studio with M1 Ultra, it’s worth going for it as it will handle your workload now and hopefully well into the future. However, there are still considerations that could make it cost more than the basic $3,999.

But for that price, the M1 Max should get you two basic Mac Studio machines. Working in a team is a tempting option, but only if the performance is good enough.

That’s mainly performance, such as how well and fast the processor works for you, but it’s also about how exactly the machine fits into your workflow.

 Mac Studio with M1 MaxMac Studio with M1 UltraBase price$1,999$3,999RAM32GB or 64GB64GB or 128GBCPU10-core20-coreGPU24-core48-coreNeural Engine16-core32-coreSSD512GB1TBFront ports2 x USB-C, 1 x SDXC2 x Thunderbolt 4, 1 x SDXCBack ports4 x Thunderbolt ports 4 ports, 2 x USB-A, 1 x HDMI, 1 x 10 GB Ethernet, 1 x 3.5mm headphone 4 x Thunderbolt 4 ports, 2 x USB-A, 1 x HDMI, 1 x 10 GB Ethernet, 1 x 3.5mm Headphone

Beyond the processor choices

The obvious difference between the two recommended base versions of the Mac Studio by Apple is the processor inside. But there’s more.

If you buy the basic Mac Studio with M1 Max, you partially get:

32 GB RAM 512 GB SSD 2 x front USB-C ports

Whereas if you buy the Mac Studio with M1 Ultra, those three specs change to:

64 GB RAM 1 TB SSD 2 x Thunderbolt 4 front ports

You can upgrade the base M1 Max version to 64 GB RAM for $400, and from 512 GB SSD to 1 TB SSD for $200. That would increase the price to $2,599.

The different ports on the front can affect which model you buy

The different ports on the front can affect which model you buy

That’s $1,400 less than the base version of the M1 Ultra. So it’s no longer enough that you can buy a second Mac Studio, but it’s still a significant help when buying a new Studio Display.

What you can’t change are the ports on the front. Whether they’re USB-C or Thunderbolt 4, it’s a real boon to have them available right up front.

This means that when your workflow requires you to repeatedly add and remove external storage or cameras and so on, it is much more convenient. It’s not that turning the machine is hard, but it becomes easy when the ports on the back are full of short cables.

That convenience is the same whether it’s USB-C or Thunderbolt 4 ports on the front. What is different is the speed of the data transfer. If you are in a broadcast, the speed difference can be significant for you.

However, for most people with most workflows, the speed difference here will usually not be noticeable. Or if so, it’s not important.

While the local storage could be the 512GB SSD in the base M1 Max version.

This is debatable, as there are many workflows where 512GB is fine. This could be because the files and documents being worked on are not very large, or very temporary.

And it could be because masses of storage are just a WAN connection away.

However, people who are fine with 512 GB are not people who have ever been held up by Final Cut Pro eating up every byte of available space. There are things you can do to reduce this, including using external drives for everything.

But having more internal storage makes life easier, even if you don’t think you’re making complex or long videos.

As for RAM, we’ve had unified memory long enough to know that Apple is right, you can do more with less. Compared to ordinary RAM, this uniform memory is exceptional.

It’s also limited, though, and if there’s anything to push against the limits, it’s the kind of high-volume, high-resolution, and perhaps fast-paced workflows that the Mac Studio was built for.

The issues with RAM and SSD storage are the same with the Mac Studio with M1 Ultra. Except that the base model comes with 64 GB of RAM and 1 TB of SSD storage, which is probably enough for most users.

However, when you buy the M1 Ultra version, you get another advantage regarding RAM. It is that you have the option to go up to 128 GB of RAM.

It’ll cost you another $800, but it’s an option you don’t get with the M1 Max edition.


We threw a litany of benchmarks at both machines as soon as we got them in our studio, testing everything from Geekbench to 8K video export. The two models we picked up were both base models, one with the M1 Ultra and the other with M1 Max.

Starting with our browser test, we ran BrowserBench’s speedometer benchmark which tests a machine’s ability to run web applications. The M1 Max achieved 293 runs per minute, while the M1 Ultra earned 292 runs per minute. Basically the same when the margin of error is taken into account.

Geekbench 5 results for Mac Studio

Geekbench 5 results on Mac Studio

In Geekbench 5, our M1 Max Mac Studio got a 1798 single-core and a 12822 multi-core. The M1 Ultra variant achieved a comparable single-core score of 1786, but an impressive 23778 multi-core score. This is due to the difference between the 10-core M1 Max and the 20 cores in the M1 Ultra.

Cinebench revealed similar numbers. The M1 Max version scored 1535 and 12389 on the single and multi-core R23 tests respectively, while the M1 Ultra scored a 1535 and a 24210 on the single and multi-core tests.

Affinity Photo now has its own benchmark that tests vector performance on the CPU and raster performance, taxing both the CPU and GPU. We mainly looked at the combined scores for CPU and GPU. The M1 Max scored a 947 for the CPU and a 22537 for the GPU. The M1 Ultra came in with an 1879 for the CPU and a 33668 for the GPU.

Geekbench’s graphics compute test echoed those results. When running on Metal, the Geekbench 5 Compute test scored a 60629 on the 24-core M1 Max GPU and a 91938 on the 48-core M1 Ultra GPU. An increase of about 50 percent for the M1 Ultra graphics.

Ungine Heaven is starting to get a little dated, and it still runs under Rosetta rather than natively on Apple silicon, but we can still tell the difference in how these machines handle these graphics. When this gaming-specific benchmark is run, the M1 Max averaged 94 frames per second with a score of 2371 and a maximum frame rate of 186.4. The M1 Ultra achieved an average frame rate of 102 FPS, a score of 2584, and a maximum frame rate of 187 FPS.

These maxed out at roughly the same frame rate, but the M1 Ultra scored just a little higher and kept the frame rate just a little higher throughout.

Blackmagic Disk Speed ​​Results

Blackmagic Disk Speed ​​Results

When testing the built-in storage, our 512GB SSD on the M1 Max achieved a write speed of 4629.7 MB/s and a read speed of 5180.3 MB/s on the BlackMagic Disk Speed ​​Test. This was less than the 1 TB module in our M1 Ultra machine, which achieved a write speed of 5163.2 MB/s and a read speed of 5226.8 MB/s. The larger the SSD, the faster they are usually, so keep this in mind when choosing your storage configuration.

In Final Cut Pro, we exported multiple videos and saw varying degrees of performance difference. Unless you’re doing a very high-end production, you probably won’t see a huge difference in video performance, even with the additional encoding and decoding engines on the M1 Ultra.

When exporting an hour-long 4K video as “Apple Compatible”, both machines took an almost identical 18 minutes to complete. When we exported an uncompressed 4K video in Apple ProRes that was 16 minutes long, it took a minute and 14 seconds on the M1 Ultra and a minute and 30 seconds on the M1 Max. As you keep increasing the resolution and complexity of your videos, this gap between the two machines will widen.

We also tried to export an 8K video uncompressed from Apple ProRes and the M1 Max took five minutes and five seconds, while the M1 Ultra took four minutes and 42 seconds.

It comes down to the processor

Ultimately, though, the two considerations that affect your choice between these models are the processor and cost. We won’t know until the Mac Studio is out and subjected to real-world testing, but to say the least, the M1 Ultra version will definitely be faster than the M1 Max.

And then there’s the matter of the media engines. The M1 Max has one video decoding engine, two video encoding engines, and two ProRes encoding and decoding engines. Since the M1 Ultra is basically two M1 Max chips, it has two video decoding engines, four video encode engines, and four ProRes encoding and decoding engines.

How much this matters depends a lot on what you’re doing with the machine. If you are a photography oriented user, it doesn’t matter. If you’re a videographer, they absolutely will.

It matters where you come from

It could be that Apple is getting some movers to the Mac for the first time because of the Mac Studio. But chances are, most users will already be on the Mac, and which Mac they use plays a role in which Mac Studio they choose.

Perhaps you work in a company where you and many colleagues all rely on a whole host of Mac Pro machines. Then the M1 Ultra is the best choice. You could trade for it now, maybe sell the Mac Pro collection.

Or you can switch to Mac Studio by simply replacing one Mac Pro if you need to.

Likewise, you could be on a Mac mini right now. If so, it’s probably because your typical workflow and workload weren’t so high that you had to switch to a Mac Pro.

Switch to a Mac Studio with M1 Max instead. It’s better and faster enough that you’ll appreciate the difference right away, and it probably has enough performance to grow your workflow for years to come.

If the Mac Pro and the Mac mini are at the extremes, in between are users who are on an iMac, an iMac Pro or a MacBook Pro.

Mac Studio with M1 Ultra will certainly always beat that, but the Mac Studio with M1 Max probably will too.

It’s hard to quantify your current workflow, and it’s even harder to compare it to someone else’s. And if there’s one thing high-end Mac users have in common in the media, science, and other industries, it’s that workflows are changing.

You may have periods that are feast or famine, but overall the workflow is increasing. Which means, in an ideal world, everyone would just be at the Mac Studio with M1 Ultra.

In the real, practical world, though, chances are the M1 Max version will suffice for most people.

How to Save to Apple’s Mac Studio

Apple’s Mac Studio desktop is already on sale at select retailers, with the best Mac Studio deals offering $200 to $400 off retail models at the time of writing.

This post Tested: Mac Studio with M1 Max vs Mac Studio with M1 Ultra

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