Mac Studio: a quick review

I got my Mac Studio yesterday, to replace the Mac mini in my office (the mini now replacing the 13" MacBook Pro in my recording studio, the MacBook Pro replacing the frustrating Lenovo laptop in the living room), and I have all my stuff set up on it. I went with the 10-core M1 Max model (with the upgraded GPU) and 2TB of RAM, sticking to the stock 32GB of RAM.

So far it hasn’t been, like, mind-blowing in its compute power, which is to be expected since it’s basically just the M1 Mini but with more cores. So Cinebench is a lot faster, and the I/O performance is also ridiculous owing to the dual-channel direct-attached NVMe.

As a test of Final Cut Pro, I copied my project files for Lo-Fi Beats to Grind Coffee To off of my NAS to see how long it takes to render and encode that hour-long optical-flow-heavy monster; encoding and optical flow were the two things that were the most frustrating on the mini, with another major issue being how I had to keep on offloading and juggling my files to slow external storage due to the relatively-paltry 512GB of internal NVMe in the mini. Having 2TB of internal storage certainly affords me more opportunities with fast I/O, and accordingly, it was incredibly impressive to load up my large project and be able to immediately skim anywhere in the timeline and have it work immediately.

The optical flow for the entire hour-long project took only a minute or two, and the full render only took a little longer than that. (Unfortunately, Final Cut doesn’t provide any detailed information about the actual time it took.)

Keep in mind that this is an hour-long 4K video with a lot of nested edits and optical flow retiming. On the Mac mini I seem to recall that it took around an hour to render.

So, yeah, this is a video editing beast. No wonder all the YouTubers are all over it.

Anyway, on to the things that I actually use my computer for…

Blender is more or less the same speed as the M1 mini, which makes sense because Blender is largely single-core and/or scripted in Python. Presumably the photorealistic render is a lot faster but I don’t actually use that, since I only use Blender to model stuff for use in Unity.

I’m still waiting for Native Instruments KOMPLETE to download (because even though I already had it installed on the external 2TB Thunderbolt drive that moved to this machine, NI doesn’t let you just inherit an existing install fo rsome reason, and their download servers are slow right now), so I haven’t been able to put Logic through its paces. But I do most of my music production down in the studio, and I was never hurting for CPU even on my most taxing tracks, which come down primarily to I/O. (There’s a reason the mini went into the studio, after all.) Thankfully, the M1 mini already had KOMPLETE installed on it, and it was trivial to point that install to the studio media enclosure instead.

Publ stuff is Publ. Python/Flask runs as fast as ever, and it’s mostly I/O-bound anyway. I feel like Poetry/pip/etc. install the dependencies more quickly than before, at least.

Having a lot more physical ports and a built-in SD card is great, because I can get rid of my spaghetti mess of Thunderbolt docks and hubs for the most part. I still have my large USB-A 3.0 hub connected for the myriad peripherals on this machine, and for now I have two external storage devices attached (my old SATA-to-USB media drive and my dual-bay NVMe Thunderbolt enclosure), although soon I’ll be getting a second NVMe drive for the enclosure and will transfer my media over to that, so I’ll be down to a single attached storage device.

Also, because I’m upgrading the audio interface in the studio, my old interface (a Focusrite Scarlett 18i8) moved into the office, which let me do some other consolidation, since I no longer need my mixer for my Windows NUC (because I have its output going to the Scarlett’s line input) or my headphone amp (because the Scarlett has a much better one built-in). For now I’m still using my USB conference mic but at some point I’ll probably switch back to an XLR condenser mic just so that I have better monitoring when I’m doing a meeting from my office, as rare as that is anymore.

The other thing that the Thunderbolt hub was useful for was hooking up a second monitor, but Apple seems dead-set on making that not want to actually work right. For now I’ve tried ordering a USB-C to DisplayPort cable which will hopefully work better; this isn’t an option I’d have considered on any of my previous M1 Macs, but because I have so many USB-C ports now, it’s very much not a big deal. (Similarly, it’s totally not a big deal to dedicate a USB-C port to the audio interface, something I’d have never considered doing on any other Mac before this point.)

I do wish Apple would finally put more than one heckin' HDMI port on a commputer, though.

All in all, I’m happy with this purchase. This is arguably the most expensive Mac I’ve ever bought (although if you adjust for inflation the PowerMac G5 I bought in 2005 wins), but also by far the most capable and powerful. And hopefully I won’t need to upgrade my computers again for a long, long time.


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