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The biggest surprise at yesterday’s Peek Performance event was easily the debut of Apple’s new Mac Studio — a system that we barely knew existed a week ago. Not only did this one manage to slip out without any significant leaks until the last minute, but it also represents the first entirely new entry into the Mac lineup in years.
Depending on how one feels about the short-lived 12-inch MacBook, it’s arguably been well over a decade since Apple introduced a new product family, and it’s definitely the biggest shakeup to come to the Mac lineup since the transition to Intel in the late aughts.
Looking back, it’s not hard to imagine that this is precisely where the Apple Silicon brick road was leading from the very debut of the M1 chip in late 2020. As impressive as last fall’s new MacBook Pro lineup was, we all knew that Apple had something much more impressive waiting in the wings, and now it’s here.
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That’s not to say this is the end of the road. Not even close, in fact. While the M1 Ultra may be the pinnacle of the M1 series — Apple SVP John Ternus did say yesterday that Apple was “adding one last chip to the M1 family” — it’s certainly only a sign of things to come for future generations of Apple Silicon.
After all, the M1 Ultra only stacks two M1 Max chips. While that’s a comparatively simple thing to do, researchers have already determined that Apple could double that again, with four M1 Max chips creating something even more mind-bogglingly powerful.
For now, however, the M1 Ultra is more than enough. The Mac Studio already outperforms Apple’s $20,000 28-core Mac Pro, and it does it in for about a fifth of the price — and a fraction of the size.
It’s no surprise that shipping dates for the high-end Mac Studio have already been pushed back into May. Apple clearly can’t crank them out fast enough to keep up with the demand.
That’s not to say that there still isn’t a place for the traditional Mac Pro. Even though the M1 Ultra in the Mac Studio beats out the larger powerhouse in raw performance, the Mac Pro still offers space for more internal expansion cards, larger storage configurations, dual discrete GPU configurations, and up to 1.5TB of RAM.
These are all things that the Mac Studio can’t match, but it’s also fair to say that they’re only needed by the highest of the high-end production houses. To be clear, that’s also a $55,000 Mac.
The New Mac Landscape
What’s perhaps just as interesting is what’s happened to Apple’s Mac lineup in the aftermath of yesterday’s event.
While rumours of the Mac Studio only surfaced last week, some sources suggested that it could be the replacement for the higher-end Intel Mac mini, leaving only the entry-level M1 model in the lineup.
Yet, the tenacious little Intel Mac mini remains. It’s already the oldest Mac that Apple still sells. It did receive a storage bump when the M1 Mac mini came along in 2020, but it otherwise has all the same internals as when it first showed up in 2018. That update also followed four years of silence on the Mac mini front.
However, in a much more surprising move, Apple did quietly discontinue one other Mac — the 2020 Intel iMac.
This makes the 2018-era Mac mini the only consumer-level Intel Mac remaining in Apple’s lineup. Yes, the Mac Pro is also still Intel-based, but we’d hardly call that a system for consumers — it’s a professional system, through-and-through.
The Apple Studio Display
To be fair, the death of the 27-inch iMac may have been just about the Mac Studio; it likely had just as much to do with Apple’s new Studio Display, if not more.
After all, the new Studio Display promises to provide an iMac-style experience for any modern Mac that you want to bring to the table, be it the new Mac Studio, an entry-level MacBook Air, or even a Mac mini.
It’s a 27-inch standalone 5K monitor that packs in Apple’s A13 chip. It offers 600 nits of brightness, a built-in 12-megapixel camera with the same Center Stage feature as Apple’s iPad lineup, a high-fidelity six-speaker sound system that supports Spatial Audio, and a studio-quality three-mic array. Not only that, but it even directly supports “Hey Siri.”
Considering everything that it offers, it’s also pretty reasonably priced, starting at $1,599 — and you don’t have to buy the stand separately.
There are some upgrades available, of course. For an extra $300 you can add nano-texture glass, much like you could on the 27-inch iMac, but at a lower price. Another $400 will let you upgrade from the standard tilt-adjustable stand or optional VESA mount adapter to a tilt- and height-adjustable stand.
Still, considering that the 27-inch iMac started at $1,799 for a version that was easily eclipsed by even the entry-level M1 Mac mini, Apple’s new lineup offers much better bang for your buck.
The Apple Studio Display delivers everything that the 27-inch iMac display offered — and more — and the Mac mini starts at $699 for an M1 version that offers 8GB of RAM and 256GB of SSD storage. Pair those two together, and you’ve got a much more capable system that’s basically the same price as a 27-inch Intel iMac with only 8GB of RAM, and a 3.8GHz Intel Core i7 chip.
It’s not a perfect comparison, of course, as the iMac would have offered twice as much storage at that price, along with a discrete Radeon Pro 5500 XT graphics card. However, it’s still safe to say that Apple’s M1 chip will run circles around it in terms of raw performance.
Even so, we don’t think this is the end of the road for Apple’s 27-inch iMac. Plenty of rumours abound about a new iMac Pro looming on the horizon, which will likely also feature an M1 Max and M1 Ultra configuration.
Our guess, however, is that the iMac Pro will be priced at a much more “Pro” level — likely in the same range as a Mac Studio and Apple Studio Display put together.
Rumour has it that Apple is looking at mini-LED display technology for this one, likely including the ProMotion capabilities of the 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro. This will not be an iMac for the average family or even casual office use, but rather a powerhouse aimed at creative professionals — with a price to match.
Meanwhile, the Mac mini hasn’t had its last hurrah. The fact that the Intel model hasn’t been discontinued suggests that the Mac Studio is not its replacement after all, and from what we’ve heard, Apple still has an M1 Pro version waiting in the wings to replace it.
However, there’s also likely another significant reason the Intel Mac mini is still sticking around. Unlike Apple’s MacBook and iMac lineups, the Mac mini sits in a weird place. Its affordable price makes it attractive both for casual home users and casual business and enterprise users.
Much like the Mac Pro, this latter category is made up of organizations that aren’t nearly as eager to transition to Apple Silicon, which means there’s likely still a lot of demand for an Intel-based Mac. We wouldn’t be surprised if this one lives for quite a while longer.