Hold onto your trousers.
Apple has got a new chip and it is even sillier than the M1 Max.
The Peek performance Apple event has just finished and, as ever, I have a bunch of indecipherable notes I need to wade through over the coming weeks to give you my considered reaction.
This isn’t that. At all. It’s a bleary-eyed, way-beyond-a-full-working-day-fuelled mini reaction to everything Apple put in front of us today.
The boring stuff
Tim began by telling us how awesome Apple TV+ is. Which is fair enough, because it really is. And it looks like it’s going to get more awesome-er thanks to a raft of big names appearing in forthcoming Apple Original movies.
Bring it on. I love Apple TV+.
Then, we were treated to some new iPhone colours. Well, ‘some’ is pushing it – there’s two, and they’re both green. Cheers, Tim.
The iPhone SE was next. It’ll now have the A15 Bionic chip in it, which essentially makes it a cheap iPhone 13 with older screen tech and Touch ID.
Oh, and it has 5G.
I still don’t care about 5G.
However, the most boring bit during the come-on-Tim-just-show-us-the-Macs segment was the new iPad Air. They’ve chucked an M1 chip in it. And it’s for no other reason than because they can.
I could not care less. This simply makes it the third iPad you can buy with a chip that’ll never, ever make its presence felt. What an utter waste of time.
Oh, and it also has 5G.
Jesus. Let’s get to the good stuff.
M1 Ultra: The Mac Pro killer
There were rumours. Titterings. Nudges and whispers in dark corners of digital bars. But those murmurings of a chip more powerful than the M1 Max never really made it to the forefront, did they? We were all too busy rambling on about MacBook Airs, AR, massive iMacs, and slightly redesigned Mac mini ‘Pros’, weren’t we?
What we got instead was a chip that is, basically, two M1 Max chips stuck together. Apple has given this process a name, obviously – ’Ultra Fusion’ – but it is literally one huge chip that is twice as powerful as the M1 Max.
So, you get a 20-core CPU, a 64-core GPU, up to 128GB of unified memory and 800GB/s of memory bandwidth.
This behemoth has been designed with three things in mind: low latency, power efficiency, and massive bandwidth. That results in CPU performance that is 3.8 times faster than the M1 Max. But it also has 4.5 times faster graphics and can support up to 18 streams of 8K ProRes 422 video playback.
I have no idea who needs to do that, but it is apparently something no other personal computer can do.
<looks around> erm… maybe there’s a reason for that, Tim?
There are loads more ridiculous numbers tied to this chip:
- it has 114 billion transistors;
- it can undertake 22 trillion operations per second;
- it supports up to 5 displays;
- it has eighteen more radiators than the Bugatti Veyron; and
- it’ll handle the 7.4GB/s offered by Apple’s eight terabyte SSD.
I’ve invented one of the specs above, but that doesn’t matter. The M1 Ultra completely obliterates both the top end 27” iMac and even the Mac Pro’s best graphics card. It’ll swallow up your house, spit it out, chew it up again, and then bend the entire universe around it before eating that, too.
No one needs the amount of power it offers, but Apple wheeled out several wide-eyed creative types who waxed lyrical about suddenly being able to score eighteen different orchestral pieces at once.
Apple referred to Ultra Fusion as a ‘secret’ that has been lying dormant in the M1 Max chip until now. And with that secret now unleashed, they obviously needed to find a suitable home for Frankenstein’s monster.
Don’t worry, it wasn’t an iPad.
Mac Studio (apologies, Mac Pro owners)
I called it. I told you that Apple had no interest in simply slapping the M1 Pro and M1 Max chips into a slightly redesigned Mac mini.
Only, my prediction that they would instead slip an M2 chip in there was completely wide of the mark.
Instead, Apple has launched a completely new Mac – the Mac Studio. At 9.5cm, it’s just under three Mac minis tall. Impressively, it’s the exact same width as Apple’s entry-level desktop at 19.7cm.
This isn’t the Mac mini Pro people were expecting. It is much, much more than that, with a price tag to match.
The Mac Studio can be configured with either the M1 Max or M1 Ultra chips, which means it’s immediately leaning hard towards professional use territory. And the amount of connectivity on offer confirms that Apple has busy creators, developers, and universe shifters in mind.
That is sort of what I was expecting from the Mac Studio, but not quite.
There’s an array of thunderbolt ports alongside USB-C, HDMI, an SD card slot, and even USB-A. The Mac Studio will drive up to four Pro XDR displays (steady on, Mr NASA) and can be configured with up to 8 terabytes of biblically-fast internal storage.
It’s a conveniently-sized beast, too. But it’s also vastly power-efficient and thermally sensible (Apple ain’t gonna paint itself into that corner again, eh?). It even has a double-sided blower, which is my favourite Mac-inspired euphemism ever.
It’s not cheap. Obviously. The base model features the M1 Max with 32GB of unified memory and 512GB of storage, for the princely sum of £1,999. If you fancy the M1 Ultra version, you’ll have to stump up £3,999.
Remember, neither of these computers has any form of display. They don’t even come with a keyboard or mouse.
For kicks, I specced the M1 Ultra version of the Mac Studio as far as I could. This resulted in an online basket crippling £7,999. And still no keyboard or mouse.
But about that display…
The return of the Apple Display
I’ve wanted an Apple-branded display for quite a while. As much as I love my 34” ultra-wide MSI monitor, it is soft, lifeless, and dull compared to every Mac screen I own.
The missing piece of the jigsaw for my studio was an Apple display without a computer attached – something Tim and co. haven’t offered for years, unless you fancy selling your car to buy the Pro Display XDR.
Well, now they do, and it comes in the form of the Studio Display.
Starting at £1,499, this is a 27-inch, 5K retina monitor with 600 nits of brightness, P3 colour, and True Tone. It also features an anti-reflective coating… and a stand!
However, this is Apple, so there are some silly optional extras on offer. For instance, if you want to add nano-textured glass to ensure all of that pesky glare is, erm, minimised, you’ll need to find another £250.
Oh, and if you’re the sort of person who enjoys spending money on monitor stands, don’t worry – Apple has you covered. You see, rather than the standard tilt-adjustable stand that comes with the base model Studio Display, you can opt instead for a tilt- and height-adjustable version. For an additional £400.
The Studio Display has even got a chip in it – the A13 Bionic, to be exact. This enables Spatial Audio to play from its six-speaker sound system and provides “Hey Siri” functionality. However, it also ensures the integrated 12MP ultra-wide camera has Centre Stage support, which is a pretty significant point of differentiation from the Pro Display XDR.
It’s not cheap, either, but the Studio Display does look rather wonderful, and it’s the one thing from today’s event that my studio has been waiting for.
I’ve ordered one (with the normal stand), and I’ll report back as soon as it arrives.
Who is the Mac Studio for?
This event completely took me by surprise. There was no M2 chip. Not a sniff of a new MacBook Air. No update to the 24” iMac.
Expecting a nod towards their AR plans? Not a chance.
My Discord mate and fellow Medium writer, Justin Cox, neatly summed up the event for what I suspect is a great many people.
The Studio Display is the 27” iMac I’ve been waiting three years for, except they forgot the computer. #AppleEvent— Justin Cox (@justincox) March 8, 2022
I feel his pain. In fact, I feel anyone’s pain who has been waiting patiently for the next big iMac or a slightly more moderate update to the Mac mini. Neither of those things materialised, and you have to wonder if they ever will. What we’re left with is a computer system that will be out of reach and far too pro-focused for most normal people.
I’m not going to pontificate on that today; I need to let my mind rest a little and give it further thought.
But I’d love to know what you think, as always. So, get involved in the comments!