Mac Studio vs. Mac Pro Buyer's Guide

Upon the launch of the latest Mac Pro, Apple's transition to Apple silicon across its entire Mac lineup is complete. The new ‌Mac Pro‌ features the M2 Ultra chip – the same chip offered in the refreshed Mac Studio – so why should some prospective customers buy the ‌Mac Pro‌, despite its $6,999 starting price, and which performance-focused desktop Mac is best for you?

Studio v Pro Feature Purple

The ‌Mac Studio‌ starts at $1,999, substantially less than the $6,999 starting price of the ‌Mac Pro‌. When configured with the same ‌M2‌ Ultra chip as the ‌Mac Pro‌, the ‌Mac Studio‌ starts at $3,999. There are several crucial differences between the ‌Mac Studio‌ and ‌Mac Pro‌ that justify their different price points and designs:

‌Mac Studio‌ ‌Mac Pro‌
Integrated, non-upgradeable design with sealed casing Modular design with openable casing and potential for SSD upgrades
Seven PCI Express expansion slots (six available slots; one slot comes with Apple I/O card installed)
Two impeller fans Three impeller fans
Apple ‌M2‌ Max or ‌M2‌ Ultra chip Apple ‌M2‌ Ultra chip
Up to 24-core CPU 24-core CPU
10Gb Ethernet Dual 10Gb Ethernet
Up to six Thunderbolt 4 ports Eight Thunderbolt 4 ports
Two USB-A ports Three USB-A ports
HDMI port Two HDMI ports
SDXC card slot (UHS-II)
Rack-mounted version available
Starts at $1,999 Starts at $6,999

The main reason to buy the ‌Mac Pro‌ is to be able to use its seven PCIe expansion slots add the likes of digital signal processing (DSP) cards, serial digital interface (SDI) I/O cards, additional networking, and built-in storage. This also allows a user to change some of their ‌Mac Pro‌'s hardware over time, and Apple is offering additional do-it-yourself SSD upgrade kits and wheels for the device.

If you require multiple Ethernet ports, more than six Thunderbolt ports, or more than two USB-A ports to connect a large number of peripherals, only the ‌Mac Pro‌ can facilitate this. Otherwise, since the ‌Mac Studio‌ can be configured with the same ‌M2‌ Ultra chip as the ‌Mac Pro‌, there is no reason to buy the more expensive desktop machine, and most users will be better off buying the ‌Mac Studio‌ and saving $3,000.

Buy a Mac Studio if...

  • You prefer a smaller desktop machine that takes up significantly less space
  • The ‌M2‌ Max chip offers sufficient performance for your needs and you do not need the ‌M2‌ Ultra chip
  • You need a versatile, high-performance machine below the ‌Mac Pro‌'s $6,999 starting price

Buy a Mac Pro if...

  • You need the ability to upgrade the internal SSD
  • You need more than six Thunderbolt ports, more than two USB-A ports, more than one HDMI port, or more than one ethernet port
  • You need PCIe expansion slots

If you don't need the performance and number of ports that the ‌Mac Studio‌ offers, it is worth noting that Apple offers the Mac mini with the ‌M2‌ Pro chip for $1,299. This high-end ‌Mac mini‌ offers a good balance of price and performance that should be more than sufficient for many users looking for a desktop Mac.

The ‌Mac Pro‌ is targeted at professionals with distinct hardware requirements and complicated workflows, often in production environments. These customers will know they need a ‌Mac Pro‌ to meet their needs. Considering the fact that the base model is $5,000 cheaper than the ‌Mac Pro‌, the ‌Mac Studio‌ is now the best "Pro" desktop Mac for the overwhelming majority of prospective customers, with more than enough performance and versatility for most users.

Related Roundups: Mac Pro, Mac Studio
Related Forums: Mac Pro, Mac Studio

Top Rated Comments

fwmireault Avatar
16 months ago
You forgot that the Mac Pro can be configured with 800$ wheels, that’s a big advantage over the Mac Studio
Score: 111 Votes (Like | Disagree)
rpmurray Avatar
16 months ago

What if I need some cheese grated though? Where is the mac studio then??
It has all those little holes on the back. It grates extra-fine.
Score: 29 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Moonlight Avatar
16 months ago
What if I need some cheese grated though? Where is the mac studio then??
Score: 23 Votes (Like | Disagree)
goMac Avatar
16 months ago

The Mac Studio's M1‌ Ultra chip outperforms the 28-core Xeon ‌Mac Pro‌ with the highest-end graphics card
There's been a few benchmarks already showing the Mac Pro with an edge in graphics using the older Vega GPU options. It makes me skeptical that M1 Ultra will actually outperform a top end Radeon 6900 option in GPU tasks. Seems iffy it would beat a 6800 either.

The only claim I've seen of this so far has been Apple's slides, which haven't exactly held up.
Score: 20 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Makosuke Avatar
16 months ago

There are two main reasons to buy the Mac Pro over the Mac Studio. The first is for its Intel chip, since some high-level professional applications perform better on native Intel systems despite Rosetta 2.

The second reason is modularity. The Mac Pro features eight PCI Express expansion slots that be used to customize the machine's hardware for specific needs, such as by adding more storage or graphics cards. The Mac Pro's modularity also means that it is easier to change and upgrade components over time. The Mac Studio, on the other hand, is a fully integrated machine with no modularity or opportunity to add or change components.

The Mac Pro is also more versatile when it comes to ports, which users can also add via PCI Express slots, and there is support for more external displays.
I'm pretty sure that there are two other possible main reasons for buying the Mac Pro:

One is that you have a use case that needs massive amounts of RAM, in which case clearly 128GB vs 1.5TB is a very, very nontrivial difference. (Also not sure that the M-series RAM has ECC-equivalent error correction; I assume not, which is another nontrivial need for certain use cases.)

And the other is you have a use case that actually takes advantage of $10,000+ worth of GPUs--dual Pro W6900X 32GB or dual Pro W6800X Duo 64GB. The performance on the 64-core GPU with 128GB of memory, some of which is going to be used by the CPU, is not going to be on that level even if the task is well optimized for it.

The Mac Studio is awesome, and will almost certainly be my next desktop when I eventually replace my top-of-line Intel iMac. But we've got computers to run simulations at work that need well over 128GB of RAM for decent performance, operating on 40TB datasets (stored on a RAID6 array with PCIe controller, although the storage could be handled just as well externally), and if we were to run those on a Mac rather than the current commodity hardware, we'd most definitely buy a Mac Pro, not a Mac Studio. It has nothing to do with the Intel CPU or modularity. We just need the ridiculously large amount of RAM.
Score: 19 Votes (Like | Disagree)
MayaUser Avatar
16 months ago
The Mac Pro gpu will be out of this world
Score: 17 Votes (Like | Disagree)

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