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The Mac Studio reminded me how much I love ports
The Apple Mac Studio is a ridiculously fast machine that finally does away with the need for dongles.
There's no denying it, the Apple Mac Studio is an undeniably powerful computer. It can pull off impressive feats, like playing 14 simultaneous 8K tracks in Final Cut Pro with only the slightest stutter. If you want a beastly Mac, the Mac Studio won't disappoint you.
All that raw performance is great, but the Mac Studio feature that's genuinely improved my workflow is ports. Yep, good old fashioned inputs and outputs.
Inputs and outs
The Mac Studio features the most ports of any Mac in quite some time. The $9,999 (starting price) Mac Pro from 2019 is the only exception.
On the back of the Mac Studio, you'll find four USB C Thunderbolt 4 ports, a 10GB Ethernet Port, two full-size USB A ports, a HDMI connector, and a 3.5mm headphone jack. On the front you get two extra USB C ports (or Thunderbolt if you go for the M1 Ultra model) and an SD card reader. And thank god.
The Mac Studio's sheer amount of ports almost entirely removes the need for dongles or adapters, which are inevitably always impossible to find. You can just plug in devices and get on with it, without needing to unplug something else.
The best way to frame this is my experiences with other Macs. In my spare time, I dabble in music production.
When testing a M1 Mac Mini, I frequently found myself needing to juggle ports. It has two USB C ports and two full-size USB A ports. I immediately lost one USB C port to my monitor, and my keyboard (o the musical variety) and my audio interface both require their own USB A port. This left me one with one spare USB C port, which I'd typically use for external storage with my software instrument libraries.
Heaven forbid I needed to plug in my keyboard (of the typical variety) or trackpad to charge.
When testing the M1 iMac, I ran into similar bottlenecks. It's very easy to use up all four USB C ports, and the lack of full-size USB A ports is puzzling given the machine is easily thick enough for them. While the 2021 MacBook Pro was a lot more generous with its port inclusions, you still run into the issue of no full-size USB A ports.
None of these have been an issue on the Mac Studio. I can just plug in devices without worrying about whether I still plug in something like a USB storage drive or my AirPods to charge. The front-facing USB C ports are especially helpful, and save awkwardly fumbling around the back of your Mac, as tends to be the case with most of Apple's desktop variants. Sure, it would have been nice to have the headphone jack on the front rather than back, and I would have loved just one more full-size USB A port, but it's just really nice to have ports again. And I'm sure I'm not the only one that feels that way.
Not just a collection of ports
Obviously, there's far more to the Mac Studio than the port situation. As aforementioned, you get insane performance that builds on what Apple did with last year's MacBook Pros. With the new MacBook Pros you could pick between a M1 Pro and M1 Max processor, broadly speaking. With the new Mac Studio, you can pick between the M1 Max, and a new M1 Ultra chip that is literally two M1 Maxes stuck together. There’s a whole lot of power on offer for those that need it.
And honestly, most people probably don’t. The Mac Studio is very clearly designed for professional creative use cases, including video editing, 3D animation, music production, and software development. If you’re a Mac user in one of those fields, the Mac Studio is certainly worth considering.
As tends to be the trade-off with Apple products, the Mac Studio isn't upgradable. You're stuck with the configuration you buy; features like RAM and storage can't be increased down the line if your needs change.
The Mac Studio is also expensive. You're looking at a minimum of $3,099 for an entry-level model with the M1 Max, or at least $6,099 for the even beefier M1 Ultra option. If you wanted to go all in, you could spend as much as $12,099 on a Mac Studio with 128GB of RAM and 8TB of storage, but that kind of configuration is very clearly for niche high-end use cases. You also don't get a mouse or keyboard in the box, unlike with an iMac or Mac Pro.
Is the Apple Mac Studio worth buying?
As the pricing suggests, the Mac Studio is a powerful desktop machine for professionals, creators, and enthusiasts that has plenty of headroom for future use cases. Apple has made the kind of computer a lot of Mac fans have been asking for. It's a teeny tiny powerhouse that is going to make a great machine for any demanding use case. Well, other than gaming. And most importantly, it has so many ports.
I genuinely hope the Mac Studio represents a blueprint of what's to come from future Macs. It's clearly not a consumer machine, but wanting to plug things into your computer without thinking about them isn't just a professional use case. Not everyone lives in wireless world, USB C is still far from ubiquitous, and having to think about dongles or adapters is annoying at the best of times.
And realistically, if a Mac Mini suits you in terms of performance, a Mac Studio isn’t a better buy just to avoid using some dongles. I just wish that wasn't a decision we didn't need to make.
For a good while there, I had just accepted dongles and far-too-few ports had become the norm. A reality where connecting things to your computer is probably going to be a bit annoying and may need a bit of forethought. The Mac Studio is a welcome about-turn on Apple's port-lite philosophy, and I've got my fingers crossed that's it not exclusively for pros.