I’ve needed a macOS desktop for many years. My hackintosh, built when Apple had no current hardware to do what I needed to do, is more than 10 years of age. It’s my primary desktop. It’s behind on OS updates (WAY behind). It’s old. To be honest, I’m quite surprised it still runs at all. Especially the AIO CPU cooler.
The urgency was amplified when Apple silicon for macOS hit the streets. Apple is in transition, and at some point in the future, there will be no support for macOS on Intel. They’ve replaced Intel in the laptops, there’s an M1 iMac and an M1 mini, and now the Mac Studio. We’ve yet to see an Apple silicon Mac Pro, and while I’m sure it’s coming, I can’t say when nor anything about the pricing. If I assume roughly 2X multicore performance versus the M1 Ultra SOC, plus reasonable PCIe expansion, it’ll likely be out of my price range.
Fortunately, for today and the foreseeable future, the Mac Studio fits my needs. In terms of time == money, my main use is compiling C++ and C code. While single-core performance helps, so does multi-core for any build that has many units that can be compiled in parallel. So, for example, the Mac Studio with M1 Ultra has 20 CPU cores. Meaning my builds can compile 20 compilation units in parallel. Obviously there are points in my builds where I need to invoke the archiver or the linker on the result of many compiles. Meaning that for parts of the build, we’ll be single-core for a short period unless the tool itself (archiver, linker, etc.) uses multiple threads.
It’s important to note that a modern C++ compiler is, in general, a memory hog. It’s pretty common for me to see clang using 1G of RAM (resident!). Run 20 instances, that’s 20G of RAM. In other words, the 20 cores need at least 1G each to run without swapping. Add on all the apps I normally have running, and 32G is not enough RAM for me to make really effective use of the 20 cores, day in and day out.
So 64G would my target. And given that the CPU and GPU share that memory, that’s a good target for me. However…
Availability of Mac Studios with the exact configuration I wanted has been abysmal since… well… introduction. I wanted M1 Ultra with 64-core GPU, 64G RAM, 2TB storage. Apple’s lead time for this or anything close: 12 weeks. I’m assuming that a lot of this is the ongoing supply chain issues, COVID and possibly yield issues for the M1 Ultra. Apple is missing out on revenue here, so it’s not some sort of intentional move on their part, as near as I can tell. While I think there are M2 Pro and M2 Max on the horizon for the MacBook Pro (I dunno, 1H2023?), I think it’ll be a year before I see something clearly better for my use than the M1 Ultra. I can’t wait a year, unfortunately. I also can’t wait 3 months.
In fact, since I’m closing in on finishing the den, and need to move my office there, this is now urgent just from a space and aesthetics perspective. I intentionally designed the desk overbridges in the den to comfortably accommodate a Mac Studio (or Mac Mini) underneath either side. I DON’T want my hackintosh in this room! I want quiet, aesthetically pleasing, small, inconspicuous, efficient, and not a major source of heat. I need 10G ethernet. Fortunately, the Mac Studio ticks all of the boxes.
Today I picked up what was available, not exactly what I wanted. It’s an open box and hence $500 off: a Mac Studio with M1 Ultra, 64-core GPU, 128G of RAM and 1TB storage. The only thing from my wishlist not met here: 2TB storage. However, I’m only using 45% of the space on my 1TB drive in my hackintosh, and I haven’t tried to clean up much. I don’t keep music and movies on my desktop machine, but if I wanted to with the Mac Studio, I could plug in Thunderbolt 4 storage.
I’m much more excited about moving into the den than I am about the new computer. That’s unlikely to change, since the den remodeling is the culmination of a lot of work. And I know that I’m going to have to fiddle to make the new Mac Studio work well with my Dell U3818DW display. Assuming that goes well, I’m sure I’ll have a positive reaction to the Mac Studio. The Geekbench single-core scores are double that of my hackintosh. The multi-core scores are 7 times higher. This just gives me confidence that I’ll notice the speed when using it for my work. Especially since the storage is roughly a decimal order of magnitude faster. The 2TB is faster, but the jump will be huge from SATA to NVMe for my desktop. I notice this in my Threadripper machine and I’ll notice it here.
My main concern long-term is the cooling system. Being a custom solution from Apple, I don’t have options when the blower fans fail. Hopefully Apple will extend repairability beyond my first 3 years of AppleCare+. I like keeping my main desktop for more than 3 years. While in some ways it’s the easiest one to replace since it’s not rackmounted and isn’t critical to other infrastructure, it’s also my primary interface to all of my other machines: the Threadripper workstation for Linux and Windows development, my network storage machine, my web server, my gateway, and of course the web, Messages, email, Teams, Discord, etc. It saves me time and money if it lasts awhile.