It may seem strange to compare a desktop PC to a laptop. After all, one is for stationary work, and the other is for carrying around. They have different internals, different connectivity and usually different performance.
But Apple’s Mac Studio and MacBook Pro (especially the 16-inch variant) are a different story. For Mac users, both represent the fastest Apple computers you can buy. Depending on how you use a desktop PC, either machine may suffice. So, which one is right for you?
Specifications and configuration
|apple macbook pro
|7.7 inches x 7.7 inches x 3.7 inches
|14.01 inches x 9.77 inches x 0.66 inches
|5.9 pounds (M2 max)
7.9 pounds (M2 Ultra
|4.7 pounds (M3 Pro)
4.8 pounds (M3 max)
|M2 Max (12 Core)
M2 Ultra (24 Core)
|M3 Pro (12 Core)
M3 Max (14 or 16 core)
|M2 Max (30 or 36 cores)
M2 Ultra (60 or 76 cores)
|M3 Pro (18 Core)
M3 Max (30 or 40 cores)
|Up to 192GB integrated memory
|Up to 128GB integrated memory
|16.2-inch 16:10 Liquid Retina XDR 3456 x 2234
|Up to 8TB SSD storage
|Up to 8TB SSD storage
|4 x Thunderbolt 4 on the back
Front 2 x USB-C (M2 Max)
2 x Thunderbolt 4 Front (M2 Ultra)
2 x USB-A
1 x HDMI
1 x 10GB Ethernet
1 x 3.5mm audio jack
1 x SD card reader
|3 x Thunderbolt 4 ports
1 x HDMI port
1 x 3.5mm headphone jack
1 x SDXC card slot
1 x MagSafe 3 port
|Wi-Fi 6E and Bluetooth 5.2
|Wi-Fi 6E and Bluetooth 5.3
|100 watt-hour battery
|4.5 out of 5 stars
|4.5 out of 5 stars
The Mac Studio starts at $1,999 for an M.2 Max chipset with 12 CPU cores and 30 GPU cores, 32GB of integrated memory, and a 512GB SSD. When configured with the fastest M2 Ultra with 24 CPU cores and 76 GPU cores, 192GB of RAM, and 8TB of SSD storage, the Mac Studio is very expensive at $8,799.
The MacBook Pro 16 is also an expensive machine, with an entry-level price of $2,499 for a 12-core CPU/18-core GPU M3 Pro chipset, 18GB of RAM, a 512GB SSD, and a 16.2-inch Liquid Retina display. The most powerful MacBook Pro 16 for M3 Max with 16 CPU cores and 40 GPU cores, 128GB RAM and 8TB SSD costs $7,199.
Price should not be a significant decision-maker between these two machines. Both are premium products at their starting prices, and both can be quite expensive when fully configured.
Which makes a better “desktop”?
You won’t find a desktop or laptop from any other brand that shares the same aesthetic so closely. While you can get the MacBook Pro in two colors, Midnight Black and Silver, and the Mac Studio is only available in the latter, the lineage is clear. Both machines are made of CNC-machined aluminum and are minimalist but elegant. Of course, the MacBook Pro is meant to be handled and carried around, so you’ll feel the build quality more than the Mac Studio. But trust me, both are equally well built and extremely beautiful.
If you want to keep either machine on the desktop, Mac Studio will take up significantly less space. At least, that’s what happens when you place your MacBook Pro on a desk or in a horizontal stand. The Mac Studio measures less than 8 inches in width and depth and less than 4 inches in height. The footprint of the MacBook Pro is quite large.
You can also run your MacBook Pro with the lid closed, i.e. without using the internal display, and stand it in a vertical stand. It will take up less space in one dimension but still more in the other, and it will be even longer.
If you want to fit your desktop PC under a display, Mac Studio is the better choice. This issue is moot if you have enough desk space for a MacBook Pro and your external display.
Mac Studio has desktop connectivity
The next point of differentiation is connectivity. The Mac Studio comes with multiple USB-C ports, four of which are Thunderbolt 4 on the M2 Max edition and six are Thunderbolt 4 on the M2 Ultra, a few USB-A ports, an HDMI port, an audio jack, and an SD card reader. . The MacBook Pro has three USB-C ports with Thunderbolt 4, an HDMI port, an audio jack, and an SD card reader.
You can add a dock to the MacBook Pro for more connectivity, especially to gain USB-A ports. A dock can also help keep things less cluttered with the MacBook Pro, which has ports on the side, while allowing you to grab the MacBook up and down more easily. Most of the Mac Studio’s ports are on the back, making for a neat solution. However, out of the box, the Mac Studio is a better connected machine thanks to hardware peripherals. Both have the latest Wi-Fi 6E and Bluetooth 5.3 for wireless connectivity.
If you want to connect multiple displays, you’ll also want to carefully consider each machine’s external display support. It’s a bit complicated, so read carefully.
The Mac Studio with M2 Max can connect up to five displays. It supports up to four 6K displays at 60Hz via Thunderbolt 4 and one 4K display at 60Hz using an HDMI connection. Other scenarios include two displays at 6K at 60Hz and one 8K display at 60Hz, or a 4K display at up to 240Hz via HDMI. The M2 Ultra Edition can manage up to eight 4K displays at 60Hz, six 6K displays at 6Hz, and three 8K displays at 60Hz, along with a 4K 240Hz display via HDMI. The number of combinations is mind boggling.
The MacBook Pro with M3 Max can handle up to four external displays, including three 6K at 60Hz and one 4K at up to 144Hz. Or, the laptop will support three external displays including one at 6K and 60Hz, one at 8K and 60Hz, and one at up to 4K and 240Hz. The M3 Pro version supports up to two external displays. Of course, you can use the internal 16.2-inch Mini-LED display with those external displays or run the MacBook Pro with the lid closed.
What about additional features?
Naturally, the MacBook Pro includes components that are additional with Mac Studio. Obviously there is a keyboard and mouse. With the MacBook Pro, you have the excellent Magic Keyboard, which is the best keyboard available on a laptop today, as well as the equally excellent Force Touch haptic touchpad.
With Mac Studio, you’ll need to purchase your keyboard and mouse separately. The Magic Keyboard with Touch ID is an excellent option, giving you essentially the same typing experience as the MacBook Pro’s keyboard, plus the convenience of Touch ID for passwordless login.
When you think about how you set up a MacBook Pro it’s not that simple. You’ll still need to invest in an external keyboard and mouse if you use it on a stand or in a closed position.
The MacBook Pro also includes an excellent 1080p webcam, which the Mac Studio lacks. Like the keyboard and mouse, this is also another purchase for the MacBook if you use it with the display off.
MacBook Pro matches the performance of Mac Studio
Before Apple introduced the new M3 chipset, the Mac Studio was the fastest Mac you could buy. It boasts an M2 Max and an M2 Ultra, with the former offering 12 CPU cores and 30 or 36 GPU cores and the latter offering exactly double that, or 24 CPU cores and 60 or 76 GPU cores. It also has a 32-core Neural Engine and up to 800GB/s of memory bandwidth. The Mac Studio M2 Ultra, Apple’s professional desktop PC, is as fast as the legendary Mac Pro.
However, the latest M3 Max MacBooks have closed the performance gap. The M3 architecture uses Apple’s new 3nm process, which is more efficient and faster than the previous 5nm node. The GPU also received enhancements including dynamic caching, hardware-accelerated ray tracing, and mesh shaders, which boost performance in gaming and applications that can utilize the GPU. The Neural Engine is fast and has an advanced media engine that accelerates hardware-accelerated video.
Overall, the MacBook Pro with the M3 Max 16/40 is almost as fast as the M2 Ultra in our benchmark suite and significantly faster on some GPU-intensive tasks. The Mac Studio M2 Ultra still leads the PugetBench Premiere Pro benchmark which runs a live version of Adobe’s Premiere Pro, but it’s only 10% faster than the MacBook Pro. I list the MacBook Pro 14’s scores here, and the MacBook Pro 16 will be at least as fast, if not slightly faster. Gamers will find the M3 Max to be quite fast in some games.
One advantage the Mac Studio has over the MacBook Pro is that it remains almost completely quiet even when running under heavy load. The MacBook Pro’s fans will spin faster and run faster than the Mac Studio’s. If complete silence is important to you, the Mac Studio wins. Note that Apple will likely refresh the Mac Studio in mid-to-late 2024 with the M3 Max and M3 Ultra. If that happens, Mac Studios will take the lead again.
|apple mac studio
(M2 Ultra 24/60)
|apple macbook pro 14
(M3 Max 16/40)
|Cinebench R24 Single
(higher is better)
|cinebench r24 multi
(higher is better)
|Cinebench R24 GPU
(higher is better
|PugetBench Premiere Pro
(higher is better)
any will work depending on your needs
Both the Mac Studio and MacBook Pro can serve as high-performance “desktops.” You’ll get a cleaner configuration and more connectivity with the Mac Studio, and it’ll fit into tighter spaces.
However, the MacBook Pro is just as fast until Apple refreshes the Mac Studio, and it serves double as a portable powerhouse. They’re both equally expensive, making the Mac Studio seem a bit overpriced. Unless you’re really against the idea of using a laptop as a desktop, I wouldn’t recommend the Mac Studio – at least until the M3 Ultra arrives, which may not be until late next year.