Apple Mac Studio teardown: huge M1 Ultra chip and upgradable storage
Apple's latest is impressive under the hood.
Apple has strolled out their latest chip, the Apple M1 Ultra out to users with the brand-new Mac Studio. While they initially compared the graphics horsepower to that of an RTX 3090, these claims were unfounded. Now, we’ve got our first glimpses of the chip itself, and how big it actually is in comparison to other desktop-class chips, thanks to YouTuber Max Tech, who has disassembled the product to try and see if they can get into Apple’s case, which at first glance, looks like it can’t be pried open. But, all you need to do is leave it up to the Tech Community to find a way.
The Mac Studio itself, revealed at their Peek Performance event is incredibly powerful for the physical footprint it leaves behind, and the actual M1 Ultra SoC, which is essentially two M1 MAX chips fused together. This gives the M1 Ultra twice the amount of theoretical performance, and can only be attained right now in the Mac Studio itself, which retails for a cool $3,999 if you want the brand-new chip. This power-efficient system has some quirks under the hood though, and for professionals wanting outlook at a long-term look at the system, you might want to check out exactly what is going on under the hood of this attractive-looking, small-form-factor desktop machine aimed at content creators and professionals.
Mac Studio teardown
To get into the Apple Mac Studio, you’ll first need to get yourself a spudger and prise the bottom ring off, from there, you’ll need security bits to get into the internal chassis, where you’ll then be able to access the internals of the system itself. It’s likely that doing this will void the warranty in your country, so be sure to know what you’re doing here, especially if you’ve never taken apart consumer electronics before.
Once open, you’ll see exposed antennae that allow for wireless communication, in addition to the speakers. The top portion of the device is a PSU, and you’ll need to remove this part of the system if you’re wanting to gain access to the rest of the system. Removing the PSU is incredibly dangerous, so don’t try that at home, kids. After you manage to get the PSU out you’ll then be able to access the back of the mainboard, with heat pipes and stickers shielding your view of the VRMs and SoC itself.
Curiously, there is an M.2 slot for storage left empty, and you can use the alternative port for extra storage, though you will need a drive that is compatible with the Mac Studio, which remains to be tested for later. From there, it’s an intense disassembly process to get to the rest of the system. We’re not sure why you’d want to venture this deep unless you were doing some significant repair work on the system itself to repair the fans or clean the heatsink.
M1 Ultra chip is almost 3x larger than a Ryzen CPU
Afer removal of the backplate of the mainboard, you’ll be able to see the gigantic M1 Ultra chip, which is one of the biggest (in size) consumer chips we’ve ever seen. However, rather unusually you’ll find that the thermal compound applied on the chip only goes across its centre, due to the thermal solution that Apple has devised, it’ll be incredibly interesting if someone’s going to manage to stuff one of these chips with a desktop PC cooling solution in a skunkworks-style build. It’s almost three times larger than your average Ryzen chip, which is incredibly impressive.
It just goes to show how far Apple has gone to push their first-generation of silicon to its natural conclusion, a massive, massive powerful chip that will be able to run at many workloads that content creators require, with 10-core CPUs and a 32-core GPU that will be able to compete even with discrete desktop machines.
Apple Mac Studio SSD may be user-replaceable
The Apple Mac Studio has an empty NVMe slot on the board, though it’s questionable if the port might actually have room for another SSD, and whether or not that SSD will be user-replaceable, too. But, all signs point to the port allowing you to expand your storage. Until then, confirmation of whether or not this is actually possible will rest with the Mac modding community, who will surely be all-over the Mac Studio, especially because the only way to get an M1 Ultra is in the Mac Studio at the time of writing.
Where else might we see the M1 Ultra?
Due to the size of the chip, we’re pretty positive that we’re not going to be seeing this SoC in a portable machine any time soon, it’ll be incredibly difficult to design around this. But, it may spark hope for those looking for a 27-inch iMac refresh, as that’d be the perfect kind of machine that will be able to handle the size of the chip, thermals, and more for this gargantuan mammoth of an ARM-based workhorse that also promises to be more power-efficient than rival chips on the market, which may threaten any x86 manufacturers who might be wanting to flex their power muscles, as the M1 Ultra brings the core count, speed and versatility, while not being shackled to the older architecture which may not be the way forward for mass-market computing.
This is the endgame for Apple, and its plans to completely disrupt the entire home-computing industry and should put rival chip manufacturers on notice. Should they also move over to ARM? Windows on ARM is currently not a fantastic user experience, so the tried-and-true industry stalwarts might want to wait, or develop their own ARM chips in tandem with Microsoft ensuring that the experience is good over on the OS.
This might be the last M1 variant that we see, as you have to expect that Apple is preparing the next generation of their self-developed silicon. It’s going to be an interesting ride to see whether or not the rest of the industry will respond in kind to this kind of disruption. It’s not a case of if other companies will respond, but when.
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