The Mac Studio debuted with the M1 Max and M1 Ultra chip options in March of 2022, and Apple hasn’t yet updated it to the M2 generation of chips. But if and when they do, they have no choice but the raise the price by at least 10% if not more, and here’s why.
Now, I’m not going to be talking about leaked rumors or anything like that. This analysis is done completely by factual observations about Apple’s pricing strategy. By looking at what Apple has done up until now with the M1 and M2 generation products, we can figure out how an M2 update to the Mac Studio will be priced.
Let’s get started.
The first observation is that Apple generally doesn’t lower the prices of products after launching them. Apple will change prices when 1) a new generation product comes out to replace the older generation, such as with the yearly iPhone updates, or 2) foreign exchange rates change significantly, causing prices to change in international markets. Just look at the mostly obsolete Mac Pro, which still hasn’t gotten an upgrade to Apple Silicon. It still starts at at $6000.
So the first conclusion we can draw is that Apple won’t lower the price of other products like the M2 Pro Mac mini if they update the Mac Studio to the M2 Max chips, especially if it’s within the next year or so as the M2 Pro Mac mini just came out a few months ago.
Observation number 2 is that throughout all Apple Silicon Mac computers, Apple has standardized upgrade prices as much as possible. For base models with 512GB of storage, the upgrade pricing is the same whether you look at the MacBook Pro, Mac mini, or Mac Studio. For memory, getting an additional 8GB (to go from 8GB to 16GB, for example) always costs $200, getting 16GB extra (from 16GB to 32GB, or 8GB to 24GB for the M2 MacBooks) costs $400, and getting 32GB more (from 32GB to 64GB) also costs $400, no matter the device.
For chip upgrades, upgrades that include 2 CPU cores and some GPU cores cost $300, while significant GPU-only upgrades cost $200, except for the paltry 2-core GPU upgrade in the M2 MacBook Air that costs $100.
Apple tries to keep a minimum upgrade price of $200 for core components of the chip, memory, and storage, or they wouldn’t have tried to charge $800/TB to go from 256GB to 512GB of storage. Only peripheral upgrades like 10Gb Ethernet or Power adapters, or the extremely small 2-core GPU upgrade mentioned earlier, cost less.
So conclusion number 2 is that we can expect upgrade pricing for a new M2 Max Mac Studio to be consistent with other products.
Observation 3 is that Apple prices the tiers of its computers in line with the upgrade pricing as well. For example, the 13″ MacBook Pro with M2 chip has a starting price of $1299, but if you configure it with 16GB of memory and 512GB of storage like the base model 14″ MacBook Pro with M2 Pro chip that costs $1999, the price difference is only $300.
As we just observed, $300 is precisely how much Apple likes to charge for a chip upgrade that involves 2 CPU cores and some GPU cores, such as going from the 10/16 M2 Pro to the 12/19 M2 Pro. In this case, the $300 crosses the gap between the 8/10 M2 and the 10/16 M2 Pro, which is 2 more CPU cores and 8 more GPU cores.
Of course, there are other non-upgrade options that are bundled in when going to a higher tier product, such as displays, keyboards, ports, chargers and so forth. From this, we can see that Apple generally bundles those in and doesn’t charge extra for them ad hoc when moving to another product tier (except for the M1 iMac where it is charging extra for the Ethernet port).
This is supported by the fact that the base model M2 MacBook Air costs $100 less than the M2 MacBook Pro, with the price difference coming from the 2 fewer GPU cores on the M2 chip, along with the option to upgrade it to match the 8/10 config and the exact price of the M2 MacBook Pro. Even though the M2 MacBook Air lets you pay $20 extra for a 67W charger, the 13-inch MacBook Pro already has that included in its base price.
Another example is going from the base M2 Mac mini that starts at $599. By configuring 16GB of memory and 512 GB of storage, the price becomes $999. This is again exactly $300 less than the price of the M2 Pro Mac mini, which represents the cost of upgrading the chip from the 8/10 M2 config to the 10/16 M2 Pro.
This is also likely the reason Apple pushed the base M2 Mac mini price down by $100 compared to the $699 starting price of the M1 Mac mini. Otherwise, the component upgrade pricing would have to be inconsistent, or the M2 Pro Mac mini would need to start $100 higher at $1399.
So conclusion number 3 is that we can start from a lower tier product, like the Mac mini and use upgrade pricing to infer the starting price of higher tier products, like the Mac Studio.
Observations 4, 5, 6
Alright, we’re getting close now. The next 3 observations will be taken all together to form our final conclusion.
Observation 4 is that the M2 Max chip already exists in the 14″ and 16″ MacBook Pro computers, along with upgrade pricing. Going from the 12/19 M2 Pro to the 12/30 M2 Max costs $200, in line with GPU-only upgrade pricing standards we observed before.
Observation 5 is that the M1 Max Mac Studio had exactly the same core counts and configuration options as the M1 Max MacBook Pros when those launched. That means we should expect an M2 Max Mac Studio to also have the same 2 M2 Max options as we are seeing now on the MacBook Pros, namely the 12/30 and 12/38 configurations with $200 between each tier.
And finally, observation 6 is that the M2 Pro Mac mini configured with the higher tier M2 Pro chip, 32GB of memory and 512GB of storage, which should be just 1 step lower than the M2 Max Studio base model, costs $1999.
Minimum Price: $2199
Since the 12/30 M2 Max chip is a $200 upgrade from the 12/19 M2 Pro chip, that means the base model M2 Max Mac Studio, at a minimum, will be priced at $2199. Remember that observation 1 means that Apple won’t lower the price of the M2 Pro Mac mini released a couple months ago. In that case, there is no way the M2 Max Mac Studio can start at $1999, or it would render the 12/19 M2 Pro Mac mini completely pointless.
Apple has certainly considered the pricing strategy for a potential new Mac Studio to not conflict with the current products. $2199, however, is a bit of an odd starting price. It is not impossible, since the M2 MacBook Air starts at $1199. However, you can see that as an upgrade to the M1 MacBook Air that is also still being offered, which starts at the nice round price of $999.
Keeping the older version makes sense to hit a lower price point, but not in the middle of the product stack. Due to how the M1 Max Mac Studio trades blows with the M2 Pro mac mini, it’s unlikely to be kept around if an M2 Max version is released, so that $1999 starting price would disappear. Also, once we get up to the $2000+ range, there are a few alternative starting prices that would look “more round” in Apple’s portfolio.
Alternative 1: $2299
The first alternative is due to the 10Gb Ethernet that comes standard on the Mac Studio. Observation 3 showed that Apple ignores peripheral upgrades like ports when pricing their base models from one product to another. However, the pricing example shown previously was only a charger that was made free with chip upgrades even when not moving up product tiers, while 10Gb Ethernet is never included for free in any port upgrades. Therefore, it is certainly possible that Apple passes that along to customers, making the M2 Max Mac Studio start at $2299.
This would be exactly $1000 more than the starting price of the M2 Pro Mac mini, and would be in line with how Apple likes to charge $300 when going from one tier of product to the next as we saw before. And this price would give more differentiation to the Mac Studio versus the M2 Pro Mac mini.
Alternative 2: $2499
The second alternative is that Apple could decide to start the M2 Max Mac Studio at $2499, making it a better “round number” and giving it even more differentiation from the Mac mini. This would be similar to the pricing model of the 16″ MacBook Pro, which starts at $2499, $500 more than the $1999 base model 14″ MacBook Pro. The $500 difference there actually includes the $300 chip upgrade from 10/16 to 12/19 M2 Pro, reserving $200 as the price difference for the larger 16″ form factor and display.
For the Mac Studio, they can’t justify a $200 or $300 price increase based on the form factor itself. Yes, the Mac Studio has 2 more USB-C or Thunderbolt ports, along with an SD card reader, on the front, but those should not be priced as upgrades according to observation 2. And it being bigger isn’t really a “sellable advantage”. Therefore, if they do go this route, I could see them bumping the base storage to 1TB, which is a $200 upgrade. That would make the Mac Studio have double the memory and storage compared to the base M2 Pro Mac mini, which also has double the memory and storage compared to the base M2 Mac mini, making it a perfect triad. Combined with the $100 for 10Gb Ethernet, that would put the Mac Studio at precisely $2499.
M2 Max Pricing Conclusion
So if Apple updates the Mac Studio with the M2 Max chip, it cannot be priced at the same $1999 starting price as the M1 Max version. Otherwise, the 12/19 M2 Pro Mac mini would have no reason to exist. From the pricing strategy observations we made, Apple could choose to price the Mac Studio at $2199, $2299, or $2499, all of which would be consistent with how base models and upgrades are priced.
Personally, I think the $2499 price target would make the most sense for an updated Mac Studio. Of the 3 choices, it’s the most “round number” to start a new product with, and results in the best spec bump from the M2 Pro Mac mini. Also, the M1 Mac mini started at $699, and due to the lack of a Pro chip option, the next step up was the M1 Max Mac Studio at $1999, which was a $1300 difference. But now, we have the M2 Mac mini starting at $599, and the M2 Pro Mac mini starting at $1299. That gives Apple more room to start the next tier, the Mac Studio, at a higher price. After all, the Mac Pro, old as it is, starts from an even higher tier at around $6000, so there is plenty of headroom to grow and make the tiers more evenly distributed as we step into Ultra tier chips and beyond.
Downward Pressure from MacBook Pro
What about downward pricing pressure from the MacBook Pro? A 14″ MacBook Pro with with M1 Max chip started at $2899, which was $900 more than the Mac Studio. So in the last generation, $900 was the cost assigned to getting the portable laptop form factor, display, keyboard, trackpad, battery, speakers, and everything else the laptop had to offer. Unlike the MacBook Air, Apple did not raise the starting price of the MacBook Pro with the M2 chips. That means the 14″ MacBook Pro with M2 Max chip also starts at $2899, just like the M1 Max version did.
That means if the Mac Studio starts at $2199, then the price difference is $700. If it starts at $2299, then it’s $600, and if the price is $2499, then the difference is only $400. However, keep in mind that the $2299 and $2499 starting prices are a result of adding 10Gb Ethernet and 1TB storage upgrades, not merely price increases for nothing. Therefore, all these starting prices are equivalent when compared to an equally specced MacBook Pro, at $700 less. The only question is whether that 10Gb Ethernet upgrade will be absorbed by Apple or not, since the $900 difference in the last generation comparison baked it in.
So yes, the difference between the MacBook Pro and the Mac Studio will reduce to $700 from $900. This is actually already the case with the M2 Pro Mac mini, which starts at $1299, exactly $700 less than the 14″ MacBook Pro. The new Mac Studio pricing will simply carry this difference to the Max chip tier.
M2 Ultra and Mac Pro
Let’s talk about the M2 Ultra briefly. With the M1 generation, the M1 Ultra starting price was about $4000, twice that of the M1 Max. The Ultra model does give you double of almost everything though, including CPU, GPU, memory, storage, and even neural engines. However, looking at the upgrade pricing page reveals that the difference between the Max and Ultra chips is $1200 between tiers with the same amount of memory and storage.
Since the M2 Ultra has yet to be announced, it’s unknown what specs it will have. Even if we assume a similar doubling of the Max, Apple could decide to charge drastically more or less for it, especially because there are rumors that Apple is preparing for a Mac Pro with potentially an even more powerful chip option (which may have been canceled). It’s even possible that the Mac Studio could be discontinued entirely when the Mac Pro comes out.
So if you’ve been holding out on getting a Mac Studio until they release an update to the M2 generation chips, then either be prepared to pay more when they do, or potentially be disappointed when it never arrives.