We're only two and a half years into Apple's transition to its homegrown CPUs, but things have advanced reasonably quickly. Today the company unveiled the M2 Ultra which is powering the latest refresh to its MacStudio and Mac Pro line of desktops. While previous versions of the M2 have been found exclusively in laptops, Apple was able to take brakes off with the Ultra version and claim some serious jumps in performance. It's literally two M2 Max chips stuck together using what Apple calls UltraFusion: A 2.5TB/s low-latency interprocessor connection. This is very similar to how the M1 Ultra stuck two M1 Maxes in the same package.
On paper the M2 Ultra is huge leap from the M2 Max found in the MacBook Pro. Core count has doubled from 12 to 24, GPU cores double with up to 76 available on the high-end model, and RAM support jumps from 96 to 192GB with 800GB/s of bandwidth. Granted, almost no one needs that much RAM, but it's nice to know it's an option. Considering the M1 was limited to just 16GB of unified memory when it launched in November of 2020, this is a massive improvement. The Neural Engine is getting a similar boost to 32 cores for AI-based tasks, which should be 40-percent faster than the M2 Max.
Apple made a big point of talking up the media capabilities of their new chips, calling out the ability run 22 8K streams of ProRes footage simultaneously. That sort of power should make short work of almost any video-editing project. The Mac Pro specifically was singled out for having the equivalent power of seven Afterburner cards which the Intel-based Mac Pro relied on for video acceleration.
The level of expansion though is what might truly set the M2 Ultra apart from its laptop-focused predecessors. There's WiFi 6e, Bluetooth 5.3 and 10Gb Ethernet built-in (dual 10Gb Ethernet on the Mac Pro), but also room for up to eight Thunderbolt 4 ports on the Mac Pro and six PCIe gen 4 slots. PCI expansion is kind of a necessity for any pro-level desktop, and something that hadn't made its way over to Apple Silicon machines yet. For Apple Silicon to make inroads in the workstation market it was going to have to offer users the ability to add high-end audio cards or 3D accelerators for rendering complex models.
The launch of the M2 Ultra alongside the refreshed Mac Pro finally completes Apple's years-long transition away from Intel chips to it's own silicon. The company talks a big game about the advantages of its homegrown chips, but it remains to be seen how successful it'll be at infiltrating the highest end of the market.
Follow all of the news from Apple's WWDC 2023 right here.