Computer speed and power in my real world

When Apple announced their new desktop Mac – the Mac Studio – I watched the keynote address and was very interested in what this new bit of kit had to offer. Starting at £2000.00 including VAT it looks like a veritable speed machine. I have read some reviews and looked at test bench scores which are supposed to give us real world performance data so that we can compare one machine against another. With all of that in mind, it looks really good. But… what do those score mean for me?

In the editor part of my working life I often end up editing 200, 300, 400 or more RAW files from different cameras a day. When I am shooting my own pictures it is rarely that many and, of course, the files will all be from my own cameras and therefore not varied set of RAW formats. The most power hungry work will all be inside Adobe Camera RAW (ACR) and I want to know what time savings this new Mac will actually give me. Having watched several reviewers (mostly high-end video editors) talk about what has frustrated them in their workflow I started thinking about the relatively few times I find myself waiting for things to happen in ACR.

The truth is that there aren’t many things that take time and frustrate me with my ageing 15″ MacBook Pro but here are a few:

  • Saving batches of RAW files to JPEG or TIFF
  • Correcting a number of dust spots on a single frame
  • Creating sky and subject masks

Given that the basic Mac Studio with Apple silicon and more memory is bound to be a great deal faster than a four and a half year old laptop I want to find out how fast “fast enough” actually is. Starting at the bottom of the pile, my 2021 MacBook Air with an M1 processor and only 8Gb of RAM (£1249.00 inc VAT) is about the same speed as my MacBook Pro. Next up would be an M1 Mac mini maxed-out at 16Gb of RAM  with a 1 Tb hard drive at £1299.00 inc VAT followed by a Mac Studio with 32Gb of RAM and a 1Tb hard drive at £2199.00 inc VAT. To get a laptop to match the specification of that Mac Studio (without the option of 10Gb ethernet) would cost £3199.00. Those are some big differences in costs and when you are doing this kind of work for a living you really do need to match your spending to your needs rather than you wishes.

I have always liked to combine laptops with external monitors, keyboards and mice because that has always represented the greatest amount of flexibility. You can pick up your laptop and work anywhere and without power but is that level of flexibility work an extra £1000? I having a Mac Studio with all of its speed advantages actually worth £900 more than a Mac mini? To get a real world answer I would need to stick all of these options down alongside one another and run some of the files that I have worked on myself. The benchmark scores you can see posted all over the internet are interesting but have limited use. Buying any piece of kit based on specification alone isn’t particularly wise but then neither is buying something that meets your current needs without taking what you may require in two or three years time into consideration.

In the summer of 2017 my 15″ MacBook Pro was a good buy. It has done its job really well for a decent length of time and shows no signs of failing any time soon so do I need to do anything about replacements yet? My arithmetic tells me that the MacBook Pro has (so far) cost me around £46 a month inc VAT or just a little over £38 when I take the VAT off. That’s great value for money.

Despite my obvious love of the Mac OS and the Apple ecosystem there will probably be some who have read this far into the piece and have ben screaming something about PCs being cheaper/better/faster and they may be right but that’s not my point here. The only way to compare like with like is to do a test drive. t works for cars but quite how you book them for computers I have no idea. Popping into your local retailer and wanting to do a few application specific tests isn’t something that I have ever seen offered. Yet.

So many questions and so few concrete answers. I’d be interested to know if anyone has anything to add about power and Adobe Camera RAW and real world performance for the tasks that I regularly perform – without mentioning windows!

2 comments

  1. I’m a Windows guy – but from what I read Apple are doing amazing with this M1 stuff. I don’t think you can get a Windows PC that has that level of performance, small size and low power for anywhere near £2k! (It’s not quite £2k because you need to add some external drives, monitor etc to make it really useful)

    Like

  2. Neil, I currently have a Mac Mini with 16gb of memory and a 2 Tb hard drive. In a couple of weeks my new MBP should arrive (I missed the flexibility of a laptop!) The MBP has the M1 Pro chip, 32GB of memory and a 2Tb of hard drive.
    If you want me to do some tests, let me know exactly what, and I’ll run them for you!
    PS Anyone want to buy a Mac Mini?

    Like

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