Tuesday, June 6th, 2023 Posted by Jim Thacker

Apple unveils the M2 Ultra

Apple’s WWDC23 livestream. Skip to 00:10:40 to see the announcement of the M2 Ultra processor.

Apple has unveiled the M2 Ultra, the final chip in its M2 line of Apple Silicon processors, which it describes as “the world’s most powerful chip ever created for a personal computer”.

The new processor, which combines two M2 Max dies in a single system on a chip, will be available in Apple’s new Mac Studio and Mac Pro workstations from next week.

In the story below, you can see what we know so far about its key specifications and how it performs with DCC applications like DaVinci Resolve, Maya, Octane X, Photoshop and Topaz Labs’ Video AI.

Apple M1 and M2 processors
M2 Ultra M1 Ultra M2 Max M1 Max M2 Pro M1 Pro M2 M1
Unified memory (1) 192GB 128GB 96GB 64GB 32GB 32GB 24GB 16GB
Memory bandwidth (2) 800
400 GB/s 400 GB/s 200 GB/s 200 GB/s 100 GB/s (68) GB/s
CPU cores (1) 24 20 12 10 12 10 8 8
GPU cores (1) 76 64 38 32 19 16 10 8
GPU compute (1, 2)
TBC 21 13.6 10.4 (6.8) 5.2 3.6 (2.6)
Neural Engine cores 32 32 16 16 16 16 16 16
Video decode engines 2 2 1 1 1 1 1 1
Video encode engines 4 4 2 2 1 1 1 1
ProRes encode/decode engines 4 4 2 2 1 1 1 0
Release date 2023 2022 2023 2021 2023 2021 2022 2020

(1) Maximum configuration available
(2) Figures in brackets are taken from third-party websites

Final M2 processor puts two M2 Max dies in a single system on a chip
The M2 Ultra completes Apple’s current generation of Apple Silicon processors, begun with the M2 itself last June, and continued with M2 Pro and M2 Max this January.

As with its previous-generation counterpart, the M1 Ultra, it’s two chips in a single system, consisting of two M2 Max dies connected via Apple’s UltraFusion interconnect technology.

Two editions are available, one with 60 GPU cores, and one with 76 GPU cores. Both have 24 CPU cores, and support a maximum of 192GB of unified CPU and GPU memory.

How much faster is the M2 Ultra than the M1 Ultra?
Compared to its predecessor, the M2 Ultra’s core specs follow a similar pattern to the other M2 processors, incrementally increasing CPU and GPU core count.

Apple describes its CPU as “20% faster” and its GPU “up to 30% faster” than the M1 Ultra.

Its Neural Engine, used to accelerate AI operations, is “up to 40% faster” than the M1 Ultra, although that’s due to improvements in architecture: the core count remains the same.

Similarly, its media engine can play back “up to 22 streams of 8K ProRes 422 video”, up from 18 streams for the M1 Ultra, although the number of encoding and decoding units itself is unchanged.

In percentage terms, the largest increase is in unified memory supported – Apple describes the M2 Ultra’s 192GB maximum capacity as a “breakthrough” – although memory bandwidth is unchanged.

Performance of M2 Ultra relative to previous-gen M1 Ultra processor (1)
Application Task Speed boost
DaVinci Resolve Studio Applying spatial noise reduction effect “Up to 50%”
Final Cut Pro Rendering 8K project <25% (2)
Maya Viewport frame rates (6-million-triangle scene) <20% (2)
Octane X 3D rendering “Up to 3x”
Photoshop Applying filters <20% (2)
Video AI Upscaling video <15% (2)

(1) Comparing pre-production Mac Studio systems with the specs listed in the story below
(2) Approximate figure, calculated from benchmark graphs on Apple’s product website

How will the M2 Ultra perform with CG applications?
So how will the specs of the M2 Ultra translate into real-world performance in CG software?

In its launch material, Apple provides two specific comparisons between the performance of the M2 Ultra and its predecessor, the M1 Ultra.

Both compare the higher-spec editions of the processors (with 76 GPU cores in the case of the M2 Ultra, and 64 GPU cores in the case of the M1 Ultra), inside Mac Studio workstations with the maximum amount of RAM the processors support: 192GB in the case of the M2 Ultra, and 128GB in the case of the M1 Ultra.

Rendering in Octane X, the Metal-native edition of OctaneRender, is “up to 3x faster” than the M1 Ultra.

Video processing in editing, grading and compositing app DaVinci Resolve is “up to 50% faster”.

In addition, the product webpage for the Mac Studio includes its own set of performance charts, all based on tests conducted on similarly specced systems.

None includes exact figures, so we’ve had to calculate the speed boosts by measuring the relative lengths of the bars in the on-screen graphs, which obviously leaves room for error.

However, the table above should give an idea of the likely relative performance of the M2 Ultra and M1 Ultra in Maya, Photoshop, Topaz Labs’ Video AI and Final Cut Pro.

What other benefits could the M2 Ultra bring to CG workflows>
In addition, the image above, taken from the launch material for the Mac Pro, shows Disney’s real-world Moana data set being rendered inside Cinema 4D.

The caption notes that the 192GB of unified memory supported by the M2 Ultra makes it possible to “do things that were simply not possible before, like render complex scenes with massive geometry and textures” without going out-of-core.

Which other CG applications support the M2 Ultra natively?
For an application to take full advantage of the M2 Ultra’s processing capabilities, its developer needs to have implemented native Apple Silicon support.

Other software can run on M2 Macs via Apple’s Rosetta 2 translation environment, but the performance gains aren’t usually as significant.

Since the launch of the M1 Ultra, the list of key CG apps with native Apple Silicon support has expanded markedly, and now includes After Effects, Houdini, Maya, the Substance 3D tools and Unreal Engine.

At the time of writing, the main remaining exception is Nuke, although Foundry has begun to introduce native Apple Silicon support in its other software.

You can find our list of CG apps that have announced native Apple Silicon support here.

Prices and release dates
M2 Ultra processors are available to pre-order in new Mac Studio and Mac Pro workstations, and are due to begin shipping from 13 June 2023.

Pricing for a Mac Studio equipped with a 24-CPU-core, 60-GPU-core M2 Ultra processor and 64GB of unified memory starts at $3,999, with a 76-GPU-core processor costing $1,000 more.

Pricing for a Mac Pro tower equipped with a 24-CPU-core, 60-GPU-core M2 Ultra processor and 64GB of unified memory starts at $6,999, with a 76-GPU-core processor costing $1,000 more.

Read more about the M2 Ultra processor on Apple’s website