Note: As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases.

Some reflections on Apple’s new M2 Ultra from a data scientist

A closer look at the M2 Ultra’s innovations, cost, repairability, and place in the tech market.
Jim Blaze



November 13, 2023


As a data scientist, I’m always on the lookout for the latest tech that can push the boundaries of computational power and efficiency. When Apple announced their new M2 Ultra chip, it immediately caught my attention. I’m intrigued by the potential it holds for handling massive datasets and complex algorithms with ease. While I typically lean towards open-source solutions, there’s no denying the appeal of Apple’s cutting-edge hardware. Let’s dive into what the M2 Ultra brings to the table and how it fits into the broader tech landscape from my perspective.


The M2 Ultra Chip: A Game Changer?

A close-up of the m2 ultra chipset with a glowing outline to emphasize its new arrival

Apple’s introduction of the M2 Ultra chip set me pondering about the future of desktop computing, especially in the context of high-performance and energy efficiency. I’ve been following the development of Apple’s proprietary silicon with great interest, and the M2 Ultra chip is certainly a testament to the company’s engineering prowess.

The M2 Ultra appears to be a game changer in several respects. First and foremost, its raw performance is undeniably impressive. With improved CPU and GPU cores, and more unified memory compared to its predecessors, this chip is built to handle intensive workloads like high-resolution video editing, 3D rendering, and complex scientific computations. It’s this kind of brute force that excites tech enthusiasts like myself, who daydream of harnessing such power in our personal projects. The potential for object recognition applications, for instance, is particularly intriguing, as explained in Object Recognition: an introduction and overview (with Tensorflow).

From a technical standpoint, Apple’s decision to integrate CPU and GPU performance with a shared memory pool – the so-called unified memory architecture – is intriguing. It proposes a seamless workflow where the lines between CPU and GPU tasks become blurred, allowing for more efficient processing. Apple speaks highly of these benefits, and based on the performance numbers, they seem to be onto something. The thought of having up to 128GB of unified memory that can feed both the processor and graphics without the usual bottlenecks is like imagining a highway without traffic – it’s a level of efficiency that can significantly boost productivity.

Another aspect that excites me is the emphasis on power efficiency. We’re in an era where energy consumption is no longer a footnote. It’s front and center in the conversation about technology and sustainability. Apple has been making strides in this arena, and the M2 Ultra seems to be no exception. Being able to accomplish more while using less power isn’t just good for the electricity bill; it’s good for the planet. In a way, it’s Apple’s nod to the growing demand for greener technology.

Now, as a Linux user, I’m attuned to the virtues of open systems, and I’d be remiss not to mention the Apple ecosystem’s closed nature. However, as part of a larger discussion focused on Apple’s pricing, repair policies, and the balance between performance and flexibility, I find myself appreciating the technical achievements despite my preference for open architecture. It would be interesting, purely from a technological curiosity standpoint, to see how an M2 Ultra performs with Linux. This wishful thinking is born out of a desire to see competition pushing the boundaries of what’s possible, even though I’m well aware of Apple’s stance on proprietary systems.

In sum, the M2 Ultra heralds promise for what’s possible in compact, highly efficient, and powerful computing. It’s a glimpse into a future where our machines can execute complex tasks swiftly while being mindful of their energy footprint. While I personally may not be queuing up to integrate such a chip into my Linux setup due to the existing boundaries, I still admire the innovation behind it. Cupertino’s latest silicon may not be for everyone, but it unquestionably moves the needle forward in the ongoing quest for better computing performance.

The Cost of Joining the Apple Ecosystem

A split image showing the price tag of an apple product on one side and a less expensive alternative on the other

Entering the Apple ecosystem often feels like an upscale gala that not only requires a pricey admission ticket, but also expects you to don the finest attire to blend in with the crowd. I’ve long been enamored by the innovation and design aesthetic of Apple’s products—their hardware often feels like it’s been beamed from a sleek, minimalist future. But to enjoy this experience in its entirety, one must embrace not just the initial investment but also the ongoing cost of integration.

When Apple introduced the M2 Ultra, my techie heart skipped a beat. It’s the kind of chip that sparks dreams of fluid multitasking and seamless content creation. I imagine running the most demanding applications with ease, without the slightest hiccup from the system, not unlike my experience with the Apple Macbook Air M2 (2023). Yet a certain internal tug-of-war begins, contemplating whether the pursuit of this refined technology justifies the premium.

Despite the Apple tax, which is a point of contention for many including myself, I can’t dismiss the validity behind certain costs. Highlighting the build quality and user experience, I’ve witnessed how Apple’s attention to detail in industrial design and software optimization does warrant a higher price tag. Devices like the MacBooks and iMacs are not just about specs; they cater to those valuing a tightly integrated ecosystem that syncs effortlessly across devices.

And let’s not overlook the secondary market value. Apple products retain their value admirably well, affording a sort of insurance if one decides to upgrade or switch lanes. This aspect helps soften the blow of the initial investment, allowing users to recoup a significant portion of the costs in the resale market.

However, my allegiance doesn’t lie unquestionably with the Cupertino giant. I run desktop Linux at home and appreciate the freedom and versatility it offers. The open-source nature and community-driven support are unparalleled, and often come without a cost, unlike Apple’s premium offerings. I delight in customizing my workflow and having an array of tools at my disposal that don’t tie me down to a single manufacturer.

In the current landscape, competition is fierce, and it’s heartening to see. Apple’s advancements push the industry forward, challenging others to innovate and offer alternatives. For instance, the Framework laptop, a product, I admire for its upgradability and repairability, exists in part because of the drive to offer a counter-narrative to closed ecosystems.

Upon reflection, joining the Apple ecosystem is like a dance with an exquisite yet demanding partner. It requires a willingness to invest not only financially but also in adapting to its rhythm. For those who find value in a seamless, polished, and high-quality experience, and are willing to pay for it, Apple’s offerings can be incredibly rewarding.

Yet, even as I weigh the intangible aura of exclusivity against the tangible price, I keep an eye firmly on the horizon, hopeful for a future where such sophistication becomes more accessible. Whether it’s through disruptors in the market, shifts in consumer demands, or Apple’s own innovation cycle, the goal is a symbiotic tech ecosystem that doesn’t compromise on quality or freedom of choice.

The Right to Repair and Upgradeability

A pair of hands opening up a desktop pc juxtaposed with a no entry sign over computer parts

In the realm of personal computing, the philosophy of upgradeability and the right to repair stands as a beacon of sustainability and consumer empowerment. Embarking on a journey with a new piece of technology, I often find myself entangled with the question: “Will I have the freedom to tinker and upgrade this device myself?” The thrill of boosting a machine’s performance, changing components, and extending a device’s lifespan through upgrades is not just a hobbyist intrigue, but a statement of resistance against planned obsolescence.

When assessing the Apple M2 Ultra in this context, one cannot help but appreciate Apple’s bold engineering and the sheer force of innovation they stand for. The integration of such tech in tightly packed systems does lead to remarkable performance gains. But, from the perspective of someone who relishes the intimacy of crafting and repairing their computers, there arises a friction between desire and practicality.

Apple’s approach has often felt like it’s at odds with the right to repair movement. Notably, the European Union has been pushing for “right to repair” regulations, aiming to make technology more sustainable and reduce e-waste. While companies like Framework have taken the lead in creating easily upgradeable laptops, Apple’s trajectory seems different. Yet, as someone immersed in the tech sphere, I have to commend Apple for their strides in ecology, like using recycled materials in their devices.

The unified memory architecture in devices like the M2 Ultra is fascinating. I see the synergy between the CPU and GPU sharing a speedy, vast memory pool as an alluring leap forward. It’s a hallmark of efficiency and represents a future where system bottlenecks are historical anecdotes. However, the soldered memory chips signify a closed door for DIY enthusiasts who would love nothing more than to add just a few more gigs of RAM themselves.

The fact remains that not every user will feel this pinch. Many consumers seek an out-of-the-box experience that just works, and Apple excels here. It’s also a fact that in the broader market, other manufacturers are gravitating towards similar design philosophies, leaving the modular, upgradable path less trodden. However, companies like Intel and AMD are still catering to the upgradeable market. It is the diversity of these tech philosophies that keeps the ecosystem dynamic and inclusive for a wider range of consumers with varying demands.

For those steeped into Linux and openness, the notion of a robust M2 Ultra powered device running a distro of their choice is tantalizing. There have been efforts, like the Asahi Linux project, which work tirelessly towards this dream. These initiatives deserve applause as they push against the tide to keep the spirit of an open and customizable computing experience alive.

So, even in a landscape where user-serviceability might seem like an endangered aspect of technology, innovation still offers a beacon of hope. For every soldered chip, there’s a community of passionate individuals finding ways to recycle and repurpose. For every proprietary connection, there’s an adapter being developed to bridge gaps. It’s this pulsating community spirit that invigorates the industry. And it’s with this optimism for creativity and innovation that I look forward to each new technological marvel, cautiously hopeful that the tenets of upgradeability and the right to repair will not only persist but also flourish alongside.

Performance Vs. Flexibility in Tech Choices

A bar graph comparing the performance metrics of the m2 ultra with those of other leading chips in the market

As someone who has dedicated a considerable amount of time to working with and understanding the nuances of technology, the introduction of Apple’s M2 Ultra chip brings forth a compelling yet complex debate: the constant tug-of-war between performance and flexibility. On one hand, there’s the undeniable allure of a high-performing, seamlessly integrated ecosystem; on the other, the freedom and modularity offered by more flexible platforms like a Linux desktop can be incredibly valuable.

I find myself grappling with this dichotomy frequently. The thought of integrating an M2 Ultra chip into a Linux desktop sends shivers down my spine—it would be a phenomenal fusion of power and user control. Unfortunately, the reality of this happening is slim, as Apple’s business model and hardware design are based on a closed ecosystem that prioritizes product performance and user experience over modularity.

However, it’s difficult not to admire Apple’s commitment to pushing the technological envelope. While Apple hardware does come at a premium, I believe this is warranted to some extent by their products’ durability, longevity, and tight integration. Although there are periods when Apple hardware does not meet every consumer’s expectations, generally speaking, their obsession with detail and design has resulted in some of the most efficient and powerful machines on the market.

As someone who spends countless hours hammering away on a keyboard, galloping through lines of code, or patiently stitching together the seams of digital worlds, I recognize the value of investing in quality tools. The substantial time we spend interacting with our machines makes the case for choosing hardware that doesn’t just suffice, but excels.

When Apple introduced their M series chips, the performance gains, particularly in terms of power efficiency and graphics capabilities, were undeniably impressive. The M2 Ultra, in this context, stands to continue this legacy, despite concerns or limitations surrounding upgrade paths or third-party parts. The integration of such features as unified memory architecture offers benefits that conventional systems have yet to parallel, particularly within the compact form factor Apple is known for.

The argument against Apple’s price model—especially when it comes to upgrades—is valid, to a point. I am well aware of the angst that comes from their costly upgrade prices and challenging third-party repairs. Yet, when considering Apple’s offerings, there’s an argument to be made about the optimal synergy between their hardware and software that often justifies a higher price tag. Examples of high-performing components, such as PCIe SSDs, which deliver breakneck speeds, have always come with a substantial cost, but the performance gains cannot be understated.

In conclusion, as we collectively evaluate the Apple M2 Ultra, it’s crucial to consider the broader implications of our tech choices. While there may be limitations in terms of repair and upgradeability, which lie beyond the scope of this section, the performance and efficiency delivered by integrated, high-end chips like the M2 Ultra are advancing computing in ways that were unimaginable a decade ago. It pushes competitors to innovate, reduces energy consumption in high-performance computing, and reshapes our expectations for what’s possible in sleek, powerful machines—there’s an undeniable silver lining in this narrative of innovation that transcends any debate on exclusivity.