Best Mac For Large Language Models

mac studio with apple silicone m1 chip ultra sitting on a desk with the three main llm models beside him

Hey all, I’ve been experimenting with running some large language models locally, like Llama-2, Mistral and Mixtral locally and these things are beastly and take tons of memory and GPU power!

But with the right Mac, you can totally run them yourself and take advantage of all that AI goodness. I’ve tried a bunch of different setups so let me break down what worked well based on the model size.

First let me tell you what is the best Mac model with Apple Silicone for running large language models locally.

When evaluating the price-to-performance ratio, the best Mac for local LLM inference is the 2022 Apple Mac Studio equipped with the M1 Ultra chip – featuring 48 GPU cores, 64 GB or 96 GB of RAM with an impressive 800 GB/s bandwidth.

Its robust architecture is tailored to efficiently handle the demands of large language models form 7B to 70B parameters.

The Apple Silicone unified memory architecture outperforms PC setups that rely solely on CPU and RAM for inference, offering significantly higher memory bandwidth. This advantage is crucial for the efficient processing of large language models, where traditional PC configurations fall short.

For those of you who prioritize mobility and cannot opt for a stationary solution like the Mac Studio, the best laptop alternative for large language model inference is the MacBook Pro equipped with the M2 Max chip and 64 GB of RAM. This configuration offers a blend of portability and power, making it ideal for those on the move.

M1 Ultra token generation and prompt eval speed:

Model size Quantization Token generation (t/s) Prompt eval speed (t/s)
7B 4-bit 74.5 ~770
7B 8-bit 55.6 ~780
13B 5-bit 24.5 ~125
13B 8-bit 26.5 ~111
34B 3-bit 12.3 ~65
34B 4-bit 13.4 ~60
34B 8-bit 13.2 ~60
70B 2-bit 8.5 ~33
70B 5-bit 6.5 ~24
70B 8-bit 6 ~20
180B 3-bit 3.5 ~5

Before we check some Mac models, let’s establish some memory requirements. Here’s what you’d need for different model sizes if quantized to 4-bits:

  • 7 billion parameters – 5GB RAM
  • 13 billion parameters – 8GB RAM
  • 33 billion parameters – 20GB RAM
  • 46 billion parameters (Mixtral 8x7B) – 26GB RAM
  • 65 billion parameters – 40GB RAM
  • 70 billion parameters – 41GB RAM

Apple Silicone (M1/M2/M3) for large language models

The great thing about Apple’s Silicone chips is the unified memory architecture, meaning the RAM is shared between the CPU and GPU. This is way more efficient for inference tasks than having a PC with only CPU and RAM and no dedicated high-end GPU.

Keep in mind that you can use around 70-75% of the unified memory for Metal (GPU) accelerated inference. However there are ways to overcome this limit and use the entire memory for GPU inference.

Lets see how different generations of Apple silicone M chipset scale with LLM inference and prompt processing.

*original data is provided by this Github llama.cpp discussion.

Price and inference speed comparison between different Mac models with Apple Silicone chips:

Chip generation 8-bit PP 8-bit TG 4-bit PP 4-bit TG Price Price/TG
M2 Pro (16)
M1 Pro (16)
$1,800.00 (32GB)
$1,639.00 (32GB)
  +6.69% +1.61% +10.51% +4.01%    
M2 Max (38)
M1 Max (32)
$3,139.00 (64GB)
$2,899.00 (64GB)
  +26.15% +4.05% +26.65% +7.78%    
M2 Ultra (60)
M1 Ultra (48)
$3,999.00 (64GB)
$3,059.00 (64GB)
  +28.04% +11.58% +31.28% +18.29%    
M2 Ultra (76)
M2 Max (38)
$4,999.00 (64GB)
$3,139.00 (64GB)
  +84.24% +59.47% +84.53% +43.06%    
M2 Ultra (76)
M2 Ultra (60)
$4,999.00 (64GB)
$3,999.00 (64GB)
  +24.43% +7.23% +22.19% +6.33%    
M3 Pro (18)
M2 Pro (19)
$2,799.00 (32GB)
$2,400.00 (32GB)
  0.004% -31.26% -0.014% -26.41%    
M3 Max (40)
M2 Max (38)
$3,899.00 (64GB)
$3,139.00 (64GB)
  +11.76% +2.20% +13.17% +0.55%    

*PP – prompt processing
*TG – token generation

Token Generation and prompt processing

apple silicone token generation vs prompt processing scale

The graph above displays the relationship between the number of GPU cores and their performance in terms of Token Generation (TG) and Prompt Processing (PP) for 4-bit quantization (Q4_0)

Token Generation (TG) Scaling: TG generally shows an increasing trend with the number of GPU cores. This indicates that as the number of cores increases, the capability for token generation also increases, suggesting a positive correlation between the two.

Comparison with Prompt Processing (PP): PP also scales positively with the number of GPU cores, similar to TG. However, the rate of increase for PP appears to be more pronounced than for TG, especially at higher core counts. This suggests that while both metrics benefit from more GPU cores, PP may be more sensitive or responsive to increases in core counts than TG.

Overall, both TG and PP improve with an increase in GPU cores, but PP seems to have a stronger correlation with the number of cores. ​​

apple silicone bandwidth token generation

The scatter plot above illustrates the relationship between bandwidth (GB/s), token generation (TG in tokens per second), and the number of GPU cores for different Apple silicone chips.

In terms of pure token generation there is a noticeable trend where higher bandwidth often corresponds to higher TG performance. This suggests that bandwidth is indeed an important factor in token generation efficiency.

The plot shows that chips with similar bandwidth and different core counts can perform quite close to each other. This again means that the core count is much more important for prompt processing than token generation.

In summary, while the number of GPU cores is important, the bandwidth is a crucial factor influencing token generation performance. The analysis shows that chips with higher bandwidth generally offer better TG performance, but chip-specific characteristics and architecture also significantly impact the overall efficiency.

Mac vs PC for large language models

If you are going back and forth trying to decide between building a PC for LLM with RTX 3090/4090 GPUs or getting a Mac Studio Ultra for running large language models locally. Here’s a quick rundown of the pros and cons of each:

RTX 4090 vs Mac Studio

The 4090 GPU setup would deliver faster performance than the Mac thanks to higher memory bandwidth – 1008 GB/s. We’re talking 2x higher tokens per second easily. You can also train models on the 4090s. Downsides are higher cost ($4500+ for 2 cards) and more complexity to build.

The Mac Studio Ultra gives you fast (800 GB/s) unified VRAM (up to 192GB!). This means you can run multiple models at once no problem. Cost is lower (for Mac Studio M1 Ultra) at $3100 for 64GB refurbished models and around $2500 for second hand model. No assembly or driver hassles. But you can only run certain model types (GGUF) and no training.

So in summary, the 4090 machine will beat the Mac on speed but the Mac gives you simplicity and more VRAM. It just depends if you want quality (4090 speed) or quantity (Mac VRAM capacity).

RTX 3090 vs Mac Studio

Another option is to use the older RTX flagship – 3090. It is slower than the RTX 4090 but still better than M1/M2 Ultra in terms of inference speed and prompt processing.

Attribute 2x RTX 3090 7B  M1 Ultra 7B 2x RTX 3090 70B M1 Ultra 70B
Model size 3.56 GiB 3.56 GiB 36.20 GiB 36.20 GiB
Params 7B 7B 70B 70B
Quantization 4-bit 4-bit 4-bit 4-bit
Backend CUDA Metal CUDA Metal
Prompt Processing (t/s) 1178.6 772.24 179.29 40.29
Token Generation (t/s) 87.34 74.93 21.17 8.17

You can find new RTX 3090 cards for around $1500 each. To run a 70 billion parameter model, you’ll need two of these cards for a total GPU cost of $3000. However, there are many used/second-hand RTX 3090 options that can bring the total system price down quite a bit.

For example a dual RXT 3090 (second hand) Ryzen 5 7600 with 64GB RAM desktop system costs around $2900, which is similar in price with a refurbished Mac Studio M1 Ultra with 64GB memory.

You can use a Mac to run models with better energy consumption, quiet, and with less hassle. But you do sacrifice training ability and max inference speed. Choose based on your priorities!

Mac for 7B and 13B parameter model

For smaller 7 billion parameter models, I was able to get good performance on a Mac Mini and MacBook Air with M2 chip and 16GB of unified memory. The 8-core GPU gives enough oomph for quick prompt processing. However my suggestion is you get a Macbook Pro with M1 Pro chip and 16 GB for RAM. It will work perfectly for both 7B and 13B models.

Another option here will be Mac Studio with M1 Ultra and 16Gb of RAM.

Mac for 33B to 46B (Mixtral 8x7b) parameter model

Once I got into the 33-46 billion parameter range, I had to step up a 16″ M2 Pro MacBook Pro with an M1 Max chip. The 24-core GPU and 64 GB (200 GB/s bandwidth) memory really seemed like the sweet spot for snappy response times.

The MacBook Pro models with M1, M2, or M3 Pro chips are also an option. However, these MacBooks are limited to a maximum of 32GB of RAM. With that constraint, you’ll only be able to run 4-bit quantized models. Additionally, Apple’s silicone chips can only allocate about 65% of the total RAM to the GPU when used with 32GB of RAM. Keep in mind that with these setup you would not be able to run 4-bit MoE Mixtral 8x7B model.

Mac for 70B + parameter model

When I really wanted to push it with the 65-70 billion monsters, that’s when the Mac Studio came in handy. I tested both the M1 Ultra and M2 Ultra models. The M2 Ultra with its crazy 76-core GPU and 192GB memory can run even 180 billion parameter models without breaking a sweat! However the 2022 Mac Studio with M1 Ultra chip and 64Gb of ram is the best Mac for this size of large language models.

So if you want to play around with huge models for fun or profit, get yourself a Mac Studio Ultra or maxed out MacBook Pro.

Allan Witt

Allan Witt

Allan Witt is Co-founder and editor in chief of Computers and the web have fascinated me since I was a child. In 2011 started training as an IT specialist in a medium-sized company and started a blog at the same time. I really enjoy blogging about tech. After successfully completing my training, I worked as a system administrator in the same company for two years. As a part-time job I started tinkering with pre-build PCs and building custom gaming rigs at local hardware shop. The desire to build PCs full-time grew stronger, and now this is my full time job.


Best GPUs for 600W and 650W PSU

A high-quality 500W PSU is typically sufficient to power GPUs like the Nvidia GeForce RTX 370 Ti or RTX 4070.

Dell Outlet and Dell Refurbished Guide

For cheap refurbished desktops, laptops, and workstations made by Dell, you have the option…

Dell OptiPlex 3020 vs 7020 vs 9020

Differences between the Dell OptiPlex 3020, 7020 and 9020 desktops.

Best Dedicated GPU for Dell OptiPlex

Pick a GPU for your Dell OptiPlex.