Apple has finally updated the Mac mini, with the new high-end M2 Pro replacing an absolutely old Intel model.
It fills an important gap in Apple’s Mac desktop lineup. The M1 Mac mini was cheap and got even cheaper with its M2 upgrade, and the Mac Studio is powerful but expensive, starting at $1,999. Then there are the Well $1,499 iMac that’s really just an M1 built into a colorful 24-inch display.
So if you wanted a desktop Mac, you were forced to choose low-end or high-end. With the M2 Pro Mac mini, there’s finally something in between. It starts at $1,299 for a stripped down version of the M2 Pro with a 10-core CPU and 16-core GPU. Upgrade to the full M2 Pro with a 12-core CPU and 19-core GPU, and add a bit of RAM or storage, and you’ll be spending as much as the entry-level $1,999 Mac Studio.
So who should buy the updated M2 Pro Mac mini and who should just get the entry-level Mac Studio? Having used both for the past week, the answer is not entirely clear.
The $1,599 Mac mini with a full M2 Pro chip often delivers 15 to 20 percent higher CPU benchmark scores than the M1 Max, thanks to two additional high-efficiency CPU cores and higher clock speeds. But the $1,299 Mac mini does -Dollar has an M2 Pro with the same 10 cores as the M1 Max Mac Studio.
Unless you’re running the kind of tasks that pound the CPU for minutes while staring at a progress bar, you probably won’t notice the difference. Both machines have storage and RAM so fast that everyday tasks — email, web browsing, productivity work, photo editing, and even light consumer video editing — feel similarly fast and responsive.
The M1 Max in the base Mac Studio model has 32GB of RAM, while the M2 Pro starts at 16GB. Honestly, 16GB is fine for most things, but if you’re running a lot of applications at once or need really heavy content creation workloads, the extra RAM makes a difference. And if you plan on keeping it for five years or so, the extra RAM is nice to have.
When comparing the GPU in the M2 Pro to the M1 Max, things get complicated. The M1 Max in the base Mac Studio model has 24 cores, with 32 cores available for an additional $200. The M2 Pro has 16 cores, with 19 cores available for an additional $300. The Mac Studio typically outperforms the Mac mini here, having 50 percent more cores and twice the memory bandwidth.
In other words, for everyday browsing and the like, you probably won’t notice much of a difference between the two devices. For sustained CPU intensive operations, the M2 Pro is Mac mini can easily beat the Mac Studio, but even then only if you shell out $300 for a CPU upgrade. There aren’t many tasks that the Neural Engine is a bottleneck for, but at least on paper it’s significantly faster in the M2 Pro.
At the end of the day, I’d even prefer the entry-level M1 Max with 24 CPU cores and 32GB of RAM to the full-strength M2 Pro, but it’s close.
It’s not just the processor
But there’s more to these machines than the difference in processing power. The Mac Studio is obviously larger – it’s about 2.5 Mac minis stacked on top of each other. But both machines share the same footprint. They are only tiny by modern desktop computer standards and virtually noiseless.
By design, I prefer the Mac Studio. I don’t mind the extra height… in fact, it’s a great monitor stand for studio display. But it’s the two USB-C ports and SDXC card slot on the front that make me love the Mac Studio. I used them regularly and immediately missed them on the Mac mini.
The Mac mini has Wi-Fi 6E, which might be important if you have a Wi-Fi 6E router or plan to buy one soon, although the Wi-Fi 6 on the Mac Studio is by no means slow. The Mini also has HDMI 2.1, a real game changer if you want to connect your Mac to an 8K monitor or a 4K monitor with more than 60Hz.
While the HDMI 2.0 port is a little irksome on a computer this expensive, it’s the front ports that have me leaning towards the Mac Studio. You might eventually notice the performance boost of Wi-Fi 6E, or on rare occasions need an HDMI 2.1 port, but you’ll be using those front USB-C and SDXC slots almost every day.
Apple’s pricing is the problem
If you don’t have more than $1,500 to spend, the base model Mac mini isn’t bad with a storage upgrade to 1TB. It’s a bit overpriced, but it’s still far enough below the Mac Studio price point to be worth it.
But the more you upgrade the Mac mini to match the Mac Studio, the worse the match gets. While the Mac Studio’s updated 32-core GPU costs $200, you’ll need to add $300 for the full M2 Pro. Add $400 to jump to 32GB of RAM to match the studio and you’re at $1,999. Keep in mind that you’ll need to spend $100 to upgrade the Mac mini’s Gigabit Ethernet port to the 10Gb Ethernet port that comes standard on the Mac Studio, and the Mac mini technically costs more. Oh, and don’t forget the front-facing USB-C ports and SDXC card slot.
So what would she rather for $1,999: an M2 Pro with 32GB RAM and a 512GB SSD, Wi-Fi 6E and HDMI 2 or an M1 Max with 32GB RAM and a 512GB SSD and front-facing USB ports C connectors and an SDXC card slot? The Mac mini with M2 Pro should actually start at $1,099, like the Intel model it supplanted, and of course Apple’s long-ridiculous prices for upgraded memory and storage are to blame here, too.
And then there’s the next-generation Mac Studio. We haven’t heard much about an upcoming M2 Max M2 Ultra-based Mac Studio, but the M1 version is almost a year old, and with the M2 Max now available in the MacBook Pro, we’re just waiting for an M2 Ultra. Assuming the Mac Studio is updated this spring with the Mac mini’s HDMI 2.1 and Wi-FI 6E upgrades, and Apple doesn’t raise the price, there’s no reason at all to recommend an updated M2 Pro Mac mini.
But if you’re looking for a Mac desktop that’s a little more powerful than the regular M2 model, grit your teeth and snag the $1,299 Mac mini, potentially with a 1TB storage upgrade. if you can swing the $200. But if you’re considering upgrading something else – the processor or memory – I think most users would be happier with the $1,999 Mac Studio and get more bang for their buck.