Mac mini review (M2 Pro, 2023)
The Mac mini has been Apple’s inexpensive compact form factor trooper since its introduction in 2005. Need something inexpensive to go with an old monitor? Simply purchase a Mac mini! Do you want to create a low-power media server or a PC next to your TV? Miniature, baby. The line has had its ups and downs — the 2014 refresh was chastised for replacing a quad-core model with a dual-core CPU, and the 2018 version had notoriously poor graphics — but it made a complete comeback with the M1-powered model in 2021.
This year, though, the Mac mini is unique. The $599 model remains the entry-level champ, especially because it costs $100 less than the M1 version (maybe the $499 option will reappear in the future). However, you can pay more than twice that — $1,299! — for a Mini with a slightly reduced M2 Pro CPU and 16GB of RAM. That may have seemed absurd a few years ago, but it now fits neatly into Apple’s desktop ecosystem. Not every creative requires the power of a $1,999 Mac Studio with an M1 Max, but those who do may feel constrained by the standard M2 chip. Finally, there’s a powerful Mini to serve them. (And, no, the now-defunct $1,099 Intel model was never intended to fill that function.)
The Mac mini, like Apple’s new MacBook Pros, does not appear to have changed. It’s still a squat small aluminium box with a slew of ports on the rear and a slightly elevated black base beneath for airflow. The $599 model includes an M2 chip with eight CPU cores, ten graphics cores, 8GB of RAM, and 256GB of storage – about as basic as PC hardware gets these days. The $1,299 M2 Pro Mini has ten CPU cores, sixteen GPU cores, sixteen gigabytes of RAM, and a 512GB SSD. For an extra $300, you can upgrade to the M2 Pro chip, which has a 12-core CPU and a 19-core GPU (though this is definitely not a good idea).
The basic Mac mini has two Thunderbolt 4 USB-C ports, HDMI 2.0 (with 4K 240Hz and 8K 60Hz output), two USB-A ports, a headphone jack, and gigabit Ethernet on the back (upgradeable to 10 gigabit). The M2 Pro model includes two more USB-C connections, making it even more beneficial for creatives who have a lot of accessories.
The Mac mini’s blend of simplicity and functionality is most remarkable. Unlike the taller and more commanding Mac Studio, the Mini is designed to blend into your workspace, a sliver of power that doesn’t need to be seen. That could be a problem if you need to access its rear ports frequently. In comparison, the Studio has two USB-C connections and an SD card slot on the front. To utilise SD cards with the Mini, you’ll need a separate converter — a cheap workaround, but one that adds to desk clutter.
Our review model, which had the more expensive 12-core M2 Pro CPU, operated as expected. In GeekBench’s CPU benchmark, it is slower than the M2 Max in the 14-inch MacBook Pro, but it outperforms the M1 Max in the Mac Studio. The M1 Ultra-equipped Studio is noticeably quicker, as it is essentially two M1 Max chips connected together. What matters most to some designers is the possible rendering performance. In the Cinebench R23 benchmark, the Mac Mini outperformed the M1 Max Studio by 2,000 points, and it was on par with the MacBook Pro 14-inch with M2 Max.
Geekbench 5 CPU
Geekbench 5 Compute
3DMark Wildlife Extreme
Apple Mac Mini (Apple M2 Pro, 2022)
Apple MacBook Pro 14-inch (Apple M2 Max, 2023)
Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch, (Apple M2, 2022)
Apple Mac Studio (Apple M1 Max)
Apple Mac Studio (Apple M1 Ultra)
In a more practical test, the Mac Mini used pure CPU power to convert a minute-long 4K clip into 1080p in 37 seconds, while the GPU required 32 seconds. Both results outperformed the M1 Max Studio, which took 43 seconds to encode with the CPU and 34 seconds with the GPU.
Aside from benchmarks, the Mac Mini was a dream for my normal workflow (dealing with dozens of browser tabs, batch image processing, and practically every chat app out there). But I’d expect a similar outcome from the $599 model, as long as I limit my use of demanding browsers to make 8GB of RAM work. The machine remains a fine entry point for ordinary consumers, and it might make an excellent home theatre PC if you want something more customised than an Apple TV.
As I tried the Mac Mini, I began to wonder if owning a massive mid-tower PC as my daily vehicle was even worth it. But, realistically, I could never become a full-time Mac user because I enjoy gaming. There are a few current titles that natively support Macs, such as Resident Evil Village, but there just aren’t enough. By the way, that game easily reached 60fps while running in 1,440p on the Mac Mini.
To clarify, the updated M2 Pro would cost $1,599 to achieve the same performance figures. I didn’t have the slower Mac Pro model to compare it against, but based on what we’ve seen with Apple’s M2 CPUs, it’d still be a significant jump up from equivalent M1 hardware. Taking a step back, I can’t help but think that the $1,299 M2 Pro Mini is a better option for creatives. Our review model would cost the same as the base Mac Studio if equipped with 32GB of RAM. Given that the Studio is about a year old, an M2 upgrade is due in the following months.
My recommendation? If you want a beefier Mac desktop, get the $1,299 Mac mini, but avoid upgrading any hardware if possible. I could handle the $200 upcharge for 1TB of storage, but spending an extra $400 for 32GB of RAM isn’t worth it. Let’s not promote Apple’s penchant for exorbitant upgrades – remember the $999 monitor stand?
Apple could have simply dubbed this computer the Mac mini Pro, but I can understand how that might be confusing. The Mini now comes in two flavours: a low-cost computer for most people and a hidden powerhouse for innovators. If only getting more RAM didn’t cost so much, it would be the ideal small-form-factor PC.