Before the Mac’s resurgence a few years ago, the idea that Apple might produce a machine like the new Mac Mini was a distant dream. The company’s compact desktop was rarely updated and mostly ignored — we often waited many years between major refreshes. But things eventually started clicking for the entire Mac portfolio. The disastrous butterfly keyboard was retired. Real buttons replaced the MacBook Pro’s underused touch bar. And it all hit a fever pitch when Apple introduced its own processors — first in speedy laptops that also established new highs for battery life and then in desktops like the redesigned iMac and wicked-fast Mac Studio.
The Mac Mini was part of the first wave of Apple silicon products in 2020, and it was a strong performer in a tiny package. But it was also a minimal effort release that came with some tradeoffs: namely, the M1 Mac Mini topped out at 16GB of RAM and had fewer ports than the Intel-powered model, which Apple continued to sell until the introduction of this Mac Mini last week. Now powered by either the M2 or M2 Pro chip, the 2023 version of the Mac Mini retains the same overall design but upgrades numerous specs, including Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and (optionally) HDMI and ethernet, depending on how much you spend.
Of course, the biggest upgrade of all is performance.
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The new Mac Mini is available with a choice of two processors: one is a great choice for a household Mac, while the other is clearly aimed at prosumers that will push the envelope a bit. The cheaper model starts at $599 ($100 less than the M1 model started at) and is powered by Apple’s M2 chip. Just like the 13-inch MacBook Pro, this version includes eight CPU cores and 10 GPU cores.
As my colleague Monica Chin wrote in their review of the MacBook Pro, single-core performance is extremely impressive and makes everyday tasks and apps feel ever so slightly faster than the already brisk M1. Apple says the M2 chip also puts up better multicore and graphics numbers. Assuming the regular Mini performs similarly to the 13-inch MacBook Pro, it should be able to handle all of the browser tabs you can muster and multitask with aplomb. As for other software, most of the apps I use now run natively on Apple silicon except for one or two outliers like Amazon Music. Those programs still work fine thanks to Apple’s Rosetta software, but you won’t find a need for it nearly as often as when the first M1 machines debuted in 2020.
Lined up against the M2 MacBook Air, the Mini should be able to sustain top performance for longer stretches of time without throttling. This is for a couple of reasons. First, it’s got a fan inside (unlike the Air), and there’s also a ton of open space in its enclosure, so the Mini just runs cool by design since its silicon isn’t tightly packed into a laptop frame.
Apple could really do a better job supporting third-party Bluetooth keyboards and mice during initial setup of the Mac Mini. As it stands, you either need wired peripherals or Apple’s own wireless products. I had a USB transceiver for my Logitech mouse and ergonomic keyboard, and thankfully, that also worked fine. But it’s possible to be caught in an annoying situation where you’ll need to borrow wired accessories from a friend to get started. That seems blasphemous in 2023. Apple should just let people set up their Bluetooth devices as soon as the Mini powers on for the first time.
However, as tempting as the $599 price tag on the entry-level Mini is, we generally recommend getting more than the base 8GB of RAM. Even without intensely pushing the machine, you’re likely to force the system to swap memory to the SSD. And while Apple’s unified memory architecture can make this mostly imperceptible while working, I’d still point most people toward the $799 configuration (with 256GB of storage and 16GB RAM) as the true “starter” option. It’s a better buy if you plan to keep your Mini for several years and through several new releases of macOS. And you’re still getting a price cut: an M1 Mac Mini with 16GB of RAM started at $899.
The new Mac Mini is more powerful but also more affordable
But I haven’t been testing the regular M2 Mini. Instead, over the last several days, I’ve been using the M2 Pro model with 12 CPU cores and 19 GPU cores. So far, it’s been an absolute screamer worthy of the “Mac Studio junior” moniker — and then some. In benchmarks, its Cinebench single-core and multicore CPU scores bested last year’s M1 Max MacBook Pro. And the added GPU cores over the standard M2 made a noticeable difference when exporting 4K footage or gaming. as our Shadow of the Tomb Raider benchmark shows, that graphics horsepower isn’t quite on the level of Apple’s Max chips since they have even more GPU cores to spare. But it’s a big step up from what the standard M2 Mini, MacBook Air, and 13-inch MacBook Pro are capable of. The M2 Pro Mac Mini flew through editing 40-megapixel RAW files from the Fujifilm X-T5, and while I’m no videographer myself, it didn’t show any strain when working with high-bitrate 4K test footage in our tests. I have yet to hear the fans whir up at any time — even during extended benchmark tests.
At that point, you’re bumping up against the price of a base Mac Studio, which comes with that more graphics-capable M1 Max chip. The Mini I’d personally want, with a 2TB SSD, 32GB of RAM, and 10-gigabit ethernet, would run $2,699. Ouch.
But remember that there’s no such thing (yet) as an iMac with an M2 Pro inside. So for anyone who wants a Mac desktop but finds the Mac Studio to be overkill — and it’s exactly that for many use cases — this M2 Pro Mini could make a ton of sense. And it doesn’t cost anywhere near as much. The only port I’ve missed from the Studio and my MacBook Pro is the built-in SD card slot. But even without that, you’re left with a ton of possibilities from this generous helping of ports. I do wish one or two of those Thunderbolt 4 ports were on the front of the Mini; alas, you’ve still got to reach around back to get at everything.
Every smart device now requires you to agree to a series of terms and conditions before you can use it — contracts that no one actually reads. It’s impossible for us to read and analyze every single one of these agreements. But we started counting exactly how many times you have to hit “agree” to use devices when we review them since these are agreements most people don’t read and definitely can’t negotiate.
In order to get past the setup and actually use the Mac Mini, you are required to agree to:
- The macOS software license agreement, which includes Apple’s warranty agreement and the Game Center terms and conditions
These agreements are nonnegotiable, and you cannot use the Mini at all if you don’t agree to them.
There are also several optional agreements, including:
- location services
- Using an iCloud account adds iCloud terms and conditions and Find My location services
- Sending crash and usage data to Apple to help app developers
- Allowing Apple to use your Siri transcripts to improve voice recognition
- Apple Pay terms and conditions
That’s three mandatory agreements and six optional ones.
Apple doesn’t offer any discounts on the Studio Display or the company’s keyboard and mouse accessories when bundled together with the Mini, which is a shame. Even so, part of the Mini’s charm dates back to that “BYODKM” phrase that Steve Jobs used when introducing it in 2005: you’re free to bring whatever display, keyboard, and mouse you like best and pair them with this powerful Mac mini -tower. This can open up potential desk setups that aren’t possible with Apple’s own gear. You’re not constrained to a 60Hz monitor, for instance. I did feel the sting of losing Touch ID when I switched away from Apple’s Magic Keyboard in favor of my own, but I can live without it. The idea of phasing out my large, heavy MacBook Pro for a powerful Mac Mini rig at home — and a lighter M2 MacBook Air or 12.9-inch iPad Pro when on the move — is really growing on me.
If you’ve been waiting for the in-betweener Mac that’s more capable than the iMac and less exorbitant than the Mac Studio, look no further. The new Mac Mini is still small and not the type of computer that calls attention to itself on your desk, but it’s never been more mighty.