My plans for the first quarter of this year changed on Tuesday, 17th January. That was when Apple unveiled – among lots of other stuff – a brand-new super-powered Mac mini.
It contains an equally sparkling-new M2 Pro chip and, in the UK, starts at £1,399. On paper, that makes it quite the bargain for anyone who wants serious Apple Silicon power in the most convenient desktop Mac form factor on the market.
But how good is the base model M2 Mac Pro? Does all the NAND chip stuff matter? Is it worth going for this over a similarly-specced 14-inch MacBook Pro if you don’t have the need for portability?
I’ll be doing lots of ongoing, real-world testing with this thing over the next few weeks, but what you all want to know immediately is how much faster is it than a £3,700 M1 Max MacBook Pro?
Let’s find out.
The M2 Pro Mac mini looks identical to its predecessor. In fact, Apple hasn’t updated the Mac mini’s design for years – far too long, in my book.
There’s not much more they can do with it, granted, but I was hoping for a redesigned chassis to counter any remaining Bluetooth problems (I’m yet to test those on this new unit) and, completely superfluously, a flash of colour.
However, this all becomes irrelevant once you begin delving into the internals of this thing. The base model M2 Pro chip inside the new Mac mini has a 10-core CPU, 16-core GPU, 16-core Neural Engine, 16GB of unified memory, and a 512GB SSD.
That’s a pretty chunky spec, and it’s bolstered by four Thunderbolt 4 ports, gigabit ethernet, and support for up to three external monitors.
There’s no braided power cable though. Boo.
The Final Cut Pro test
My benchmarks shouldn’t be held as gospel. They are lacklustre, at best.
This is for two reasons. Firstly, I don’t think benchmarks tell the whole story – in fact, they barely tell a story at all. That links to my second reason for undertaking such hasty, gaffa-taped tests between Macs: I don’t really care.
So why do it in this instance, you ask? Well, it’s fun, and during these early days of owning a new Mac, it’s pretty much the only way to tell whether or not it’s going to be faster than any of the machines it’s due to replace.
It’s a bit of fun, too. And I have to fill these pages with something during this entirely unexpected January Mac Season.
My test consists of a 10-minute piece of 4K footage. This is relatively chunky stuff – it’s filmed on a Sony FX3 camera in 10-bit colour; render and export it, and it’ll put any machine to task.
So, those are the two elements of my benchmark – a render and export from Final Cut Pro. Unscientific, but simple, and relatable for mere mortals like you and I.
M2 MacBook Air: test results
I ran this test on four Macs. The first was the base-spec M2 MacBook Air, which is equivalent to the new Mac mini with the same chip configuration (minus the fan for cooling).
That smudge-encrusted laptop completed the render in 05:34 (minutes, obvs), while the export finished in 05:04.
That’s pretty slow by my standards, but to be expected, given the 8-cores of GPU in that machine.
This thing is not a heavy-duty video editor.
M1 Mac mini: test results
Next up was the M1 Mac mini. I built my business with this machine, and it has always been able to punch well above its weight class.
The export from Final Cut Pro clocked in at 03:09. Yep, it was quicker than the base model M2 MacBook Air. This is probably due to a few reasons – the Mac mini has active cooling (although you never hear the fan) and more unified memory. Regardless, this reveals how great that M1 version is – still.
The export was smack-bang on five minutes. So, not blisteringly quick, but still a smidgen quicker than that base model M2!
16-inch M1 Max MacBook Pro: test results
Over to the big boy in the studio.
The 16-inch M1 Max MacBook Pro I purchased in 2021 is running the maxed-out version of that chip and 32GB of unified memory. It is by far the most powerful, most capable computer I’ve ever owned. My business relies on its ability to both render and export Final Cut Pro projects super fast.
As you’d guess, the planet-sized MacBook Pro smashed the M2 MacBook Air and M1 Mac mini – as it should; this is a frightening quick machine, after all, and did set me back over £3,700. Thankfully, it proved its worth during this test, rendering the 4K footage in just 01:31, and providing a fully exported file in just 02:37.
M2 Pro Mac mini: test results
So, onto the newest Mac in my studio – the base-model M2 Pro Mac mini.
I won’t beat around the bush – as soon as the render kicked off, it was clear this was going to be an impressive result.
The £1,399 M2 Pro Mac mini completed the job in 01:27 – four seconds less than the 16-inch M1 Max MacBook Pro. The export? Well, this is where things begin to get a little more sobering; the M2 Pro Mac mini provided a finished video file in 04:44.
So, what does this all mean?
I need longer with the M2 Pro Mac mini and, as you’d expect, I’ll be publishing lots more content on it over the next few weeks. But initial impressions?
It’s a game-changer.
If you’re a video editor who doesn’t work to the clock, the base model M2 Pro Mac mini is such a good investment. Trust me – if you don’t require a laptop and your budget doesn’t stretch much further than £1,399, it’s a no-brainer.
That rendering time is massively impressive, and the export time is still quick enough to get you out of trouble.
If you do work to the clock and every single second counts, the M1 Max test results for my 16-inch MacBook Pro demonstrate that you really should be opting for a machine of that ilk. Thanks to the additional GPU cores and beefy video encoders, they are blisteringly quick. I’d even suggest bagging yourself a bargain M1 Max MacBook Pro rather than the new M2 version.
On a similar note, if you want a super cost-effective desktop Mac that will take pretty much anything you throw at it and surprise you regularly with its performance – a second-hand 16GB M1 Mac mini is a hell of a purchase.
Stay tuned for more M2 Pro Mac mini content. This thing is a serious step forward for Apple silicon.
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