In March 2022, Apple introduced a brand-new Mac. They named it the ‘Mac Studio’ and aimed it squarely at the professional market.
This is troubling for lots of people. I know that because I’m acutely aware of the thirst for a more powerful Mac mini.
You see, as superb as the M1 Mac mini is (I built my business with one), it was in need of an upgrade this year. And the rumours seemed to suggest that we’d get exactly that – an updated Mac mini with a new design and some beefed-up internals.
Perhaps they’ll put the M1 Pro and M1 Max chips in there, we thought. Or maybe it’ll be one of the first Macs to receive the M2 chip.
Not so. The launch of the Mac Studio suggests that Apple is leaving the Mac mini as it is – somewhere in the Netherland between an entry-level desktop computer and almost-there professional powerhouse.
So, if you’re trying to work out whether you can ‘get away’ with a specced-up M1 Mac mini or need to empty more of your bank account for the new Mac Studio, this is the only buying guide you need.
M1 Mac mini vs Mac Studio: pricing
The base-level Mac mini costs just £699, making it the cheapest entry point into the world of the M1 and macOS. For that, you get an 8-core CPU, 8-core GPU, 8GB of unified memory, and 256GB of storage.
This is still a superb machine. If you’re unlikely to do intensive graphics and audio stuff, just get one – now.
But if you want to get fruity with your Apple desktop machine, your eyes might be drawn to the Mac Studio. The base spec configuration for that computer costs £1,999 and includes a 10-core CPU, 24-core GPU, 32GB of unified memory, and 512GB of storage.
They are vastly different animals, obviously. The closest you can get to the base level Mac Studio is if you spec the M1 Mac mini with 16GB of unified memory. But that’s as far as it’ll go (you don’t get any more cores for the CPU or GPU). This takes the price up to £1,099.
Once again, the Mac Studio is a different animal. Spec that all the way to the top, and you’ll spend £7,999 on a monster of a machine that has countless more cores, memory, and storage compared to the Mac mini.
Confused? Don’t be. Let’s get into what matters.
Thoughts on performance
The M1 Mac mini revolutionised the Mac platform for me. I used a specced-up 16GB version to produce over 80 videos for my YouTube channel. It barely murmured while dealing happily with hours of 4K footage every month. I could still use it now if I needed to, and if I didn’t feel compelled to review the 16-inch MacBook Pro, long-term.
At £1,099, a 16GB M1 Mac mini delivers massive bang-for-buck. Pair it with a great ultra-wide monitor (as I did), and it is a beast of a machine. Certainly, if you’ve yet to experience Apple Silicon in a Mac, it’ll blow you away.
I’ve not used a Mac Studio yet. But I have experienced the power of the M1 Max in my 16-inch MacBook Pro and it offers far more headroom than I need. The base-level Mac Studio features that exact chip, therefore I’m aware of what it can do. But the M1 Ultra version of the Mac Studio takes things even further.
With the M1 Ultra, you essentially have two M1 Max chips soldered together and, consequently, twice the computing power.
Unless you are editing multiple streams of 8K video, thousands of tracks of audio, or undertaking intensive machine learning work, you do not need the M1 Ultra. So, let’s strike that off the table, immediately.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that the M1 Max and M1 Ultra offer the exact same single-core performance as the original M1 chip. That’s right – in normal day-to-day usage, a beefed-up Mac Studio is going to feel no different to the base-level M1 Mac mini. That thought alone should save you a few quid.
Where the Mac Studio rips the trousers off the Mac mini is in multi-core performance. But that’s only important for a very specific user base.
Mac mini or Mac Studio: what about future-proofing?
We’re rapidly approaching a comparison between that base-level Mac Studio and a specced-up M1 Mac mini, aren’t we?
It’s at this stage that you might think the former would be a far better investment if you intend to run the computer for a long time. But I don’t think it’s quite as clear-cut as that.
As noted earlier, I could happily continue using my 16GB M1 Mac mini – no trouble. In fact, given the tight weaving between macOS and Apple Silicon, my Mac mini feels like it has several years ahead of it.
My 16-inch MacBook Pro, obviously, feels the same. But it was nearly three times more expensive than the M1 Mac mini. Therefore, If I could only buy one machine again, it’d be the Mac mini; it offers a far better return on my investment.
I suspect this might be the case for you, too. But let’s confirm, once and for all, which bracket you slot into.
Who needs an M1 Mac mini?
You, probably. The fact you’re reading this buying guide suggests to me that you’ve had your eye on the M1 Mac mini for a while. It also suggests that you probably don’t undertake the kind of intensive work for which the Mac Studio is designed. I certainly don’t.
If that’s the case, then I would advise speccing up the M1 Mac mini as far as you can, and saving yourself some serious money. And, if you have lots of cash left over, why not get yourself a Studio Display to go with it? What a pairing!
If you feel a little offended by my suggestion that your workload isn’t intensive enough for a Mac Studio, keep reading.
Who needs a Mac Studio?
Some people just want the best – I get that. Therefore, if your budget stretches to the base level (or beyond) Mac Studio, you’ll end up buying a computer that will last many years, and whose performance you’ll probably never max out.
Equally, on the off chance that you do undertake the kind of massively CPU- and GPU-intensive work that this thing is designed for, you’re going to feel shortchanged by the Mac mini.
I maintain that the Mac Studio is fit for quite a narrow audience that consists of people who know they need it, and those who simply want it. If you don’t fit into either of those brackets… buy the M1 Mac mini.
There is a big price difference between these two computers. If we consider the base specs, that difference is £1,300. And remember – the single-core performance is currently identical, no matter which M1 chip or computer you choose.
I dearly wish Apple had upgraded the Mac mini at their March event. What we’re left with instead is a sizeable gap between the M1 Mac mini and the Mac Studio – on paper.
But that’s the point of this guide; that gap isn’t as big as you think it is, unless you’re a power user. In fact, I think that 95% of the people reading this guide will be absolutely delighted with a 16GB M1 Mac mini – it remains my favourite Apple desktop computer to date.