It’s a pointless test, some will say.
Who cares how far we’ve come between the M1 and the M2 chips? Everyone knows this is an incremental upgrade, at best; the M2 is, essentially, an M1 with everything turned up a bit – and some NAND storage deficiencies thrown in for good measure.
I don’t buy that. I think we absolutely should put this stuff to the test.
This isn’t because I think M1 Mac mini owners should upgrade to the M2 Mac mini. If you’re looking for the answer to that question, I can give you it immediately.
Don’t bother. Save your money.
But from a point of pure curiosity, I’d really like to see what Apple has managed to achieve in the more than two years since the M1 Mac mini was launched.
My M2 Mac mini specs
When the M2 Mac mini was launched, I devised a cunning plan. Rather than opt for the base model, I decided to spec it up in the same way as my M1 Mac mini.
As I’ve noted previously, the M1 Mac mini pretty much ran this business for an entire year. It helped me create over 80 videos for my YouTube channel and never, ever put a foot wrong (bar those annoying Bluetooth issues). Even when working with 4K, 10-bit footage from my Sony FX3, even the fan refused to spin up.
So, I specced up my M2 Mac mini with the same 16GB of unified memory and 512GB of SSD storage. This brought the total to £1,049 – £50 cheaper than my M1 Mac mini. Nice!
There are two key differences between these two Macs. While they have the same 8 cores of CPU (split equally between performance and high efficiency), the M2 Mac mini has two extra GPU cores, bringing the total to 10.
However, storage is where the biggest and most controversial change lies. Whereas the 512GB of space on my M1 Mac mini is spread across two NAND chips, the M2 Mac mini uses just one.
I’m not an expert in this area at all, but I understand that the use of a single NAND chip results in slower read and write performances for the SSD, and, therefore, degraded system performance during transfer-intensive tasks.
So, what does this all mean? Let’s put it to the test
M1 vs M2 Mac mini Mark Ellis Reviews Benchmark™️
I’ve spent many countless, tiring minutes perfecting my approach to benchmarking. It involves two tests which, I suspect, will one day make their way into literary studies of Apple Silicon and become part of the syllabus for related university degrees.
It starts with a piece of roughly-timed 10-minute 4K footage. This is shot on my Sony FX3 in the aforementioned 10-bit colour depth and imported straight into Final Cut Pro. All other apps are closed, and I ensure both machines are running the same versions of everything.
The test is then broken down into two tasks – a render and an export. Both are timed with the stopwatch on my iPhone and, if I’m quick enough with my finger once the progress bar reaches 100%, I gain a relatively accurate timing for each one.
This is seriously technical stuff, guys.
Enough waffle. You want to know how these two machines performed against one another, don’t you? Here are the results.
- M1 Mac mini
- Render: 03:09
- Export: 05:00
- M2 Mac mini
- Render: 01:58
- Export: 05:04
Let’s start with the render. It felt super quick as soon as I kicked it off on the M2 Mac mini, and shaving over one minute off its predecessor’s time is a genuinely impressive step forward. Rendering speed matters to video creators; the quicker something can be rendered, the quicker it can be exported.
This brings me to that export time. Yep, you read that right – the M2 Mac mini is four seconds slower than the computer it replaces.
I should note at this juncture that – as you may have detected from the huge slice of sarcasm injected at the start of this section – I don’t trust benchmarks. There are so many variances, and far too much reliance on human input, and they don’t provide a measurement of how useful a computer is when you’re actually using it.
Despite this, I’d expect the M2 Mac mini to be several seconds – if not a good minute – quicker than the M1 version when it comes to exporting the exact same piece of footage in Final Cut Pro under the exact same conditions.
The result is, therefore, disappointing.
What you get if you spend more
Before I give you my take on this M1 Mac mini vs M2 Mac mini battle, you might be wondering what you get if you spend a bit more.
I also have a base-spec M2 Pro Mac mini. This comes with a 10-core CPU, 16-core GPU, 16GB of unified memory, and a 512GB SSD on a single NAND chip. It cost me just £350 more than my M2 Mac mini.
This is how it performed during my test:
- Base-spec M2 Pro Mac mini
- Render: 01:27
- Export: 04:44
So, 30 seconds were shaved off the render, and around 15 were saved on the export. These aren’t epic numbers, and that export time is still concerning when compared to the M1 Mac mini, but it’s faster, nonetheless.
For kicks, I also ran the test on my £3,700 16-inch M1 Max MacBook Pro with its 32-core GPU and fancy video encoders.
- M1 Max 16-inch MacBook Pro
- Render: 01:31
- Export: 02:37
Oof. This is where the value of that M2 Pro Mac mini becomes evident. Although there are only four seconds in it, that tiny little desktop machine beat my expensive MacBook Pro at the render. Sure, the latter smashed everything with the export, but so it should.
These export times are troubling, though, aren’t they?
The conclusion to this is as simple as my benchmarks.
I have no idea whether or not the SSD configuration in the M2 Mac mini is resulting in these slow export speeds from Final Cut Pro. It is pure conjecture and I can’t think of a way to test the theory.
However, if you want an absolute bargain of a Mac mini, grab yourself a second-hand M1 version with 16GB of unified memory. Even if the work is time-bound, it remains a brilliant choice if you only have a modest budget.
Feel like you must have the M2 version? I’d opt for the M2 Pro and spec up the storage as far as you can – if the SSD issue bothers you. If the M2 Pro is a bit of a stretch, just apply the same logic to the standard M2 version; a 16GB/1TB edition of that machine is still a smidgen cheaper than the base M2 Pro, after all.
Every time Apple launches a new Mac and set of chips, they seem to make this process harder, but I hope this guide has helped you today. If it hasn’t, please post your lingering questions in the comments section!
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