On Tuesday 17th January 2023, Apple introduced a brand-new Mac mini. It didn’t look any different – there was no chassis redesign or funky new colour selection – but, boy, had it enjoyed quite the internal upgrade.
The Mac mini has endured an odd relationship with the string-pullers at Apple. It has never been removed from the shelves entirely, but it has, arguably, been left to fester for rather too long – particularly during its Intel-only days.
Now, though, we have a super-powered Mac mini boasting an M2 Pro chip which is capable of having a 19-core GPU, 32GB of unified memory, and 8TB of internal storage.
Then, we have the standard M2 version of the Mac mini which, at just £649 for the base model, is the most affordable entry point into the macOS ecosystem – and one of the very few recent Apple products to enjoy a price reduction.
Which is right for you? Let’s find out.
Who is the Mac mini for?
On the surface, the Mac mini is the least exciting Mac. It doesn’t come with a display (there isn’t even a mouse or keyboard in the box) and there’s none of the impressive design flair and presence you get with the Mac Pro.
It’s just a little box with an Apple logo on it. This is the epitome of a minimalist desktop computer.
It’s inside what counts, though, and the Mac mini has always been a brilliant solution for anyone who just wants to get on with using a Mac at their desk in the most affordable way possible.
Those users don’t have to skimp on power, either – particularly in the era of Apple silicon. The Mac mini is an incredibly capable computer – I built my business on a moderately specced M1 version, and I’d guess that many other people have achieved similar feats.
Put simply, if a Mac Studio seems far too expensive, if you have no need for portability, and if a 24-inch iMac doesn’t float your boat (or tease your purse strings), the Mac mini will be an amazing purchase.
Let’s look at five areas to consider when deciding between an M2 or M2 Pro Mac mini.
1. The pricing
The base model M2 Mac mini costs just £649 in the UK. That’s a £50 price drop from the M1 version (US buyers save an even more impressive $100).
If you’re after the cheapest Mac you can buy directly from Apple and you’re buying it simply to tinker with, for basic admin duties, or for your kid – stop reading and buy the base model M2 Mac mini. It is incredibly good value. As a point of comparison, I’ve been using the base model M2 MacBook Air (which is essentially the same machine) as the main admin and writing computer for my business and it is flawless for those tasks.
The most you can spend on an M2 Mac mini is £1,949 which nets you 24GB of unified memory, a 2TB SSD, and 10-gigabit ethernet. However, that takes you into base-model Mac Studio territory, which calls for caution (in this instance, the Mac Studio might actually be the machine for you).
The M2 Pro Mac mini starts at £1,399. For a machine that is essentially an M2 MacBook Pro without the display, keyboard, or trackpad, that’s incredibly good value, once again.
The most you can spend on an M2 Mac mini is a draw-dropping £4,499, which results in a beast of a machine with 32GB of unified memory and 8TB of SSD storage, but that takes you well into serious Mac Studio territory. So, again, please be cautious and look at all the options in front of you.
As a result, this isn’t an easy decision, but like everything in life, if you break it down, the spec choices for this new Mac mini start to make sense.
2. CPU and GPU cores
The standard M2 Mac mini has an 8-core CPU which can’t be upgraded. That’s absolutely fine; if you’re the sort of person who knows exactly how many CPU cores you need and what you’ll be doing with them… you’re probably not reading this guide.
The M2 Pro Mac mini has a 10-core CPU. Is it worth spending an extra £750 to grab those extra two cores? Absolutely not. That really isn’t where the extra money is going for the upgrade to the M2 Pro, and it certainly isn’t something to focus on.
The GPU is where things get more interesting. The standard M2 has a 10-core GPU, which is no slouch and a significant upgrade on the 7- and 8-core GPU M1 versions. But the M2 Pro has a 16-core GPU which, again, matches the entry-level MacBook Pro.
If you’re looking to use the M2 Mac mini for graphical work – be that video editing, 3D rendering, or Photoshop – and if that work is tied to income, I’d spend the extra and get the M2 Pro. If you’re a hobbyist, the 10-core GPU in the standard M2 remains a brilliant entry point and is far more capable than you might think.
Oh, and they both have the latest generation 16-core Neural Engine, but… <looks around> no one really knows what it does. So, just be happy that it’s there.
3. Unified memory
It’s always been the case that adding memory to your new computer is likely to have the biggest impact on its performance. This is still true, to a degree, but it’s worth keeping in mind that Apple silicon-based Macs have levelled the playing field somewhat.
I’ve used 8GB M1 and M2 MacBook Airs since I started this business, and as do-it-all machines, they are unbeatable. The M2 Mac mini starts with 8GB of unified memory which is enough if you’re unlikely to ever push that machine.
You can upgrade it to 16GB or 24GB for £200 or £400 respectively, and if you’ve got some budget spare, I’d always recommend spending it on additional memory. Remember – you can’t upgrade that in the future.
The M2 Pro Mac mini steps things up a gear by starting with 16GB of unified memory as standard and offering an upgrade to 32GB for £400. This, again, matches the M2 Pro MacBook Pro but for considerably less outlay than the laptop’s £2,149 starting price.
I’ve always said that if you know you need more memory, you know you need more memory. For regular users who aren’t undertaking serious creative work, 8GB or 16GB (depending on your budget) will serve you very well. Stepping up to 24GB or 32GB is for those who have a specific requirement for that much memory, or who have the budget to future-proof their purchase as far as possible.
The regular M2 Mac mini starts with 256GB of storage and can be configured up to a maximum of 2TB, which adds £800 to the overall price.
The M2 Pro Mac mini enters the fray with 512GB of storage and can be configured right up to a massive 8TB for the princely sum of £2,400.
I can’t tell you how much storage you need, but it’s worth bearing in mind that this is the one thing you can increase in the future. That’s why focusing your spare budget on additional unified memory remains the most sensible approach.
It doesn’t really matter what you intend to do with your Mac mini, either. A case in point – I edit chunky 4K video for my business exclusively off external drives. This has enabled me to reduce the amount of internal storage needed, which is handy when it’s so expensive from Apple.
Remember – this is a desktop machine, therefore you have no worries about carrying around external drives; tucking an affordable, fast SSD or two behind your Mac mini is no hassle and hugely expandable.
5. Ports and other considerations
There are a few seemingly minor differences between the M2 and M2 Pro Mac mini that deserve special attention before you head through the checkout.
The first relates to ports. Both machines come with two USB-A ports, one HDMI port, and gigabit ethernet, but when it comes to Thunderbolt 4, Apple has switched things up.
The M2 Mac mini has two Thunderbolt 4 ports (it might be more helpful to think of them as USB-C ports). The M2 Pro Mac mini has four. Once again, I can’t tell you what’s right for you, but if you want to connect more than two USB-C devices to your Mac at any one time, the standard M2 machine might not cut it.
It’s a similar story with displays. Just like the M1 Mac mini, you can attach two external displays to the M2 Mac mini (although keep in mind you’ll use up one of the Thunderbolt 4 ports in the process). The M2 Pro Mac mini, on the other hand, can drive three external displays.
I hope this buying guide for the M2 Mac mini has helped you arrive at a purchasing decision.
In summary, it comes down to the following strategies:
- look for a balanced spec that doesn’t take you too far into Mac Studio territory (if that machine creeps into your considerations, that’s for a reason);
- prioritise your spending on unified memory upgrades rather than adding too much internal storage;
- remember that if you know you need more unified memory, you know you need more unified memory; and
- although both machines can play and edit 4K and 8K video, serious video editors and graphics artists should opt for the M2 Pro Mac mini.
Apple actually provides a pretty good definition of the intended audience for each version of the new Mac mini:
- M2 Mac mini: ”M2 is the next generation of Apple silicon. Its 8‑core CPU lets you zip through everyday tasks like creating documents, or take on more intensive tasks like editing your photos.”
- M2 Pro Mac mini: “M2 Pro brings power to take on demanding projects. With its up to 12-core CPU, it makes pro workflows fly — from sorting and editing thousands of images to running computational fluid dynamics simulations.”
So, what are you going to buy – and why? Let me know in the comments section, below!