Apple Mac Mini (2023) review: Mac Studio junior

Posted on

Before the Mac came back to the market a few years ago, the idea of ​​Apple producing 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 eventually it started to click for the entire Mac portfolio. The disastrous butterfly keyboard has been retired. Real buttons replaced the MacBook Pro’s underused touch bar. And it all turned feverish when Apple introduced its own processors – first in fast laptops also set new highs for battery life and then in desktops like the redesigned iMac and blazingly fast Mac Studio.

Part of the first wave of Apple silicon products in 2020, the Mac Mini was a strong performer in a small package. But it was also a minimal-effort release that came with some compromises: the M1 Mac Mini maxed out at 16GB of RAM and had fewer ports than the Intel-powered model, which Apple continued to sell until the introduction of this one Mac Mini last week. Now powered by either the M2 or M2 Pro chip, the 2023 version of the Mac Mini retains the same general design but upgrades numerous specs including Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and (optionally) HDMI and Ethernet depending on how many you spend.

Of course, the biggest upgrade of all is performance.

How we rate and review products

The new Mac Mini is available with a choice of two processors: one is a great choice for a home Mac, while the other is clearly aimed at prosumers who want to go a little further. The cheaper model starts at $599 ($100 less than the M1 model it started with) and is powered by Apple’s M2 chip. Like the 13-inch MacBook Pro, this version contains eight CPU cores and 10 GPU cores.

As my colleague Monica Chin wrote in their review of the MacBook Pro, the performance of the single-core is extremely impressive and makes everyday tasks and apps feel just a little faster than the already chunky M1. Apple says the M2 chip also delivers better multicore and graphics numbers. Assuming the regular Mini performs on a par with the 13-inch MacBook Pro, it should be able to handle all 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 just fine thanks to Apple’s Rosetta software, but you won’t need them nearly as often as you did when the first M1 machines debuted in 2020.

In line with the M2 MacBook Air, the Mini should be able to deliver peak performance for extended periods of time without throttling. This has a number of reasons. For one, it has a fan inside (unlike the Air), and there’s loads of open space in the case too, so the Mini is just cool by design because the silicon isn’t packed tightly into a laptop frame.

Unsurprisingly, the Mac Mini had no trouble editing large RAW files.

Unsurprisingly, the Mac Mini had no trouble editing large RAW files.

I’d recommend the standard M2 Mac Mini to anyone looking for a general-purpose desktop Mac, assuming you already have a monitor, keyboard, and mouse handy. It offers robust performance and is perfectly capable of photo editing and light video work. Apple has given the new machine faster Wi-Fi (Wi-Fi 6E) and the latest Bluetooth 5.3 connectivity. As standard, the ethernet connection is capable of gigabit speeds, but you can opt for blistering 10-gigabit ethernet for an extra $100. Like the M1 Mac Mini, M2 models get two USB-C ports (now Thunderbolt 4) and two USB-A ports, plus a headphone jack and HDMI 2.0 output.

Wireless keyboard owners beware

Apple could really do a better job of supporting third-party Bluetooth keyboards and mice during the Mac Mini’s initial setup. As it stands, you need wired peripherals or Apple’s own wireless products. I had a USB transceiver for my Logitech mouse and ergonomic keyboard, and luckily that worked just fine too. But it is possible only to find yourself in a nasty situation where you have 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 first turns on.

As tempting as the $599 price tag on the entry-level Mini is, we generally recommend buying more than the standard 8GB of RAM. Even without intensively pushing the machine, you are probably forcing the system to swap memory to the SSD. And while Apple’s unified memory architecture can make this largely unnoticeable at work, I’d still point most people to the $799 configuration (with 256GB of storage and 16GB of 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 still get a price cut: an M1 Mac Mini with 16 GB of RAM started at $899.

The new Mac Mini is more powerful but also more affordable

But I have not tested the regular M2 Mini. Instead, I’ve been using the M2 for the past few days Pro model with 12 CPU cores and 19 GPU cores. So far it’s been an absolute screamer worthy of the nickname “Mac Studio junior” – and then some. In benchmarks, the Cinebench single-core and multicore CPU scores outperformed 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. Like ours Shadow of the Tomb Raider benchmark shows that graphics horsepower isn’t quite up to par with Apple’s Max chips as they have even more GPU cores left. 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 not a videographer myself, it showed zero effort when working with high-bitrate 4K test images in our testing. I’ve never heard the fans whip up, even during extensive benchmark testing.

A photo of the back of Apple's 2023 Mac Mini.

You get two additional Thunderbolt 4 (USB-C) ports with the M2 Pro Mac Mini.

The more expensive M2 Pro Mini has benefits other than sheer speed. You get in total four USB-C Thunderbolt 4 ports – again similar in number to the old Intel model – plus a more modern HDMI 2.1 port. The more powerful GPU also supports up to three external displays, one more than the M2 Mac Mini. Increased I/O and greater screen flexibility will make the M2 Pro Mac Mini much more appealing to certain people. But great things never come cheap: you’ll pay a minimum of $1,299 for a Mini with the M2 Pro chip, and it has 10 CPU and 16 GPU cores. The configuration I tested, with two more CPUs and three more GPU cores, 1 TB of storage and 16 GB of RAM, costs $1,799.

That’s when you hit the price of a basic Mac Studio, which comes with that more graphical M1 Max chip. The Mini I’d personally like, with a 2TB SSD, 32GB RAM, and 10 gigabit ethernet, costs $2,699. Ouch.

But remember, there’s no such thing (yet) as an iMac with an M2 Pro in it. So for anyone who wants a Mac desktop but finds Mac Studio overkill – which is just that for many use cases – this M2 Pro Mini could make a lot of sense. And it doesn’t cost nearly as much. The only port I’ve missed in the Studio and my MacBook Pro is the built-in SD card slot. But even without that, you’ve got a ton of options from this generous helping of ports. I wish one or two of those Thunderbolt 4 ports were on the front of the Mini; alas, you still have to reach back to get to everything.

Agree to Continue: Apple Mac Mini (2023)

Every smart device now requires you to agree to a set of terms and conditions before you can use it – contracts that no one really reads. It is impossible for us to read and analyze all these agreements. But we started counting exactly how many times you have to click “agree” to use devices when we review them, since these are agreements that most people don’t read and absolutely can’t negotiate.

To get past the setup and actually use the Mac Mini, you must agree to:

  • The macOS software license agreement, which includes Apple’s warranty agreement and Game Center terms and conditions

These agreements are non-negotiable and you cannot use the Mini at all if you do not agree to it.

There are also several optional matches, including:

  • Location Services
  • Using an iCloud account adds iCloud Terms and Find My Location Services
  • Send crash and usage data to Apple to help app developers
  • Allow Apple to use your Siri transcripts to improve speech recognition
  • Apple Pay Terms

That’s three mandatory agreements and six optional ones.

Apple doesn’t offer discounts on the Studio Display or the company’s keyboard and mouse accessories when paired with the Mini, which is a shame. Still, part of the Mini’s charm goes back to that “BYODKM” phrase Steve Jobs used when he introduced it in 2005: you’re free to take whatever screen, keyboard and mouse you like and use them. combine with this powerful Mac mini. -tower. This can open up possible desk setups not possible with Apple’s own gear. For example, you are not tied to a 60Hz monitor. I felt the pain of losing Touch ID when I switched from Apple’s Magic Keyboard to my own keyboard, but I can live without it. The idea of ​​phasing out my big, heavy MacBook Pro for a powerful Mac Mini setup at home — and a lighter M2 MacBook Air or 12.9-inch iPad Pro when I’m on the road — is really growing on me.

An overhead photo of Apple's 2023 Mac Mini.

I wish Apple would move a few ports forward.

It should come as no surprise that the 2023 Mac Mini is the best version of the product Apple has made to date. It looks the same, but takes great advantage of the M2 platform, and it’s true whether you opt for the standard chip or invest in the powerful M2 Pro. Either way, you’ll also get better Wi-Fi and expect very few bumps this far into Apple’s silicon transition. Spend more on the M2 Pro, and on top of the blazing speed, you’ll benefit from even more Thunderbolt 4 ports and more external displays.

If you’ve been waiting for the intermediate 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 to draw attention to on your desk, but it’s never been more powerful.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *