Review: Apple Mac Mini (M2 Pro, 2023)
it's easy to overlook the Mac Mini: Apple's small, squarish PC isn't particularly exciting. It's not ultra-powerful like the Mac Studio, modular like the Mac Pro, or colorful like the 24-inch iMac. You can't quite tote it around and work anywhere like you can with a MacBook. But it's Apple's most utilitarian machine, and that's more evident with the 2023 refresh.
The new Mac Mini is similar to its predecessor from 2020 except it now employs Apple's next-gen M2 and M2 Pro processors. That alone breathes new life into this compact system, as it's a low-cost plug-and-play solution that's still powerful enough for the likes of content creators. The base price is more affordable than ever, starting at $599, and the Mac Mini is the cheapest way to access the M2 Pro processor at $1,299. The only other M2 Pro-powered Macs are the 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pros, which start at $1,999 and $2,499, respectively. The closest desktop alternative is the base Mac Studio with an M1 Max chip for $1,999. But most people don't need that much power.
It doesn't have to be showy. Whichever processor you get, the Mini is a smart and hassle-free way to get all the power most people need without emptying your wallet--and you actually have a say on what kind of peripherals to get.
The Mac Mini still follows the BYODKM rule. The initialism, originally used by Steve Jobs when he announced the first Mac Mini in 2005, stands for "bring your own display, keyboard, and mouse," because you get only the machine and a power cord in the box. You'll definitely want to add a pair of speakers for when you're not using headphones, because the built-in speakers aren't pleasant.
This BYO design is great news if you already have those peripherals. Plug everything in and you're good to go. Even if you're starting from scratch and building your workspace, it doesn't need to be too expensive. There are tons of cheap and excellent keyboards, mice, and monitors you can snag that won't balloon the cost. The machine itself is tiny and unobtrusive, so it's easy to plan accessories around its footprint. And at 2.6 pounds it's lightweight and portable, which makes it great for hybrid workers splitting time between the home and the office.
If you prefer tons of screens around your workspace, then you may be disappointed to learn that the base Mac Mini still only supports two external displays, just like the M1-powered model. That's enough for most people, but if you upgrade to the M2 Pro you can connect up to three displays to bask in all that blue light.
My main gripe with the Mac Mini is its ports. The M2-powered model has two Thunderbolt 4 USB-C ports, two USB-A, an HDMI, a 10-gigabit Ethernet connection, and a 3.5-mm headphone jack. If you upgrade to the M2 Pro version, you get two extra Thunderbolt 4 ports. But I wish Apple brought the same selection from the Mac Studio, with two USB-C ports and an SD card slot on the front of the machine.
I tested the Mac Mini with the M2 Pro, Apple's newest chip in the M-series lineup. Compared to the M1 Pro, Apple says its successor has 20 percent faster CPU performance (than the 10-core M1 Pro) and graphics that are 30 percent faster. My configuration consisted of a 12-core CPU, 19-core GPU, 16 gigabytes of memory, and a 1-terabyte SSD. You can upgrade up to 32 gigabytes of memory and 8 terabytes of storage if you don't balk at the cost.
My daily workflow involves simple tasks like word processing and web browsing, so I handed the Mac Mini over to my partner, who is a professional video maker, to give it a proper stress test. After importing multiple streams of RED 4K footage (about 300 gigabytes at about 8:1 compression) into Final Cut Pro, we applied 3D tracking, color correction, stabilization, and a few mild effects, plus moved clips around the timeline. The M2 Pro felt snappy and showed zero signs of choking.
The same applies to gaming on the Mac Mini. I played some Resident Evil Village, and the spooky setting looked great and the gameplay felt fluid. (So smooth that I started to feel nauseous after a while.) The Mini did get hot after some time, but it's not in your lap like a MacBook might be, so this wasn't really an issue. It also is pretty darn silent, which is always a plus.
If you're wondering whether you should stick with the affordable M2 Mac Mini or splurge on the M2 Pro variant, let me break it down for you. If you intend to use this machine for basic tasks like browsing the web, sending emails, and taking video calls, the M2 is plenty. However, I recommend upgrading to the model with 512 GB of internal storage, as the Mac Mini reportedly features slower SSD speeds on the base model, just like the base M2 MacBook Air.
The M2 Pro, on the other hand, is a great desktop option for most video and photo editors. It won't feel like you're pushing the machine beyond its boundaries. Plus, the extra ports are always nice. (Professionals working with heavy-duty tasks like 3D rendering and motion graphics should still opt for the M1 Max chip on the Mac Studio.)
By offering a choice between an M2 or an M2 Pro, Apple is filling a crucial and seriously large gap that it previously ignored. But as simple as it is to use this machine, these Macs still don't offer many pathways for upgrades in the future, unlike a traditional desktop PC.