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Apple Mac mini M2 review: Elegant simplicity on the desk

Should you opt for the M2 Mac mini or the M2 Pro? Lounge evaluates Apple’s small form factor PC

From the home office to the studio, to build farms to data centers, the Apple Mac mini is more versatile than ever. (Apple)

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Apple’s rejuvenated Mac portfolio hasn’t set a foot wrong since its move to the M-series Apple silicon, with pro-friendly offerings like the MacBook Pro and the Mac Studio interspersed with strong consumer offerings in the MacBook Air and the iMac.

So it’s easy to overlook the Mac mini, Apple’s small form factor PC, whose 2023 iteration continues to look largely identical to the earlier Mac minis. Yet it’s arguably Apple’s most exciting new product, regardless of whether you are an everyday Mac user or a creative professional.

What’s new?

On the surface, little has changed—it has the same squircle shape and footprint on the desk and is available in the single silver colour. Expectedly, it comes with Apple’s latest chips, only this time you can either pick up a variant with the M2 chip that powers the MacBook Air or do one better with the M2 Pro chip variant. The latter takes performance up several notches with a 10-core CPU and a 16-core GPU, and all models in the lineup also benefit from faster LPDDR5 memory.

In a twist no one predicted, Apple has actually lowered the base variant price, starting at 59,900 for 8GB memory/256GB storage. The 129,900 variant is the lowest entry point to access the M2 Pro chip, otherwise available only on the MacBook Pros, which start at 199,900. Of course, you will need a usable keyboard, mouse and monitor (and a pair of external speakers), so factor that in. Other upgrades include support for Wi-Fi 6e, Bluetooth 5.3 and the move to Thunderbolt 4 for the USB-C ports.

What’s likeable?

Apple has touted the performance-per-watt metric with the M1 and M2 generations but with the Mac mini, the price-to-performance ratio is even more impressive. This is no pared-down chip held back by the fanless design of the MacBook Air M2 or even the iPad Pro M2—the fan-assisted M2 in the Mac mini helps deal with sustained workloads, shining moderately over the M2 Air in CPU performance benchmarks but pulling ahead in graphics performance benchmarks.

In everyday use, then, you won’t see a huge difference between the M2 Mac mini and an M1 Mac mini / M2 MacBook Air while browsing the web or streaming videos but when you push the Mac mini for tasks like video editing or photo editing, the gap widens. Exporting uncompressed files on Photoshop is way snappier (up to 30-40%) and you can shave precious minutes while exporting final renders with multiple 4K video files in Final Cut Pro.

In the benchmark scores, such as Geekbench 5, which allow us to compare performance across platforms, the mid-range ( 79,900) mini reviewed outscored premium Windows laptops that cost twice-thrice as much. Just keep in mind that the regular M2 Mac minis ship with 8GB memory as standard, so if you are an aspiring creative with aspirations of dabbling in complex 4K video edits or colour grading, you may want to pay the extra 20,000 for a RAM upgrade to 16GB or pick up the M2 Pro variant.

On the surface, little has changed—it has the same squircle shape and footprint on the desk and is available in the single silver colour.
On the surface, little has changed—it has the same squircle shape and footprint on the desk and is available in the single silver colour. (Apple)

What’s not so great?

The design, though a little long in the tooth and missing the colour options the iMac and Macbook Air have had for years, remains elegant in its simplicity. It essentially disappears into the background on your work desk or entertainment console. The compact form factor does have its drawbacks—for instance, the integrated speakers are anaemic at best and really only reserved for system notifications.

Even though the mini has space for some modularity, every component—from storage to memory—is integrated on to the main board, so you will still have to select everything you need at purchase. If you can, pick up the mid-range 512 GB storage model, for SSD speeds are slower on the base model. You will likely only notice this during large file transfers to/from external drives or while performing memory-intensive tasks like video edits or opening too many Chrome windows.

All the ports are on the rear, which keeps the front looking smart but makes swapping out accessories or drives a little painful. The base model only has two Thunderbolt ports (alongside 1 HDMI, 2 USB-A and 1 Ethernet), with only the M2 Pro model getting the additional two Thunderbolt ports.

M2 or M2 Pro—which one’s for you? You may want to pick up the M2 Mac mini if your tasks are of the everyday variety— browsing the web, document edits, streaming video, the occasional video edit in iMovie. It’s an excellent media console PC for those serious about entertainment. The M2 Pro is a solid upgrade for video and photo editors, not only for the boost in performance but the added ports— including a more modern HDMI 2.1 port and the ability to support up to three external displays (one more than the M2 Mac mini).

What’s the verdict?

If you have the accessories already, the Mac mini M2 is a no-brainer for a home computer. It’s not showy, it can’t be taken to a café (at least, not easily) and it has a fixed place in your office/home setup but it’s a hassle-free way to get a lot of computing power without draining the wallet.

Tushar Kanwar, a tech columnist and commentator, tweets at @2shar.

Also read: Apple HomePod (2nd Gen) review: Same audio quality, same smarts

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