Power upgrade makes smallest Mac desktop more adaptable and better value alternative to iMac
Apple’s cheapest desktop computer has had a price cut and a power upgrade – making it one of the smallest, cheapest and most adaptable Macs yet.
The Mac mini starts at £649 ($599/A$999) – £50 less than the 2020 model – and has Apple’s latest M2 or M2 Pro chips as used in the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro to great effect.
The tiny aluminium box is about the size of a hardback book, measuring just under 20cm each side and less than 4cm thick. It is easy to fit just about anywhere: on a desk, mounted under one, in a TV cabinet, on the back of the monitor, stuck to a wall – wherever you can reach with a power cable.
Like a normal desktop PC you simply plug the Mac mini into a screen, keyboard and mouse, all of which can be bought with it at great expense – or you can use your existing gear. I connected an Asus 4K monitor and Logitech Bluetooth mouse and keyboard to the mini to set it up, using them during the length of the review without issue.
It runs macOS 13.2 Ventura like all recent Macs and has the same screen-sharing and proximity features as the MacBook laptops. That means you can use a recent iPad as a second screen, use the attached mouse and keyboard to control an iPad or other Mac and use an iPhone as a wireless webcam, which works really well.
Processor: Apple M2 or M2 Pro
RAM: 8GB, 16GB, 24GB or 32GB
Storage: 256GB, 512GB, 1TB, 2TB, 4TB or 8TB SSD
Operating system: macOS 13.2 Ventura
Connectivity: wifi 6E, Bluetooth 5.3, 2x USB-A, 2 or 4x USB 4/Thunderbolt 4, HDMI 2.1, Ethernet, headphones
Dimensions: 197mm x 197mm x 35.8mm
Weight: 1.18kg to 1.28kg
M2 power and efficiency
The new M2 and M2 Pro chips offer decent performance gains on the previous M1 and M1 Pro chips, with a 10% to 20% improvement in CPU speed and up to 25% faster graphics. That puts them at the top of the pile alongside some of Intel and AMD’s latest top chips, but at much lower power consumption, and a giant leap over previous Intel-powered Macs.
With that level of performance, the Mac mini has become not just a small Apple computer but one of its more powerful and adaptable options. The M2 version will be more than enough for most general computing tasks, with the more expensive M2 Pro option and up to 32GB of RAM available for those who need more power. It sits below the Mac Studio, which is a beefed up version of the mini for those who need a lot more graphics or computing power.
The beauty of the Mac mini is that it runs essentially silently. It has a fan that you can feel gently blowing out the back if you put your hands over it, but you can’t hear it under normal use. When pushed hard while gaming or processing large amounts of data, the fan becomes only just about audible when you actively listen out for it.
It has a solid selection of ports, but they are all on the back, making them more awkward to access for things such as plugging in USB flash drives. There is ethernet, HDMI 2.1, headphones, two USB-A ports and two or four Thunderbolt 4/USB 4 ports depending on the version.
You can connect up to two monitors at once to the M2 and up to three to the M2 Pro, which will be more than enough for even the most elaborate desk setups.
The Mac mini is made of 40% recycled materials, including aluminium, rare earth elements, tin, gold and plastic. Apple breaks down the computer’s environmental impact in its report. The M2 Pro version consumes less than 0.5W when asleep, about 3W at idle, around 5W for light work and up to 50W when pushed, with a maximum rated draw of 185W.
The computer is generally repairable. Apple publishes repair manuals for its computers and offers trade-in and free recycling schemes, including for non-Apple products.
The Mac mini starts at £649 ($599/A$999) for an M2 chip with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. Models with the M2 Pro start at £1,399.
For comparison, the MacBook Air M2 starts at £1,249, the 14in MacBook Pro M2 Pro starts at £2,149, the 24in iMac costs £1,399,
The Mac mini has long been Apple’s smallest computer, but a bit of an outlier next to its other popular consumer desktop, the iMac.
Rather than an all-in-one, it is a bring-your-own screen and peripherals device – a more familiar concept on the Windows PC side of the computer divide. But with the shrinking of the iMac line to just the 24in version from 2021, and with the relaunch of Apple’s own display line, the Mac mini is poised as the new desktop Mac for all shapes and sizes.
The starting M2 version has enough performance for most, while the M2 Pro offers more power than many will need outside computing intensive workloads. And all packed into a tiny, power-sipping and quiet-running box that, depending on which version you buy, is surprisingly good value for a Mac. There’s little that can really compete with the Mac mini outside a few niche and expensive small form-factor gaming boxes or DIY computers.
It is not perfect as desktop computers go since you cannot add more RAM or storage after purchase – though you can use an external drive. A lack of ports on the front makes plugging in flash drives and other temporary peripherals more fiddly than it needs to be, the same as the iMac. But it is easy to live with, whether you are using Apple’s fancy displays, mice and keyboards or not.
Pros: super-fast M2 or M2 Pro chips, quiet and cool running, tiny box, good value for a Mac, plenty of ports, adaptable, lots of recycled materials, can run two or three displays.
Cons: no front ports, no SD card slot, RAM or SSD cannot be upgraded after purchase, built-in speaker is just for basics.