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Mac mini review (M2 Pro, 2023): Just call it a Mac mini Pro

Apple finally turns the Mini into a powerhouse. 
Since its release in 2005, the Mac mini has served as Apple’s dependable tiny form factor trooper. Need an inexpensive accessory for an outdated monitor? Just purchase a Mac Mini! Want to run a PC or low-power media server right next to your TV? Little, baby. The line has experienced its share of highs and lows—the 2014 refresh was lambasted for switching from a quad-core model to a dual-core CPU, and the 2018 update was infamous for its subpar graphics—but it fully recovered with the M1-powered model
 Apple Mac Mini (M2 Pro, 2023) 
But the Mac mini this year is different. Given that it costs $100 less than the M1 version, the $599 model continues to rule the entry-level competition (although perhaps the $499 option will someday make a comeback). However, you can pay more than twice as much, or $1,299!, for a Mini with a slightly weakened M2 Pro CPU and 16GB of RAM. A few years ago, that might have seemed ridiculous, but today it fits perfectly into Apple’s desktop ecosystem. Not all creatives require the M1 Max’s power, but those who do could feel constrained by the base M2 chip. Finally, a powerful Mini is available to help them. (No, the now-defunct $1,099 Intel model never truly acted in that capacity.)

Apple Mac Mini (M2 Pro, 2023)

The Mac mini retains its previous appearance, just like Apple’s new MacBook Pros. The device is still a diminutive aluminum box with numerous ports on the rear and a raised black base bottom for ventilation. The M2 chip in the $599 model has eight CPU cores, ten graphics cores, 8GB of RAM, and 256GB of storage, which is about as basic as PC hardware can be these days. 10 CPU cores, 16 GPU cores, 16GB of RAM, and a 512GB SSD are included in the $1,299 M2 Pro Mini. You may also spend an additional $300 to upgrade to the M2 Pro processor, which has a 12-core CPU and 19-core GPU. However, I’ll explain why in a moment talk about later.
The base Mac mini has two Thunderbolt 4 USB-C ports on the back, two USB-A ports, a headphone jack, and gigabit Ethernet in addition to HDMI 2.0 (with 4K 240Hz and 8K 60Hz output) (upgradeable to 10 gigabit). The M2 Pro variant makes it even more practical for creatives with a lot of accessories by including two more USB-C connections.
The Mac mini’s seamless fusion of simplicity and functionality is what stands out the most. The Mac Mini is designed to blend into your workstation, a sliver of power that doesn’t need to be seen, unlike the taller and more imposing Mac Studio. However, if you frequently need to reach the rear ports, it might not be a good thing. In contrast, the Studio has two front-facing USB-C connections and an SD card slot. To utilize SD cards with the Mini, you’ll need a separate converter. While this is a simple solution, it also adds to the clutter on your desk.
The 12-core M2 Pro chip in our evaluation model, which was more expensive, worked as I had anticipated. In Geek Bench’s CPU test, it outperforms the M1 Max in the Mac Studio but is slower than the M2 Max in the 14-inch MacBook Pro. Unsurprisingly, the M1 Ultra-equipped Studio is significantly faster because it essentially combines two M1 Max chips. But its potential rendering performance is what some creatives value most. In the Cine bench R23 benchmark, the Mac Mini outperformed the M1 Max Studio by 2,000 points while matching the performance of the 14-inch MacBook Pro with M2 Max.
In a more real-world test, the Mac Mini transcoded a minute-long 4K clip into 1080p using only its CPU power in 37 seconds while the GPU required 32 seconds to complete the task. Both numbers just barely beat the M1 Max Studio, which required 43 seconds for a CPU encode and 34 seconds for a GPU encode.
The Mac Mini exceeded standards and was an absolute delight for my everyday workflow (dealing with dozens of browser tabs, batch image processing, and practically every chat app out there). But if I reduce my use of resource-intensive browsers to manage with 8GB of RAM, I’d anticipate a similar outcome from the $599 model. The computer is still a good choice for most users, and if you wanted something more individualized than an Apple TV, it might make a wonderful home theatre PC.
As I evaluated the Mac Mini, I began to question if owning a massive mid-tower PC as my primary computer was even worthwhile. However, because I enjoy playing games, I could never be a full-time Mac user. There aren’t enough games available, despite a few recent ones, like Resident Evil Village, natively supporting Macs. By the way, playing that game on the Mac Mini at 1,440p easily achieved 60 frames per second.
Again, to get the same performance numbers, you’d have to pay $1,599 for the updated M2 Pro. I lacked the slower Mac Pro model to compare it against, but going on what we’re seeing with Apple’s M2 CPUs, it would still represent a significant improvement over M1 hardware. I can’t help but believe that the $1,299 M2 Pro Mini makes more sense for creatives when I take a step back. Our review unit would cost the same $1,999 as the base Mac Studio if you upgraded it to 32GB of RAM. Additionally, the Studio will soon receive an M2 upgrade because it has been around for about a year.
My recommendation? If you want a more powerful Mac desktop, choose the $1,299 Mac mini. If at all possible, avoid upgrading any hardware. I could imagine paying the extra $200 to acquire 1TB of storage, but it’s not worth it to spend an extra $400 to obtain 32GB of RAM. We shouldn’t encourage Apple to continue with their exorbitant upgrades—remember the $999 monitor stand?
Although I can see how it might have been confusing, Apple could have just dubbed this computer the Mac mini Pro. There are currently two versions of the Mini: a low-cost computer for the majority of people and a hidden powerhouse for innovators. If only getting more RAM didn’t cost so much, it would be the ideal small-form factor PC.