pros and cons
- $100 cheaper than its predecessor
- Just as capable as systems costing many times as much
- 10%-20% performance boost over M1 generation
- Storage is slower than previous-gen models
- Still limited to just two displays
- Prices jump quickly for upgraded configs
more buying choices
In November 2020, Apple introduced its first M1 Mac Mini. The $700-plus PC made a huge splash almost instantly thanks to the shocking capability of Apple’s first-gen, first-party silicon to provide as much power as systems costing several times as much. The relatively inexpensive unit quickly became the darling of shoppers looking for an affordable second PC for the den, small businesses wanting a reliable desktop, and even creative professionals on a budget.
Now, Apple is back a little over two years later with an upgraded M2 version of the same system that, to the surprise of many, launched at a $100 discount from the previous model.
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While the cheaper base configuration of the new system does include slower onboard storage (more on this later), it also provides processing performance superior to its already impressive ancestor. The result is a desktop system that makes it so that most other general-purpose desktops and midrange workstations will need to not only justify their pricing but their need to exist at all.
|Processor||Apple M2 or M2 Pro|
|Ports||2 x Thunderbolt 4, 1 x HDMI, 2 X USB-A 3.1 Gen 2, 1 x Gigabit Ethernet, 1 X 3.5mm headphone jack|
|Memory||8GB to 32GB|
|Storage||256GB to 8TB|
|Supported displays||M2: Two (one via HDMi and one via DisplayPort over Thunderbolt), M2 Pro: Three (one via HDMi and two via DisplayPort over Thunderbolt)|
|Connectivity||Wi-Fi 6E, Bluetooth 5.3|
|Dimensions and weight||1.41 inches (3.58 cm) x 7.75 inches (19.70 cm) x 7.75 inches (19.70 cm) | 2.8lbs (1.28kg)|
|Included accessories||Power cable|
Build and features
This will be an easy section to get through for anyone familiar with the original M1 Mac Mini as the M2 Mac Mini is, at least on the outside, physically identical. It has all of the same ports, the same size and weight (within a few ounces), and the same external features.
Just like its predecessor, the M2 Mac Mini doesn’t have an overabundance of ports, but it’s got enough to handle nearly all home uses and the majority of professional workstation setups. The only limitation that still irks somewhat is the mere two display outputs (one HDMi and one Thunderbolt 4). Thankfully, there are ways to reconfigure this to add a second Thunderbolt monitor that will work with the M2 model, as well as some external docking stations that can support additional displays.
Unlike the M1 generation, you also now have the option to upgrade to the M2 Pro model, which supports three displays. It still doesn’t quite match the number of displays supported by older, Intel-based Mac Minis, but it is a step in the right direction if this is a limitation that concerns you.
The single most impressive thing about the M1 Mac Mini was its performance. While the M2 Mini doesn’t provide the massive step up from its direct predecessor that the M1 provided over Intel-based Mac Minis, it does offer enhancements. Testing both systems using the well-respected Geekbench 5 benchmark (seen below) showed the single-core performance of the M2 is about 10% higher than the M1, while its multicore results jumped an even more impressive 22%.
Figures like this are great ways to quantify performance upgrades, but what’s more important is how the system actually feels to the user. To that end, I’ll note that there was a detectable, consistent benefit when performing a task on the M2 versus the older, otherwise identical, M1 model.
Photoshop workflows, for instance, felt faster, with any action that required a load time seeming about 25% speedier to me, on average. Similar speed boosts were detectable across other photo, video, and sound editing software as well. General tasks like browsing the web showed fewer perceptible benefits, but mostly only because they were already so instant on the M1.
The only area where the M2 Mini actually saw any degradation in performance is the speed of its built-in storage. It’s important to note that this primarily affects the $599 base model with 256GB of storage. Where Apple used dual 128GB SSD storage chips on the M1 Mini, the M2 model instead has a single 256GB chip. I won’t go too deeply into things like raid arrays and NAND configurations. Instead, I’ll just note that the general consensus across many testers and analysts is that this decision results in the overall read/write speeds of the onboard storage for the 256GB model being between 25% and 55% slower.
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There are two important things to note here. First, most saving and opening tasks, even on several-hundred-megabyte files, still happen pretty much instantly on the M2 Mac Mini. It’s only when you get to files pushing 1GB or more that a loading bar tends to get involved.
Second, this difference in speed will mostly affect creators and professionals handling large video, sound, or image files. However, those types of users very likely would never be able to subsist on 256GB of storage anyway. This means they’ll either have upgraded to the 512GB or higher models or would be using external storage solutions that have entirely separate read/write speeds.
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In short, for the majority of the users who would choose the 256GB storage option, the reduction in speed won’t impact them nearly as much as that 25% to 55% would seem to suggest. That said, make sure to determine what your specific performance needs are before you buy. As with all recent Macs, you’re stuck with the specs you purchase, with no subsequent upgrades available once you take your new Mac Mini home.
Should I buy one?
Getting this question answered is the entire reason why reviews exist. Unfortunately, us reviewers, myself included, often need to qualify the answer with conditionals and scenarios due to just how varied a given product’s potential user base is.
While I can’t give you an absolute answer, I can say with about as much confidence as I possess that the answer in this case is almost certainly yes. Of course, there are still just a few of those nagging “buts” I have to address.
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To be clear, it’s only if you fall into one of the very specific categories below that I feel you should NOT buy the M2 Mac Mini. For literally everyone else, it’s the first desktop I’d recommend for its incredible price-to-performance ratio, its perfect reliability during my testing, and that same simplicity and user-friendliness that has long been a trademark of MacOS systems.
The cases where I’d recommend against it are:
- The difference in storage speed really will impact you — As mentioned above, if you frequently open or save massive files, consider either external storage options or an upgraded storage tier before purchasing.
- You absolutely need access to software that’s not available for MacOS — Unlike older Intel-based Macs, the M2 (like the M1 before it) doesn’t offer an easy way to run Windows-based software. This means if a Windows-only title is vital to your work or play, you’re out of luck.
- You’re a gamer — Macs are still bad at serious gaming, despite the massive performance improvements brought on by Apple silicon. The lack of a discrete GPU, poor MacOS support among game devs, and other technical factors mean this is just not the system to buy if you plan on serious gaming.
The below image best sums up why the M2 Mac Mini is such an easy recommendation. In the background is a “small form factor” PC I built myself a couple of years ago. In the foreground is the M2 Mac Mini. The PC I built cost around $1,500 at the time, while the Mac Mini costs $599 today. Setting aside the bulleted exceptions above, there is absolutely nothing that the larger PC can do that the M2 Mac Mini can not only do, but do better.
It’s less than half the price, takes up less than a quarter of the space, and uses a fraction of the power that PC does, but it’s still a better home PC for all of that. The same superiority to competing home PC options holds true for a very large portion of professional settings as well. The M1 Mini totally disrupted the home PC industry for a reason, and its M2 follow-up just enhances its accomplishments by taking a level of performance that was already more than most users needed and boosting it even further.
The new Mac Mini starting price of $599, even with the reduction in storage speed, makes this system more accessible and well-suited to a wider range of users than ever. If you need a desktop for your home or business, this is almost certainly the one to get.
Alternatives to consider
If you need access to Windows-only apps, but still want a tiny system that packs everything into a footprint similar to the Mac Mini, consider Intel’s latest NUC release. Its base model is a little more expensive, but it’s about the closest thing you can get in a Windows equivalent.
If you’re only going to buy one system, you’re likely better off with a laptop than a desktop. That’s because a laptop can always become a desktop via a docking solution, while a desktop will always be tied to your home workstation. If portability is something you expect to need, and you don’t want to buy two PCs, consider grabbing an M2 MacBook Air instead. It was our 2022 product of the year because it provides all the same benefits as the new Mac Mini, and throws incredible portability in for good measure.
If you want a desktop that’s mostly a match for the M2 Mac Mini in other areas, but also offers the option to get down to some serious gaming, HP’s Omen 40L model fits that bill. Just be aware the addition of a discrete GPU means you’ll be spending more and taking up more desk space.