Apple Mac mini M2: What is it?
Apple’s Mac mini has really come of age in recent years, and like much of the Mac product line, the arrival of Apple Silicon has dramatically enhanced its performance.
With Apple now going full tilt with its latest M2 processor rollout, the Mac mini, much like the MacBook Pro, is having a full-on refresh.
The result is not only more choice (with two main types of Mac mini now available), but also specs that in many cases are indistinguishable from the new MacBook Pros.
The two different designs are built around the M2 and M2 Pro processors (note there’s no M2 Max option), and both include two USB-A ports, Ethernet, HDMI, headphone output, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.
Where they differ is the number of Thunderbolt 4 (USB-C USB 4) ports – two for the M2 and four for the M2 Pro. The M2 model is an 8-core CPU/10-core GPU design with a choice of memory (8, 16, 24GB) and storage (256, 512GB, 1T, 2T). The M2 Pro model is either a 10-core CPU, 16-core GPU or 12-core CPU, 19-core GPU design with a choice of memory (16, 32GB) and storage (512GB, 1, 2, 4, 8TB).
All versions have a 16-core Neural Engine and all versions can have a 10 Gigabit Ethernet configuration (£100 extra). There are some other differences between the M2 and M2 Pro models, including multiple screen capability (2 vs 3), HDMI type (2 vs 2.1) and weight (1.18kg vs 1.28kg).
As we’ve come to expect from Apple Silicon devices, the system-on-chip (SoC) design and hard-wired SSD means none of the Mac mini is upgradeable. What’s more, this means you have many available spec options to choose from and a wide range of prices.
To put this into context the absolute minimum base model (M2 8-core/10-core, 8GB memory, 256GB storage) is £649. Whereas the fully-maxed M2 Pro model (M2 Pro, 12-core/19-core, 32GB memory, 8TB storage, 10 Gigabit Ethernet) is a whopping £4,599, although the 8TB storage option makes up an astonishing £2,400 of this price.
For review, we have the faster M2 Pro (12-core CPU, 19-core GPU) with 32GB memory, 1TB storage and the faster 10Gb/s Ethernet. This costs £2,399 – wow.
All the connectivity mentioned above along with the power button and fan vent is hidden around the back. The only thing on the front is a tiny power indicator. This looks incredibly slick, although from a functional perspective fumbling around the back to plug up a regular USB stick is a bit of a pain.
You can of course use those seriously dated USB-A ports for keyboard and mouse, but Apple’s Bluetooth options deliver a less cluttered desktop. For screen connection you can use one of the USB-C ports or the HDMI port, and much like the MacBook Pro, the DisplayPort-capable ports allow additional screen connectivity as mentioned above.
The Mac mini comes preinstalled with Mac OS 13 Ventura and this is the minimum supported OS. For music production, it’s very important to check that any plugins or apps you want to use support this OS and Apple Silicon.
With the Mac mini, unlike a MacBook, you need to budget for a few extras, as the box literally includes the Mac mini and its power lead. The most obvious is the screen, and there are plenty of very respectable non-Apple options out there.
However, Apple sent us the Studio Display, its glorious 27” 5K Retina unit with pixel doubling, regular and nano-texture glass options and integrated 12MP camera. One of its coolest additional features is the 6-speaker Atmos capable sound with force-cancelling woofers.
Nevertheless, at £1,499 upwards this is a luxury few will opt for. You may also have to factor in a mouse and keyboard, and the going rate for the cheapest Magic Mouse and Magic Keyboard is currently £79 and £99, respectively.
Apple Mac mini M2: Performance and verdict
To see how the Mac mini performed and to compare it to both the new MacBook Pro and last year’s Mac Studio, both of which we have tried, we ran very similar tests.
• Apple MacBook Pro M2
The newly revamped and M2-powered laptop range comes in three sizes – 13”, 14”, and 16” – using M2, M2 Pro and M2 Max processors. Factor in the many memory and storage options and you have a vast array of configurations and performance to match many budgets.
• Apple Mac Studio
It’s bigger than its mini sibling, but not by much and you’ll get impressive performance from both the M1 Max or M1 Ultra Processor options. Each unit has plenty of connectivity and although it’s not as quiet as the Mac mini, it’s still quiet enough to sit on your desktop.
These use Logic Pro X and its stock plugins, thus avoiding any OS support issues. On this occasion within Logic, the processing option is switched to ‘12 threads’ rather than ‘automatic’ and the buffer size set to 256 samples.
The first test uses multiple tracks loaded with the Alchemy synth playing a series of 5-note chords. The review Mac mini managed 68 tracks consistently. The second test uses multiple audio tracks each playing the same snippet of audio and each with Logic Pro’s ChromaVerb inserted.
The Mac mini managed 385 tracks consistently. These results are slightly lower than the M2 MacBook Pro we tried, which had the same processor. We don’t know the exact reason for this, but it could possibly be the additional hit of running an external screen.
Interestingly, the difference affects the synth performance most, and the reverb performance is almost the same. To confuse matters slightly, the Geekbench 5 score (single-core 1964, multi-core 14995) was virtually identical to the MacBook Pro M2 we tested.
Either way, this is amazing performance, particularly for the single core, and much like the MacBook Pro, the cooling fan didn’t budge during our tests. What’s more, although we didn’t have them side by side to compare, when reasonably idle we would say the Mac mini fan is noticeably quieter than the Mac Studio, which makes it ideal for music users.
Once upon a time, the Mac mini was the slimmed down, and dare we say it, affordable Mac option, and if the spec of the latest M2 base model fulfils your needs, then at £649 that’s still the case.
However, you can now supersize the spec of your Mac mini into something altogether different. Mac mini XL or Mac maxi might be a better description.
Inevitably, this all comes at a price and much like the M2 MacBook Pro, that price rises sharply as you bump up the spec of the memory and storage.
Even so, and despite the non-upgradable design, there can be no denying that the new Mac mini offers excellent performance
MusicRadar verdict: With a wealth of configuration options and prices to tempt everyone from entry-level dabblers to power users, the Mac mini has come of age.
- Our pick of the best Macs for music production
Apple Mac mini M2: The web says
"The entry-level Mac Mini is both impressively powerful and shockingly affordable making it arguably the best value computer on the market right now, but the price of spec upgrades makes more powerful models less appealing."
Apple Mac mini M2: Hands-on demos
Apple Mac mini M2: Specifications
- Review unit: Apple M2 Pro chip
- 12-core CPU – 8 performance cores
- 4 efficiency cores
- 19-core GPU
- 16-core Neural Engine
- 32GB Unified Memory, 200GB/s memory bandwidth
- 1TB SSD storage
- I/O: Headphone output
- 4 USB-C Thunderbolt 4 ports
- 2 USB-A ports
- 1 HDMI port
- 1 Gigabit Ethernet port
- Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.3
- Wi-Fi 6E
- Size: 197 x 197 x 36mm
- Weight: 1.28kg
- PRICING: M2 from £649, M2 Pro from £1,399, As reviewed – £2,399.
- CONTACT: Apple