Apple’s new Mac Mini is small, stylish – and downright frighteningly fast. But the competitors should have their biggest concerns about something else.
When the first Mac Mini appeared, it was a stroke of genius and a great compromise at the same time. The small box looked good on the desk, but you shouldn’t expect too much performance. But that changed at the latest with the introduction of the company’s own M-chips. The new models with M2 processors are now on the market – and the M2 Pro in particular has proven to be a real performance monster in the test.
But first things first. If you look at the new Mac Mini from the outside, practically nothing has changed. The case is still slim and simple. The angular design looks great on a tidy desk. The only innovation is on the back – and even there only on the more expensive model with the M2 Pro processor. Apple has given the premium version two more Thunderbolt 4 ports. Otherwise, the new Mac Mini is externally indistinguishable from its predecessor.
The real revolution is…
The innovations can be found inside. After Apple brought the first desktop computer with its own M chips onto the market with the last model, the company is now setting the bar even higher. The base model gets the M2 processor, which premiered in Apple’s notebooks this summer (you can find the Macbook Air review here). Compared to its predecessor, it offers around 20 percent more power.
However, the more exciting innovation has already been mentioned: For the first time, Apple is also offering its Mac Mini with the option of installing one of its much more powerful Pro chips, the M2 Pro that has just been introduced. And that gives the small computer a really considerable boost in performance.
The price is also a real revolution. While the prices in the PC market, and also at Apple, have actually only increased in recent years, Apple is going in the opposite direction with the Mac Mini – and lowering the price. In the basic configuration, the Mac Mini costs only 699 euros. And the RRP is only a few euros above the market price of the predecessor model, which is more than two years old.
This makes the Mac Mini in the smallest configuration not only by far the cheapest Mac. It also offers outrageous performance for the money compared to PCs. The Mac Mini with M2 Pro costs more than twice as much at 1549 euros. Compared to the next cheaper computer with the M2 Pro, the Macbook Pro that has also just been presented, it still costs a whole 850 euros less.
New Mac Mini is ahead of its time
However, even the basic model of the M2 should offer most users more performance than they will be able to access in the next few years. For surfing, office work or even for photo editing and video editing, the M2 is more oversized than undersized for most requirements. For many users, this primarily means that the computer still has reserves for years to come for increasing resource demands in the future. Only those who regularly push their computer to the limit with highly complex work or extremely complex calculations are already benefiting from the additional performance.
However, this varies quite a bit depending on the chip. The M2 brought about 20 percent more performance in the Macbook Air, and a similar increase can be expected in the Mac Mini. The tested Mac Mini with M2 Pro, on the other hand, increases significantly more. The difference is already clearly visible in test programs such as Cinebench or Geekbench.
Although the increase in tests of individual cores is rather moderate compared to the huge leap of the last generation, a single core is only around 8 to 13 percent faster. But if you let all the cores rattle off at the same time, the picture changes abruptly: The new chip can calculate between 50 and 60 percent faster than the old Mac Mini at its full performance. And with minimal noise. Even after hours of maximum load, you can hardly hear a whisper from the built-in fan. In normal operation, it doesn’t even turn on.
The explanation for the gigantic leap lies in the architecture of the chip. While the basic model of the M2 does not differ from the M1 in terms of the number of cores, the M2 Pro is different. For one thing, the M2 Pro has two more CPU cores, namely ten instead of eight. On the other hand, it has twice as many graphics cores, instead of eight there are 16 GPU cores. If you need even more, you can upgrade to 12 CPU and 19 GPU cores for an additional 350 euros.
The plus is particularly noticeable in graphics-intensive applications such as video tools or games. Even in complex games, the M2 Pro creates a very smooth display. You only have to reckon with noticeable differences in comparison to high-end graphics cards. But the cards alone often cost as much as the entire Mac Mini.
Too bad: Because Apple’s self-developed chips have not yet supported the installation of Windows and the Mac is still hardly supported by game developers, the selection of games is significantly smaller than for classic PCs. Unfortunately, the Mac Mini cannot be recommended as a real gaming machine. Many games can be run using emulation solutions such as Rosetta or Parallels. However, the full performance cannot be called up in this way. However, the Mac Mini is always ready for gaming on the side.
One of the biggest advantages of the Pro model over the simple M2 is the monitor options. The M2 Mac Mini can drive a maximum of two monitors, while the model with the M2 Pro has three. And: The better graphics performance enables the small computer to control a display with 8K resolution.
Modern connections, but…
Good: With the M2 Mini, Apple is also upgrading its computers to many new standards. The devices now support Bluetooth 5.3 and the modern WLAN standard Wifi 6E. For the Ethernet connection, the group uses a gigabit connection as standard, but a 10 GB port is also offered as an option.
The M2 Pro also steps up a notch when it comes to transferring data from the hard drive to the main memory. At 200 gigabytes per second, the data interface is twice as fast as the entry-level model. Even huge files can be opened and edited almost instantaneously. Speaking of RAM: It can now also be doubled if desired: In the maximum configuration, the Mac Mini now offers up to 32 GB of RAM.
However, the plentiful working memory is also a major weakness of the design: Like other computers with Apple’s M chips, the Mac Mini cannot be subsequently adapted to increased demands. In plain language, this means that if you urgently need more performance or RAM in the future, you will have to buy a new computer. Both factors should therefore be carefully considered when purchasing. However, the basic configurations are perfectly sufficient for most buyers for normal office work.
The only exception to expandability is the hard drive. With 256 GB for the basic model and 512 GB for the one with the M2 Pro, it’s not exactly huge. For most users, however, the limitation can be circumvented by purchasing a fast external SSD hard drive.
You can save a lot of money with this: An external SSD, which is connected almost as quickly as the internal memory, can often be had for 150 euros for 1 terabyte. At Apple, you pay almost 500 euros for this upgrade. Only those who really need every little bit of extra speed or would like to have as few peripheral devices as possible on their desk will not be able to avoid the Apple option.
Incidentally, compared to earlier computers, Apple has tried to increase the use of recycled materials. Apple assures that many raw materials, such as the aluminum of the housing, the rare earths used for the built-in magnets or the tin soldering of the mainboard, come entirely from recycled raw materials.
Conclusion: wolf in aluminum fur
The new Mac Mini puts the competition under a lot of pressure – even as an entry-level model. It mainly owes this to the combination of its reduced price and the new M2 chip. Although it is not as revolutionary as the M1, it still offers a significant leap in performance. Together with the new price point, the current Mac Mini is hard to beat even in the basic configuration as a package.
The model with the M2 Pro, on the other hand, is almost in a class of its own. The combination of case size, performance and price simply cannot be found anywhere else on the market. The fact that the computer is hardly noticeable from the noise level makes it unique so far.
Of course there are also disadvantages. Unlike classic desktop computers, the Mac Mini can no longer be expanded, and Apple pays well for the upgrades. While most standard programs are available for Mac, the lack of Windows support means that many special programs and games can only be used via emulation solutions – and then cannot access their full performance. Additional incentives for developers from Apple would be desirable here. Windows PCs therefore remain the better choice for some potential buyers.
For most everyday applications, however, there is hardly a better desktop calculator available at this price. The Mac Mini will be available from January 24th and will start at €699 for the M2 and €1549 for the M2 Pro.
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