An M2 Pro Mac mini Would Keep Apple’s Smallest Computer Relevant

The mini's in better shape than ever

  • Credible sources say Apple is planning M2 and M2 Pro Mac minis.
  • They’ll use the same case design as the current—and previous—models.
  • The Mac mini fills a very useful hole in many people’s computing needs.
M1 Mac mini partially hidden behind a display

Joey Banks / Unsplash

Apple is working on M2 and M2 Pro versions of its oddball Mac mini desktop computer, yet it will keep the same external design it's had for years. 

The Mac mini is the Apple equivalent of those Tupperware containers shoved to the back of the bottom shelf of your fridge. Apple knows it has to take care of them from time to time, but there's always something better to do instead. But between the M2 MacBook Air and the Mac Studio, is it time to retire the neglected mini?

"We heavily rely on the current version of Mac minis at my photo studio. We find that they are more than robust enough for simple photo editing, as capture stations, and to route our in-house server," photographer Patrick Nugent told Lifewire via email. "We had considered going with [the Mac Studio], but for the price, minis are hard to beat."

Mini Max

The Mac mini started as a very cheap entry-level model, a way to get a small, basic Mac without paying for the parts you didn’t need, like the screen and keyboard of a laptop, or the large case and extensive expansion options of the Power Mac.

It was ideal for PC switchers who already had a display, mouse, and keyboard, for Mac lovers who wanted a small and basic desktop machine, and for nerds and businesses who wanted to use it as a server, where paying for screens and keyboards was a waste of money.

And it’s also—don’t forget—mini.

We had considered going with [the Mac Studio], but for the price, minis are hard to beat.

"Aside from the price, one of the most attractive features of the Mac mini is its small footprint, which the Mac Studio eschews for performance," M2 Pro Mac-curious web developer Louise Findlay told Lifewire via email. "For those with small desks, size matters. I have a reasonably sized desk, but […] I barely have enough room to place my laptop on it."

Over the years, the price has crept up, but the design has stayed basically the same—a flat square with ports on the back. And with Apple's M1 chip, it's an absurdly capable machine. The problem, though, is the price brings it into MacBook Air territory, and the Mac Studio outdoes it on performance. 

The Competition

The Mac mini’s competition is not small PCs. It’s other Macs. With the advent of Apple Silicon, there’s no such thing as a low-end Mac. Apple put the M1 chip into two MacBooks, an iMac, the Mac mini, and even an iPad. This meant that, finally, there was no performance compromise for people who prefer the mobility of a laptop

The problem is that, whereas the entry-level Mac mini is $699, the MacBook Air can be had for $999. That’s just $300 extra for a whole lot more computer that will perform identically and comes with a keyboard, battery, and screen. Even if you plan to only use your Mac as a desktop computer connected to a monitor, it might be worth the extra money just for the occasional portability, a spare screen, and a battery backup. 

Mini Niche

Apple supply-chain-whisperer Ming-Chi Kuo says the M2-based Macs mini will use the same old design—which is fine because it has cooling to spare (it used to be able to handle the blistering heat from Intel's chips) and will be a drop-in upgrade for data centers that use custom racks to hold Mac minis. But an M2 Pro Mac mini would be good for more than just upgrading legacy installations. 

The Mac Studio is already kind of a high-end Mac mini, but it's also way more expensive and a lot bigger. An M2 mini, especially an M2 Pro, would bring much of the Studio's features but with all the advantages of the Mac mini. And the mini is already a very capable machine. 

"We never even considered going to MacBook Airs as in our environment, we work full time on calibrated NEC displays to ensure consistent and correct color," says Nugent. "When we are on location or need to do work with heavier lifting, we move over to MacBook Pros, but in our experience, it is still nice to have dedicated desktop setups that are always connected."

M1 Mac mini under a display

Charles Patterson / Unsplash

The Mac mini might sometimes go an uncomfortably long time between updates, but it’s also a kind of buy-and-forget machine. And with an M2 Pro chip inside, it will probably be powerful enough to use for almost all tasks, except for the highest-end of video and 3D work. 

So, yes, the Mac mini may be neglected, it might still be dressed in its Intel clothes as it enters the second wave of Apple Silicon chips, but it’s still totally relevant. It’s like the plucky underdog that keeps coming back, and some users will always love it for that.

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