The Apple Mac mini has been around since 2005 and is now in its seventh iteration. Though once considered a budget desktop option, this latest model uses some of Apple's latest and greatest chips, making it a serious desktop replacement for any current Apple user.
It features one of two Apple silicon chips, the M2 and the brand-new M2 Pro. Both are a step up from the previous M1 version of the Mac mini, but the M2 Pro model is a machine that can handle professional usage. Only the new MacBook Pro 14/16 inch models and the Mac Studio offer more powerful systems.
It was this more powerful version that I reviewed here. The Mac mini M2 Pro with a more powerful 12-core CPU and 19-core GPU. 16GB RAM and 1TB SSD storage take the device from the entry price of £649 / $599 to £1899 / $1799. It can go higher though. Completely maxed out (with 32GB RAM, 8TB storage, and 10 Gig Ethernet), the Mac mini can cost as much as £4599 / $4499.
The £1900 / $1800 price point for this model is still considerably cheaper than the equivalent MacBook Pro, and cheaper than the Mac Studio with M1 Max chip. So is this a clever purchase for those looking for serious power for less? I intended to find out.
MAC MINI 2023 M2 PRO REVIEW: DESIGN AND BUILD
The new Mac mini from the outside looks identical to the M1 version from 2020. That's because it is essentially the same casing, any differences you might see in the specs come down to the rounding up to a single decimal point on the old model, but this is exactly the same size.
Partly because the case is so flat (just 3.58cm or 1.41 inches) it does seem quite wide and long. This footprint hasn't changed since the Mac mini contained a CD drive, which is quite a long time (since 2010). From what I've seen of the internals, there is now plenty of room inside, so it could go smaller. This would of course affect the thermal dynamics of the unit and make it run hotter, which is never a good thing.
Overall though the size is not an issue. It's small enough to sit underneath your monitor and easy to throw in a bag if you're working on the move. In fact, travelling with the Mac mini is as easy as with a laptop in my opinion, but more on that later.
There are no ports on the front, like the Mac studio but there's plenty on the rear. You get two full-size USB A ports, an HDMI port, four Thunderbolt 4 ports (the base model gets two of these), a headphone jack and an Ethernet port. For those that have lots to connect up to their machines, this is a much better selection than on a MacBook Pro, and saves you having to play around with multi adapters. The only thing missing here for me is the SD card slot, but I can live with one adapter for that.
Inside, the biggest change here is, of course, the chip. The new Mac mini now comes with either the M2 or the M2 Pro chip. The M2 Pro option, tested here also comes in two variations: the standard 10-core CPU and 16-core GPU, or the more advanced 12-core CPU and 19-core GPU version that adds £300 / $300 to the price.
In terms of customisation, you can also choose to upgrade from the standard 16GB of RAM to 32GB and from the 512GB up to 8TB. For most people though, 16GB and 1TB is a sensible spec, which is what my test model had.
It's worth remembering that the Mac mini comes with just a power lead in the box. You'll need to buy the monitor cable (either Thunderbolt or HDMI), keyboard and mouse separately, so if you don't have these already, be prepared for some extra spend.
For the test, I used the 27-inch Mac Studio display, which offers a stunning 5K retina display, and the Magic Keyboard and Magic Mouse. Of course, if you're looking to use the Mac mini on the move, you can plug any monitor into the HDMI port and use any combination of keyboard and mouse.
MAC MINI 2023 M2 PRO REVIEW: SOFTWARE
The Mac mini runs Apple's latest Mac OS Ventura, which looks particularly slick on a large monitor, compared to a 14 or even 16-inch display. Search has been improved across the system and combines files, website suggestions, contacts, events and more to quickly find what you are looking for.
Passkeys offer additional security when logging into websites and the Safari browser now offers both faster performance and the ability to group your tabs to stay organised.
While you can use the standard Apple taskbar you can also take advantage of the new Stage Manager view on Mac OS Ventura. This brings your open applications into a series of larger icons to the side of the screen for easy switching between. It also allows you to create groups of programs, so you can group them by task. I feel this view is still more useful on the iPad but it's nice to see the continuity across the operating systems.
Speaking of continuity, one of the coolest features of Ventura is the Continuity Camera. This allows you to use your iPhone as an external webcam for your Mac simply by holding it near the computer. The cameras on the iPhone are of course far better than any webcam, so the quality is incredible, and by using the Belkin iPhone mount that is coming soon, you can set your phone on top of your desktop monitor, not just your laptop.
You can also take advantage of Mac OS Ventura's Universal Control feature, which lets you use the same keyboard and mouse across multiple Apple devices and even drag content from one to the other. This is handy if you have a MacBook Pro, for instance, as your portable option and the Mac mini as your home machine, as you don't need to physically plug it in or swap your keyboard and mouse pairings.
I tried this with both my MacBook Pro and an iPad Pro connected to the Mac mini and it worked perfectly.
MAC MINI 2023 M2 PRO REVIEW: PERFORMANCE
When it comes to processing speed, the M2 Pro chip isn't just fast, it's the kind of speed where you just don't have to worry about limitations. To try and test this, I threw some of the most memory-intensive programs at it. Using Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Lightroom and Pro Tools at the same time is enough to give most processors a bit of a challenge, but the M2 Pro didn't even blink. I even added a hefty number of Google Chrome tabs, for good measure, but still it flew along, with a stone-cold casing and zero sign of that fan activating.
To gauge just how fast this machine actually is, I enlisted the help of the Geekbench 5 tool. The multi-core CPU score was 15184, which to put it in perspective is faster than every other Mac in its database, aside from the M1 Ultra Mac Studio and the 28-core and 24-core Mac Pro models. It was also comfortably ahead of the M1 Max Mac Studio, which is interesting.
Testing the graphics using the Compute benchmark, the M2 Pro Mac mini scored just over 44,000 (Open CL) or just under 52,000 (Metal). In both cases, this was less than the M1 Max Mac Studio but well ahead of M1 Pro tests. That's no surprise when you're comparing a 19-core GPU on the Mac mini M2 Pro with a 32-core GPU on the Mac Studio M1 Max and 64 cores on the M1 Ultra version.
It does stress that the Mac Studio is superior when it comes to graphics power, so for gaming or animation work it is still the way forward. For general operation though, where pure grunt work is needed, the Mac mini M2 Pro is actually a better option for the money.
Another benefit of the Mac mini M2 Pro – and in fact any of the new Mac minis – is that it features WiFi 6E connectivity. While this doesn't necessarily give you a faster connection than a WiFi 6 connection, if you have a compatible router it gives you access to a dedicated 6Ghz channel. This channel is likely to be less busy with other devices (for the time being) and therefore less chance of being slowed down by other devices on your network.
MAC MINI 2023 M2 PRO REVIEW: VERDICT
If you're looking for a desktop replacement right now and want the best performance for your money, the 2023 Mac mini is the best option. While not everyone needs the power that this M2 Pro model delivers, this model is seriously future-proof and there's really nothing that you can throw at it that it can't handle.
For more basic use, I would also recommend the base level M2 version, purely because it comes in at such an affordable price – though on this model I would still recommend upgrading your RAM and storage, bring the price over that £1000/$1000 marker.
If you've been a laptop user – particularly a MacBook Pro or Air user – and find that your laptop never leaves your desk, the Mac mini gives you a more affordable way to upgrade. Even if Apple does release another 27-inch iMac, I still think that a Mac mini and a 27-inch monitor combo is a better option. As you can upgrade both parts separately in the future.
I'd love to see the size of the Mac mini reduced a little and an SD card slot somewhere on the device. Otherwise, though, this is a near-perfect machine for home use. It's also possible to travel with the Mac mini, especially if you can hot desk somewhere with monitors and keyboards provided. For the testing, I regularly put the Mac mini in my bag and took it to and from the office, and that's not something you could do with an iMac.
MAC MINI 2023 M2 PRO REVIEW: ALSO CONSIDER
For Mac users, the obvious alternative for the Mac mini M2 Pro is the MacBook Pro 14 or 16-inch M2 Pro model. This offers the same specs as the Mac mini with the added benefit of the screen. Granted, that screen will cost you an extra £700 or more for the convenience, but if you regularly work on the move, this makes sense.
If you really want the all-in-one option, the iMac 24 M1 is your only solution from Apple right now. You will sacrifice some power here, as even the top spec on the iMac right now is the M1 8-core chip, but unless you're going heavy on the audio and video editing, that's still plenty right now. Hopefully, an M2 iMac will be along soon though, so if this is your preferred choice, it might be worth holding on a little longer.
If the power of the M2 Pro doesn't satisfy you (particularly on the graphics side), then the sensible option is to move up to the Mac Studio. These machines see a huge jump in that graphic performance and benefit from extra ports on the front – including an SD card slot. Right now there are no M2 variants in the Mac Studio range, but again, that could change later this year.