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Apple Mac Mini

Apple Mac mini (M2 Pro, 2023) review: A small wonder

Our Rating :
£1,399.00 from
Price when reviewed : 1,399
inc VAT

The M2 and M2 Pro Mac mini are wondrously powerful little computers but they could do with a visual update

Pros

  • Fast, powerful and quiet
  • M2 variant is cheaper than last year
  • Four Thunderbolt 4 ports in M2 Pro model

Cons

  • 256GB SSD in base model is quite slow
  • Nothing else

There were many things I was hoping for from the M2 and M2 Pro Mac mini in 2023, but I wasn’t expecting a lower price. At £649, the base M2 model is £50 cheaper than the M1 version when it launched last year. That makes this newer, more powerful generation even more attractive to those on a budget.

That’s not the only thing that’s exciting about the latest Mac mini, however. This year’s model also marks the first time Apple has allowed users to configure the mini PC with the firm’s Pro chip, meaning it’s even more suitable for advanced creative tasks such as high-resolution video editing and 3D rendering.

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Apple Mac mini (M2 Pro, 2023) review: What you need to know

The Mac mini of 2023 is largely unchanged when it comes to its physical appearance, however. It’s still a square block of solid aluminium with gently curved corners and an Apple logo tastefully etched in the top.

The only differences are on the inside, as well as a pair of extra Thunderbolt 4 ports if you go for the M2 Pro models. As before, it’s actively cooled, not that you’ll usually be able to hear the fans, even if you work on your own from home. And, at the time of writing, it runs the latest MacOS Ventura.

Apple Mac mini (M2 Pro, 2023) review: Price and competition

Effectively, there are two different variants of the 2023 Mac mini: one with the M2 processor and one with the M2 Pro. The M2 model can be configured with 8GB, 16GB or 24GB of RAM, a 512GB, 1TB or 2TB SSD, and either Gigabit or 10-Gigabit Ethernet. Prices for this model start at a very reasonable £649.

The more powerful M2 Pro Mac mini, which Apple supplied us for this review, is more expensive, with prices starting at £1,399. Here, you can choose either a 10-core M2 Pro processor or a 12-core processor, either 16GB or 32GB of unified memory and SSDs from 512GB all the way up to 8TB in capacity. The most expensive configuration will make a £4,599-sized crater in your bank balance.

Assuming most people will be opting for the cheaper M2 model, though, it’s fantastic value for money. It’s the best way of getting hold of any M2 Mac right now and it’s cheaper than the M1 MacBook Air as well. It’s also competitive with other, less capable, mini PCs on the market.

The Intel NUC, for instance, which you normally buy in kit mode and configure yourself, starts at £459 for a barebones kit from Scan with an Intel Core i5-1250P CPU inside. Once you’ve added an 8GB RAM module and a 500GB SSD, you’re looking at an extra £65. Add a licence for Windows 11 Home into the mix for £120 and you’re up to £644. And that’s for a machine that’s far less potent than the M2 Mac mini.

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Mac mini (M2 Pro, 2023) review: Features and design 

If you’ve seen a Mac mini at any point in the past few years, you’ll know everything there is to know about the new Mac mini. Despite all the upgrades, the physical case of the mini hasn’t changed significantly since 2010. Just in case you didn’t know, though, the M2/M2 Pro Mac mini’s body is carved from a single chunk of aluminium measuring 197 x 197 x 36mm and it weighs either 1.18kg for the M2 or 1.28kg for the M2 Pro.

Despite its positively pensionable age, however, it’s an attractive enough lump of metal and will happily perch under the most minimalist of creative desk setups. It’s also light enough to sling in a bag or locker at the end of the day if you don’t have a permanent setup. It’s a really super-neat mini PC, even if it is overdue a design change.

As mentioned previously, the M2 Pro model benefits from an extra pair of Thunderbolt 4 ports. Otherwise, the location and the supply of ports and sockets on the rear is the same as before. From the left to right, you have a figure of eight AC power input, then your Ethernet or 10 Gigabit Ethernet socket, two or four Thunderbolt 4 USB-C sockets, one HDMI output, two USB-A 3.1 Gen 2 ports and, below those, a single 3.5mm headphone jack.

That selection means you can connect up to two displays on the M2 Mac mini (one at 6K 60Hz via Thunderbolt 4 and one at 5K 60Hz) or up to three on the M2 Pro Mac mini (two at 6K 60Hz over Thunderbolt 4 and one at 4K 144Hz over HDMI), so it’s quite the workhorse and perfectly capable of performing a role as your main machine for everything from general purpose emailing, spreadsheets and document writing, right through to heavy-duty photo and video editing.

Inside, there’s both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth built in for convenient connection to wireless networks and peripherals. In this case you’re looking at support for Wi-Fi 6E across the range and Bluetooth 5.3.

Mac mini (M2 Pro, 2023) review: Performance

It all comes down to performance with the new Mac mini and this will vary depending on the model you buy. If you want to read about how the M2 might perform, have a look at our M2 MacBook Air review. You can expect to achieve better sustained performance from the M2 Mac mini thanks to its active cooling system but otherwise synthetic benchmarks should be similar.

For this review, I was supplied with the 12-core M2 Pro rather than the 10-core model, so you will see slightly less impressive results from the 10-core chip, but nonetheless it’s obvious that it’s a pretty big step up from the M2 to the M2 Pro.

The M2 Pro’s key advantage over the M2 is that it has double the memory bandwidth, at 200MB/sec vs 100MB/sec. It also can be configured with more cores: up to 12 versus a mere eight (consisting of up to eight high performance cores and four efficiency cores), and this combined advantage shows quite clearly in the benchmark results.

What I wasn’t quite expecting to see was such a bump in GPU performance. In the admittedly quite simple GFXBench Metal Car Chase benchmark, which is designed to test gaming graphics performance, you can see that the 16-core GPU in the M2 Pro outperforms that of the Apple Mac Studio with the M1 Ultra I tested last year.

That doesn’t signify, however, that the M2 Pro Mac mini is better than the Mac Studio for creative tasks that require GPU processing. Turning to the GeekBench Compute tests, you can see that the Mac Studio is clearly a few steps ahead in both the OpenCL and Metal tests.

Still, this is all very impressive. Not to mention that the Mac mini, even the pricier Pro version, is a LOT cheaper than the Mac Studio after all.

Even storage performance is significantly better than the M1 Mac mini, as shown in the chart below. Do bear in mind, however, that we’ve tested the 2TB model here and that the performance of the base model with a 256GB SSD in the range will be slower, due to the way Apple has configured these models as a single chip. 512GB models and above should be faster as they’re configured as two or more SSD modules. 

Reports from around the internet, in fact, suggest sustained transfer rates of around 1,500MB/sec for reads and writes, which are slower than on the original M1 Mac mini. Our results of over 5,000MB/sec for reads and writes suggest that if you buy a 2TB machine, you’re getting four storage modules, each totalling 512GB.

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Apple Mac mini (M2 Pro, 2023) review: Verdict

Despite this single niggle, the M2 Pro Mac mini and its cheaper brethren are fantastic little computers. Performance is stupendously great for the money and they make amazingly effective and quiet mini workstations, whether you’re opting for the £649 M2 – which is an absolute steal by the way – or the mega-powerful M2 Pro, which has enough oomph for serious creative work.

In short, if you need the power of Apple M2 or M2 Pro but aren’t that fussed about having that power in laptop form, the M2 and M2 Pro Mac mini are your go-to alternatives. Go out and get yourself one right away.

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