Mac Mini (M2 Pro, 2023) Review: A Lot of Power in an Unassuming Body

Tech

The Mac mini is Apple’s most affordable computer, and it has found uses not only in homes and schools, but also in embedded applications such as kiosks, and even as servers. It might not have the visual wow factor of an iMac or the portability of a MacBook, but it’s the only Mac many people can afford. Apple has now updated it with its latest M2-generation processors, and for the first time, you have a choice between the standard M2 and the more powerful M2 Pro.

The starting price has been reduced a little with this generation, and interestingly since Apple hasn’t yet released a Mac Pro with Apple Silicon, this miniature desktop can reportedly outperform its now-outdated yet far more expensive sibling by large margins in multiple kinds of tests. While a new Mac Pro is likely just around the corner and the Mac Studio is also an option, it’s well worth reading our review to see whether the Mac mini will meet all your needs. I also have a shiny new Apple Studio Display and a suite of accessories to use with the Mac mini, and I’ll tell you what they are like as well.

Apple Mac mini (M2 Pro, 2023) price in India

The new Mac mini is priced at $599 onwards in the US, which is $100 less than the previous generation’s starting price. Due to exchange rate fluctuations, the difference in India isn’t quite as substantial, but Rs. 59,900 is still better than Rs. 64,900 which was the starting price of the M1 Mac mini from 2020. At this price, you get the M2 SoC with eight CPU cores and 10 GPU cores, plus 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD.

The M2 Pro-based variants give you either 10 CPU cores with 16 GPU cores for Rs. 1,29,900, or 12 CPU cores with 19 GPU cores for Rs. 1,59,900. All Mac minis can be configured with optional Gigabit Ethernet for an additional Rs. 10,000. You also get four Thunderbolt 4 ports on M2 Pro configurations, versus two if you choose an M2 CPU. 

One big downside to Apple Silicon-based Macs is that the RAM is part of the SoC, and storage is soldered to the motherboard, making upgrades impossible. If you want better specs, you have to choose them at the time of purchase, and upgrades are still illogically expensive. Going from 8GB to 16GB of RAM will cost Rs. 20,000. There’s now a 24GB option priced at Rs. 40,000 over and above the base price for the M2 versions, and strangely, it costs the same to go from 16GB to 32GB on the M2 Pro option.

It will cost you Rs. 20,000 more to get a 512GB SSD instead of 256GB; 1TB will cost Rs. 40,000 more and the 2TB option will raise the price by an astronomical Rs. 80,000 – many times more than what retail SSDs of those capacities usually sell for. Keep in mind that Apple uses slightly slower SSDs for its base 256GB configurations; a fact that isn’t explicitly stated on the spec sheet.

All this means it’s possible to spend Rs. 4,49,900 if you max out all the specifications – and that’s without a monitor, keyboard or mouse. You get nothing in the box other than the Mac mini itself, a power cord, a few leaflets, and the customary Apple logo sticker. The version tested here has an M2 Pro SoC, 16GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD, bringing its price to Rs. 1,79,900.

The 27-inch Apple Studio Display that I have with me for this review will cost another Rs. 1,59,900. You you can choose a “nano-texture” matte panel finish for Rs. 30,000 more and swap the basic stand for a height-adjustable one for an additional Rs. 40,000. To complete the look, Apple’s Magic Mouse costs Rs. 9,500, the Magic Keyboard with Touch ID and Numeric Keypad is a whopping Rs. 19,500, and the Magic Trackpad is another Rs. 14,500.

mac mini 2023 top mac mini

The Mac mini (2023) looks just like its recent predecessors with the same compact metal body

Apple Mac mini (M2 Pro, 2023) design

Surprisingly, nothing has changed about the look of the Mac mini since the removal of optical drives in 2011. Apple was clever about keeping its design unchanged in 2020, which focused all attention on its big switch to in-house processors and minimised any perception of disruption. However, the iMac, MacBook Air and MacBook Pro have all received major design updates now, and it would have been nice to see Apple try something new.

The Mac mini is still extremely portable at 1.28kg in weight, and looks quite unassuming on a table. It’s just under 200mm square and is 358mm tall. There’s no easy way to mount it to the back of a monitor, which is possible with many other mini PCs. The front is completely blank except for a tiny white power LED, and the top has a black Apple logo. The base is slightly raised on a plastic disc to allow air to be vented, and for the various antennas.

You have to reach around the rear to get to the power button. The Mac mini continues to have a built-in power supply so there’s a simple mains connector for a two-pin power cord, and no need for an external brick. You’ll also find a large air vent here. In terms of ports, there’s Ethernet, two or four Thunderbolt ports (depending on which configuration you choose), an HDMI 2.0 video output, two USB Type-A ports, and a 3.5mm audio socket. The continued presence of legacy ports is good to see but I would have liked some on the front for convenience, like on the Mac Studio.

mac mini 2023 ports ndtv mac mini

You get quite a lot of ports on the Mac mini, including legacy USB Type-A and Ethernet

Apple Mac mini (M2 Pro, 2023) specifications and software

I’ve already covered the CPU, RAM, and storage options for the new Mac mini, plus its ports. The rest of the hardware is fairly straightforward – there’s Wi-Fi 6E and Bluetooth 5.3, plus you get a built-in speaker (though sound quality is extremely basic). What’s most interesting is the M2 CPU family itself, and the fact that there’s a beefier Pro option for the first time. 

The M2 family benefits from generational improvements in clock speed due to a refined 5nm TSMC manufacturing process. CPU performance is said to be 18 percent better, graphics performance is up by 35 percent, and the dedicated “Neural Engine” logic for AI workloads is 40 percent faster. You also get more GPU cores and higher memory bandwidth, according to Apple. Video decode has seen some improvements and there’s now native acceleration for ProRes video encoding. Battery life isn’t a consideration for the Mac mini, but the M2 should also make the recently refreshed MacBook Pro and iPad Pro models more power efficient.

The base M2 is an improvement over the base M1, and the M2 Pro will beat the M1 Pro. However, the base M2 won’t be able to outperform the M1 Max or M1 Ultra. The generational uplift doesn’t outweigh the impact of bumping up core counts. Even so, your choice should be dictated by workload. For example, only the M2 generation can accelerate ProRes and ProRes RAW decode letting you play multiple 4K or 8K video streams in these formats.

One more thing to factor in when deciding between the M2 and M2 Pro-based Mac mini is support for external displays. The entry-level CPU drives only enough bandwidth for one 6K and one 5K monitor, both at 60Hz. The M2 Pro can output video to up to either one 8K display at 60Hz, one 4K display at 240Hz, or two 6K plus one 4K panel at 60Hz simultaneously.

As for software, the 2023 Mac mini comes with macOS 13, also known as Ventura. My unit forced an update to version 13.2.1 on first boot, which required a 3.25GB download. Most of the changes and improvements in this version concern the built-in apps such as Safari, Mail, Photos, and Messages, which not everyone uses.

There’s also the new Stage Manager multitasking view, which I didn’t find particularly useful; a totally redesigned Settings app that’s more consistent with iOS, more useful Spotlight search results, text recognition within videos, and more. If you use multiple Apple devices you’ll appreciate things like AirDrop to share files easily, Continuity to let you pick up where you left off on another device, synchronised Focus modes, and of course easy access to iMessage, FaceTime, and your photo collection.

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The Apple Studio Display features integrated speakers, microphones, a webcam, and USB dock functionality

Apple Studio Display features and specifications

For the purpose of this review, Apple sent us a 27-inch Studio Display along with the Mac mini and a full set of input devices. Given its price, it’s unlikely that anyone would buy this monitor with an entry-level Mac mini for basic home or office use. It’s also a bit too large for most people’s desks. However, it’s aimed at creative professionals and those who want to complete the Apple look. It’s strange that Apple has never sold a smaller, entry-level monitor to match the Mac mini, especially since it’s such an image-conscious company and most people wind up using cheap commodity monitors from other brands.

The Studio display has a hard-wired power cable with a 16A plug, which not many people will have the right socket for at their home or office desks. The monitor itself has fairly modest power consumption ratings – 30.3W in use and 0.36W in standby. Up to 96W can be delivered through Thunderbolt to the connected source device, so you can charge a 16-inch MacBook Pro and get full video and connectivity for downstream devices through a single cable. Apple’s only comment on the matter is that this choice is in line with local regulations.

There are four Type-C ports on the rear but you have to pay close attention because only one is marked with a Thunderbolt icon and this is the sole video input. It’s disappointing that there’s only one video input; you’ll have to physically unplug the source device’s cable if you want to multitask. The other three use the 10Gbps USB 3.1 standard for downstream peripherals, so the monitor becomes a sort of docking station. It also has six built-in speakers with support for Dolby Atmos, a “studio quality” three-mic array, and a 12-megapixel ultra-wide webcam.

There are no physical buttons or controls on the Studio Display. All adjustments need to be done through software on your connected Mac. While it should technically be possible to use this as a monitor for a non-Mac PC, you might have some trouble setting it up as you’d like, and you won’t be able to use all the integrated hardware to its full potential or update its embedded software.

With a resolution of 5120×2880 pixels, 16:9 aspect ratio, full DCI-P3 colour gamut support, and 60Hz maximum refresh rate, the Studio Display is suitable for creative professionals and way more than enough for everyday productivity. It works with multiple industry-standard colour reference modes as well as Apple’s TrueTone white balance adjustment feature, but only has a 600nit peak brightness and doesn’t support any HDR standards. A high refresh rate would have been nice too.

mac mini 2023 angle ndtv mac mini

The Mac mini (M2 Pro, 2023) remained quiet throughout testing, but the outer surfaces did get warm when it was stressed

Apple Mac mini (M2 Pro, 2023) performance

Setting up the Mac mini was relatively painless. Only the power cable and one Thunderbolt connection to the Studio Display needed to be plugged in. Apple’s wireless keyboard, mouse and trackpad weren’t immediately detected though, and needed to be toggled on and off. The keyboard was comfortable enough, with its full-sized layout.

Touch ID is really convenient but it’s unfortunate that you’ll have to pay so much to be able to use it. The Magic Mouse has some fan following but it isn’t really comfortable, it still can’t be used while it’s charging, and FPS gaming is pretty much impossible because right-clicking needs deliberate action and there’s no middle button. The trackpad supports all the gestures you might be used to on a laptop, and is quite comfortable.

On first boot, macOS forced a 3.25GB download to update itself to version 13.2.1. The Studio Display also needed to update its firmware to version 15.5, which was a 487MB download, but this one was not compulsory.

If you’re familiar with macOS you’ll feel right at home with this combination of Apple products. Little things, like being able to adjust brightness of the Studio Display using the keyboard, work perfectly. The monitor is of course crisp and the Mac mini has more than enough grunt to power it. Night Shift, to relieve eye strain, and True Tone, to adjust colour temperature to suit ambient light conditions, are supported. You can switch colour profiles on the fly using a dropdown in the macOS status bar.

The Studio Display’s built-in speakers produce clear and deep sound even at high volumes, but the downward-firing design means that music isn’t very immersive. Still, you can easily fill up a small room with sound, and follow dialogue in movies. The integrated webcam worked well in a dimly lit room. The Centre Stage feature reframes your video chat or capture feed automatically if you move around or if multiple people are in the frame, plus there’s Portrait mode for background blurring, both controlled through macOS.

I ran through several tests and benchmarks that illustrate various usage scenarios. The general-purpose Geekbench 6 showed a single-core score of 2,654 and a multi-core score of 14,208 points. For comparison, the same test on a MacBook Pro (14-inch, 2021) powered by the M1 Pro SoC managed 2,377 and 10,458 points respectively, while the 2022 MacBook Air with its M2 SoC scored 2,422 and 8,871 points respectively. The built-in CPU compute test results were 49,686 points on the Mac mini (M2 Pro) vs 36,062 on the MacBook Pro (M1 Pro) and 27,822 on the MacBook Air (M2).

Cinebench R23’s single-core and multi-core scores on the new Mac mini came to 1,646 and 14,776 respectively, meaning the M2 Pro is roughly on par with the 11th Gen Intel Core i9-11900K in this test. The browser-based WebXPRT test returned a score of 245, while Basemark Web 3.0 managed 1,872 points and the Jetstream 2 test posted 238.006 points. The lead over the M2 is clear, if not always substantial, and of course we’re comparing a laptop with a desktop PC here.

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The Apple Magic Mouse doesn’t have to be charged often, but it will be out of action when plugged in

I tried transcoding a 5.52GB 60-second ProRES video file recorded at 4K 30fps, using Final Cut Pro. Using the H.264 ‘Faster Encode’ Apple Device preset defaults, I managed to export it at 4K in 31.81 seconds, and 1080p in just 10.68 seconds. Blender, which now runs natively on Apple Silicon, ran through the standard BMW render in 2 minutes, 30 seconds, and the Classroom scene in 5 minutes, 53 seconds which averages to around half the time the M1 Pro-based MacBook Pro took for the same tests when it was reviewed.

Keeping in mind that the performance of the base variant’s 256GB SSD is known to be poorer, my review unit with its 1TB SSD posted sequential read and write scores of 6,477.90MBps and 7,193.02MBps in AmorphousDiskMark, which is a macOS-native version of CrystalDiskMark.

Considering the additional GPU resources that the M2 Pro has to offer, could the higher-end version of the Mac mini actually be a decent gaming machine? As it turns out, the answer is yes – provided you’re happy with the games that are available for the Mac platform. As expected, pretty much all casual games run well enough, even on the high-res Studio Display. There are quite a few simple titles in the Steam and Epic game stores now, and of course Apple has its Arcade subscription service.

The Unigine Valley benchmark posted at 78.7fps average running at 1920×1080 using the Ultra quality present, with 4XAA on. That’s a huge jump over the 26.5fps average that the previous-gen Mac mini with the lower-tier M1 SoC managed in the same test. GFXBench is optimised for Apple’s low-level Metal API on Macs. It managed 47.65fps in the Aztec Ruins scene on screen, and 87.99fps offscreen when not bound to the Studio Display’s native resolution.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider ran surprisingly well, with a 70fps average and over 100fps in some spots, using its built-in benchmark at the High preset at 1080p. That dropped to 41fps at 2K with some visible tearing during pans, and just 22fps at 4K. A Total War Saga: Troy is also a slightly dated game but runs well on Macs. The built-in Battle benchmark showed an average of 67.6fps at 1080p using the High preset, with minor tearing. At 4K, the average was 32.6fps which isn’t too bad. I also played through a bit of Metro:Exodus, and it was quite smooth.

Throughout testing, the Mac mini (M2 Pro, 2023) remained quiet. The fan made only a faint hum even when the unit was running stressful tests. The metal outer body did get somewhat warm though, so be careful what you leave lying on top of it.

mac mini 2023 peripherals ndtv mac mini

Apple’s matching peripherals look great and Touch ID is convenient, but the price tags will discourage many potential buyers

Verdict

The new Mac mini is a powerful, versatile computer for home and office use, plus other niche applications. The base version is relatively affordable for what it is, but the M2 Pro option could be just what you need if you’re a creative professional. This is really all the computer power most people will need. You can even play some fairly demanding games on it. The configuration I tested, with the M2 Pro, 16GB of RAM and 1TB SSD costs Rs. 1,79,900, not including a monitor or accessories.

That’s a lot of money, but still a compelling value proposition for budget-constrained content creators. If you don’t need the full grunt of a Mac Studio or Mac Pro, you now don’t have to settle for entry-level hardware. This is certainly a viable upgrade option if you have an Intel-based Mac mini, iMac, or even a much older Mac Pro. Whether it’s worth replacing an M1-powered Mac mini will come down to how much you value the time needed to render videos or 3D models.

The lack of upgradeability for RAM and storage is disappointing for a computer that can and should work well for at least five years. Apple’s pricing for upgrades at the time of purchase remains outrageous. At least there’s good external connectivity.

Design is another area that Apple could do a lot better in, when it comes to the Mac mini. I don’t know why the company has consistently refused to sell a matching, reasonably sized and relatively affordable monitor. The Studio Display is massive overkill and far too expensive for basic desktop productivity and home use. Nearly everyone who buys a Mac mini uses it with a commodity black plastic PC monitor, missing out on the slick Apple look and some ecosystem perks. For such an image-conscious company, this continues to remain a mystery.

Now that Apple Silicon is well established, what I really would have liked to have seen was a completely new Mac mini – a reimagination of not only its design, but also its purpose. A much smaller or more modular enclosure should have been possible thanks to the highly integrated SoC and the relatively light cooling it needs. Maybe we’ll have to wait another generation, but the 2023 Mac mini is progress nonetheless and well worth considering for new users and anyone who needs an upgrade.

Apple Mac mini (M2 Pro, 2023) 
Price:
 Rs. 1,79,900 (as reviewed)

Pros

  • Excellent performance
  • macOS and iCloud ecosystem 
  • Compact and quiet
  • Built-in power supply
  • Powerful M2 Pro CPU option

Cons

  • RAM and storage not upgradeable
  • Expensive configuration options
  • Some functionality requires expensive accessories

Ratings (out of 5)
Design: 3.5
Performance: 4.5
Software: 4.5
Value for Money: 4
Overall: 4


OnePlus recently launched its first tablet in India, the OnePlus Pad, which is only sold in a Halo Green colour option. With this tablet, OnePlus has stepped into a new territory that’s dominated by Apple’s iPad. We discuss this and more on Orbital, the Gadgets 360 podcast. Orbital is available on Spotify, Gaana, JioSaavn, Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music and wherever you get your podcasts.
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