By Alex Wawro
Here's what to know when deciding which Mac is best for you
Apple will release a new Mac mini with M2 and M2 Pro chips on January 24, and when it arrives it will offer fans of Mac desktops all the power of Apple's latest bespoke silicon in a pint-sized package.
However, it will also complicate the decision you have to make when choosing which Mac desktop to buy. While the new Mac mini M2 starts at $599 and is thus even cheaper than its predecessor (which started at $699), it can be upgraded with more memory, storage and a more powerful M2 Pro chip. Once you start kitting it out, the price can easily climb past $2,000, and for that much you could also buy a new 2022 Mac Studio, a larger version of the Mac mini that can be configured with Apple's mega-powerful M1 Ultra chip.
If you need a powerful Mac for work or play, you might have a hard time deciding which is right for your needs. To give you a better sense of how they differ and which is best for what, check out our blow-by-blow breakdown of how the new Mac mini M2 stacks up against its beefy older sibling.
Mac mini M2 vs. Mac Studio: Specs
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|Mac mini M2 (2023)||Mac Studio (2022)|
|Price||$599 (starting)||$1,999 (starting)|
|CPU||M2 - M2 Pro||M1 Max - M1 Ultra|
|RAM||8-24GB (M2), 16-32GB (M2 Pro)||32-64GB(M1 Max), 64-128GB (M1 Ultra)|
|Storage||256GB-2TB (M2), 512GB-8TB (M2 Pro)||512GB-8TB|
|Ports||2-4 Thunderbolt 4/USB4, HDMI, 2x USB-A, Ethernet (up to 10GB), 3.5mm headphone jack||4-6 Thunderbolt 4/USB4, 2 USB-A, HDMI, 10Gb Ethernet, SDXC card reader, 3.5mm audio jack|
|Connectivity||Wi-Fi 6E, Bluetooth 5.3||Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5|
|Dimensions||7.7 x 7.7 x 1.4 inches||7.7 x 7.7 x 3.7 inches|
|Weight||2.6 pounds (M2), 2.8 pounds (M2 Pro)||5.9 (M1 Max), 7.9 pounds (M1 Ultra)|
Mac mini M2 vs. Mac Studio: Price
The new Mac mini M2 starts at just $599, and at that price it's far cheaper than the Mac Studio. But Apple is perfectly happy to take more money if you want to spend it. If you splurge for the most capable model you can get, upgrading it with an M1 Pro chip as well as the maximum memory, storage and Ethernet speeds you can buy, that price balloons as high as $4,499 — and that's before you factor in the cost of a mouse, keyboard and other key accessories, as the only thing that comes with your new Mac is the power cord.
The Mac Studio starts at $1,999, and again that price can get much higher if you let it. Simply upgrading from the entry-level M2 Max model to the base M1 Ultra model cranks the price up to $3,999, and a fully-upgraded Mac Studio would cost you upwards of $7,999. Both Mac desktops are available for purchase right now via Apple's website (opens in new tab).
Mac mini M2 vs. Mac Studio: Design
The Mac mini M2 and the Mac Studio share the same fundamental design. When the Mac Studio launched in 2022 I described it as a "taller, heavier Mac mini", and you can see from the measurements in the spec table above how true that is.
Both the Mac mini M2 and the Mac Studio look like nothing so much as blocks of brushed aluminum sitting on your desk. We've previously described the iconic look of these Macs as an Apple icon made physical, given they both sport rounded corners and a big Apple logo up top. The fact that both sit atop a circular base that tapers up gives them the illusion of floating slightly above the desk, which is a nice touch.
The only meaningful difference here is size and weight: Apple's Mac mini M2 is small enough to squeeze into more places than the Mac Studio can, and it's a few pounds lighter to boot.
Mac mini M2 vs. Mac Studio: Ports
Here's where we start to get into the meat of what separates the new Mac mini M2 from the Mac Studio. While both offer a good array of ports that should support a range of accessories, there are key differences you should know about. Both also have different capabilities depending on which Apple chips you configure them with.
The new Mac mini M2, for example, can be configured with either an M2 or M2 Pro chip inside. On the base M2 model you get 2 Thunderbolt 4/USB4 ports, 2 USB-A ports, an HDMI out, a 3.5mm headphone jack and a 1GB Ethernet port that can be upgraded to 10Gb for an additional $100.
The M2 Pro model of Mac mini offers the same basic port array, but it offers 4 Thunderbolt 4 ports instead of just 2. There's also some key differences in what kind of video it can output from said ports. The base Mac mini M2 supports up to 2 simultaneous external displays, one via Thunderbolt (at up to 6K resolution and 60Hz refresh rate) and one via Thunderbolt or HDMI (capable of up to 5K/60Hz or 4K/60Hz, respectively).
While most of us never need to worry about how many 4K external displays our Mac can support, those that do should know that upgrading the Apple silicon inside the Mac can improve its external display support. If you upgrade the Mac mini with an M2 Pro chip, for example, it comes with double the Thunderbolt 4 ports and can support up to 3 external displays: Two over Thunderbolt at up to 6K/60Hz and one over HDMI at up to 4K/60Hz. Alternatively, the Mac mini with M2 Pro can support one external display at up to 8K/60Hz or 4K/240Hz via HDMI.
The Mac Studio offers a similar array of ports and external display options. On the rear it sports 4 Thunderbolt 4 ports, 2 USB-A ports, an HDMI port, a 10Gb Ethernet port and a headphone jack. Up front it comes with an SDXC card reader and either 2 USB-C ports or an additional 2 Thunderbolt 4 ports if you upgrade it to the M1 Ultra model. The Mac Studio can simultaneously support up to five external displays: up to four 6K/60Hz displays via Thunderbolt 4 and one up to 4K/60Hz display over HDMI.
That's a lot of detail about speeds and feeds, so here's the simple explanation: The Mac mini M2 can supposedly support a higher-res external display than the Mac Studio (up to 8K, according to Apple) while the Mac Studio can support more simultaneous external displays than the new Mac mini M2. So if you want to use 4-5 displays simultaneously with your new Mac, you need a Mac Studio. Anything less, and you can probably get away with a Mac mini M2.
Mac mini M2 vs. Mac Studio: Performance
In terms of raw performance, it's tricky to say whether the Mac mini M2 or Mac Studio is clearly superior. Both are configurable with a range of chips, and while the Apple M2 and M2 Pro in the new Mac mini are newer than the M1 Max and M1 Ultra you can get in the Mac Studio, they're smaller chips that can't be configured with as many cores as the top-tier M1 chips.
In simple terms, that means the base Mac mini M2 is plenty powerful, but the Mac Studio can be far more powerful if you're willing to pay for the privilege. Unfortunately, we haven't yet had a chance to put the M2 Pro chip through its paces in our performance testing lab, so I can't give you a side-by-side comparison of how fast these two Macs are when fully upgraded.
Instead, let's look at the raw specs of what you get from each. The entry-level $599 Mac mini M2 comes with an M2 chip (8-core CPU, 10-core GPU, 16-core Neural Engine), 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. To fully upgrade it performance-wise, you can kit it out with an M2 Pro chip (10-core CPU, 19-core GPU) and 32GB of RAM, which will bump the price up to $1,999 and double the storage (to 512GB SSD) to boot.
For that price you can get an entry-level Mac Studio packing an M1 Max chip (10-core CPU, 24-core GPU, 16-core Neural Engine), 32GB of RAM and 512GB of storage. Already you can see that if you're willing to pay $2k or more, you can probably get better performance from a Mac Studio over a new Mac mini M2 since the Studio's older M1 Max chip matches or exceeds even the M2 Pro in core counts.
Of course, having more cores (effectively the workhorses which handle all your computing tasks) doesn't necessarily mean a chip will be faster or more effective at running your favorite apps. The M2 chips are the successors to the M1 family, and they've been improved in some meaningful ways.
When we tested the MacBook Pro 13-inch (M2, 2022) last year, for example, we saw that its M2 chip underperformed relative to the MacBook Pro 2021's M1 Pro and M1 Max chips in the Geekbench 5.4 multi-core CPU test. However, the M2 actually outperformed both the M1 Pro and M1 Max a bit in the single-core version of the same test. The difference was minor, but suggests Apple's claims that the new M2 chips have faster CPUs, GPUs and Neural Engines than the M1 chips have some merit.
Mac mini M2 vs. Mac Studio: Bottom line
So what does all this mean for you? If you're not worried about running CPU- or GPU-heavy applications (like photo/video editing software, code compilers and many modern games) the Mac mini with M2 is likely more than enough power for your needs. It's great for browsing the web, getting work done, and some light gaming.
However, if you want the most powerful Mac desktop you can buy (outside of a pro-grade Mac Pro, of course) the Mac Studio is your current best option. Though it starts at a far higher price than the Mac mini M2, it offers more power, more ports, more display options and a higher ceiling for performance — though you'll pay mightily for the privilege.
Of course, this is the beginning of the end for the M1 Max and M1 Ultra chips available in the Mac Studio. The M2 Pro and M2 Max are the top tier of the next generation, and they'll start shipping in new Mac minis and new MacBook Pros by the end of the month. If we see something equivalent to an M2 Ultra (dare to dream) before the end of the year, it will be a bit harder to justify buying a new Mac Studio with last-generation M1 chips.
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Alex Wawro is a lifelong tech and games enthusiast with more than a decade of experience covering both for outlets like Game Developer, Black Hat, and PC World magazine. A lifelong PC builder, he currently serves as a senior editor at Tom's Guide covering all things computing, from laptops and desktops to keyboards and mice.
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Is Mac mini powerful enough for music production? ›
4. Apple Mac mini (2020) M1. If you already have a display, keyboard, mouse and are just looking for an engine on which to make some music, the Mac mini is a solid choice. It's small, quiet, and has great connectivity options, along with an additional audio-in port that could be useful for legacy products.What is Mac Studio used for? ›
Mac Studio lets you create the studio of your dreams with an array of 12 high-performance ports, located front and back for convenient access. Easily connect — and disconnect — your camera, external storage, and other devices from the front.Is there a M2 Mac mini? ›
There are three stock Mac mini configurations available from Apple. Two feature the M2 chip, while the most expensive has an M2 Pro chip. $599 - M2 chip with 8-core CPU, 10-core GPU, 8GB memory, 256GB SSD.What are the disadvantages of a Mac mini? ›
- Fewer USB-C ports than Intel model.
- Unified memory tops out at 16GB.
- Boosting RAM and SSD capacity at purchase time is pricey.
- Memory no longer upgradable post-purchase.
We recommended 16 GB as the minimum for Intel-based Macs, but 8 GB seems to be an acceptable base level for M1-based Macs.How much RAM do I need for Mac music? ›
8 GB is plenty for the majority of music production processing. 16 or 32 GB can help if you plan to work with the large sample libraries that are needed to emulate acoustic instruments realistically. But think twice before you pay steep prices to max out your computer's RAM.Who needs an Apple studio? ›
The Mac Studio is a new slot in Apple's lineup for creative pros who are charging the computer to their company, or for people who want the fastest Mac available and don't care how much it costs. Reminder, you're spending $1,999 before you even add in the $1,599 screen. Combined, you're spending $3,598 before taxes.Who should get Mac Studio? ›
Whether it's with the M1 Max or M1 Ultra, the Mac Studio is Apple's fastest desktop Mac until the Mac Pro arrives. If your workloads involve a lot of data processing, the speed the Mac Studio provides is a big improvement over the M1-equipped Macs. If you have a need for speed, the Mac Studio is a good investment.Is Mac Studio the most powerful? ›
The Mac Studio is Apple's most powerful custom silicon-based Mac, offering extreme performance and a wide range of ports in a modular, desktop form factor.What is the Apple M2 equivalent to? ›
The closest comparison would be AMD's Ryzen 7 6800U with RDNA 2 graphics. That processor has 12 compute units (CUs) and clocks at up to 2.2 GHz, giving it 3.4 teraflops.
Can M2 Macs run Windows? ›
In the past, you could install Windows on your Mac using Boot Camp, but that won't work if you've upgraded to an M1 or M2 Mac—you need an Intel processor to run the app, but Apple doesn't sell Macs with those chips anymore. However, you don't need to install Windows to run Windows-only apps at all these days.Is Apple releasing a new Mac mini in 2022? ›
The next Mac mini is expected to launch at some point in 2023, likely early in the year. Bloomberg's Mark Gurman initially said that the Mac mini could be refreshed in 2022, but he later said that Apple has decided to wait until 2023 to introduce new Macs.
So, in answer to the question: How long do Macs last? We'd say five to eight years, but beware that you probably won't be able to replace any faulty parts in a Mac when more than five years has passed since Apple last sold it. Before you buy a new Mac, read our article about the best time to buy a Mac or MacBook.What is the lifespan of a Mac mini? ›
A Mac Mini is usually more of an entry level Mac, but can be configured with faster processors, expanded memory and larger hard drives that will extend the life span. This makes their effective life span 3 to 5 years.Is Apple discontinuing the Mac mini? ›
Now that Apple has expanded the Apple Silicon lineup with new M2 and M2 Pro configuration options, that Intel-powered Mac mini is no longer needed. The product has been discontinued and is no longer listed on Apple's Online Store. Apple has also discontinued the previous-generation M1 Mac mini.Is a Mac mini as powerful as an iMac? ›
Performance and Speed
At their core, both the M1 Mac Mini and the M1 iMac have the same computing power. Both run on Apple's M1 processor, which handily outperforms most laptops running on midrange Intel or AMD processors.
So if you use more demanding software or do photo editing, occasional video work, and other activities, then it's best to pay extra for the 16GB memory option. For everyday activities — browsing the web, managing emails, or working with an office suite — 8GB is perfectly adequate.Is the M2 worth it over M1? ›
In our testing, the M2 has an 18 percent faster CPU than the M1. The new chip doesn't just mean that the new Macs can accomplish more though, they use less power doing so: Apple promises an increased CPU performance of 18 percent with the same energy consumption thanks to various optimizations.Is 16GB RAM necessary for music production? ›
8GB is enough for 5-25 audio tracks with multiple instruments, MIDI and many plugins, VSTs and effects (EQ, compression, delay, reverb, etc) for small projects without performance issues. However, 16GB is optimal for larger projects and handling multiple applications at once.Is more RAM better for music production? ›
If you are an electronic music producer that only uses software synthesizers, drum samples and loops, lots of RAM isn't really necessary. Your DAW and a couple of software synths will probably not even use more than 3GB or 4GB of RAM. But if you are building a new computer now, I would recommend getting 2x 16GB.
How many cores do I need for music production? ›
A quad-core processor is the best choice for music production. The other measure is clock speed, which typically runs from about 2.4 to 4.2 GHz. The faster the better.Is Mac Studio a good deal? ›
The Price Is Compelling
The Mac Studio comes in at a surprisingly reasonable starting price of $1,999. That model comes with the M1 Max chip, 32GB of memory, and 512GB of storage. The Mac Studio's M1 Ultra configuration starts at $3,999 and packs 64GB of unified memory and 1TB of storage.
Suppose you want a 5K display with immaculate color calibration, best-in-class build quality, fantastic speakers, and perfect macOS compatibility – In that case, the Apple Studio Display is not only your best option but also the only one worth considering, even with its few deficiencies.Which Mac computer is not compatible with Apple Studio Display? ›
Studio Display requires a Mac with a Thunderbolt 3 or Thunderbolt 4 port running macOS 12.3 or later, or an iPad Pro or iPad Air with a USB-C port running iPadOS 15.4 or later.Will there be a new Mac Studio in 2023? ›
Apple seems set to update its Pro Display XDR and Studio Display in 2023. For the first time in years, Apple sells two standalone monitors for the Mac, a 27-inch Studio Display with a camera and Spatial Audio support, and the high-end Pro Display XDR starting at a whopping $4,999.Does Mac Studio run hot? ›
With the Mac Studio, Apple managed to fit powerful technology into a very small case, raising concerns about heat build-up. Apple processors typically run cooler than competing chips from other manufacturers, but the Mac Studio is capable of drawing over 200 watts of power and that generates heat.How many screens can Mac Studio support? ›
You can connect up to five displays using only the front and back Thunderbolt 4 (USB-C) ports (without using the HDMI port). If you're not sure how many external displays your Mac Studio supports or have other questions about video support, check the Resources tab in About This Mac.Is the new Mac Studio worth the money? ›
If you're a computer user who needs the most power and speed a Mac can provide, the Mac Studio is the one to purchase, and honestly, it has no equals at this time. Some creatives, however, will probably want to wait until an Apple silicon version of the Mac Pro gets released, perhaps by the end of the year.Which is faster Mac Pro or Mac Studio? ›
The Mac Studio's M1 Ultra chip outperforms the 28-core Xeon Mac Pro with the highest-end graphics card, meaning that the Mac Studio is a more powerful machine overall and should be faster for many workflows.What is the most powerful Mac 2022? ›
If you're looking for the most powerful MacBooks with Apple's silicon, look no further than the 14-inch (8/10, WIRED Recommends) and 16-inch MacBook Pro (if you can stomach the $2,000 starting price). You can choose to outfit either with Apple's M1 Pro or M1 Max processors.
Is Mac mini M1 8gb RAM enough for music production? ›
Does M1 music production require 16GB of RAM? 8 GB is more than enough for 5-25 audio tracks with multiple instruments, MIDI and many plugins, VSTs and effects (EQ, compression, delay, reverb, etc.) for small projects without performance issues.Is iMac M1 enough for music production? ›
The 16 inch Apple Silicon M1 MacBook Pro is by far the best Mac for music production due to a combination of power, performance and reliability. The MacBook Pro provides a powerful and portable music production studio that's good enough for even professional music production on a Mac.Is M1 worth it for music production? ›
M1 computers run super-cool and quiet, which is a HUGE deal for producers who record and mix in the same room. The M1 Mac Mini consumes less than 40 watts of power under a high load. Previous generation six-core i7 Intel Mac minis used three times that, and old school Mac Pro Towers used eight times as much.Is M1 good enough for music production? ›
The new MacBook Air M1 is a very good laptop for music production and editing, and should be plenty fast! 256gb should work out just fine too, although 128gb will work if that's all you can afford.