Mac mini vs Mac Studio: Was the M2 Pro upgrade worth the wait?
At first glance
We think an M2 Pro Mac mini could be the perfect Mac for many Mac users who may have considered Mac Studio, so it was worth the wait.
Price upon review
Best prices today: Apple Mac mini (M2 Pro, 2023)
When Apple introduced Mac Studio in March 2022, we were impressed by its processing power and excellent value compared to the Mac Pro. Mac Studio is an excellent deal for content creators of any level, and frankly, it’s a suitable replacement for Apple’s top Mac in some situations. But not everyone needs all the power of a Mac Studio with the M1 Max, let alone the $3,999 M1 Ultra.
So despite the arrival of Mac Studio, there has been a gap in Apple’s lineup. While the MacBook Pro has offered an M1 Pro and now an M2 Pro chip, there was no desktop Mac with such a chip until now. In January 2023, Apple introduced a new M2 Pro Mac mini. It’s the Mac we’ve been waiting for ever since Apple introduced the M1 Mac mini in November 2020, but left the high-end Intel model behind.
Now that we have the M2 Pro Mac mini, is Mac Studio a less attractive proposition? Should you avoid the M1 Max Mac Studio and wait for Apple to introduce a version with the M2 Max chip? Read on to get all the answers.
Mac Studio M1 Max vs Mac mini M2 Pro: Price
We love the price of the M1 Max Mac Studio. At $1,999/£1,999, it costs $1,500/£1,300 less than the M1 Max variant of the 16-inch MacBook Pro. At that price, there is more than enough left over to buy a monitor, keyboard and mouse.
The Mac mini M2 Pro also represents a bargain compared to a similarly specced MacBook Pro. The M2 Pro Mac mini with a 10-core CPU and 16-core GPU costs $1,299/£1,399, compared to the $1,999/£2,149 14-inch MacBook Pro with the same chip. We understand that these are very different machines, but it illustrates how much you can save by buying one of Apple’s desktop Macs. Mac mini and Mac Studio are the most cost-effective way to get Apple’s most powerful processors.
Comparing desktop computers, let’s take a closer look at what you get for your money:
Mac Studio: M1 Max (10-core CPU, 24-core GPU), 32GB total memory, 512GB SSD, $1,999/£1,999
Mac Mini: M2 Pro (10-core CPU, 16-core GPU), 16GB total memory, 512GB SSD, $1,299/£1,399
Closing the gap between the two machines further: you can get the most out of the Mac mini with an M2 Pro that has a 12-core CPU and 19-core GPU with 32GB of memory for the same $1,999/£1,999 as the Mac Studio.
Another thing to consider is whether it’s worth holding off on the purchase until Apple introduces the M2 Max variant of the Mac Studio, which will probably happen sometime in 2023. As we discuss the price here, we’ll note, that it’s likely Mac Studio will see a price increase when the new model is introduced, at least outside the US, so keep that in mind if you decide to wait.
If you’re thinking of buying a Mac, take a look at our roundup of the best Mac mini deals and the best Mac Studio deals.
Mac Studio M1 Max vs Mac mini M2 Pro: Design
Mac Studio takes its design inspiration from the Mac mini. Both Macs are silver (there is no Space Gray version) and have a large Apple logo on top. The Mac Studio measures 7.7 inches square, the same as the Mac mini, but it’s 3.7 inches tall, nearly three times the height of the Mac mini.
The extra space inside the Mac Studio means it benefits from a more efficient cooling system. The Mac Studio also offers a handy collection of ports on the front, including two USB-C ports and an SDXC card slot.
Mac Studio M1 Max vs Mac mini M2 Pro: Specs
Although the M2 Pro is a newer chip than the M1 Max, the M1 Max, at least in terms of GPU cores, is the superior chip. But it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison. Here’s how the specs compare:
In terms of CPU, there doesn’t seem to be a significant difference – there’s a 10-core CPU as standard in both devices. But there are improvements in the newer chip, including a difference in the number of efficiency grains – up from two to four in the newer chip.
Apple claims that the M2 Pro and M2 Max offer 20 percent better CPU performance than the M1 Pro and M1 Max. This played out in our testing. As you can see from our Geekbench benchmarks, the Mac Studio with the M1 Max (10-core) lagged behind in the multi-core results. The Mac mini we compared it to was a build-to-order model with 12 cores, so an improvement is to be expected, but even in single-core benchmarks the M2 Pro scored higher.
We saw a similar scenario in the Cinebench R23 benchmarks, where the 12-core Mac mini M2 Pro beat the M1 Max in Mac Studio. Since the M1 Pro and M1 Max saw very similar benchmarks, we can definitely expect an improvement even with the default 10-core CPU option.
When it comes to GPU cores, things are a little different. The standard Mac mini M2 Pro offers 16 graphics cores (up to 19), but the standard Mac Studio with the M1 Max has a 24-core GPU (up to 32, and there will be up to 38 graphics cores in the M2 Max). While the GPU cores in the M2 Pro are ahead of those in the M1 Pro, the M1 Max still offers better graphics performance.
To get an idea of how this plays out in tests, in Geekbench 5 Compute benchmarks the 16-inch MacBook Pro with an M2 Pro (12-core CPU, 19-core GPU) against the 14-inch MacBook Pro with an M1 Max (10-core CPU, 32-core GPU).
Our iMovie benchmarks show the power of the M1 Max’s two video encoding engines. The M2 Pro can’t quite keep up.
However, the faster CPU and Neural Engine in the M2 Pro make it faster than the M1 Max when using the video stabilization feature.
There are other ways the Max beats the Pro, no matter what generation. The M1 Max has more memory bandwidth (400GB/sec vs 200GB/sec) and can offer more RAM than the M2 Pro can (64GB vs 32GB). Note that there is a 96GB RAM option for the M2 Max that may be coming to Mac Studio, but there’s a catch – the 96GB RAM option is limited to the version of the M2 Max with 38 GPU cores, while the cheaper option with 30 GPU cores still tops out at 64GB.
The Mac Studio has the most ports with two USB-C ports and an SDXC card port on the front and four Thunderbolt 4 ports, two USB-A ports, an HDMI 2.0 port, a 10Gb Ethernet connector and a 3.5mm headphone jack on the back. The M2 Pro Mac mini has four Thunderbolt 4 ports, two USB-A ports, an HDMI 2.1 port, Gigabit Ethernet (10Gb Ethernet costs $100 extra), and a headphone jack. Of course, there are plenty of USB-C hubs available if you want even more options.
You’ll notice that the Mac mini offers the newer HDMI 2.1 standard. HDMI 2.1 supports 4K at 240Hz and 8K at 60Hz. With HDMI 2.0, you could only connect one monitor with up to 4K resolution at 60Hz. You can of course add additional displays via the Thunderbolt ports on both the Mac Studio and Mac mini. Mac mini with M2 Pro supports up to three displays, while Mac Studio supports up to four Pro Display XDRs and a 4K display.
The 2023 Mac mini also offers the new WiFi 6E standard and Bluetooth 5.3, while the Mac Studio has Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.0.
Mac Studio M1 Max vs Mac mini M2 Pro: Buying advice
Now that the M2 Pro Mac mini is here, the Mac Studio with the M1 Max certainly looks less impressive than it did. You can now save $700/£700 by buying a Mac mini with the M2 Pro, instead of the Mac Studio, and still get a machine powerful enough for your needs.
But if you want the better M2 Pro chip and RAM, it makes more sense to look at the Mac Studio, even with an older M1 chip. It has more ports, a more powerful chip and the convenience of front-facing ports. For the same $1,999, choosing between an M2 Pro Mac mini and an M1 Max Mac Studio shouldn’t be difficult.
However, we assume that there will be an M2 Max and M2 Ultra upgrade to Mac Studio sometime in 2023, so it may be worth waiting for. And there are also strong rumors of a new Apple silicon Mac Pro coming in the coming months. But if you need a desktop Mac right now, the $1,299 Mac mini is a good bet until you start adding options.
For more help deciding which Mac to buy, read our best Mac buying guide.