For a long time, Apple had a bad reputation for offering little performance for a lot of money. This accusation has no longer been tenable, at least since the introduction of its M-chips. Thanks to chips, entering the world of Mac computers is cheaper than it has been for a long time - despite decent performance. The currently cheap Mac is the Mini with an M2 chip in the smallest version, i.e. with 256 gigabytes (GB) of storage space and 8 GB of RAM for 699 euros. However, the Maci Mini is also available with an M2 Pro chip, more RAM and system memory. However, this is typical for Apple for more than twice the price. Logical: The M2-Pro offers more performance. Let's take a look at whether this is really necessary and how the computers differ in detail.
2x USB-A ports
2x USB-A ports
2x Thunderbolt 4
4x Thunderbolt 4
The most noticeable difference between the Mac Mini M2 and the M2 Pro is on the back. Of course, if you look closely, you'll see that the M2 only offers two Thunderbolt 4 ports and the M2 Pro offers four. This becomes problematic if, for example, you want to connect several monitors and an external storage medium to the Mac Mini via the Thunderbolt socket.
As far as the remaining connections are concerned, the two computers are almost the same - but only almost. On the back of both versions you will find two USB-A sockets for mouse and keyboard as well as a headphone jack and of course the Gigabit Ethernet port for wired internet. There is also an HDMI socket with which you can connect the Mac Mini to a television or monitor, for example. However, the M2 gets an HDMI 2.0 socket and the M2 Pro a 2.1 socket. And that makes a big difference when we take a closer look at the graphics units of the chips.
As a reminder: Apple integrates the computing cores for graphic calculations and the processor cores of the central processing unit on one chip. We will first focus on the computing cores that accelerate the pixels on the screen, i.e. the graphics card of the M2 chip. This is also the reason for Apple's HDMI and Thunderbolt decisions for the two computers. The M2 offers a total of 10 graphics cores, with the M2 Pro you can choose from 16 or, for an additional charge of 345 euros, 19 computing cores.
The graphics unit is particularly important for two types of PC users: gamers and video and photographers who use programs such as Final Cut or Photoshop for their work. If you compare the individual computing power of the cores, they are on par. Accordingly, more graphics cores also offer more computing power for creative people in Final Cut and Photoshop
Since there is still little gaming on Macs, we will limit ourselves to those creative people who, as we all know, like to work on multiple monitors and in high resolution. And this is exactly where the chips differ: You can connect a maximum of two screens with a maximum resolution of 6K at a refresh rate of 60 Hertz to the normal M2 in the Mac Mini. Important: The 6K resolution only works via the Thunderbolt ports. You can connect a maximum of a 4K screen at 60 Hertz to the HDMI 2.0 socket.
The M2-Pro supports up to three screens, which is why it should also have more Thunderbolt sockets. Again, only monitors with a resolution of up to 6K and 60 Hertz are possible on the Thunderbolt ports. However, an 8K monitor with a refresh rate of 60 Hertz or a 4K monitor with 240 Hertz can be connected to the HDMI 2.1 socket. So if you want to work on multiple screens with high resolution, you can't avoid the extra charge.
The situation for the central processing unit of the Mac Mini M2 is similar to that of the graphics unit. The normal M2 offers a total of eight computing cores, which are divided into four efficiency and four performance cores. Apple fans have known this architecture since 2020, when the M1 chip came onto the market. The efficiency cores take on light tasks. If it becomes computationally intensive, the performance cores do their job. The M2 Pro is again available in two versions: a version with ten computing cores and one with twelve computing cores. The number of efficiency cores remains the same, so the Pro versions of the M2 offer four efficiency cores with six or eight performance cores.
Again, the single-core performance of the chips does not differ from each other, but the increased computing power is due to the number of computing cores. In the star test of the Mac Mini with M2 Pro, the performance of the mini computer was a positive surprise. Compared to the M1 Pro, the single-core performance was between eight and 13 percent faster. When it came to multi-core performance, the M2 Pro outperformed its predecessor by 50 to 60 percent.
In a direct comparison of M2 vs. M2 Pro, it can be assumed that the M2 Pro with ten cores delivers around 30 to 35 percent more performance. The result comes from the two more performance cores because 4 out of 6 corresponds to around 66 percent, which results in 34 percent more computing cores. In theory, the M2 Pro with eight performance cores results in a performance increase of 45 to 50 percent. The theoretical results correspond to those measured by Max-Tech.
Important: How much performance increase is achieved through more cores always depends on how well the programs used are optimized for the chip. The theory may be confirmed in reality in synthetic benchmarks, but not necessarily in the programs actually used. In addition, it is questionable whether a normal consumer benefits greatly from 45 to 50 percent more computing power, because if at all the average person cuts a five to ten minute film or edits vacation photos. And the normal M2 will be sufficient for the next three to four years (if not significantly longer).
So we now know what is actually logical: a hefty surcharge is reflected in more computing power. And you can connect more and higher resolution displays to the computer. Both are usually only needed by professionals who want to work on an 8K monitor at some point and are interested in a fast computer for the next three to five years.
However, more important for normal people is the storage space and in the basic version it is extremely small at 256 GB. 256 GB is sufficient for Word and Excel files, but if you add high-resolution photos or videos, things quickly become tight. If you have an iPhone and/or iPad, an iCloud subscription may make sense for you. Alternatively, it is cheaper for most users to use an external hard drive or SSD for the Mac.
In addition, little memory at Apple not only means that the disk fills up more quickly, but also that it reads and writes more slowly. Apple fans are already familiar with this phenomenon of slow 256 GB SSDs in M2 computers from the M2 MacBooks. Their 256 GB variants read and write data even more slowly than their M1 predecessors.
The reason for this is that Apple only uses one 256 GB NAND memory instead of two 128 GB NAND flash memories. It's best to think of it like a road: Instead of the data being able to use two lanes, the information highway narrows down to one, which is why not as much data can get through at the same time as before. It's building up.
Is that a problem now? After all, modern SSD storage is so fast, even on one track, that the difference would hardly be noticeable in everyday life, one might think if there weren't a problem with the RAM.
In the M2 basic version it is only 8 GB and that is extremely low in 2023. They fill up quickly and full RAM slows down the computer enormously because the processor can no longer store tasks there that it wants to access again quickly. There is no problem without a solution and that is called “virtual memory”.
The MacOS creates the virtual memory on that single-track SSD. This change in memory also works particularly well at Apple thanks to the processor architecture with the so-called "unified memory", so that most users do not notice when the RAM is full and the processor on the SSD is using virtual memory.
What is fundamentally important when switching the memory back and forth is that the SSD reads and writes particularly quickly. If you don't do this - as with M2 computers with 256 GB of memory - this leads to significant performance losses, especially when using several programs at the same time. So if you have a lot of tabs open, are tinkering with Word and Excel and want to export an image, you should either have enough RAM or two tracks in the system memory or, ideally, both.
By the way: The smallest Mac Mini with M2 Pro doesn't have these problems because it is equipped with 16 GB of RAM and 512 GB of system memory.
The price of the Mac Mini in its basic variant is good. In return, buyers get a computer that they can use to do simple jobs for the next three to five years. However, the 256 GB version cannot be recommended in good conscience in 2023. This is because 256 GB fills up quite quickly and the RAM of 8 GB is really very limited. If you want to enjoy the Mac Mini for longer, you should choose the variant with 16 GB of RAM and 512 GB of system memory for 1,159 euros. The power of the M2 is completely sufficient for normal users.
If you want to use the Mac Mini as a professional tool for photo or video editing, you are better off with the M2-Pro. Only the Pro in the small version with 16 graphics cores, which costs around 1549 euros, is worth it. With 32 GB of RAM and the better graphics unit, the Mac Mini with M2 Pro costs around 2354 euros, which doesn't make sense because the basic version of the Mac Studio has an M2 Max chip (30 graphics cores), 32 GB of memory and 512 GB of system memory costs 2399 euros and is a much more powerful computer. Why easy when you're Apple...
Note: This article was first published in September 2023. The prices mentioned refer to the official prices on apple.de on September 28th, 2023.
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