Apple Mac Mini M2 vs. M1: Don’t make a buying mistake

Apple’s new Mac Mini M2 promises better performance and features at a lower price. But with the next-gen machine now out and making the rounds, you can get a deal on a last-gen Mac Mini M1. Which ones should you buy?

With the same exterior design and similar port selection, the Mac Mini M2 looks like a purely internal upgrade to Apple’s mini desktop. However, there are some significant differences compared to the M1 model that can make a big difference in performance.


Alex Blake/Digital Trends

Since the Mac Mini M1 is a last generation product, we’d normally spend this section talking about how it’s cheaper than the newer model and potentially better value, and so on and so forth. But that’s not the case this time. The Mac Mini M2 is significantly cheaper than the last-gen version.

The base price for the Mac Mini M2 is $600, which alone is $100 less than the price at which the Mac Mini M1 debuted. For that price, you get the M2 processor with eight CPU cores and 10 GPU cores, along with 8GB of unified memory and 256GB of storage. However, you can spend a lot more if you configure the machine higher.

You can add up to 24GB of unified memory for an additional $400, 2TB of storage for an additional $800, and 10 Gigabit Ethernet for an additional $100.

Unlike the previous generation, Apple is also offering its M2 Pro in the Mac Mini. This model starts at $1,300 for 10 CPU cores, 16 GPU cores, 16GB of unified memory, and 512GB of storage. It has similar upgrades as the base model, but can step up to 32GB of unified memory and 8TB of SSD storage (the latter at a $2,400 premium).

Someone is editing photos on the M2 Mac Mini.

Apple no longer sells the Mac Mini M1 new, but you can bargain shop for refurbished models. The base model with the M1, 8 GB of unified memory and 256 GB of storage is only $470 in the Apple Store. However, that is the only good offer. Even jumping to 512GB of storage brings the price up to $640, and you’re spending close to $1,000 for 16GB of unified memory and 1TB of storage.

Unfortunately, shopping on thrift marketplaces like BackMarket and eBay doesn’t bring better deals. It’s possible the Mac Mini M1 will continue to drop in price over the next few months, but the Mac Mini M2 is by far the better deal right now.

ports and connectivity

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The Mac Mini M2 and M1 have identical ports with one small but important caveat. The base Mac Mini M2 and original M1 both come with two Thunderbolt ports, two USB 2.0 ports, an HDMI port, Ethernet, and a 3.5mm headphone jack. However, the M2 model supports Thunderbolt 4, while the M1 is fixed at Thunderbolt 3.

Both let you drive two displays – up to 6K@60Hz over a Thunderbolt connection and up to 4K@60Hz over HDMI. However, you can swap out the HDMI port on the M2 Mac Mini for a second Thunderbolt display that supports up to a 5K display like Apple’s Studio Display. It’s a small change, but crucial for multi-monitor setups.

Connections on the Apple Mac Mini M2 Pro.

The Mac Mini M2 Pro also has some advantages. It features two additional Thunderbolt 4 ports, allowing for up to three displays or up to a single 8K monitor. It can even support 4K monitors at 240Hz if you want to pair a gaming display like the Samsung Odyssey Neo G8 to your Mac Mini (you probably shouldn’t).

Some of the more notable differences between the Mac Mini M2 and M1 are wireless connectivity. The M1 supports Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.0, while the M2 supports Wi-Fi 6E and Bluetooth 5.3. Wi-Fi 6E is important as it only supports the 6GHz radio band (although you will need a compatible Wi-Fi 6E router). Likewise, the difference between Bluetooth 5.0 and 5.3 may seem small, but Bluetooth 5.3 supports multi-device streaming, low-power audio codecs, and Bluetooth location identification.

Performance and benchmarks

The Mac Mini M1 sits on a desk.
Alex Blake/Digital Trends

Mac Mini M2 reviews show that it is a very powerful device, especially considering its size and price. However, Apple has only circulated the M2 Pro model to the press. It absolutely beats the M1 in benchmarks, but it also starts at $1,300.

YouTuber Brandon Butch tested the base model and found that the M2 Pro was about 32% faster than the M2 in a multi-core Geekbench 5 run. Butch also highlighted the SSD in the base model. The 256GB SSD is about half as fast as the 512GB model, and Butch recommended upgrading the SSD even if you opt for the base M2 chip.

Compared to the M1, the base M2 chip is only slightly faster. It’s around 12% faster in multi-core tests, while it’s only 10% faster in single-core operation. This mirrors the performance we’ve seen from the MacBook Air M2 and shows only slight improvements over the M1 model.

The real benefit is that the M2 Mac Mini has access to the M2 Pro, allowing it to reach much higher levels of performance than was previously possible. And given the price of the M2 Mac Mini, it’s hard to argue with extra performance, no matter how small.

Should you buy the Mac Mini M2 or M1?

No question, buy the Mac Mini M2. It’s a bit faster, but more importantly, it upgrades some critical areas of connectivity and currently costs around the same price as the Mac Mini M1. The only limitation is storage. Upgrade to the 512GB model if you want to see substantial improvements.

However, the Mac Mini M1 still has its place. If you need a basic computer without a lot of storage space, you can save a few hundred bucks with a refurbished Mac Mini M1. It’s not as fast and doesn’t have the same connectivity, but it still supports the same apps and OS as the M2.

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