Buying a new Mac is usually quite easy. It’s always best to wait if the current model has been around for a few years, but if you can’t wait, you won’t regret the buyer. Most of the time, the update is just a processor upgrade that a majority of users will miss just fine. And even in the case of a redesign like the recent M2 MacBook Air, you’ll probably save a few bucks by buying the current model.
It’s a little different with the Mac mini. The current M1 model came out almost two years ago and based on the recent arrival of the M2 chip, it is due for an update. But the update could be a major update that not only brings more processing power, but could also change Apple’s smallest desktop and make the old model look a lot worse.
So if you’re about to put your money aside for one of the current Mac minis Apple sells, we strongly recommend that you wait. This is why.
An M2 processor is on the way
When Apple unveiled the M1 processor in November 2020, the company released three Macs with it: the MacBook Air, 13-inch MacBook Pro, and Mac mini. The M2 13-inch MacBook Pro and MacBook Air have just been released, so that means the Mac mini will soon be getting the M2.
We found that with Geekbench 5, a benchmark that tests the overall overall speed of a CPU, the M2 is about 16 percent faster than the M1. That’s a nice speed increase, but the real gains are on the GPU side. With two additional cores, the M2 is about 35 percent faster than the M1 in our tests.
If you’re using the Mac mini as an affordable video production system, then you’ll enjoy what really makes the M2’s performance stand out over the M1. The M2 has a new media engine that accelerates ProRes video, and we’ve seen dramatic performance improvements when rendering ProRes video, with results more than twice as fast as the M1. If time is money, then the M2 delivers high returns.
Apple offers a $699 / £699 and an $899 / £899 Mac mini that have the same CPU, but the higher price means a bigger SSD. Apple will probably replace the M1 with an M2 in those models. Well worth the wait, which shouldn’t be more than a few months
The high-end model finally gets an upgrade
Apple is still selling a third standard configuration model in its Mac mini lineup: a $1,099/£1,099 version that still has an Intel processor that hasn’t been updated since 2118. This model should get a major update in the coming months.
One of those drastic changes includes a much-anticipated processor switch from Intel’s eighth chip to an Apple M2 Pro, according to several reports. Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman says the M2 Pro could have a 12-core CPU with 8 performance cores and 4 efficiency cores, and a 16-core GPU. It may also come with 16 GB of unified storage.
Talk about a mighty power of a machine – that’s a lot of processing power in such a smaller package. But it gets even better, because the M2 Pro will also feature the media engine that is in the M2, so the hardware acceleration for ProRes video will be even faster. We wonder how it will stack up against the Mac Studio and its M1 Max and M1 Ultra chips – an M2 Pro Mac mini may not be quite as fast, but it could prove to be a really attractive price/performance option for about $1,499.
We don’t expect the new Mac mini to offer a customization option for an M2 Max, as those chips require more active cooling provided by the large thermal management system in the Mac Studio. However, an M2 Pro Mac mini would be Apple’s first desktop with the more expensive chip and would be a great option for professionals.
A redesign may be in the works
The Mac mini is known as Apple’s smallest Mac and could be even smaller. There have long been reports that the smaller design will be about an inch long, and it could come in a new color and with a plexiglass top instead of aluminum.
Apple will likely increase the number of Thunderbolt ports from two to four on the high-end model, and implement a magnetic power connector similar to the one on the iMac.
However, it’s unclear if both the M2 and M2 Pro Mac mini models will get the new design. It’s possible that Apple will take a sample from the 13-inch MacBook Pro and keep the current design for the M2 models and only redesign the M2 Pro Mac mini. Or it could wait for the M3 model to arrive.
A terrible time to buy
In short, there’s never been a worse time to buy a Mac mini. Even as it languished without an update between 2014 and 2018, there was never any indication that meaningful updates were on the way. But now we know there are two M2 models on the way and possibly a redesign in the works as well.
Official news on when the new Mac mini will arrive has not been released, of course, but based on when the current model shipped (November 2020 for the M1 and October 2018 for the Intel model) and the recent release of the M2 MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook Pro, there’s a good chance an M2 Mac mini will arrive this year, perhaps in a fall event following the iPhone announcement. We could also see other Macs appearing during that time, such as a new Mac Pro or iMac.
While those Macs are more expensive than the Mac mini, they might be tempting enough to opt for those machines instead. Having more choice is always good to have.