Mac mini M2 review: Apple’s cheaper, tiny but mighty computer | Apple

Apple’s cheapest desktop computer has had a price cut and a power upgrade – making it one of the smallest, cheapest and most adaptable Macs yet.

The Mac mini starts at £649 ($599/A$999) – £50 less than the 2020 model – and has Apple’s latest M2 or M2 Pro chips as used in the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro to great effect.

The tiny aluminium box is about the size of a hardback book, measuring just under 20cm each side and less than 4cm thick. It is easy to fit just about anywhere: on a desk, mounted under one, in a TV cabinet, on the back of the monitor, stuck to a wall – wherever you can reach with a power cable.

The back of the Mac mini M2 Pro showing various ports.
The power button is on the back. It has a small speaker for basic sounds, but no microphones or cameras. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Like a normal desktop PC you simply plug the Mac mini into a screen, keyboard and mouse, all of which can be bought with it at great expense – or you can use your existing gear. I connected an Asus 4K monitor and Logitech Bluetooth mouse and keyboard to the mini to set it up, using them during the length of the review without issue.

It runs macOS 13.2 Ventura like all recent Macs and has the same screen-sharing and proximity features as the MacBook laptops. That means you can use a recent iPad as a second screen, use the attached mouse and keyboard to control an iPad or other Mac and use an iPhone as a wireless webcam, which works really well.

Specifications

  • Processor: Apple M2 or M2 Pro

  • RAM: 8GB, 16GB, 24GB or 32GB

  • Storage: 256GB, 512GB, 1TB, 2TB, 4TB or 8TB SSD

  • Operating system: macOS 13.2 Ventura

  • Connectivity: wifi 6E, Bluetooth 5.3, 2x USB-A, 2 or 4x USB 4/Thunderbolt 4, HDMI 2.1, Ethernet, headphones

  • Dimensions: 197mm x 197mm x 35.8mm

  • Weight: 1.18kg to 1.28kg

M2 power and efficiency

The bottom of the Mac mini M2.
A plastic foot sticks out of the base to slightly lift the mini’s aluminium frame. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The new M2 and M2 Pro chips offer decent performance gains on the previous M1 and M1 Pro chips, with a 10% to 20% improvement in CPU speed and up to 25% faster graphics. That puts them at the top of the pile alongside some of Intel and AMD’s latest top chips, but at much lower power consumption, and a giant leap over previous Intel-powered Macs.

With that level of performance, the Mac mini has become not just a small Apple computer but one of its more powerful and adaptable options. The M2 version will be more than enough for most general computing tasks, with the more expensive M2 Pro option and up to 32GB of RAM available for those who need more power. It sits below the Mac Studio, which is a beefed up version of the mini for those who need a lot more graphics or computing power.

The beauty

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Smaller Is Sometimes Better: Why Electronic Components Are So Tiny

Perhaps the second most famous law in electronics after Ohm’s law is Moore’s law: the number of transistors that can be made on an integrated circuit doubles every two years or so. Since the physical size of chips remains roughly the same, this implies that the individual transistors become smaller over time. We’ve come to expect new generations of chips with a smaller feature size to come along at a regular pace, but what exactly is the point of making things smaller? And does smaller always mean better?

Smaller Size Means Better Performance

Over the past century, electronic engineering has improved massively. In the 1920s, a state-of-the-art AM radio contained several vacuum tubes, a few enormous inductors, capacitors and resistors, several dozen meters of wire to act as an antenna, and a big bank of batteries to power the whole thing. Today, you can listen to a dozen music streaming services on a device that fits in your pocket and can do a gazillion more things. But miniaturization is not just done for ease of carrying: it is absolutely necessary to achieve the performance we’ve come to expect of our devices today.

An IBM 700 logic module
A module from a 1950s IBM 700 computer. Note the enormous size of all components. Credit: autopilot, CC BY-SA 3.0

One obvious benefit of smaller components is that they allow you to pack more functionality in the same volume. This is especially important for digital circuits: more components means you can do more processing in the same amount of time. For instance, a 64-bit processor can, in theory, process eight times as much information as an 8-bit CPU running at the same clock frequency. But it also needs eight times as many components: registers, adders, buses and so on all become eight times larger. So you’d need either a chip that’s eight times larger, or transistors that are eight times smaller.

The same thing holds for memory chips: make smaller transistors, and you have more storage space in the same volume. The pixels in most of today’s displays are made of thin-film transistors, so here it also makes sense to scale them down and achieve a higher resolution. However, there’s another, crucial reason why smaller transistors are better: their performance increases massively. But why exactly is that?

It’s All About the Parasitics

A diagram illustrating the parasitic capacitances of a transistor. Credit: Michel Bakni, CC BY-SA 4.0

Whenever you make a transistor, it comes with a few additional components for free. There’s resistance in series with each of the terminals. Anything that carries a current also has self-inductance. And finally, there’s capacitance between any two conductors that face each other. All of these effects eat power and slow the transistor down. The parasitic capacitances are especially troublesome: they need to be charged and discharged every time the transistor switches on or off, which takes time and current from the supply.

The capacitance between two conductors is a function of their physical size: smaller dimensions mean smaller

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