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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 score a deal on a last-gen Mac Mini M1. Which should you buy?

With the same external design and similar port selection, the Mac Mini M2 looks like an internal-only upgrade to Apple’s mini desktop. There are some significant differences compared to the M1 model, however, and they can make a huge difference in performance.


Apple Mac Mini M1 sitting on a desk.
Alex Blake/Digital Trends

Given that the Mac Mini M1 is a last-gen product, we’d normally spend this section talking about how it’s cheaper than the newer model and might offer a better value, and so on and so forth. But that’s not the case this time around. 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 the Mac Mini M1 debuted at. 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. You can spend much more if you configure the machine higher, though.

You can add up to 24GB of Unified Memory for a $400 upcharge, 2TB of storage for an additional $800, and 10 Gigabit Ethernet for another $100.

Unlike the previous generation, Apple is offering its M2 Pro inside the Mac Mini, as well. 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 available as the base model, though it can climb to 32GB of Unified Memory and 8TB of SSD storage (the latter of which comes with a cool $2,400 premium).

Someone editing photos on the M2 Mac Mini.

Apple no longer sells the Mac Mini M1 new, but you can score a deal shopping for refurbished models. The base model with the M1, 8GB of Unified Memory, and 256GB of storage is down to $470 through Apple’s store. That’s the only good deal available, though. Even jumping up to 512GB of storage brings the price to $640, and you’ll spend nearly $1,000 for 16GB of Unified Memory and 1TB of storage.

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

Ports and connectivity

Alex Blake/Digital Trends

The Mac Mini M2 and M1 have an identical set of ports with a 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 connection, Ethernet, and a 3.5mm headphone jack. The M2 model, however, supports Thunderbolt 4 while the M1 is locked to Thunderbolt 3.

On both, you can drive two displays — up to 6K at 60Hz through a Thunderbolt connection and up to 4K at 60Hz through HDMI. However, you can swap the HDMI connection for a second Thunderbolt display on the M2 Mac Mini, which supports up to a 5K screen like Apple’s Studio Display. It’s a small change, but it’s vital for multi-monitor setups.

Ports on the Apple Mac Mini M2 Pro.

The Mac Mini M2 Pro has a couple of advantages, as well. It comes with two additional Thunderbolt 4 connections, enabling up to three displays or up to a single 8K monitor. It can even support 4K monitors at 240Hz if you wanted to pair a gaming display like the Samsung Odyssey Neo G8 with your Mac Mini (you probably shouldn’t).

Some more significant differences between the Mac Mini M2 and M1 come in 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 significant because it exclusively supports the 6GHz wireless band (though you need a compatible Wi-Fi 6E router). Similarly, 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 sitting on a desk.
Alex Blake/Digital Trends

Mac Mini M2 reviews show that it’s a very powerful machine, especially considering its size and price. However, Apple has only circulated the M2 Pro model to press. It absolutely clobbers 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 around 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 the speed of the 512GB model, and Butch recommended upgrading the SSD even if you go with the base M2 chip.

Compared to the M1, the base M2 chip is only slightly faster. In multi-core tests, it’s around 12% faster, while in single-core operations, it’s only 10% faster. This echoes the performance we saw with the MacBook Air M2, showing only minor 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 performance levels than previously possible. And given the price of the M2 Mac Mini, it’s hard to argue with extra performance regardless of how minor it is.

Should you buy the Mac Mini M2 or M1?

No question, buy the Mac Mini M2. It’s slightly faster, but more importantly, it updates some critical areas of connectivity and is around the same price as Mac Mini M1 right now. The only caveat is storage. Upgrade to the 512GB model if you want to see major improvements.

The Mac Mini M1 still has its place, however. If you need a simple computer without a ton of storage space, you can save a couple of hundred dollars with a refurbished Mac Mini M1. It’s not as fast and doesn’t come with the same connectivity, but it still supports the same apps and operating systems as the M2.

Editors' Recommendations

Jacob Roach
Senior Staff Writer, Computing
Jacob Roach is a writer covering computing and gaming at Digital Trends. After realizing Crysis wouldn't run on a laptop, he…
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