Skip to main content

Why a Mac Mini Pro would be such a game-changer

An upgraded Mac Mini is currently rumored to launch in just a couple of weeks at Apple’s upcoming spring event.

If the reports turn out to be true, this more powerful Mac Mini could be a more revolutionary little PC than you might first expect. Can something this small ever really be considered “Pro?” Maybe — if Apple plays its cards right.

A GPU-sized hole

The Mac Mini on a table underneath a monitor.
Alex Blake/Digital Trends

Since its initial launch more than 15 years ago, the Mac Mini has been a popular choice as an entry-level Mac. It’s cheap and small, making for a great little work-from-home workstation.

More than that, the addition of the M1 has made it surprisingly powerful. The highly efficient processor was a perfect match for the compact form factor of the Mac Mini, delivering great performance without requiring much extra thermal headroom.

The problem, though, was always in the graphics department. There’s no room in the chassis for a discrete graphics card, especially considering the airflow and fans required to cool a traditional GPU. Just think about how hot and loud gaming laptops get — and imagine that in the size of the square, 1.4-inch-thick Mac Mini. It doesn’t add up.

And that limited the type of work that was possible with just the Mac Mini. As good as the M1 is, it won’t speed up your Premiere exports or play games any faster.

That’s where the M1 Pro comes in.

The M1 Pro to save the day

Leaked image of the upcoming M1X Mac Mini.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

The chip was first announced last year for the MacBook Pro, and provides a serious bump in graphics performance compared to the M1. This is exactly what is rumored to appear in the next Mac Mini. It might be enough for Apple to brand it the “Mac Mini Pro.”

The M1 Pro would add twice the graphics cores as the standard M1, bringing the overall count up to 16. While double the graphics cores didn’t always mean double the performance, the M1 Pro MacBook Pro was a major step up from the M1, averaging around the same performance as a mobile RTX 3050 Ti. And despite the improved graphics, the MacBook Pro never got hot or loud. I see no reason the Mac Mini couldn’t receive that same bump.

The M1 Max would be even better, of course, but Apple may want to keep the device small and save that kind of performance for its upcoming iMac Pro. But who knows? I also expected the M1 Max to be reserved exclusively for the 16-inch MacBook Pro, but that didn’t end up being true.

This upgraded Mac Mini was actually rumored to launch alongside the MacBook Pro last year. Reports from Jon Prosser said it would include four Thunderbolt ports, a magnetic power connector, and even a new “plexiglass”-like top. Remarkably, this new design was rumored to be even thinner than the standard Mac Mini.

Leaked image of the upcoming M1X Mac Mini.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Whether or not any of that remains true is up in the air. After all, even the MacBook Pro grew in thickness when the M1 Pro and M1 Max came around.

Even without the redesigned look, the M1 Pro is enough on its own to get excited about. Discrete-level graphics in a form factor this small has never been done before. That’s even more significant with how expensive GPUs are right now. Apple could easily charge too high a premium for that innovation, but the $699 starting price for the M1 Mac Mini is promising. Apple charges $350 more for a similarly configured MacBook Air than it does for the M1 Mac Mini. How that price scaling will apply to a Mac Mini Pro is yet to be seen.

If Apple can pull it off, especially without charging too much, it may have used the extreme efficiency of the M1 to reinvent yet another category in computing.

Luke Larsen
Luke Larsen is the Senior editor of computing, managing all content covering laptops, monitors, PC hardware, Macs, and more.
All the M4 Macs that are still coming out in 2024
Apple's Craig Federighi discusses macOS at the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) 2024.

This year has been a pretty slow one for the Mac so far, with only the M3 MacBook Air bringing any kind of update to Apple’s computer lineup. But that’s all set to change over the course of 2024, with a broad range of Macs poised to get the M4 series of chips in the coming months. In fact, it could be the first time that every Mac will be on the same family of chips.

That means if you’re looking to upgrade your Apple computer, this could be the time to do it. Wait just a few more months and you’ll have a huge range of up-to-date Macs to choose from, with everything from the MacBook Pro to the Mac Studio joining the M4 series by this time next year.

Read more
MacBooks are facing a new problem
The MacBook Air on a white table.

You might have noticed that Apple’s various Macs haven’t had many hardware changes in recent years. The design of the MacBook Pro has barely changed since 2021, while the Mac mini’s chassis has remained the same since 2020 (and has barely been altered in almost 15 years). The Mac Pro, meanwhile, is still rocking the same look it’s had since 2019.

The slowdown in changes is intentional on Apple's part, though it creates an obvious problem with how the company will get you excited about upgrading to devices in the future.
Longer-lasting devices
We shouldn’t really be too surprised about how we got here. Apple’s hardware designs are (usually) great, and they tend to last a lot longer than rivals’ devices, meaning there’s not a desperate need to regularly update them. Software, on the other hand, is moving so fast -- especially when it comes to AI -- that it makes a certain kind of sense that Apple prioritizes upgrades here over hardware tweaks.

Read more
How Apple plans to save the Vision Pro
A person wearing an Apple Vision Pro headset.

It’s no secret that Apple’s Vision Pro headset is the best advanced headset on the market, with powerful specs and an immersive experience that no rival can truly match. It’s also no secret that Apple has struggled to sell its device, given its $3,499 price tag puts it way out of reach of most consumers. Apple reportedly has a plan to turn things around, though -- yet it might not involve a Vision Pro headset at all.

According to the latest Power On newsletter from Bloomberg reporter Mark Gurman, Apple plans to launch a cheaper Vision Pro in late 2025 at the earliest, followed by a second-generation mainstream Vision Pro around late 2026. After that is a set of much-discussed augmented reality (AR) glasses, although Gurman believes these are still many years away.

Read more