Sun. May 19th, 2024

With iPhones basically dominating the phone market, you might be wondering if a Mac would be the right computer for you. Everyone’s always talking about the “ecosystem” and how well Apple products work together. But would Apple’s best value Mac mini EVER be right for you?

In January 2023, Apple released the updated M2 Mac mini, as well as a much higher spec’d M2 Pro version. But if you’re looking to pick one up, perhaps taking the leap from Windows to Mac for the first time, which is right for you, should you upgrade it when you buy, and what will you need to make it fully set up and ready to go.

A Brief History of Mac mini

I’ve been using Apple’s M1 Mac mini since it was first released at the end of 2020, and it’s been a workhorse. Apple has just released the M2 version, it gets a lower starting price and a faster chip, and Apple’s M series chips were already impressively fast. And, we’ll come back to the M1 version a little later.

Mac mini as a product line first appeared on January 22nd 2005, powered by an IBM G4 chip, and with a slightly different design than today, smaller footprint, taller, and basically defined by the size of a CD or DVD drive. It was $499 and it was designed to be an easy way into the Mac ecosystem for people who currently had a PC, and could recycle their keyboard, mouse and display. That design carried through to Apple’s Intel transition, got neglected between 2014 and 2018 without updates, then changed colour and went up from $499 to $799.

When Apple introduced Apple Silicon in 2020, the mini was right there in the original line up, with M1 and a $100 price cut to $699, and the performance blew away all the intel versions that came before.

Now, M2 is here, the price is down another $100 to just $599. And when you consider that the original $499 in 2005 dollars is the equivalent of $758.33 today, $599 is a massive deal.

Who is Mac mini for?

If you don’t need the full portability of a laptop computer, the M2 Mac mini is likely the right Mac for you. Its certainly the lowest price way you can get into a brand new Mac, and honestly there’s almost no better options when it comes to value in the used Mac market either, which is genuinely mind-blowing. Almost, and we’ll come back to that.

If you use your computer for the typical stuff everyone does, office applications, web, content consumption, you’re absolutely set. Photoshop, Illustration? No problems at all. Even if you’re making video, It’s absolutely enough. I know, I built this channel on an M1 Mac mini, and it never skipped a beat. And when it comes to M2, it’s even better, and I know as I’ve been using it in the MacBook Air since it released in June 2022.

So assuming you’ve had a desktop PC in the past, you can bring your Keyboard and mouse, bluetooth or wired (the Mac mini is one of the few Macs that still rocks the USB-A ports for exactly this reason), along with basically any display, or even a TV which is what I use to set yourself up.

Limitations of the M2 Mac mini

There are a couple of things that you should know about the Mac mini, and how you can work around them. First of all, the base M2 model, like the M1 is capable of running 2 external displays. Now those displays can be very high resolution, running up to a 5k and a 6k panel, but if you need a third display, the M2 Pro version may well be a better choice for you.

You may also have heard that the SSD in the newer M2 Mac mini is actually slower than in the previous M1 model – and it’s true in the smallest capacity models. In the M1 version the 256gb of storage was split across a pair of 128gb NAND flash chips, whereas in the M2 its on a single chip, which causes a bottleneck in terms of read and write speeds. That being said, if you only need the smallest of the storage options, the chances are you’re probably not using the system for massive video or other files, so in real world use, the chances are you’ll never notice the difference in terms of speed. It’s a little annoying, but the system did also get a cut in its pricing, so it can be justified. Of course, if you need a little more storage, moving up to 512gb will resolve the issue, giving you the full read and write speeds, as well, of course as more storage.

Finally, even though the Mac mini has more ports than most Macs, with the base model offering a pair of Thunderbolt ports, 2 USB-A, HDMI, ethernet and dedicated power, and the M2 Pro getting an additional pair of Thunderbolt ports for a total of 4, some may miss the SD card readers that came to the Mac Studio. 

Happily, there are some great hubs out there like this one from Minisopuru – which adds those SD and mini SD card slots along with a pair of USB-C ports and even an internal M.2 SSD slot, so you can save a bunch by putting your own M.2 drive inside and probably get around a terabyte of fast storage for about the same cost as doubling up from 256 to 512gb from the factory with Apple. Worth considering!

Useful Software on MacOS Ventura

One thing you may not realise if you’re looking to get your first Mac is how much you can do with the software you get completely free as a Mac owner. You get Apple’s office suite included free, Not a trial, just free.

Pages, Numbers and Keynote. As well as that, you get iMovie, which is a very capable video editing suite, again free. And GarageBand, a great audio and music production package, which also includes MASSES of loops to get started with. Free.

Mac mini Webcam?

Of course one of the things that Mac mini is missing is a webcam – and to get a decent one is normally a decent chunk of change. BUT! If at the start of the video you were one of those people looking at getting a Mac because you’re loving your iPhone, GOOD NEWS! Continuity camera means you can use your iPhone as your Mac’s webcam wirelessly. The camera on your iPhone is WAY better than basically any webcam out there, don’t believe me? This whole video is shot direct onto my Mac using continuity camera on my iPhone. Mind blown, I know.

And of course, if you’re using an iPhone with your Mac you have access to AirDrop to send photos, videos and other files wirelessly and really quickly. You can copy and paste from one device to another too. Everything syncs perfectly and you can even AirPlay to your Mac’s display from the iPhone. And if you have an iPad too? Universal control means you can just set your iPad next to your Mac and move your mouse cursor right over to control it, drag and drop files between the devices and more too. It’s basically magic at that point.

Used Mac minis?

I said earlier that there’s almost no computer with value like the M2 Mac mini, but given the price reduction on the M2, there’s a bunch of lightly used M1 Mac minis hitting the market right now, and many around the $400 mark.

That, is an insane value, especially if you’re not looking to do video creation – the M2 added encode and decode video engines with ProRes hardware acceleration, which will make a noticeable difference. But if you’re simply looking for an easy desktop for day to day tasks, the M1 Mac mini for a couple of hundred less is an amazing deal – you can use that extra cash to add some external storage or even look out for a 16gb memory model, just to give some more headroom in future. But for the love of god, don’t even consider an Intel model.

Since 2020 there have been exclusive features for Apple Silicon models in MacOS, and support for Intel Models will be limited going forward. Plus, they’re slower, run hotter and make a bunch of noise because the fans will be whirring away.Just don’t do it to yourself.