Live Science Verdict
If you've got a monitor and accessories, the Mac Mini with M2 is an ideal student computer that's capable of more than computers twice its size.
Powerful M2 chip, with M2 Pro option
Small enough to sit on your desk
Quiet enough not to be noticed
256 GB storage is low
Lack of front-facing ports
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Price: From $599/£649 for basic and from $1,299/£1,399 for the Pro version
Weight: 2.6 lbs/1.18 kg
Memory: 8 GB as standard, 16 GB, 24 GB and 32 GB options
Storage: 256 GB, 512 GB, 1 TB, 2 TB, 4 TB and 8 TB versions
Warranty: 1 year, extendable with AppleCare
Operating system: macOS Ventura (macOS Sonoma compatible)
CPU: Apple M2 chip (8-core CPU, 10-core GPU, 16-core Neural Engine)
Graphics: M2 includes 10-core GPU (configurable with 16-core GPU)
Ports: 2x Thunderbolt 4 USB-C, 2x USB-A, 3.5 mm headphone jack, Ethernet, HDMI
The Mac platform has arguably never been in a better place since the rollout of Apple Silicon, but it's always been the laptops that take the plaudits. While the M1 Mac Mini and M1 iMac were great, only the former saw a bump up to the latest consumer-level chip, the M2. That means the Mac Mini now offers its small form-factor with the M2 and M2 Pro chips as options, and it also got a surprise price drop to $599/£649 at the low-end.
While not without its flaws, the Mac Mini is an easy recommendation for anyone working on just about anything. It's got the power for complex tasks and multitasking that puts many Windows desktops to shame. So, while technically not a MacBook, we think that the Mac Mini M2 Pro is portable enough to be considered as an honorary mention for our best MacBook for students list.
Mac Mini M2 Pro review: Set up & usability
- Rapid set up process
As long as you've got peripherals handy, the set up of the Mac Mini M2 Pro should take barely any time at all.
Connect it up, hit the power button (on the back corner) and macOS will guide you through setup, with the option to import your settings from another Mac, too.
Mac Mini M2 Pro review: Design & Specs
- No design change
- Plenty of ports, but they're all at the back
From the outside, it's hard to tell exactly what's changed from the Mac Mini M1. In fact, nothing has, meaning you're still looking at the same rounded-square design, with aluminum casing and the Apple logo in the middle.
The front and sides are similarly nondescript (we'd have liked at least one front-facing port, but you'll need the more expensive Mac Studio for that), but on the back, you'll find an HDMI port, a pair of Thunderbolt 4 USB-C ports, two USB-A ports, a 3.5 mm headphone jack and an Ethernet port. If you opt for the M2 Pro version, you'll get an extra pair of Thunderbolt 4 ports, too.
In the box, you'll find a power cable, and that's about it. This means that you'll need to supply your own monitor, keyboard and mouse for the Mac Mini. You may also want to consider an additional hard drive or SSD, since in the base model you'll only get 256 GB of storage which is very low unless you keep everything in the cloud.
Apple will charge you $200/£200 to double the storage, which is a lot considering you can hook up an external drive for potentially less. We will note that the 8 GB of unified memory is solid enough, but we'd opt for 16 GB if you can – another $200/£200.
Mac Mini M2 Pro review: Features & Performance
- Runs silently
- Ideal for pretty much any task
While the storage is low, we're pleased to report that we've been throwing tasks at the Mac Mini M2 like it's nobody's business. Flicking between windows while running intensive games like Final Fantasy XIV Online, or editing images in Photoshop and Lightroom while checking emails and browsing the web (in Chrome, no less) has been smooth as butter.
The real joy of the Mac Mini is that it runs silently, no matter what you ask of it. It just powers through, even when connected to two displays. The fan is running, but you'll have to get very close to really tell.
We've already mentioned the lack of front-facing ports, but it feels like a big miss given just how much students are likely to connect and disconnect peripherals. However, the array of rear-facing options certainly helps for connectivity with tools like audio interfaces and SD card readers.
In fact, we'd argue that the Mac Mini, despite being Apple's cheapest machine, is now the best option for creatives that can't (or just don't want to) spend those extra bucks on a MacBook or Mac Studio. Editing audio in Logic is a breeze, as is slicing together an edit in something like iMovie.
Mac Mini M2 Pro review: Price
- Mac Mini M2 starts from $599/£649
- Mac Mini M2 Pro from $1,299/£1,399
- Easiest way to get into macOS
We've already mentioned the additional cost of storage, but if you do have a spare drive laying around, then that combined with the base model (the Mac Mini M2) is an excellent computer with pricing starting from $599/£649.
Naturally, as you ramp up the specs things get pricier, and doubling RAM and SSD space will take you to closer to the price of the Mac Mini M2 Pro version which offers more CPU and GPU grunt for $1,299/£1,399.
That also gets you an extra pair of ports, and there's an argument that opting for that would mean you won't have to upgrade again for years. After all, once your Mac is built, you're unable to upgrade its parts, so consider what's best for your needs.
You'll also need to factor in the cost of a good keyboard and mouse combo, as well as a monitor and, potentially, a webcam.
Mac Mini M2 Pro review: User Reviews
Reviewers of the Mac Mini M2 and Mac Mini M2 Pro on Amazon are certainly pleased, with an overall 4.7 star out of 5 rating from 519 reviews. 85% of those reviews offering a full 5-star rating. It's worth noting, however, that this score is based on an amalgamation of reviews for both the Mac Mini M2 and the Mac Mini M2 Pro.
Users were amazed at the Mac Mini's small, sleek size and how powerful the M2 chip could be. They found the Mac Mini M2 remarkable for the price as well (note the Pro is more expensive). There were strong suggestions that urged potential buyers to go for the higher memory as sadly this is not something you can upgrade later on. Users also lamented about the lack of ports.
Should you buy the Mac Mini M2 Pro?
If you've already got a monitor, keyboard, mouse and webcam, the Mac Mini M2 or the Mac Mini M2 Pro are both an excellent way to start your macOS adventure. It's more affordable than it's been before, while also being more capable for everything from basic tasks to more power-intensive ones. This one gets a big up from us.
If this Mac Mini 2 isn't for you
There is, of course, the lower cost Mac Mini M2 – while its specs aren't quite as good as the M2 Pro, it's still a pretty decent mini computer and at a more favorable price point too.
If you'd like a portable Mac, the MacBook Air is an excellent choice that not only offers the M2 chip, but now comes in MacBook Air 13-inch and MacBook Air 15-inch versions (both of which are brilliant).
Or, if you want to escape the Apple ecosystem altogether, then the AceMagician AMR5 Mini PC is a fabulous Windows alternative.
Lloyd Coombes freelance tech and fitness writer for Live Science. He's an expert in all things Apple as well as in computer and gaming tech, with previous works published on TopTenReviews, Space.com, Dexerto and TechRadar. You'll find him regularly testing the latest MacBook or iPhone, but he spends most of his time writing about video games as Editor in Chief at GGRecon.com. He also covers board games and virtual reality, just to round out the nerdy pursuits.