Mac Studio vs. Mac mini: Which one should you buy?

Photo is of a Mac mini (2018) taken for iMore Mac mini review
Photo is of a Mac mini (2018) taken for iMore Mac mini review (Image credit: iMore)

Comparing the Mac Studio to the Mac mini is almost like comparing apples to oranges. Still, the similar form factor makes it natural to wonder how the two devices stack up against each other. Both machines are small independent Macs that you'll need a separate monitor, keyboard, and mouse for, and both are small desktop boxes that can fit in most spaces and don't take up a lot of room. Aside from those facts, though, the Mac Studio and Mac mini have very different purposes, which becomes very apparent when you dive into the specs.

Mac Studio vs. Mac mini: The power is in the specs

Mac Studio And Studio Display Lifestyle (Image credit: Apple)

The Mac Studio has power and performance in spades and offers two different processors when it comes to power: The M1 Max, which is the most powerful chip found in the MacBook Pro (2021), and the brand new M1 Ultra, which, as its name suggests, is an incredible new chip that's bigger, better, and beefier in performance than the M1 chip before it. On top of the better chip, you'll also notice that the Mac Studio has higher RAM and more available storage options.

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Header Cell - Column 0 Mac miniMac Studio
Starting price$699$1,999
ProcessorM1M1 Max or M1 Ultra
CPU8-core CPUUp to a 20-core CPU
GPU8-core GPUUp to 64-core GPU
RAMUp to 16GBUp to 128GB
StorageUp to 2TBUp to 8TB
Display supportUp to one 6K display and one 4K displaySupport for up to four Pro Display XDRs (6K) and up to one 4K display

Everything about the spec sheet tells you that the Mac mini and Mac Studio are in entirely different leagues, clearly meant for different types of work. As its name implies, the Mac Studio is intended for "studio" work, whether it's design, music production, film editing, or anything else that requires the power and performance to work smoothly and seamlessly into your workflow. In contrast, the Mac mini is a competent home computer that is meant for much more everyday tasks such as writing, some light photo editing, browsing the web, and everything else you do during your average day.

The price difference between the two Macs not only strengthens this argument but when you think about all the extra accessories you need to purchase — a monitor, in particular — those hidden costs can add up.

Mac Studio vs. Mac mini: The "hidden" costs

LG widescreen Monitor (Image credit: iMore)

If you're looking at the price of the Mac Studio and you start to feel faint, remember that the near $2,000 starting price doesn't include essential accessories like a monitor, keyboard, mouse, etc. The most significant expense when considering either the Mac mini or Mac Studio is a monitor and it's important to remember to factor the cost of a monitor into your purchasing decision.

It's important to consider that you can buy the top-end model Mac mini, with 16GB of RAM, at least 512GB of storage, and one of the best Mac mini monitors for less than the starting price of just the Mac Studio itself. Heck, you could probably buy two monitors that are a little cheaper and still end up under that $1,999 price point.

Now, no monitor is going to make your Mac faster or perform better, so if you need the power that an M1 Max or M1 Ultra chip (or the better RAM and storage) packs, then you'll need to pay the premium price tag. But, the Mac mini is a very competent home computer that will allow you to build a nice little workstation at home for a lot less money.

Mac Studio vs. Mac mini: Which should you buy?

You likely already know which of these Macs is best for you just by looking at the price and spec sheet, but if you are truly on the fence, my best advice is to strongly consider how you plan on using your Mac.

If you do CPU or GPU intensive work daily and are looking for a device that can not only keep up with your workflow but run buttery smooth even through your toughest projects, then some configuration of the Mac Studio is the best option.

If you don't need anything crazy powerful and you're just looking to upgrade your Mac that you use as a family computer or home office, the Mac mini is going to allow you to do that just fine — and save money to boot!

Luke Filipowicz
Staff Writer

Luke Filipowicz has been a writer at iMore, covering Apple for nearly a decade now. He writes a lot about Apple Watch and iPad but covers the iPhone and Mac as well. He often describes himself as an "Apple user on a budget" and firmly believes that great technology can be affordable if you know where to look. Luke also heads up the iMore Show — a weekly podcast focusing on Apple news, rumors, and products but likes to have some fun along the way. 

Luke knows he spends more time on Twitter than he probably should, so feel free to follow him or give him a shout on social media @LukeFilipowicz.