Mac mini vs Mac Studio: which compact Mac is best for your needs?

Mac Studio VS Mac mini
(Image credit: Future/ iMore)

Apple’s Mac mini and Mac Studio are two of the best small form factor computers you can buy right now, let alone the best Macs, but while on the outside they look similar, they are actually very different – and this means that choosing the right one for your needs is incredibly important.

The Mac Studio, as the name suggests, is a powerful product that excels at heavy-duty creative workloads. This means it's fitted with some of the most powerful hardware Apple has ever made, including the M1 Ultra in some configurations, which is essentially two already very powerful M1 Max chips connected together to make one giant all-powerful chip.

As a workstation aimed at creative professionals, it comes with a price tag to match – you’re looking at a $1,999 starting price for the M1 Max version, with the M1 Ultra model costing a huge $3,999.

M2 Mac mini on a wooden desk

(Image credit: Gerald Lynch / Future)

The Mac mini, meanwhile, continues to be the best value way to get into Apple’s ecosystem, and the latest model comes at a much more affordable starting price of $599. While it doesn’t offer the same level of performance as the Mac Studio, it boasts some of Apple’s latest hardware, including the new M2 and M2 Pro chips, and that ultra-low price makes it a supremely tempting purchase.

Because of the huge gap in both performance and price, you’ll want to make sure you pick the right one. After all, you don’t want to spend a small fortune on a Mac Studio if the Mac mini would suffice, but nor should you buy a Mac mini if you need a huge amount of horsepower. So, let’s compare the two and help you pick the best one for your needs and budget.

Mac mini vs Mac Studio: Specs comparison

Before we really dig into the two devices, let’s have a look at the specs, which will give you a good overview of what each device is capable of.

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SpecsMac mini (M2)Mac mini (M2 Pro)Mac Studio (M1 Max)Mac Studio (M1 Ultra)
Cost$599 / £649$1,299 / £1,399$1,999 / £1,999$3,999 / £3,999
CPU8-Core 10-Core10-Core20-Core
GPU10-Core16-Core24-Core48-Core
Memory8GB16GB32GB64GB
Storage256GB SSD512GB512GB1TB
Dimensions1.41 x 7.75 x 7.75-inches (3.58 x 19.70 x 19.70 cm)1.41 x 7.75 x 7.75-inches (3.58 x 19.70 x 19.70 cm)3.7 x 7.7 x 7.7-inches (9.5 x 19.7 x 19.7 cm)3.7 x 7.7 x 7.7-inches (9.5 x 19.7 x 19.7 cm)
Weight2.6 lbs (1.18kg)2.8 lbs (1.28kg)5.9 lbs (2.7kg)7.9 lbs (3.6kg)
Ports2x Thunderbolt 4 (USB-C), 2x USB-A, Gigabit Ethernet, HDMI, 3.5mm headphone jack, 10/100/1000BASE-T Gigabit Ethernet4x Thunderbolt 4 (USB-C), 2x USB-A, Gigabit Ethernet, HDMI, 3.5mm headphone jack. 10/100/1000BASE-T Gigabit Ethernet4x Thunderbolt 4, 2x USB-C, 2x USB-A, HDMI, 10Gb Ethernet, 3.5mm headphone jack, SDXC card slot6x Thunderbolt 4, 2x USB-A, HDMI, 10Gb Ethernet, 3.5mm headphone jack, SDXC card slot

Mac mini vs Mac Studio: the models compared

Mac mini (M2, 2023)

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M2 Mac mini on a wooden desk

(Image credit: Gerald Lynch / Future)

A few years ago, you may have felt that Apple had all-but forgotten about the Mac mini. Unlike the best iPhones and iPads which got yearly upgrades, the Mac mini bobbed along, making do with a few spec bumps here and there over the years.

However, recently it seems like Apple hasn’t just remembered the Mac mini, but it’s fallen back in love with the tiny PC. The latest version came out at the beginning of this year and comes with Apple’s latest M2 chip. Even better, it also came with a new lower price, and now starts at just $599 / £649. Better performance and a lower price?! Apple, you really are spoiling us.

Another nice surprise was that for the first time, Apple also released a variant of the Mac mini with the more powerful M2 Pro chip.

Another nice surprise was that for the first time, Apple also released a variant of the Mac mini with the more powerful M2 Pro chip. This further boosts the capabilities of the Mac mini, making it a viable workstation Mac for content creators, and puts it on the same kind of performance level as the lower specced MacBook Pro 14-inch.

Both models keep that same streamlined and compact design that we’ve come to love about the Mac mini. This is a small form factor PC that can be tucked behind a monitor or under a desk, but more than punches above its weight. The entry-level model is also the most affordable way to get into the macOS ecosystem.

Mac Studio

Mac Studio

(Image credit: Apple)

So far, there’s only been one release of the Mac Studio, which was released in 2022. Taking obvious design cues from the iconic Mac mini, the Mac Studio was taller, yet still impressively compact. Best of all, it also came with what was, at the time, some of the most powerful hardware Apple has ever made.

The base model came with the mighty M1 Max chip, but it could also be equipped with the M1 Ultra – which was essentially two M1 Max chips combined for around twice the performance. At the time of writing, the Mac Studio is the only product from Apple that can be equipped with the M1 Ultra. This means for people using powerful Macs like the Mac Pro and iMac Pro, but want to switch from the aging Intel hardware to Apple silicon, then the Mac Studio is your only choice.

The base model came with the mighty M1 Max chip, but it could also be equipped with the M1 Ultra.

While the M1 Max has now been superseded by the M2 Max, there’s currently no sign of an M2 Ultra, but we wouldn’t be totally surprised if a new Mac Studio appeared in the next 12 months with M2 internals.

With a price range of between $1,999 and $7,999, however, the Mac Studio won’t be for everyone – this is the kind of investment that creative professionals with serious computing workloads should make. When thinking about laying down that kind of cash, it may be wise to hang on and see if Apple is indeed planning on releasing a new model soon.

Mac mini vs Mac Studio: which configuration should you choose?

As with most Macs, Apple offers a wide range of configuration options for both the Mac mini and Mac Studio, so we’ve narrowed down the list to pick the two best options that we recommend for different use cases, with one for most people, and the other for professional creatives who crave power and performance. You can use these recommendations as a basis and configure them with extra memory, storage space and more to best suit your needs.

The best configuration for most people:

Mac mini (M2 / 256GB / 8GB RAM)

<a href="https://apple.sjv.io/c/221109/435031/7613?subId1=hawk-custom-tracking&sharedId=hawk&u=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.apple.com%2Fshop%2Fbuy-mac%2Fmac-mini%2Fapple-m2-chip-with-8-core-cpu-and-10-core-gpu-256gb" data-link-merchant="apple.com"">Mac mini (M2 / 256GB / 8GB RAM) $599 / £649

For most people, the Mac mini with M2 chip is quite simply unbeatable value. If you already have a monitor, mouse and keyboard, then this is easily the cheapest way to get into the Mac ecosystem, and its performance and build quality put competing Windows-based compact PCs to shame, especially at this price.

While it’s not the most powerful Apple device out there, it’s still an excellent performer, coming with the same M2 chip as the much more expensive MacBook Air. While the 256GB SSD is a bit on the small size, you can always plug in an external hard drive for a quick expansion. Of course, you can also configure it with more storage and memory when you buy from Apple, which ups the price of course, and if you want to do some creative work without spending a huge amount, then upgrading the Mac mini to the M2 Pro is a great move.

The best configuration for professionals:

Mac Studio (M1 Max, 512GB, 32GB)

<a href="https://apple.sjv.io/c/221109/435031/7613?subId1=hawk-custom-tracking&sharedId=hawk&u=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.apple.com%2Fshop%2Fbuy-mac%2Fmac-studio%2F10-core-cpu-24-core-gpu-16-core-neural-engine-32gb-memory-512gb" data-link-merchant="apple.com"">Mac Studio (M1 Max, 512GB, 32GB) $1,999 / £1,999

For creative professionals who really need a huge amount of power to help with complex projects such as rendering 3D animations, designing computer games or running huge amounts of code, the Mac Studio is the one to go for. 

While the cheaper Mac mini may be a salivating offer, the M2 model may start to lag when you really push it, while the Mac Studio’s older, but more powerful M1 Max won’t break a sweat – and the larger body of the Mac Studio means it can keep cool even when working hard, yet it’s still small compared to other workstation PCs. We actually recommend the M1 Max model for most professionals, as it really performs incredibly well. Meanwhile, the M1 Ultra offers even more power, and while that might be tempting, you should really consider if you need the kind of performance, as the price jumps up quite dramatically.