Mac Pro (2023) vs Mac Studio M2 Max (2023): which is better?

Mac mini 2020
The Mac mini 2020 (Image credit: Apple)

Since the advent of the company's 'M' series of chips, Apple users have enjoyed blisteringly fast computing speeds on their devices making them some of the best workstations available.

The Mac Mini was a latecomer to the 'M2' party, as the Macbook Air and Macbook Pro were launched with M2 chips in 2022. Still, as of January 2023, Mac Mini users can enjoy the same desktop experience as portable users. Currently, Apple has both the 'M2' and 'M2 Pro models.

The Mac Studio debuted in March 2022, and the M2 was released in June 2023 as the 'Max' and 'Ultra' models, capable of high-performance tasks.  

However, if you own neither of these extraordinary Apple artifacts, which is best for you? In this guide, we'll delve into the details comparing the Mac Mini M2 and the Mac Studio M2 'Max' to help you decide which best fits your needs and budget.

Mac Mini vs Mac Studio : Price and Availability

The Mac Studio M2 went on sale on June 13 2023. The base model starts at $1,999. As we're writing on the release day, Apple may offer one of its signature discounts on more expensive equipment so that this number may decrease further.

A base model Mac Mini M2 will only set you back $599, though naturally, this comes at the cost of slower specs (see below).

On checking the Apple website, we found that both these machines are available in stores in the USA and for online orders, though we encourage you to check with your local Apple retailer if you're in another country.

a mac mini m2 with a monitor, keyboard, and mouse

(Image credit: Apple)

Mac Mini vs Mac Studio : Specs

There's little to recommend one device over another in terms of size. The base of the Mac Studio is the same size: 7.75 x 7.75 inches (19.7cm x 19.7cm) as the Mac mini, but the Mac Studio is slightly taller: 3.7 inches (9.5cm) rather than 1.41 inches (3.58cm). 

The Mac Mini M2 lives up to its name at just 2.6 pounds (1.18kg). The Mac Studio weighs a much heftier 5.9 lb (2.7kg), though neither machine will break anyone's back if carried.

If you're comparing base hardware specifications, the Mac Studio M2 Max is a clear winner compared to the Mac Mini M2. 

It comes with a 12-core CPU and 30-core GPU vs. the Mac Mini's count of 8 & 10, respectively. This is one time when upgrading won't make much difference, as even adding $300 to a Mac Mini M2 Pro ($1299) will 'only' net you a 12-core CPU and 19-core GPU. 

Both models sport a 16-core neural engine. The Mac Studio M2 Max comes with a base unified memory of 32GB vs. the base model Mac Mini M2's 8GB, but you can even this out by adding $400 to the cost of your Mac Mini. This still costs almost $1,000 less than the Mac Studio M2 Max.

The Mac Mini M2 has 100GB/s memory bandwidth versus 400GB/s for the Mac Studio M2 Max. 

The base model Mac Mini M2 has a 256GB SSD versus the Mac Studio M2 Max's 512GB. Again, you can customize your Mac Mini order to upgrade to a 512GB for an extra $200.

Overall this means you can have virtually the same specs (excluding CPU/GPU) on the Mac Mini for around $1200: around $800 less than the cost of a Mac Studio. It's down to you to decide if it's worth paying that much extra for four extra CPU cores and 20 extra GPU cores.

Mac Mini vs Mac Studio : Ports

As these are both desktop devices, we have high expectations regarding ports.

The base model Mac Mini M2 is no slouch in this area: it comes with two Thunderbolt 4 ports. two USB-A ports, an HDMI port, A Gigabit Ethernet port, and a 3.5mm headphone jack.

The Mac Studio M2 Max lives up to its name in maximizing its ports. At the front, you'll find two USB-C ports and an SDXC card slot. On the back, there are no fewer than four Thunderbolt 4 ports, two USB-A ports, one HDMI port, one 10Gb Ethernet port, and a 3.5 mm headphone jack.

Both Macs also support Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) and Bluetooth 5.3 out of the box. 

Studio Display in an office on a wooden desk

(Image credit: Future)

Mac Mini vs Mac Studio : Display

Apple is at pains to point out that the Mac Studio was explicitly designed to work with their 27" 5K 'Studio Display, which boasts a 12MP ultra-wide camera, three microphones, and a six-speaker sound system. 

Naturally, you'll need an external monitor, whichever Mac you buy, but you'll have to decide if you can justify $1599 and upwards for the Studio Display. 

If you decide this isn't for you, you can connect up to 5 other kinds of external displays with the Mac Studio M2 Max. Apple states this can be made up of either:

  • Four displays with 6K resolution at 60Hz over Thunderbolt and one display with 4K resolution at 60Hz over HDMI
  • Two displays with 6K resolution at 60Hz over Thunderbolt and one display with 8K resolution at 60Hz or 4K resolution at up to 240Hz over HDMI

The Mac Mini M2 is a little more modest, being able to support up to two displays: one with up to 6K resolution at 60Hz over Thunderbolt and another with up to 5K resolution at 60Hz over Thunderbolt or 4K resolution at 60Hz over HDMI.

Both Macs support native DisplayPort output over USB‑C. The HDMI port on the Mac Mini M2 supports one display with up to 4K resolution at 60Hz. The Mac Studio M2 Max's HDMI port can output to a display with up to 8K at 60Hz or 4K at 240Hz. It also supports variable refresh rate (VRR), HDR, and multichannel audio.

Mac Mini vs Mac Studio : Performance

Given the recent issue of the Mac Studio M2 Max, we haven't obtained a model to run proper benchmarks.

However, Apple, as always, is happy to sing the praises of their new machine posting a helpful diagram showing how much faster it is at 3D rendering than previous models. 

The website also compares the performance of the Mac Mini M2 versus previous Intel-based models claiming that it performs 4.7 times faster when using Photoshop.

GeekBench also shows that the performance of the Mac Mini M2 is slightly faster than the previous Mac Studio (M1). The website also indicates that anyone willing to upgrade to the M2 Ultra for their Mac Studio for an extra $1400 or $2400 will enjoy considerably faster speeds still. However, this might not justify the hefty price tag.

Mac Studio on wooden desk

(Image credit: Future)

Mac Mini vs Mac Studio : Upgrades

If you're determined to stay with the base model Mac Mini M2, as you've seen, there's an upper limit of an 8-core CPU and 10-core GPU. You can upgrade the unified memory to 24GB for an extra $400 and max out the SSD to 2TB for another $800. If you want a 10GB Ethernet port, you'll need to pay an extra $100 (the Mac Studio M2 Max has a 10GB port as standard). 

This totals $1899, still $100 less than the base model Mac Studio M2 Max, albeit with fewer CPU/GPU cores and 8GB less Unified Memory.

You'll need deeper pockets to maximize the Mac Studio M2's full potential. As you've seen, the base model's CPU can be upgraded to the Apple M2 Ultra with a 24‑core CPU, 76‑core GPU, and a 32‑core Neural Engine for an extra $2400 or roughly four times the price of a base Model Mac Mini M2.

You can also pay an extra $1600 for 192GB of Unified Memory and another $2200 for an 8TB SSD. A fully upgraded Mac Studio M2 Max comes to $8799, though when it comes to raw computing power, it streaks ahead of a fully upgraded Mac Mini M2.  

In this review, we've focused on the base model Mac Mini M2, but if you choose the Mac Mini M2 Pro, the price difference narrows further. 

If you pay an extra $300 for the Apple M2 Pro with a 12‑core CPU and 19-core GPU, the model comes with 32GB of Unified Memory and a 512GB SSD, just like the Mac Studio M2 Max. Assuming you want to pay the extra $100 to make sure your Mac Mini has a 10Gb Ethernet Port like the Max Studio, then the total price comes to $2,099 or $100 more than the Mac Studio M2 Max base model, which still has 11 more GPU cores. 

Naturally, very few of us need a 76-core GPU and 192GB of unified memory. If you're one of these people, e.g., someone who regularly edits high-quality videos, it's likely you'll have an idea of the exact specs you need so that you will favor the Mac Studio M2. We might like to save on specs (and our wallets with the base model Mac Mini M2).

Sadly, as with most modern computers, most chips are soldered on in both these models of Mac, so it's tough to upgrade CPU, Memory, and so on after purchase. This is why choosing a device with specs you think you'll need throughout its life cycle is essential. 

Mac Mini vs Mac Studio : Support

Both these Mac models run identical versions of macOS, and there's extensive online documentation on Apple's website in case you get stuck. You also benefit from 90 days of free Technical Support and a one-year limited hardware warranty no matter which Mac you buy. 

There is some discrepancy, however, when it comes to AppleCare Plus though. This program acts as insurance against accidental damage to your device. If you decide to go with a Mac Mini M2, this will set you back $34.99 for one year's coverage or $99 for three years. However, owning a Mac Studio costs $59.99 per year or $169 for three years of range. These prices reflect the rate for accidental damage, so users may need to pay more to be covered against theft and loss. 

The differing costs presumably relate to the more excellent price of the base model Mac Studio M2 Max versus the Mac Mini M2. Still, this may be a clincher if you decide whether to get a maxed-out Mac Mini M2 or the base model Mac Studio M2 Max. Remember that whichever Mac you choose, you must opt for AppleCare Plus within 60 days of purchase. Of course, other types of gadget insurance may be less expensive.

Mac Mini vs Mac Studio : Which Mac is for you?

As you've seen, if you need a blindingly fast Mac which can play Ultra HD games and edit 8K videos with ease, there's no question: you should go for the Mac Studio. If your pockets are deep enough, you could even consider adding the dedicated 'Studio Display' to your basket, which has been optimized to work with your device.

Still, given that a fully upgraded Mac Mini M2 costs less than the Mac Studio Max base model for similar specs, it's hard to justify the Studio under other circumstances.

The Mac Mini M2 performs extremely efficiently relative to previous Intel-based models and even the Mac Studio M1. It might not have a gazillion ports, but they can be expanded using a powered, external dock.

Admittedly you won't get as much RAM or graphics processing, but how much do you need? A maxed-out Mac Mini Studio M2 can play even the most recent video games comfortably and perform routine tasks like checking e-mail, surfing the web, and playing high-quality videos. 

In fairness, it's early days, and the Mac Studio M2 Max base model may come down in price. As there's only $100 in it, and you'll get more CPU/GPU cores and Unified memory for your money, Apple would only have to make a slight reduction to make such a purchase worthwhile.

Nate Drake is a tech journalist specializing in cybersecurity and retro tech. He broke out from his cubicle at Apple 6 years ago and now spends his days sipping Earl Grey tea & writing elegant copy.