• The new Mac mini is powerful enough for anything, but also small and quiet. 
  • Do not underestimate the utility of leaving a computer connected to lots of stuff 24/7.
  • It's like a "Mac Studio Jr."

M2 Pro-powered Mac mini

For most people, 'computer' means 'laptop,' but you might be surprised at how useful it can be to have a permanently-connected desktop computer, which should probably be a Mac mini. 

The Mac mini, first launched in 2005 to tempt PC users over to the Mac side, has come into its own in the last couple of years. Thanks to Apple’s powerful yet cool-running and efficient M-series systems-on-a-chip, the Mac mini can pack the power of recent top-end Mac Pros into a puck that can be hidden on a bookshelf. With the new M2 Pro version, it got even more powerful and even cheaper. If you have a computing task to do, the Mac mini might be the perfect candidate. 

“The Mac mini is a fantastic digital Swiss army knife because of its extreme flexibility and processing power. Its compact size and multiple ports and functions make it versatile. In addition to its versatility, the system is powerful enough to perform demanding tasks like video editing and 3D rendering, making it suitable for use as a media server, gaming rig, or workstation, setting up a home network, streaming media, or building a home theater system,” IT project manager and analyst Berry Moise told Lifewire via email.

Do All the Things

There's not much you can do with a Mac mini that you can't do with a MacBook Air or MacBook Pro. But that's not the point. The strength of the mini is its size and the fact that it is a stationary machine that can remain connected to all kinds of things. For example, you'd never use a laptop as a home media server to stream video and music because it would go offline as soon as you closed the lid. 

The M2 Mac mini with an Apple monitor.

But this is the kind of thing the mini excels at. It has no screen, no keyboard, and no trackpad. This makes it small. And thanks to a quirk of history, the Mac mini's small case is actually way bigger than it needs to be. It was designed to house and cool hot Intel chips, but when Apple switched to its smaller, cooler Apple Silicon innards, it kept the now-oversized enclosure. As a result, there's a lot of space in there, which makes cooling easy. 

This means you can tuck the Mac mini away in a corner, connect it to all kinds of peripherals, and let it run. It will be cool and silent, whether streaming video, acting as a conduit for Time Machine backups of your family's other Macs, or as the local storage box for your iCloud Photos library. 

And speaking of connections, let's look at those. The best-connected portable Mac is the MacBook Pro, with three Thunderbolt/USB-C ports, plus HDMI, and MagSafe. The mini beats that with up to four Thunderbolt ports, plus two handy USB A ports, Ethernet, plus HDMI. That lets you either hook up a lot of gear directly or use those Thunderbolt ports to add lots of extra docks and hubs. 

You can also run the mini without a screen in a ‘headless’ mode. In this case, you can use Apple’s screen-sharing feature to show the Mac’s screen either in a window on another Mac or on an iPad using a third-party app like Edovia’s Screen for iOS.

An overhead view of the Mac mini connected to a monitor, keyboard, mouse, and trackpad.

This Thing's a Powerhouse

But leaving the mini in the corner is kind of a waste. It might run cool and quiet, but it is also powerful, especially now that Apple has launched an M2 Pro version. 

The Verge's Chris Welch has called the new Mac mini the Mac Studio Junior. You can confidently use it, hooked up to several monitors, as a workstation for audio, video, or photography. 

"I recently tested a session that contained about 30 tracks (some of them with heavy EQ and reverb plugins) on my friend's M1 Mac Mini, and it just processed everything without even having the fan rev up. So, when the new M2 Mac Mini was announced, I knew it would future-proof me for many years," hobbyist music maker Muneeb Fazal told Lifewire via email. 

In short, the Mac mini shows us all the advantages of a permanent desktop PC; only it's tiny, sips electricity, makes no noise, and starts at $599. It's almost crazy not to have one.

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