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The all-new Mac Studio is Apple's most powerful custom silicon standalone desktop computer, overtaking the entry-level M1-based Mac mini that Apple launched in November 2020.

mac-studio-vs-mac-mini.jpg

The Mac Studio starts at $1,999, dwarfing the $699 starting price of the Apple silicon-based Mac mini, so do you need the latest high-end Mac, or is the humble Mac mini sufficient for your needs? Our guide helps to answer the question of how to decide which of these two desktop Macs is best for you.

Comparing the Mac mini and the Mac Studio

The Mac mini and the Mac Studio share some fundamental features, including a similar silver aluminum design, Apple silicon chipsets, and two rear USB-A ports. Apple lists these same features of the two devices:

Similarities

  • Apple M1-series chip
  • 16-core Neural Engine
  • HDMI port supports multichannel audio output
  • Two USB-A ports
  • 10Gb Ethernet (optional on Mac mini)
  • 802.11ax Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.0
  • Built-in speaker
  • Silver aluminum design

Although these Macs share some features, the two machines have much more in contrast than they do in common, including different chips, memory capacities, ports, and external display support capabilities.

Differences


Mac mini
  • M1 chip
  • 8-core CPU
  • 8-core GPU
  • Up to 16GB unified memory
  • Up to 2TB storage
  • Two Thunderbolt / USB 4 ports
  • 3.5mm headphone jack
  • Support for one display up to 6K and one display up to 4K
  • Starts at $699


Mac Studio
  • M1 Max chip or M1 Ultra chip
  • Up to 20-core CPU
  • Up to 64-core GPU
  • Up to 128GB unified memory
  • Up to 8TB storage
  • Media engine with two video decode engines, up to four video encode engines, and up to four ProRes encode and decode engines
  • Up to six Thunderbolt 4 ports
  • 3.5mm headphone jack with support for high-impedance headphones
  • Support for up to four Pro Display XDRs and one 4K display
  • SDXC card slot (UHS-II)
  • Starts at $1,999


M1 vs. M1 Max and M1 Ultra

The M1 chip has an 8-core CPU and an 8-core GPU. In the Mac Studio, the M1 Max features a 10-core CPU and up to a 32-Core GPU. The M1 Ultra in the Mac Studio combines two M1 Max chips for extreme performance, resulting in a 20-core CPU and up to a 64-core GPU. We will update this article when benchmarks for the Mac Studio are available, but the Mac Studio is expected to trounce the Mac mini when it comes to performance.

m1-max.jpg

The M1 Max and M1 Ultra also feature a dedicated media engine with two video decode engines, up to four video encode engines, and up to four ProRes encode and decode engines, meaning these chips are better for tasks like video editing.

Choose the Mac mini or Mac Studio should primarily be guided by which chipset you need. The M1 is an efficiency-focused chip with outstanding performance for everyday tasks, while the M1 Max and M1 Ultra are high-performance chips designed to deliver extreme capability.

Memory and Storage

The M1 in the Mac mini is paired with either 8GB or 16GB of unified memory. The M1 Max can offer 32GB or 64GB of unified memory, while the M1 Ultra doubles the capability of the M1 Max to 64GB and 128GB of unified memory. This may be an important consideration for some workflows, and only the Mac Studio features large amounts of memory.

The M1 Mac mini starts with 256GB of storage and can be configured up to a total of 2TB of storage. The Mac Studio, on the other hand, starts with 512GB of storage and can be configured up to a total of 8GB of storage. While it is possible to add external storage, both the SSD storage and unified memory of both computers are non-upgradeable so it is important to choose the right configuration at the point of purchase.

Ports and External Display Support

Both the Mac mini and the Mac Studio feature two USB-A ports and one HDMI port, but while the Mac mini has two Thunderbolt ports, the Mac Studio has up to six depending on which configuration you choose. Both machines also feature a 3.5mm headphone jack, but the Mac Studio's 3.5mm jack supports high-impedance headphones. The Mac Studio also features a SDXC card slot (UHS-II).

The Mac mini supports one 6K display and one 4K display for a total of two, while the Mac studio can support four 6K displays and one 4K display, for a total of five.

What About the Intel Mac Mini?

Apple continues to sell its older, Intel-based Mac mini, starting at $1,099. This high-end Mac mini model features two additional Thunderbolt ports, up to a six-core Intel Core i7 processor with Intel UHD Graphics 630, up to 64GB memory, and support for up to three 4K displays or one 5K display and one 4K display. It is also demarcated by its Space Gray enclosure.

mac-mini-intel-gray.jpg

Despite theoretically being the Mac mini high-end model, it is effectively an aging 2018 model and is often surpassed by the M1 chip in the Mac mini. Unless you definitely need more Thunderbolt ports, more memory, the ability to connect to additional external displays, or have a specific need for an Intel-based system, you should buy the M1 model.


The‌ M1 ‌Mac mini‌ is a more modern device that will be the best option for the vast majority of users. Not only is the ‌M1‌ ‌Mac mini‌ markedly more powerful in practice, but it is also much less costly than its Intel predecessor.

As an older Intel-based machine, the high-end Mac mini does not directly compare to the Mac Studio, and any prospective customers who are confident they need more Thunderbolt ports, more memory, or the ability to connect to additional external displays will be much better off buying the Mac Studio if they can afford it.

Final Thoughts

Overall, it is clear that the Mac mini and Mac Studio are very different machines intended for different customer bases. To some extent, purchasing decisions should be driven by budget, but it is worth bearing in mind that any savings on the desktop computer itself can be put toward a good external display such as the Apple Studio Display, which starts from $1,599. For example, a Mac mini paired with a Studio Display comes to $2,298, which is just $300 more than a lone base model Mac Studio with no display.

You should only consider the Mac Studio if you have a professional workflow that can leverage the extreme power of the M1 Max or M1 Ultra, as well as its wider selection of ports. If you need the Mac Studio, you will likely know that you are looking for a highly powerful machine that is capable of supporting an intense workflow.

For some workflows, the ability to upgrade the Mac mini to 16GB of memory, up to 2TB of storage, and 10Gb Ethernet can make it a very capable machine. This may be a good option for professionals or "prosumers" that have specific needs or can't stretch to the Mac Studio. Nevertheless, the Mac Studio has much greater potential, making it a better long-term option if you can afford it.

For most users, the M1 Mac mini is still a powerful and versatile machine that can tackle all but the most intense tasks. It still has useful ports such as USB-A and Ethernet, which are absent from Apple's laptops, and boasts excellent performance that surpasses the M1 MacBook Air or the M1 MacBook Pro.

Article Link: Mac Studio vs. Mac Mini Buyer's Guide
 
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CWallace

macrumors G4
Aug 17, 2007
10,219
7,532
Seattle, WA
I need to say that I am confused now. Nothing negative, just not very clear. We now have Mac Mini, Mac Studio and Mac Pro. How to really understand it?

Mac mini is capable of handling less-demanding workloads.
Mac Studio is a mid-ranged system that is capable of handling demanding workloads.
Mac Pro is a "no limits" system, capable of handling the most demanding workloads.
 

ixxx69

macrumors 65816
Jul 31, 2009
1,192
762
United States
Mac mini is capable of handling less-demanding workloads.
Mac Studio is a mid-ranged system that is capable of handling demanding workloads.
Mac Pro is a "no limits" system, capable of handling the most demanding workloads.
Yeah, really. It's not that complicated. Folks just want to be confused so they have something to complain about.
 

4jasontv

macrumors 603
Jul 31, 2011
6,093
7,327
Yeah, really. It's not that complicated. Folks just want to be confused so they have something to complain about.
The complication comes when defining demanding. We don’t all do video editing or photo work. When do Chrome, Office, and Preview tasks become more demanding?
 
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AppleTO

macrumors 6502
Oct 31, 2018
400
784
Toronto, Canada
So the only thing that we are missing is either an M1 Pro Mac mini or Mac Studio (this slot is currently taken by the Intel Mac mini).

It seems obvious that this will come eventually, but for now Apple would probably rather see who is willing to shell out for the $1999 Mac Studio, given that a $1299 to $1499 Mac mini M1 Pro is probably what most people want or need.
 

icanhazmac

Contributor
Apr 11, 2018
1,326
4,220
I don't know that the $699 config is worth comparing to as with only 8 gigs of shared memory it really cannot do much other than light surfing, email and pages, numbers, etc.

A far more relevant comparison would be the $1099 config of the mini with 16 gigs. Then the extra $900 for a $1999 Studio Max you get 2 more cpu cores, 16 more gpu cores, 32 gigs of shared memory and the upgraded ethernet / wireless.

To me if you want/need an Apple desktop today then the studio at $1999 is a far better buy than $1099 for the mini in terms of how much mileage you will get from it. The $699 mini would truly be a throw away purchase except for the most basic user.
 
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I need to say that I am confused now. Nothing negative, just not very clear. We now have Mac Mini, Mac Studio and Mac Pro. How to really understand it?
  • Mac Mini: cheapest way to run MacOS on (new) Apple Silicon
  • Mac Studio: most powerful option on Apple Silicon (right now)
  • Mac Pro: most powerful way to run MacOS with flexible expansion whenever you like, flexible RAM additions whenever you like and Windows/Bootcamp too.
  • Mac Mini Intel: Besides what was shared in the article, cheapest way to run MacOS and (full) Windows in ONE case. The last non-Pro full macOS + full Windows in one box Mac.
Even simpler: if you want a new Mac and your budget max is $X, let X screen out all options > $X. For the average person looking to maybe spend up to mid-range iMac-like prices, Mac Pro is completely eliminated so the choice is Mini vs. Studio. If you need abundant parallel task power, Studio's extra cores and RAM may win. If you don't, Mini's great relative value may win. The cores in all of the M1 options crank at the SAME speed, so it's mostly how much hardware multitasking/parallel processing do you need and/or does anything you do absolutely need more than 16GB of RAM? If so, Studio. If not, Mini.

As to entry, middle ground, high, that's a bit cloudier because the transition is still unfolding and those are fluid, "eye of the beholder" terms. IMO basically and pretty generically:
  • Configurations of Mac Mini cover Entry to Middle
  • Configurations of Mac Studio cover Middle to High
  • Configurations of Mac Pro overlaps with High to Highest (and flexible expandability, cards, RAM).
There are logical expectations that Mac Mini Intel will probably be replaced with M1 or M2 PRO eventually. Many of us were expecting PRO & MAX at THIS event... and at the OCT event too. If it happens, the lines seem pretty clear to me:
  • Base to Consumer Mid (probably good for ANY consumer for general purpose to low prosumer needs): Mac Mini to Mac Mini Pro at about $600 to about $1800 or so
  • Prosumer to Pro: Studio at $2000 to $8000 or so
  • Pro to MAX Power/Flexibility/Special tech needs via cards Pro: Pro at- guessing- $6000 to $Infinity - 1. 😉
Whether a Silicon Mac Pro will have expandability/flexibility like the current Intel Pro is to be determined. If so, that alone very cleanly differentiates it from a more powerful Studio config. If you need a third-party card in a Mac, it would be the ONLY option (if Silicon version comes with that option).

Primary issue with confusion is mostly driven by some Macs have transitioned and some are still to transition. So there are temporary "holes" easily filled, very likely THIS year... probably in the next 3-6 months. If one doesn't need to see something at every possible price point, it seems minimal Mini to loaded Studio probably covers nearly all (but the most extreme or speciality needs) bases right now.
 
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BotchQue

macrumors member
Dec 22, 2019
96
85
I think if you look at a fully spec'd-out M1 Mac mini compared to the entry level Studio, there isn't really much of a middle ground to fill. Someone's needs would have to be pretty niche and specific to fall between those two.
Yup. I did that comparison two days ago (plus the addition of a CalDigit hub) and when I got within a few hundred dollars of the Studio, went ahead and ordered that.
 

jasnw

macrumors 6502a
Nov 15, 2013
902
961
Seattle Area (NOT! Microsoft)
I've been looking at this very question, but the answer I get is I want something Apple doesn't make, and may never make. That's something between the M1 Mini and the M1 Max Studio. Perhaps a Mini with an M1 Max? I don't really see why the M1 Max can be in a laptop but needs to be in a Studio-like enclosure for a desktop. That $1300 jump between Mini and Studio bothers me.
 
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