Saturday, December 9, 2023

Mac Mini 2022: A new design with better performance, extra ports, and more


If you’re looking to get into Apple’s Mac ecosystem, the superb Mac Mini is one of the best value ways to do it. After 2020’s M1 model, expectations are high for how Apple could follow up with new chips and new features, including a high-end model for more demanding users.

We’ve put together this round-up with as many details on the next Mac Mini as we can find. Simply read on to see what Apple has planned for its smallest desktop Mac.

Release date

Rich Shibley/Digital Trends

At the moment, it appears Apple might be working on two separate Mac Mini models: A new high-end edition to replace the current Intel-based Mac Mini, and a refreshed entry-level Mac Mini with the company’s upcoming M2 chip. According to the rumors, that also means we could be looking at two separate release dates.

We expect the high-end version to come first, not least due to Apple’s self-imposed transition plan to move its Macs from Intel processors to its own in-house chips. Apple has given itself two years from 2020 to complete the switch, yet a top-end Intel-based Mac Mini is still present and counted for on its website. That means it’s highly likely a powerful new Mac Mini is coming in 2022.

Bloomberg reporter Mark Gurman, who has a strong track record when it comes to Apple rumors, outlined his belief in August 2021 that Apple would unveil this new Mac Mini “in the next several months.” The tock is clicking on this, so a spring 2022 launch date seems likely if Gurman’s prediction is to be proved correct.

As for the lower-end Mac Mini, this could get updated in fall 2022. That will make it two years since the first Apple Silicon Mac Mini was revealed in November 2020, which is the kind of timeframe that we’d expect for this device.


Now for the price. The current M1 Mac Mini starts at $699, with a second model costing $899. The Intel version starts at $1,099, meanwhile. That pricing structure makes sense, so we wouldn’t be surprised if Apple stuck with it for the new models.

The only caveat is that there are rumors swirling that the forthcoming high-end Mac Mini will get a redesigned chassis. When Apple has done this in the past, it has sometimes come with a price increase — see the 2021 16-inch MacBook Pro for a recent example — so we could see a similar situation hit the Mac Mini.

Potentially two new designs

As we mentioned above, rumors abound that Apple has two future Mac Minis in the works. And while it’s possible we could see two very different designs from them, nothing is certain yet.

We’ll start with the more likely scenario, at least for a device under the Mac Mini moniker. In August 2021, Mark Gurman stated in his Power On newsletter that the Mac Mini “will have an updated design and more ports than the current model.” However, he did not go into specifics regarding the shape and size of the upcoming device.

While Gurman was reserved when it came to details, another leaker, Jon Prosser, has been more forthcoming. In May 2021, Prosser released renders depicting the next Mac Mini with a much slimmer design than its current iteration (largely due to the more power-efficient Apple Silicon chip inside), with an aluminum body topped with a plexiglass-like surface. He also asserted Apple has been experimenting with different color options, but whether this will make it to the finished product is unknown.

So that’s the first concept. The other design possibility is much more ambitious, but it’s unclear whether it will be branded as a new, more powerful Mac Mini or a small-scale Mac Pro. In January 2021, Mark Gurman revealed Apple was working on a new Mac Pro that was “less than half the size” of the current version, and “could invoke nostalgia for the Power Mac G4 Cube.”

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Given Gurman’s chosen terminology, that would seem to point to a Mac Pro rather than a Mac Mini, but the waters were muddied when Jon Prosser chimed in with a leak of his own. In February 2021, Prosser claimed Apple was working on what he called a “Mac Mini Pro” or “Mac Pro Mini” that resembled “three to four Mac Minis stacked on top of each other.” From Prosser’s renderings, this looked like a taller version of the current Mac Mini, so could feasibly fall under that product category rather than the Mac Pro.

There’s a problem with this idea, though. One reason Apple has refrained from changing the Mac Mini’s design for a while is that it is a popular computer in server farms thanks to its small size. If the leaks are correct, this taller design might not fit into the rack-mount systems commonly used in such farms, which tempts us to believe that this proposed chassis redesign is referring to a new Mac Pro instead.

Still, the slimmed-down design attested by Prosser makes sense. With the advent of the M1 chip, Apple has been able to design its computers around the chip’s greater efficiency compared to Intel processors by cutting their bulk. We’ve already seen the results in the totally overhauled 24-inch iMac, which was reduced to a minuscule 11.5mm in thickness, and the Mac Mini could be next to get this treatment.

Even better performance

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

While the two separate Mac Minis Apple is said to be working on — the one to replace the Intel-based high-end Mac Mini and the upgrade for the M1 model — are both expected in 2022, they will likely be outfitted with different chips. That will affect their performance.

Seeing as the Intel-based version is currently positioned as the top-end Mac Mini, the likelihood is this model will be replaced with one sporting either an M1 Pro or M1 Max. These powerful chips made their debut in the 2021 MacBook Pro and are a major step up over the Apple M1 in the existing design.

Before the new MacBook Pro launched and we knew the name of its chips, the M1 Pro and M1 Max were collectively dubbed the M1X in rumor circles. And reports from those days support the idea that the next Mac Mini will come with a better chip than the regular M1.

For instance, there’s Gurman’s comment that Apple would launch an M1X Mac Mini “in the next several months,” which we mentioned above. Jon Prosser also backed the M1X idea in May 2021, lending more weight to the idea the Mac Mini would get a higher-performance tier with Apple’s own silicon inside.

There are several flavors of M1 Pro and M1 Max that could make their way into the 2022 Mac Mini, but the consensus seems to have settled on Apple offering a chip with a 10-core CPU (with eight high-performance cores and two high-efficiency cores) and either a 16-core or 32-core GPU. Looking at the current Mac chip line-up, that could mean either the high-end M1 Pro or the high-end M1 Max. Our money is on Apple offering both configurations.

As for memory, the M1 Pro offers up to 32GB of RAM, while the M1 Max can accommodate up to 64GB of memory. Either way, that’s far superior to the 16GB maximum you get with the M1 Mac Mini. And when you consider Apple’s chips use a unified memory architecture with improved RAM performance, those numbers look even more attractive.

That’s the first Mac Mini covered. What about the revamped entry-level model? The M1 Mac Mini turns two in 2022, so Apple could well decide it’s time for an update. That could see its M1 chip replaced by a new M2 variant, with improved performance compared to the original. We could get our first taste of the M2 in a redesigned MacBook Air around the middle of 2022.

Features: More ports and monitor support

The new chips won’t just mean more power — they will also affect the features you can expect to find in the upcoming Mac Mini. That’s because they control a number of things beyond simply raw performance, such as the port selection and external monitor support.

While the M1 Mac Mini was a step up over its Intel predecessor in almost every way, it had one notable drawback: Instead of the four Thunderbolt ports the Intel model offered, the M1 edition only came with two. The most likely explanation is that that was a limitation imposed by the chip itself.

There are no such worries on Macs with M1 Pro and M1 Max chips. The 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pros, for example, offer three Thunderbolt ports compared to the two found on the M1 MacBook Pro. And according to both Mark Gurman and Jon Prosser, the Mac Mini will also get a more generous port selection.

While Gurman has been coy about the exact port arrangement, Prosser has laid his cards on the table: Four Thunderbolt/USB-C ports, two USB-A slots, one Ethernet port, and one HDMI port is his prediction, and that matches the offering on the current Intel-based model. There could also be a MagSafe-style power adapter like the one on the 24-inch iMac, Prosser believes.

The M1 Pro and M1 Max chips could fix another annoyance linked to the M1 chip: The poor support for external monitors. Every M1 Mac is limited to one external display (barring the Mac Mini itself, but that’s only thanks to its HDMI port). That’s something we lamented in our M1 MacBook Air review and isn’t really good enough these days.

Luckily, the latest Apple chips have remedied this situation. The M1 Pro allows up to two 6K displays to be attached to the 2021 MacBook Pro, while the M1 Max can support up to four monitors (three 6K and one 4K). The Mac Mini doesn’t come with its own display, so external monitor support is crucial — and the more you can connect, the better.

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