M1 Mac mini Pro. M1 iMac Pro. M1 Mac Pro. But then…! M2 MacBook Air. M2 MacBook Pro. M2 Mac mini. And M2 iMac. What are they? When are they? And I’ll do you one better… why are they, and which is for you?
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Mac mini Pro
Mac mini is reportedly next up in Apple’s ongoing silicon transition. Possibly as soon as Apple’s widely anticipated spring event. They already pushed out the ultra-low-power M1 version of the mini in November of 2020, alongside the M1 MacBook Air and entry-level MacBook Pro, but it was silver and not space gray, which as everyone knows means not so pro. In other words, it was ripping and replacing Intel in the existing enclosure. No new design. No ultra high performance option. Other than the old Intel space gray space heater Apple kept on the menu.
Now, this new Pro mini is rumored to be replacing just exactly that. But with a smaller, sleeker, new enclosure, and not just M1 but M1 Pro and M1 Max. They’re still based on Apple’s A14 Bionic Architecture, like M1, but instead of 4 Icestorm efficiency and 4 firestorm performance cores, they have 2 e-cores and up to 8 p-cores, and instead of 8 G13 graphics cores, they offer up to 32. Also, up to 64 GB of memory, and not just dedicated H.264 and 265 media engines, but ProRes as well. Along with sick amounts of memory bandwidth to keep it all fed, and instead of 2 USB and 2 Thunderbolt controllers, they have 3 of each, which means more ports as well. In other words, phenomenal silicon power… itty bitty living space.
And where the original M1 Mac mini was and is perfect for anyone who just wants the least expensive way possible to get into Apple silicon, or to throw at any amount of production grunt work, this new Pro version is basically going to be a mini server, whether it’s on a desk, in a rack, or part of a mini farm. Grunt work on Hulk serum.
Next up is a new iMac Pro. It was originally rumored for last year and at 32-inches, but recent reports have settled on 27 for the size and, yeah, while Apple has all the money, there’s still a hard limit on how much their Mac team can focus on at any one time. And getting the redesigned 24-inch M1 iMac and redesigned 14- and 16-inch M1 Pro and Max MacBook Pros out the door was all they ended up having the bandwidth for. So, now it sounds like WWDC in June at the earliest, but maybe not until fall for the new Pro-level iMac.
Design rumors have also flipped, from bezel-less and chin-free, like the Pro Display XDR, to simply a bigger version of logo-less but still cheekily chinned giant iPad on a stand design we got with the 24-inch. Only with black bezels instead of white and space gray or full-on black instead of the Skittles taste the rainbow of colors. And, instead of an LCD display, a mini-LED display, for near OLED-level deep, inky blacks, and super bright whites to support full HDR, high dynamic range workflows.
Same M1 Pro and M1 Max silicon options, with all the higher core counts and ProRes engines, though even maxing the Mac to the current Mac max with the Max — why you do this Apple — would only get to 64 GB of RAM, and the old Intel iMac Pro went all the way to 256 GB. Which might be why there have also been rumors of a higher binned M1 Max, or even a dual die M1 Max implementation for the tippety top end.
And where the M1 Mac was designed for the home or front-of-house work, for students, families, and entry-level coders and creatives, the M1 iMac Pro and Max will be for people who don’t care about portability, but want that MacBook Pro type power with a giant display, just a huge production canvas, all-in-one’d right in.
Then there’s the M1 Mac Pro. Currently rumored to be something between the classic G4 cube and the 2019 Mac Pro with all those hot, heavy Intel Xeon and AMD hellicarrier boards ripped out, and replaced with M1 Max. In a smaller version of the same or similar enclosure. But with dual die M1 Max, maybe even quad die M1 Max still having more than enough room and power draw, at least for the base to mid-level SKUs. Maybe more.
How Apple, if Apple, will handle the up to 1.5 terabytes of RAM on the current Intel Mac Pro, or at least way more massive amounts of unified memory, along with the modularity and expandability that marked the rebirth of the current modular-again cheese-grater over the previous sealed trashcan Vader-helmet of an appliance Mac Pro.
Apple’s been good at keeping Mac Pro details on the down-low over the years, so we might only know it when we see it. Which, if Apple keeps to its previous pattern probably won’t be until WWDC in June, with a ship date later in the fall, towards the end of the year.
And that’s what people who want and need a Mac Pro want and need — not just a bigger mini, but a truly no-limits Mac. The mother of all server boxes with the potential to basically plug a whole entire studio right in.
M2 MacBook Air
Tim Cook originally said the transition from Intel to Apple silicon would take 2 years. Same exact thing Steve Jobs said about the Power PC to Intel transition back in the day. They managed to finish that in one but this is going to take the full two, mainly because Intel already had a full range of chips available for Apple right from the start, where Apple is building out their own custom chips one by one. Or… M1 by M1. Technically, A14X, A14XX, and A14 Triple X. The extreme kind, not the other kind!
And once M1, M1 Pro, M1 Max, and the dual and quad die implementations of Max, and all the work and fabric those entail, are all good and properly rolled out, like by fall of 2022, well, that’s when the next wave can start, with M2. And the redesigned MacBook Air. Or just MacBook if Apple decides its time to get back to basics. Probably around October of this year, if it doesn’t fall over to next.
And where the M1 MacBook Air stuck to the same 2018-era design as the old, anemic Intel model, the M2 is reportedly getting a newer, flatter, sleeker redesign as well. Maybe with white bezels and a rainbow of colors, not just like the M1 iMac but the OG iBooks, and maybe even a notch. As well as a mini-LED display, as Apple continues to push that tech not just across the line, but down it.
But… with the higher price tag to match. Which… you know, has been true of every new MacBook Air and MacBook re-launch in the last decade and more. Which is why it’s mean less for entry-level students and compute.. casuals, and more for higher-end premium travelers and ultra ultra book flexers. With the M1 version sticking around to keep that $999 price point warm, at least for now.
M2 MacBook Pro
Like the M1 MacBook Air, the entry-level M1 MacBook Pro kept the old body when it got its new brain. All two ports and Touch Bar of it. The M2 is rumored to be getting the same or similar redesign as the recent M1 MacBook Pro and Max, though not with all the performance and probably not all the ports.
Because just like M1 was built on A14 Bionic from the iPhone 12, M2 will probably be built on A15 Bionic from the iPhone 13. Which means higher performance Blizzard efficiency cores, higher efficiency Avalanche performance cores, and way more powerful A14 graphics cores. More numerous as well. Just like the iPhone 13 Pro got a 5th GPU, M2 is reportedly getting up to 10 GPU cores. Also, potentially the basic ProRes engine from A15 as well. Which would be fan-freaking-tastic for creatives.
Of course, if M2 hits in October or later, it’s also possible it could be built on Apple’s upcoming A16 Bionic for the iPhone 14 instead. Which should be getting a process shrink from 5 nanometer to 4 or 3 nanometer, maybe some improved matrix multipliers for the machine learning accelerators, and the same type of generational e-core, p-core, and gpu core improvements we’ve seen from Apple’s tick years. But either way, anyway, it means more power with less power consumption, which is exactly what you love to see in entry-level Macs.
Especially, in this case, for people who want or need something more than a MacBook or MacBook Air, including an active cooling system that can sustain heavy load for longer than 20 odd minutes, but who don’t want or need the weight or full-on Pro level performance — or price! — of the full-on MacBook Pro.
M2 Mac mini
The M1 Mac mini will be two years old by the end of the year, so updating it to M2 alongside the MacBook Air and Pro makes exactly the kind of sense that does. But so does updating it to that new enclosure rumored for the Mac mini Pro. At least, it would make all the rumors surrounding the rainbow of colors coming to the Mac mini also make the kind of sense that does.
Because, where Apple believes Pros want their machines limited to the colors of interface chrome, so they just disappear into the background and don’t mess at at with the color cones in our eyes while we’re color grading on the screens, Apple also increasingly believes consumers want them that rainbow.
So, come October-ish… forget spec bump, if the mini goes M2 and literal Skittles, that would be basically the best mini update ever, for exactly that lowest-price entry-level consumer Mac market ever.
Unlike the M2 iMac, which may well be the very first pure Apple silicon spec bump, since it was the very first pure Apple silicon redesign back in April of 2021. So, all Apple really has to do here is refresh the chipset inside, and maybe the colors on the outside. The way they’ve been doing with the consumer end iPhones for the last few years already. You know, sometimes the red is a bit more yellow, other times a bit more blue. That whole techno-fashion thing. And maybe mini-LED? That might just come down to how much mini-LED prices have come down by then. Since right now they seem to be adding about $100 to the bill, which isn’t as easy to absorb on the entry level price points. See 11-inch iPad Pro. Which, yes, should be going mini-LED and M2 around the exact same October time frame.
Which is also when Apple will begin the next phase, with M2 or M3 Pro and Max… And maybe scaling the Mac Pro all the way to Max.