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A Beginner’s Guide to Apple’s Mac Mini

Everything you need to know about the Mac Mini, Apple’s smallest desktop computer that’s perfect to slot into more unique use-cases, including signage.

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Apple’s Mac Mini is exactly that: A mini Mac. It’s a small, portable desktop computer that can turn any screen into a Mac-powered computer. It’s the smarts of an iMac in a computer small enough to hide behind a monitor or TV for digital signage. And we love it. 

Here’s everything you need to know about the Mac Mini: What it is, why it’s better than a regular PC or Mac, and how to set it up.

What is a Mac Mini?

The Mac Mini is a small desktop computer made by Apple. And that’s it. The Mac mini ships without a screen, keyboard or mouse. As Steve Jobs said at its introduction, it’s “BYODKM” (Bring Your Own Display, Keyboard, and Mouse). It’s been in the Mac family since 2005, The Mac Mini—along with their larger, more powerful Mac Studio siblings—are the closest thing Apple sells to a traditional desktop PC. If you already have a monitor, keyboard, and mouse, pair them with a Mac Mini for a full-featured Mac that’s far cheaper than a new MacBook or iMac.

The Mac Mini’s core design is largely unchanged from its original launch. Today’s version comes in a single Silver color, is a 7.75” (19.7cm) square that stands 1.41” (3.58cm) tall, and weighs around 2.6 pounds (1.18kg), the exact same size as the last Intel Mac Mini. It’s only slightly larger than an OPS computer that can be slotted inside a commercial display. The Mac Mini’s diminutive form factor makes it popular for a wide range of niche applications, including mounting alongside A/V equipment or powering digital signage.

The small size doesn’t mean small specs, though. A base Mac Mini comes with the same CPU and core specs as a MacBook Air for $599 including support for two 4k displays, while the top-spec Mac Mini M2 Pro includes a similar CPU to the top-spec 14” MacBook Pro and supports up to 32GB of RAM and up to two 6k-resolution monitors or three 4K displays. It’s the most affordable Mac that can scale up to your computing needs.

What’s New in the Mac Mini M1 and M2?

Mac Mini M2

The Mac Mini launched in 2005 with Apple’s original PowerPC chips. It was later upgraded to Intel processors, before more recently switching to Apple’s M-series chips. The last Intel iteration, Apple’s 2018 Mac Mini, came in two core options: the 3.6GHz Mac mini Core i3 for $799 and the 3.0 GHz Mac mini Core i5 for $1099.

Then came Apple’s 2020 switch to their in-house M1 chips, based on the same ARM architecture that had powered iPads and iPhones for years. The Mac Mini M1 simplified the lineup down to a single CPU option starting at $699. It was generally faster than the Intel Mac Minis it replaced, though was capped at 16GB of ram and didn’t support external graphics cards.

Today, you have far more Mac Mini options. The cheapest option is a $599 M2 Mac Mini, with an 8-core CPU, 10-core GPU, 265GB SSD storage, and 8GB of RAM, or a $799 Mac Mini with the same CPU but double the storage. Or, choose the top-spec Mac Mini for $1,299 featuring M2 Pro with a 10-core CPU and a 16-core GPU, or bump that Mac’s specs up to a 12-core CPU and 19-core GPU for an additional $300.

The base M2 Mac Minis can be upgraded to 24GB of RAM, while the M2 Pro Mac Minis offer up to 32GB of Ram. You can’t upgrade the memory in a M1 or M2-powered Mac Mini, though, so be sure to choose the amount you need when buying your Mac.

You can also upgrade Mac Minis to up to an 8TB SSD when ordering a new one—or, you could manually upgrade the storage later, if needed.

Everything else is the same between all recent Mac Minis. Each comes with gigabit Ethernet (upgradable to 10 gigabit ethernet, if needed), 2 USB-A ports, 1 HDMI port, a headphone/audio-out jack, and two USB-C ports (Thunderbolt 4 including 8K video output support). And they include a built-in power supply, with a power cord included in the box as the only bundled extra.

Which Mac Mini should you buy?

For most uses, we’d recommend the base Mac Mini for $599. For signage or other single-purpose, less intensive use cases, the core specs are plenty as long as you’re powering only one or two displays.

For more general purpose computing, or for future proofing, we’d recommend adding as much RAM to your Mac Mini as you can afford.

Upgrade to the M2 Pro Mac Mini if you need to support three monitors. That model includes 16GB of RAM by default—but it’s still worth upgrading to 32GB, if within your budget.

For an even cheaper Mac Mini, check Apple, Best Buy, and other retailers for refurbished models, starting at $499. Be sure to choose at least an M1 or newer CPU, though, for the longest support. While the 2018 Mac Mini is still supported by the latest macOS, Mac Minis tend to get around 5 years of updates and an M1 or M2 provide better performance that’s worth the price difference (3-4x faster photo editing, and up to 18x faster video editing).

Mac Mini Specs Compared

Mac Mini M2 Pro, M2, M1, and Mac Mini Intel 2018 specs compared

How to set up a Mac Mini and connect it to a monitor

Ports on a Mac Mini M2

“Make sure you plug your Macintosh into a grounded outlet and attach the keyboard and mouse to the main unit. Switch the Macintosh on,” read the original Mac’s owners manual.

The Mac Mini is almost as easy to use. Unbox your Mac Mini, connect its included power cord and plug it in. Turn on a bluetooth mouse and keyboard (or connect USB peripherals to the USB ports in the back). Then add your screen.

To connect a monitor to a Mac Mini, connect your display to the HDMI port for up to 4K resolution at 60Hz. Or, for up to 6K resolution at 60Hz, connect a Thunderbolt USB-C cable from your display to one of the USB-C ports on the back of your Mac Mini. If your monitor uses a different port, including DisplayPort or VGA for an older display, connect a USB-C adapter to your Mac Mini, then connect your monitor to the adapter.

Press the power button in the rear right corner to turn on your Mac Mini. The first time you start it up, you’ll need to connect to WiFi, connect your bluetooth peripherals, then accept Apple’s license terms and sign into your Apple ID to sync iCloud data and use the App Store.

Then you’re good to go. Use your Mac Mini as you would any other Mac or PC, letting it go to sleep when idle or shutting it down before turning off power. Press the power button anytime to turn it back on.

How to remotely manage a Mac Mini

Thanks to their diminutive size, Mac Minis are the Macs that work best as servers or headless computers. You’ll need a display to set up the Mac Mini, but your Mac Mini could run without a screen if you want.

All you’ll need to do is set up Remote Login on your Mac Mini. Open your Mac’s Settings app, select Sharing, then turn on Remote Login. You can then SSH directly into your Mac Mini from Terminal from another computer from the same network. You can also turn on Remote Desktop with Apple’s built-in VNC support; enable Remote Management, choose to allow VNC users to control the screen, then you can use standard VNC apps to view your Mac remotely. Or, use an app like Screens to enable easy VNC access to your Mac Mini from anywhere—including from an iPhone or iPad.

If you’re using your Mac Mini to power digital signage, manage your screen content with a platform like ScreenCloud to add slides, integrate with business software, and schedule content for your signage. Whenever you need to update your signage content, you’ll update it online in ScreenCloud, and it’ll automatically be updated on your Mac Mini without needing to physically access the device.

How to run digital signage with a Mac Mini

ScreenCloud digital signage with multiple apps in a channel layout

The Mac Mini is the perfect Mac to power digital signage. Whether you buy a new Mac Mini for your screens, or repurpose an older Mac Mini to power your TV, it’s a powerful computer that runs nearly silently and is small enough to hide behind your TV.

You’ll need a separate power outlet for the Mac Mini, an HDMI cable to connect to your TV, and ideally a VESA or other mounting device designed to hang the Mac Mini out of sight behind your TV (Amazon offers a number of options for around $15-$30). The easiest option is to set up the Mac Mini as normal, with a desktop monitor, then move it to your TV once it’s ready to be deployed.

Then you’ll need software to power your signage. Easy, built-in options include looping a Keynote presentation or a slideshow in the Photos app. A better option is to use signage software like ScreenCloud to build professional signs, pull in data from your business applications, and manage your Mac Mini and other signage together in the same system.

ScreenCloud's Mac app

Set up a ScreenCloud account if you don’t already have one, install the ScreenCloud Mac app, and add your Mac Mini as a new screen in ScreenCloud’s web app. Then, connect your apps with ScreenCloud’s integrations, create new slides in the built-in Canvas app, pull everything together into multi-app Channel layouts, and schedule your digital signage content to play when you want. You can build as simple or advanced signage as you’d like—and can even use ScreenCloud’s flexibility to control your Mac Mini-powered signage with Siri.

You’ll manage all of your signage content and settings from ScreenCloud’s web app. And if needed, you can tweak the ScreenCloud Player’s settings on your Mac Mini to choose when to install updates, ensure it runs full screen and starts when you power on your Mac, tweak your screen orientation, and more.

Apple Mac Mini FAQs

Can you use any monitor with a Mac Mini?

Yes. You can connect any standard computer monitor, TV, or other display with the Mac Mini’s built-in HDMI and USB-C Thunderbolt ports. Older displays can be connected with adaptors for USB-C to DisplayPort, VGA, or DVI. For older TVs with composite inputs, use a HDMI to Composite adaptor.

How many displays can a Mac Mini support?

All Mac Minis support at least two displays. M2 Mac Minis support two, 5k displays at 60Hz over USB-C Thunderbolt, or one 4K display over HDMI.

Mac Minis with M2 Pro processors, or older 2018 Intel Mac Minis, support three displays. M2 Pro Mac Minis support up to two 6K displays over USB-C Thunderbolt plus one 4K display over HDMI—or a single 8K display.

How do you turn on a Mac Mini?

Press the round power button, located in the rear of the device. The power button is located on the right rear of the device if you’re reaching around from the front; if you’re facing the back of the Mac Mini, the power button will be on your left. To turn off the Mac Mini, shut down macOS from the Apple menu.

Can you use any keyboard and mouse with a Mac Mini?

Mac Minis support most USB mice and keyboards. They also work with USB mice and keyboards—including Apple’s Magic Keyboard, Mouse, and Trackpad—by connecting directly to the built-in bluetooth. PC wireless mice and keyboards with USB dongles may not work with a Mac, though.

Can you upgrade a Mac Mini?

Mac Minis with M1 and M2 processors are not built for user upgrades. The M-series chips include integrated on-system RAM that is built into the CPU and GPU, making it impossible to add additional RAM to a Mac Mini. The internal SSD storage can be upgraded, though the SSD it is not easily accessible. It’s best to purchase a Mac Mini with the specs needed from the start.

How long are Mac Minis supported?

Mac Minis tend to receive around 6 years of updates and support from Apple.

macOS Sonoma, released in 2023, supports the 2018 Mac Mini with an Intel processor and newer, for 6 years of macOS updates and support. macOS Monterey, released in 2021, was the last version that supported the 2014 Mac Mini, for 7 years of updates.

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