Most Mac fans will think of the Mac mini as a low cost (prices start at £399) basic Mac, but there are two more Mac mini models that offer great specs and still come in at a lower price than nearly every other Mac.

In fact, the two Mac mini’s in question have specs that are very similar to the Retina MacBook Pro. So which is best?

In this article we will look at the pros and cons of each of these equivalent Macs and will offer buying advice to suit your needs.

You can read more about the Mac mini and MacBook Air models here:

MacBook Pro verses Mac mini: how the models compare

The £549 Mac mini has a 2.6GHz processor, 8GB memory, a 1TB hard drive and Intel Iris Graphics.

The £799 Mac mini has a 2.8GHz processor, 8GB memory, a 1TB Fusion Drive and Intel Iris Graphics.

For £999 you can get a MacBook Pro with a 2.7GHz processor, 8GB memory, a 128GB SSD and Intel Iris Graphics 6100.

For £1,199 you can get a MacBook Pro with a 2.7GHz processor, 8GB memory, a 256GB SSD and Intel Iris Graphics 6100.

For £1,399 you can get a MacBook Pro with a 2.9GHz processor, 8GB memory, a 512GB SSD and Intel Iris Graphics 6100.

Note that the MacBook Pro models have been more recently updated than the Mac mini, with new Broadwell processors, and slightly faster clock speeds, but these models are pitched around the same ballpark. Therefore we’re going to take a closer look to see if you can basically get the power of a MacBook Pro in a Mac mini for half the price, and it is practically half the price: you could save £450 if you chose the £549 Mac mini rather than the £999 MacBook Pro, and you could save £640 if you chose the £549 Mac mini rather than the MacBook Pro at £1,199, while the £799 Mac mini is £600 less than it’s MacBook Pro equivalent.

The big question is: are the added benefits that come with the MacBook Pro worth it. From the Retina display to the faster flash storage, the MacBook Pro offers some excellent features that the Mac mini lacks. You’ll need a display, mouse and keyboard to go with the Mac mini as it doesn’t ship with any of those peripherals, so you will have to factor in that extra expense. Plus if you wanted to switch to an equivalent SSD in the £569 model (you can do so at point of purchase) that would cost you another £160, bringing the price to £729.

Even with the equivalent flash storage added to your Mac mini, that still leaves you £480 to spend on your display though before you are at the equivalent MacBook Pro price.

Latest Updates: New MacBook Pro

The Mac mini and the MacBook Pro used to have even more in common, until the MacBook Pro was updated earlier in 2015. The £1,199 MacBook Pro previously had the same 2.6GHz dual-core processor as the 549 Mac mini, but when the MacBook Pro was updated in spring 2015, it gained a slightly faster Broadwell processor. The two Macs also previously shared the same integrated graphics card – the Intel Iris Graphics, but now the MacBook Pro offers the Intel HD Graphics 6100.

We do think that Apple will soon update the Mac mini, however. Read: When will Apple update the Mac mini

MacBook Pro verses Mac mini: specs compared

There are three standard Mac mini models and four MacBook Airs to choose from, plus number of build to order options available. Below we will weigh up the differences between each of the different models.

MacBook Pro spec

The 13in MacBook Pro comes in three different specifications. Between the first two there is little difference other than the capacity of the storage and the price.

The mid-range 13in MacBook Pro offers the same processor as the entry level model, but offer more storage, while the top of the range 13in MacBook Pro has a even faster processor and even more storage.

Each 13in MacBook Pro offers the Intel Iris Graphics 6100 integrated graphics and 8GB RAM. There is also the new Force Touch trackpad to add to the features.

There are also a number of build to order options. You can choose to configure your MacBook Pro with 16GB RAM at point of sale for an additional £160. You can also swap out the 2.7GHz chip for a 2.9GHz i5 chip (an extra £80), or a 3.1GHz dual-core Intel Core i7 chip (for an extra £250). If you think you might need 1TB of flash storage then that will cost you £400 extra on the price of the 512GB model.   

GHz

RAM

Graphics

Storage

Price

2.7GHz dual-core

8GB

Intel Iris Graphics 6100

128GB SSD

£999

2.7GHz dual-core

8GB

Intel Iris Graphics 6100

256GB SSD

£1,199

2.9GHz dual-core

8GB

Intel Iris Graphics 6100

512GB SSD

£1,399

Read our 13in Retina MacBook Pro review (2.7GHz, 256GB, £1,199) and our 13in Retina MacBook Pro review (2.7GHz, 128GB, £999).

Mac mini specs

Apple last updated the Mac mini range at the end of 2014. This box is sold in three configurations. The cheapest Mac mini has the same 1.4GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor and integrated graphics chip (the Intel HD Graphics 5000) and 500GB hard drive as the entry-level iMac. It is essentially the same specs as the £899 iMac, but costs just £399, that's a saving of £500, more than enough to buy a separate monitor and keyboard and mouse.

The other Mac mini models offer quite a boost from the entry-level model, although they lag behind the now discontinued 2012 Mac mini. Read more about the comparison between the 2012 Mac mini and the 2014 Mac mini here. Also read about how the Mac mini compares to the iMac here and how the Mac mini compares to the MacBook Air here.

The 2.6GHz dual-core i5 Mac mini, offers 8GB RAM, a 1TB hard disk, and Intel Iris Graphics. It costs £569. It is possible to upgrade the RAM to 16GB at point of purchase. There are also options for configuring the Mac mini with flash storage or a faster i7 processor.

The 2.8GHz dual-core i5 Mac mini, offers 8GB RAM, a 1TB Fusion Drive (combining a hard drive and flash storage), and Intel Iris Graphics. It costs £799.

These two Mac minis are comparable to the processors inside the 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro, but you can expect the faster flash storage in the MacBook's to give those models a boost. 

Product

GHz

RAM

Graphics

Storage

Price

Mac mini

1.4GHz dual-core

8GB

Intel HD Graphics 5000

500GB hard drive

£399

Mac mini

2.6GHz dual-core

8GB

Intel Iris Graphics

1TB hard drive

£569

Mac mini

2.8GHz dual-core

8GB

Intel Iris Graphics

1TB Fusion Drive

£799

Read our 2012 Mac mini review (updated in October 2013) here and our 2014 Mac mini review here.

Here’s everything you need to know about Shopping at an Apple Store, Apple Online, and using the Genius Bar

13in MacBook Pro versus Mac mini specs: Buying Advice

Back in 2014 the specs of the models were similar, so it was no surprise that the Mac mini’s processor and graphics performance was similar to that of the equivalent MacBook Pro, although the Mac mini is hampered by the hard drive compared to the flash storage in the MacBook Pro. In addition, while that the MacBook Pro has seen an upgrade and the Mac mini hasn't (yet) the MacBook Pro is the faster machine.

In our tests the 2014 2.8GHz Apple Mac mini scored 3363 points in single-core mode, and 7208 points in multi-core mode Geekbench 3 processor/memory test.

For a straight comparison, the 2014 2.8GHz Retina MacBook Pro scored 3307 points in single-core mode, and 7086 points in multi-core mode.

The Geekbench results for the 2015 2.9GHz MacBook Pro were 3132 in single-core, and 7414 in multi-core mode, while the 2015 2.7GHz Retina MacBook Pro Geekbench results were 2974 in single core, and 7028 in multi-core mode.

The problem with Geekbench figures is that they only measure processor speed. It's not only the processor that should speed up the MacBook, we would expect the MacBook Pro to feel speedier in daily use than the Mac mini thanks to its faster flash storage.

13in MacBook Pro versus Mac mini: Storage

The storage options vary quite dramatically for the MacBook Pro and Mac mini ranges.

The Mac mini features a 500GB hard drive at the entry-level, a 1TB hard drive at the mid-range, and a 1TB Fusion Drive at the high end.

The MacBook Pro offers the choice of a 128GB, 256GB of 512GB SSD – this flash storage is considerably faster than the old fashioned hard drive in the Mac mini.

However, the Fusion Drive option in the top-of-the-range Mac mini gives you the best of both worlds – the addition storage offered by a hard drive combined with the faster flash storage.

We’d say that the fact that you can pick up a 1TB Fusion Drive as standard on the £799 Mac mini is a point in its favour, you can’t upgrade the MacBook Pro to a Fusion Drive at all. You can opt for a 1TB SSD in the MacBook Pro, but that will set you back £400, bringing the price of the top of the range model to £1,799.

Buying advice

To get close to matching the storage in the £799 Mac mini in the MacBook Pro, you could pay another £1,000, bringing the price to £1,799 to include 1TB flash storage (the Mac mini features a 1TB fusion drive which is actually a 1TB hard drive coupled with a 128GB flash drive where frequently accessed content is stored, thereby speeding up operation).

However, you could always buy yourself an external hard drive to store media files on that might fill up your limited storage, it’s pretty simple to run your photo and music library off of an external hard drive for example.

13in MacBook Pro versus Mac mini: Ports

When it comes to ports, both the Mac mini and the MacBook Pro share an HDMI port, two Thunderbolt 2 Ports, and an SDXC card slot. 

The main difference is that the Mac mini has four USB 3 ports where the MacBook Pro has just two.

The HDMI port, which makes it really easy to plug both Macs in to your TV, makes the Mac mini a popular choice as a media centre for the living room.

Prior to Apple’s 2014 upgrade to the Mac mini we’d have been able to say that the other port that the Mac mini includes that the MacBook Air doesn't is a FireWire 800 port. Unfortunately that is no longer the case. The old MacBook Pro is the only Mac that still features this port.

Other ports on the Mac mini include Gigabit Ethernet, while the MacBook only offers WiFi, so if you wanted to plug in to the local network you would need an adaptor. You can purchase a Thunderbolt or USB to gigabit adaptor (£25 each) from Apple at the following links.

Thunderbolt to Gigabit Ethernet Adaptor

USB to Gigabit Ethernet Adaptor

Buying advice

If you want to use Ethernet to plug into the local area network (perhaps WIFi is at a premium in your office) then the Mac mini has the edge because it has an ethernet port. You can of course buy a USB 3 to Ethernet adaptor from Apple for £25, so this isn’t a significant issue. The Mac mini features more USB 3 ports than the MacBook Pro.  

13in MacBook Pro verses Mac mini: Display options

The MacBook Pro comes with an 13.3-inch LED-backlit display with a Retina-class screen resolution of 2560x1600 resolution at 227 pixels per inch.

Last time we tested the 13-inch Retina display of the MacBook Pro in June 2014, it had 91 percent coverage of sRGB, and 68 percent Adobe RGB. Since the new model was introduced these figures have improved, to 97 and 73 percent respectively.

Contrast ratio is a trickier test but this also seemed to have improved slightly, with a maximum of 880:1 against 2014’s 800:1.

The Mac mini doesn’t come with a display so you will need to either use one you’ve already got, or purchase one separately. You can pick up a separate monitor for around £100. Or you could spend more than twice as much as the cost of the entry-level Mac mini and purchase an Apple Thunderbolt Display for £899.

As we mention above, you can also plug your Mac mini straight into your widescreen TV, making it ideally suited as a media centre in your living room. We wouldn't recommend working on a Mac that had a television screen as a monitor, though.

Buying advice

The key difference when choosing between the MacBook Air and a Mac mini is the presence of the integrated display on the MacBook Air, but given the fact that this display is small and not as good as other Apple displays, you may find yourself factoring in the cost of a display anyway.  If you add the cost of a decent display to the price of the lower-cost Mac mini it doesn't look like such a cheap option, but you may want to factor in the cost of a decent display into the price of the MacBook Air too.

13in MacBook Pro verses Mac mini: Portability

The 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display weighs 1.58kg, it’s not the lightest laptop you can buy – that’s the 12in MacBook with Retina display at 0.92kg, but the closest comparison is the 13in MacBook Air at 1.35kg. It’s certainly not going to weigh you down too much if you have to carry it around, though.

The 2014 Mac mini, on the other hand, is a tiny 20cm square box that's less than 4cm deep. It actually weighs less than the MacBook Pro - between 1.19kg and 1.22kg depending on which model you choose. You could probably happily carry the box in your bag, but you’d also need to drag around a monitor, mice and keyboard. If you wanted a desktop Mac that took up very little space the Mac mini is perfect though.

Buying Advice

The MacBook Pro is clearly the most portable when compared to the Mac mini. The Mac mini might be light but it’s not really one to carry around – and it wouldn’t be much use to you without a monitor. We also wouldn’t recommend carrying a hard drive equipped Mac mini around too much – you may be thinking it would be a good solution to carry it between your office and home so you would be able to work at either location, but a hard drive can be damaged if you move it around regularly, so if this sounds like the kind of thing you might do opt for an SSD at point of purchase.

13in MacBook Pro verses Mac mini: Upgradability

One of the best things about the 2012 Mac mini was the fact that it was more upgradable than any other Mac. It used to be possible to upgrade both the hard drive and the RAM using parts purchased separately, rather than having to choose the upgrade options available from Apple at point of purchase.

Sadly the new 2014 Mac mini is not so upgradeable. Apple has soldered the RAM in place, as you will see if you read this article: Mac mini 2014 v 2012 model, comparison. However, there is still one factor in that Mac’s favour: you can still upgrade the storage on the Mac mini.

iFixIt.com gave the old Mac mini a reparability rating of 8 out of 10 in its teardown. The new 2014 Mac mini features RAM that is soldered on, so it is impossible to update it at any time after purchase. iFixIt gave the Mac mini a 6 out of 10 this time round.

The MacBook Pro doesn’t have any real upgrade options. The RAM is soldered on and it’s not possible to upgrade the storage – trying to do so would void your warranty, not that you can get inside easily thanks to the proprietary pentalobe screws. iFixIt gave both the and 2015 MacBook Pro a reparability score of just 1 out of 10, it can’t really get any worse than that.

Buying Advice

The Mac mini used to be the Mac for the kind of people who liked to tinker. Now that Mac is not as easy to upgrade down the line. You won’t be able to touch the RAM as it is soldered on, for example.

The MacBook Pro simply can’t be upgraded.

13in MacBook Pro verses Mac mini: Best value

The Mac mini is Apple's cheapest Mac at £399, but as we noted already, you will have to factor in the cost of a monitor, mouse and keyboard. Add even the cheapest monitor (around £150) and the cheapest Apple keyboard and mouse options (£40 each), and you are looking at around £629.

In fact to get almost exactly the same specs in the Mac mini as you get in the £1,199 MacBook Pro (2.7GHz with 256GB storage) you would need to spend £729 to get a 2.6GHz i5 processor and 256GB flash storage, which leaves you £470 for your peripherals.

Buying advice

While the price of the Mac mini looks a lot more favourable in comparison with the MacBook Pro with Retina display, it does lack the display and peripherals that come with the laptop, so there will likely be extra expenses to factor in. Of course you may prefer to purchase a larger screen for use with a laptop anyway, which may make this a moot point.  You may already own that screen as well, and the display you use with the Mac mini is likely to be much larger than 13-inches, so we reckon the Mac mini will have the edge there.

If you are looking for the best specced Mac for less than £800 only the Mac mini will do. If you have slightly more to spend, say up to £1,000, you could spec up the top of the range Mac mini with a 3.0GHz processor, and take advantage of the Fusion Drive (giving you the best of both worlds). This would cost £959. While an equivalently priced MacBook Pro would offer a 2.7GHz processor and 128GB storage for £999.

So if you already owned a screen, and have £1000 to spend, we’d recommend the Mac mini. Although we’d advise waiting a few months as we think Apple will update the range very soon.

That’s presuming that you don’t need and want a portable Mac, if that’s the case we totally recommend the MacBook Pro with Retina display.

The best value way to buy a Mac might just be to purchase a second hand Mac. There are a variety of ways you can do this, check the Apple Refurbished store here, where Apple sells Macs that have been returned (if there was a fault it will have been rectified and the Mac still has a one year warranty). You may also find a good deal on eBay or on Macworld's own mResell site, where we buy and sell old Macs, iPads and iPhones. Find out more about Macworld's own reseller service, which buys and sells a range of second hand Apple products here.

Read: Should I buy a refurbished Mac?

Also: How to buy a cheap Mac

Wondering which MacBook is best for you? Read: MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro comparison review, 13in Apple laptops compared

Read: Connect your Mac mini to a TV: turn a Mac mini into a media hub.

Also read: