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Apple Updates Mac Mini

Apple has updated its Mac mini with a redesign and under-the-hood computing overhaul.

The most significant enhancements include an HDMI output -- used to connect the Mac mini to an HDTV -- and an SD card slot that allows transfer of photos and videos from a digital camera.

Apple has also upgraded the mini's graphics and computing firepower with an Nvidia (Nasdaq: NVDA) GeForce 320M graphics processor, a 2.4 GHz Intel (Nasdaq: INTC) Core 2 Duo processor, a 320-GB hard and 2 GB of RAM. The device is now encased in an aluminum enclosure that is slightly smaller than the earlier version at 7.7 inches square by 1.4 inches thin.

The computer, which starts at US$699 -- an increase of approximately $100 -- also comes with Mac OS X, iLife or Mac OS X Snow Leopard Server.

From Low-End Desktop Alternative ...

The addition of HDMI is "a clear indication that Apple recognizes that the Mac mini has been used mostly as a PC-connected to video outputs in large screen televisions," Steven Baker, VP of industry analysis for NPD, told MacNewsWorld.

Indeed, it is one of the few Apple products that carries as HDMI, he added.

Apple had originally intended the Mac mini to be an alternative low-end desktop for consumers, Baker said, but consumers didn't go along with that story line, in part due to other alternative desktop options Apple has offered.

"Most Apple fans use a MacBook as their alternative desktop," he said.

... to Living Room Server

The Mac mini didn't fade by the wayside, though. Consumers have been using it as a de facto server for the home, especially after last year's upgrade; Apple equipped it with Snow Leopard Server and removed the optical drive, replacing it with a second hard drive.

"Apple is trying to move the mini into the living room, Michael Volchok, owner of Mike's Tech Shop, an authorized Apple sales and service provider, told MacNewsWorld. "That is how I see it being used -- in high-end apartments for home theater systems."

Besides serving as a home media center, the mini is popular with small businesses and as part of a clustered server system, Volchok said. "There are several mini server farms for Mac and Linux hosting. It will be interesting to see how those guys like the improvements."

They probably won't like the $100 price increase, he speculated, but the mini is still attractively priced compared to comparable server products.

Small Is Beautiful

There is also a chance that consumers could rediscover the mini as a computing alternative, Laura DiDio, principal with ITIC, told MacNewsWorld.

The iPad has inspired a passion for small-sized computing, she said, and it has become the must-have computer product of the day.

Some consumers or small businesses, though, might not have their needs met by the iPad -- and they could well turn to the sleek mini.

"More and more, we see companies come out with products that are targeted at one audience but then get used for another purpose that the vendor never envisioned," observede DiDio. "That is what happened, after all, when the mini was first introduced," she said. "I think it could happen again."

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