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Apple Updates Mac Mini, iMac Desktops

Apple released new desktop Macs this morning--and the cheapest unit of the bunch now stands as one of the better-equipped models in Apple's home-computing lineup.

That would be the Mac mini, the tiny, cheap desktop that Apple last updated in August 2007. In light of the company's subsequent neglect, it could have been more accurately renamed the "Mac Minus"--but the new model looks far more competitive with both Windows-based machines and Apple's own desktops and laptops.

Inside the same compact box and at the same $599 starting price as before, the updated model includes the upgrades one might expect after a year and a half: There's 50 percent more hard drive space, a DVD burner, a more capable Nvidia graphics card and lower electrical consumption. On its back, it adds expansion options that one might not have forecast, given Apple's recent history: five USB ports, one more than before, plus a fast FireWire 800 data port and both Mini-DVI and Mini DisplayPort video outputs.

Compare that to the scant allocation of ports on the more expensive, less expandable MacBook laptop Apple shipped in October, which offers just two USB ports, no FireWire and one DisplayPort. So do the MacBook's cramped capabilities represent an experiment that Apple will correct with its next laptop? I can only hope so.

The Mac mini also makes the Apple TV--which has now gone more than a year since its last update--look horribly obsolete. Don't even think of buying one of these media receivers now; there's no way Apple can leave it in its current state for too long.

Apple's press release, however, did not lead off with this news and instead touted its updated iMac all-in-one desktop. That $1,199-and-up model seems no slouch either, with more memory and storage and upgraded FireWire and video-out connectors, but it doesn't represent any kind of dramatic boost to this model's capabilities. I won't even get into the revved-up Mac Pro desktop Apple introduced today; at $2,499 and up, that's above this blog's pay grade.

(The Cupertino, Calif., company's announcement didn't even mention its updated wireless-networking hardware: a new AirPort Extreme router and Time Capsule router/network drive that allow users to set up a "Guest Network" with Internet-only access for visitors.)

It's interesting to see Apple pay this much attention to the desktop end of the market when many buyers only shop for laptops--and many competitors seem content to ship the same bulky tower-case desktop designs they've been cranking out since 1995 or so. My editor and I have been having a bit of a debate on whether the desktop is still relevant for home use: I think it is (especially when you factor in "home theater PCs" connected to HDTVs, a role the Mini fills quite well), but she's not so sure. How about you? Do Apple's new desktops appeal to you? What would make you buy one of them--or any desktop--compared to a laptop with roughly equivalent capabilities?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  March 3, 2009; 1:44 PM ET
Categories:  Mac  
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This is good news! We need to replace an aging HP Pavilion and want to go Mac with the iMac seeming like an obvious choice given the previous deficiencies with the Mac Mini. Now I am not so sure.

Since we already have a nice LG 20" display, what is the advantage of the iMac apart from how nice it looks? Is there any functional performance difference for someone who is basically surfing the web and doing e-mail?

Posted by: skipper7 | March 3, 2009 2:16 PM | Report abuse

I was this close to giving up on Apple when the Mini update didn't materialize in January.
Where does the queue start?

Posted by: daggar | March 3, 2009 2:23 PM | Report abuse

While welcome, the Mac Mini is more expensive than it appears. That is, if you want to try and make it equivalent to the iMac. Simply choosing the faster processor (2.6) and keyboard and mouse gets you close to $1000 sans monitor.

Essentially, the choice between iMac and Mini may be about purpose and best shape for your space.
Am I way off base here?

Posted by: Towards_Light | March 3, 2009 2:25 PM | Report abuse

The mini isn't for everyone... but if you already have a computer (or two) and a keyboard/mouse/video switch box, it's a real cost-effective way to get a lot of power in a tiny box.
Combine that with the software you get -- iLife as well as the OS -- and the sting of the out-the-door price is pretty fair.
If you have to build a complete solution with keyboard and monitor, then the iMac is pretty attractive.

Posted by: daggar | March 3, 2009 2:37 PM | Report abuse

Honestly, I think that the 2.0Ghz processor and 120GB drive are plenty fast, but I might opt for the memory upgrade to 2GB. I am not trying to duplicate the spec of a 20" iMac - I would just buy that instead. Once my kids are out of the house in six months I will not have a giant iTunes library to worry about and my Maxtor external drive already has my entire photo library and even then it is only about 10GB.

Posted by: skipper7 | March 3, 2009 2:39 PM | Report abuse

I've been waiting for apple to update the minis! I want to hook it up in my living room so i can use it with my tv. I don't think i will order it from the apple store though, they never seem to put anything on sale. I was there last week to get an external hard drive and they wanted almost twice as much as i what i found it for online. In fact i found some great deals on this site:

Posted by: chris250480 | March 3, 2009 2:45 PM | Report abuse

towards_light -- I agree. The faster mini plus 24" apple display is more than the base 24" imac, without keyboard/mouse and as much memory/speed.

I think the mini makes sense mainly if you have a monitor already or don't need one (e.g., using a TV or using it "headless")

Posted by: ah___ | March 3, 2009 2:49 PM | Report abuse

I cannot foresee wanting "only" a Mac Laptop. I love mine, and use it often, but my most comfortable computing experience (and the most secure) is still my desktop.

I like having a machine with OODLES of memory and hard drive space! AND I love having a machine that cannot be easily carted off by a burglar!

I relegate my MacBook Pro, as well, to "iffy" applications and endeavors. That way I know, should the application (e.g., a non-Universal) require a reformatting, I still have the desktop to use for everything else.

(One can tell I'm not terribly computer literate, but that's another reason I find it easier to have both--a laptop and a desktop.)

Posted by: alindeO | March 3, 2009 2:54 PM | Report abuse

If I was starting from scratch, I'd buy a Mac Mini, a mid-size LCD TV, computer speakers, and a cordless keyboard/mouse. Boom - instant home computing and entertainment system. Wouldn't work for large families, but fits my studio apartment lifestyle just fine.

Posted by: SSMD1 | March 3, 2009 3:08 PM | Report abuse

Costco has a fairly amazing Westinghouse 26-inch HD-LCD monitor/TV with a ton of hook-ups, including HDMI, for under $300. It would be perfect for the mini.

Posted by: dentuttle | March 3, 2009 3:15 PM | Report abuse

I'm planning on buying a Mini right away to hook up to my TV and stereo in the living room and turning into a Media Center. I've been wanting to do this for a while and the AppleTV just doesn't cut it for me. Currently I hook my laptop up to the TV to watch a movie, but it will be nice to have a computer that is dedicated to that function.

Posted by: ShawnDC | March 3, 2009 3:38 PM | Report abuse

My basic Mac Mini has served nicely in tandem with a Time Capsule (which seems to be a serious electricity hog. Why worry about the Mini being efficient if the Capsule can serve as a space heater?).

I noticed recently that the the Mini's hard drive is approaching half-full, so I've been waiting for an update.

Now, why didn't Apple e-mail me this morning??

Posted by: DaveoftheCoonties | March 3, 2009 4:04 PM | Report abuse

Okay, decision time. I want a home theater box to go with my nifty new 32" LCD TV. TV has HDMI and VGA inputs.

New Mac Mini, or the following desktop?

I tilt toward the latter: 5x the hard drive space, 4x the memory, faster CPU... and savings can go toward a nice wireless keyboard/mouse & wireless network card. I'm competent at removing OEM crapware. Someone please explain to me why I shouldn't go with the Acer.

Posted by: random-adam | March 3, 2009 4:08 PM | Report abuse

This is great news ... I have a 5 yr old HP desktop that will probably need replacing in the next yr. or 2.

I got my parents basic iMacs recently but am still not sold on the price/value equation given that I have a monitor/kybd/mouse already.

Will the Mac Mini have enough power/disk space/etc. to run my Windows programs in, eg vmWare Fusion or some other application? I have some programs, like Quicken, that simply will not translate to the Mac (Quicken for Mac is horrible & doesn't import data from Windows properly).

If I add Windows & something like Fusion to run dual boot, must I go up to the 2GB of RAM to support Windows?


Posted by: fendertweed | March 3, 2009 4:45 PM | Report abuse

I very seldom use a computer elsewhere, so a desktop's greater value (features vs. price) militates towards the iMac for my purposes.

Posted by: oldguy10 | March 3, 2009 4:52 PM | Report abuse

Someone please explain to me why I shouldn't go with the Acer.
You'll be getting four times the computer, but like the old Soviet joke "we make the biggest microchips in the world", a full-size desktop isn't exactly easy to hide.
The other big issue will be fan noise -- the three/four/five fans inside a typical PC case are a big drawback for home theatre applications.
If you look at a small-form factor pc (like these), and are willing to put it together yourself, you can get a more powerful system than the mini for about the same price.
Or you can order a mini and be home theatre-ing tonight.

Posted by: daggar | March 3, 2009 5:00 PM | Report abuse

The ACER will be running Windows. The ACER will not have near the video performance of the chipset in the MacMini. Two immediate strikes. What the ACER has it won't use well, and what it has is already in deficit.

The Mac will be running Mac OS X. The same operating system used to develop, storyboard, design, shoot, edit, and produce every movie or album that you'll store on the computer.

As well, the Mac will have iLife 09 built-in, as well as Front Row which is Apple's media entertainment environment [a lightweight version of what the AppleTV does]. Very simple, free apps that will continually surprise you with what they allow you to do.

The Mac found it's start in the creative environment so there's numerous inherent advantages to managing and using media on a Mac. Apps like Handbrake, VisualHub [stopped developing but can still be found] work incredibly well with iTunes to create a complete package for the acquisition, storage and management of media.

The ACER simply cannot touch any of these things.

Posted by: DPDC | March 3, 2009 5:00 PM | Report abuse

I've suggested that my parents make their next computer a Mac mini. They won't have to get a new mouse or monitor, and they would hopefully need less assistance from me.

Posted by: bokamba | March 3, 2009 6:03 PM | Report abuse


I will NEVER buy an apple again. I bought imac with apple care yet when apple pushed an update to qt 7.6 to my system, it crashed the ONLY third party software I had (civ iv). (software they sell on their website and store)

They refused to accept responsibility or even acknowledge there was ANY problem. They refuse to contact the manufacturer, they refuse to view the website of the manufacture stating that there was a problem. (The manufacture told me apple wouldn't even return their calls)

The level of arrogance, self-righteous and plain rudeness i got from every single apple employee I spoke with was unbelievable.

If you want to be treated this way, buy a dell and save 1,000 and go to vegas for the weekend.

They have lost their way. They view the customer as the problem not the source of their revenue.

Imagine going to your car dealer and they tell you they won't change your oil because you bought your tires somewhere else.

apple can byte my hard drive.

Posted by: georgethornton1 | March 3, 2009 6:17 PM | Report abuse

What I love about my Apple TV is the HDMI & RCA jacks. Can I get audio / video as solid on the mini as easily as I do on the ATV? If so, please explain!

I get the HDMI conversion, but do I lose quality?
The audio out options do look as robust on the mini... is that reason for concern?

Posted by: bigbobindenver | March 3, 2009 6:39 PM | Report abuse

What I love about my Apple TV is the HDMI & RCA jacks. Can I get audio / video as solid on the mini as easily as I do on the ATV? If so, please explain!

I get the HDMI conversion, but do I lose quality?
The audio out options don't look as robust on the mini... is that reason for concern?

Posted by: bigbobindenver | March 3, 2009 6:40 PM | Report abuse

Someone please explain to me why I shouldn't go with the Acer.

On the objective side:
The mini is smaller, makes less noise, uses less power (i.e. costs you less to keep ruuning), and Boxee is free and availble for OS X now (Windows who knows when & Linix doesn't support Netflix)

On the subjective side:

The mini looks a lot nicer too.

Also if it's just a HTPC will you really take advantage the extra RAM or CPU? The larger HD and $140 savings are the only plusses I see in the Acer.

Posted by: foxn | March 3, 2009 8:29 PM | Report abuse

The Mac mini takes laptop memory, so you can buy an inexpensive module from Crucial if you want to upgrade. In fact, I may use one I never got around to putting in my MacBook Pro if I buy a mini.

My reason for buying a mini would be to complete my home entertainment setup. Currently I have most of my music and video on my Apple TV. But, Apple TV looks for a reference on a computer to play content. (You cannot just shift your iTunes library onto it.) The hard drive on my MacBook Pro is full because there is so much multimedia on there. I don't want my full iTunes library on my MacBook Air. I will replace the MacBook Pro's internal drive with a larger one, shift the multimedia content to an external drive referenced to Apple TV, or purchase the Mac mini, which should hold another year or two's new multimedia as well as what I already have.

I haven't owned a desktop computer in at least six years. But, I would not consider a headless Mac mini used mainly for multimedia a real desktop computer.

Posted by: query0 | March 4, 2009 2:26 AM | Report abuse

I understand Rob's comments regarding the debate between Laptops versus Desktops for home use. I get that all the time from family and friends. I own a desktop 24 inch Mac. I like it because of its power, but really because of its 24 inch screen. And you know there is no such thing as a 24 inch laptop, at least from Apple. Also, I have no use for a lap top other than to make presentations, which aren't that often. So when I do, I put it on a lap top and take it with me. However, I don't want to tote a lap top every where I go. I like the big screen, I'd get a 30 inch desktop Mac if they had one. Yes, I still think they have there place for home use. However, I guess to be honest mine is home/office use. And to be honest, I've got four other Macbooks in the house, used by other family members. Needless to say, I don't want one. The big screen is never big enough. That's why I hope Rob and his editors never give up on desktops at home.

Posted by: Agridome | March 4, 2009 7:10 AM | Report abuse

Back in Nov when my Dell desktop died I purchased an Imac. It takes less space.

I have no need for laptop at home. I dont sit on the couch and read emails or surf the internet. And I prefer a larger screen.

I turned of the wireless capability of my FIOS modem.

The new Imacs look great but the memory upgrades are expensive. Check out Crucial on the web.

And when my Imac dies or my girlfriend's laptop I will be an Apple customer.

Posted by: sheepherder | March 4, 2009 8:17 AM | Report abuse

For a decade I gave talks to parents of incoming freshmen at Michigan State. Over that time we went from 50% buying laptops to over 90% buying laptops. Two reasons: perfectly usable laptops for under $1000, and laptops growing to have all the power a person needs.

The other trend in the last 4 years was a marked movement towards a Mac from a PC. The shift could be as much as from 4% to 50% -- again, mostly laptops.

Of course there is a role for desktops. But the term "desktop" may not describe the Mac Mini, which may be tucked away in your entertainment center or in some other cozy spot.

Posted by: richwig | March 4, 2009 9:14 AM | Report abuse

George Thornton - A bug fix for QT7.6/CivIV is due out next week. Methinks Aspyr has been talking with Apple. The fault did not necessarily lie with the system update, but rather brought out a bug in Civ. Pain in the rear I know, but your wrath at Apple is misplaced.


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | March 4, 2009 9:15 AM | Report abuse

The have been rolling out since last week. (Tuesday I think)
My wrath is not misplaced. (But, thanks for checking)

My first mac serial number was 5,XXX - mid feb. 1984. On my wall hangs the first mac poster "hello" 8x5. ($1,000 bucks and it yours)

I sold thousands and thousands of macs in my computer career. In even installed and took A/UX training in like 1989.

I had to take years of ribbing from co-workers and customers about those 'toys' you keep playing with.

To REFUSE to even look aspyr web site stating that a problem did exist, yet REFUSE to acknowledge there was a problem AT ALL.

I paid more money for a Mac for two reasons
1.) That It Would Work
2.) and When it didn't, Apple would fix it

One can get a bootleg OSX and I can build my own magic box and fix my own stuff. (didn't want too)

I talked to three departments five people....
The level of arrogance, self-righteous and plain rudeness i got from every single apple employee I spoke with was unbelievable.

And, then I was told to reinstall my os.... Thats what Dells tells you to do but for 1,000 bucks less.

Again, apple can't test the 25 pieces of software they sell in their store? Were not talking some weird hungarian mythical math modeling program.

If steve lives and calls me back and says you were right, mistakes were made. We will improve the process.... then

Aspyr was helpful, apologetic, responded, nice, they did the best they could. They didn't browbeat me, make feel like a loser or idiot because I installed apple security update for QT.

WE ARE TOLD OVER and OVER patch, update, don't be exposed, be responsible user, update, patch and when it goes south, well why did you do that? AUGH

It's been five weeks and I still steaming mad.

I my final word this was a test.
I bought it March 07, installed Civ IV (bought Parallels just in case - still in box). Never opened a terminal window :) yea! didn't hack, tweek, fiddle, shareware, porn, rip -- nada
Surf / CIV that is it - noting else. I hoped it would run two years with out crashing. 22 months, close but, that is no better than a windows machine. Myth debunked.

btw: Apple wasn't calling back Aspyr (according to Aspyr)! Thats what got me really going, who cares about some whining end users but, when you don't even support your own software developers.

Posted by: georgethornton1 | March 5, 2009 4:24 AM | Report abuse

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