Apple silently updates Mac mini with Core 2 Duo

Almost lost in all the noise about new aluminum iMacs, iLife 08 and iWork 08 is a refresh to Apple’s modest Mac mini. Its price remains starting at $599, but it now features a faster processor and more hard disk space.

Apple COO Tim Cook noted the refreshed Mac mini’s existence on Tuesday at the tail end of a question and answer session following Steve Jobs’ presentation to analysts and reporters at Apple’s Cupertino headquarters. The news of a speedier Mac mini ends weeks of speculation that Apple planned to pull the plug on the entry-level system all together. The Mac mini has survived yet another day.

Apple’s low-end consumer computer hasn’t been redesigned like the iMac — in fact, the new Mac mini is externally indistinguishable from its predecessor. Apple’s smallest desktop computer ever, the Mac mini stands two inches tall and measures 6.5 inches on a side, weighing in at just shy of three pounds. It still comes equipped with one FireWire 400 port, four USB 2.0 ports, a Gigabit Ethernet connection and Digital Visual Interface (DVI) connector.

But inside, the meager Intel Core Duo processor has been replaced with an Intel Core 2 Duo processor instead, marking the end of the road for the Core Duo, which has already been replaced on the MacBook and iMac lines with the speedier Core 2 Duo model.

The processor speed has been bumped up, as well — where the low-end Mac mini formerly had a 1.66GHz processor, the new low-end system gets a 1.83GHz processor, and the higher-end system now has a 2.0GHz processor. Level 2 on-chip cache is 2MB or 4MB, respectively. Apple claims the Core 2 Duo processors provide a speed boost of up to 39 percent, compared to their predecessors.

The system still uses a 667MHz frontside bus, but the revised Mac mini features 1GB of DDR2 SDRAM on two SO-DIMMs, twice the capacity formerly offered in the stock box.

Perhaps of disappointment to gamers and others looking for improved graphical performance, the Mac mini remains limited in its abilities, with Intel’s integrated GMA 950 graphics processor, still with 64MB of video memory borrowed from shared main memory.

The Mac mini retains 802.11g-compatible Wi-Fi wireless networking and standard Bluetooth 2.0+EDR (Enhanced Data Rate), for wireless connectivity to keyboards, mice and other devices.

The low-end model features an 80GB, 5400RPM drive and “Combo” DVD-ROM/CD-RW drive; the high-end model features a 120GB, 5400RPM drive and “SuperDrive” with double-layer support for DVD-R and other optical media. The higher-end model is now priced at $799.

Both systems feature Mac OS X v10.4 “Tiger” and iLife 08 pre-installed.

Editor's note: Due to a reporting error the prices of the new Mac mini were reported as $599 and $699. They are $599 and $799.

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