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Apple CEO Steve Jobs took the stage of Apple’s own Town Hall facility at its Cupertino campus. Apple is introducing fun things today, he said — “medium scale things, but our customers want all of them.” Among the offerings is a redesigned Mac mini featuring Intel microprocessors and an iPod Hi-Fi — an integrated stereo system designed to accommodate all the dockable iPods ever made.

Jobs told the assembled reporters that Apple is on track to convert its entire professional line of Macintosh computers to Intel CPUs this year. Apple tested those waters in January when it began shipping its mid-range consumer model, the iMac, with an Intel chip inside.

“The reviews are the best we’ve gotten for any machine we’ve ever shipped. and we also announced the MacBook Pro, we started shipping it last week. Lot of customers have already gotten theirs, again the reviews are off the charts.

Mac mini goes Intel

Jobs introduced the new Intel-based Mac mini, Apple’s low-cost consumer desktop system. The base model features an Intel Core Solo CPU — a single-processor, single-core CPU. But the company is also introducing a Mac mini that features Intel’s Core Duo processor — the same kind of CPU that powers the iMac and MacBook Pro.

The redesigned Mac mini features gigabit Ethernet, a total of four USB 2.0 ports, analog and SPDIF audio outputs and more.

“And, of course, you can also hook it up to televisions,” Jobs told the audience. It’s been widely speculated that Apple might use today’s event to introduce a Mac model with better home entertainment integration.

The new Mac mini, like its iMac sibling, features Front Row, an application that makes it possible to view movies, listen to audio, watch music videos and more from your Mac, in full-screen, using an infrared remote control from across the room. The Mac mini now sports an infrared sensor in the front of the Mac min, next to the machine’s optical disk drive slot.

As demonstrated by Jobs, Front Row now has a new feature — the ability to support shared music libraries accessible through iTunes. So using Front Row, you can listen to the contents of other machines running iTunes on the same subnetwork. It works similarly with shared albums using iPhoto, and shared videos.

The Mac mini appears physically the same as it did before, but it’s 2.5x faster on integer calculations and 3.2x faster in floating point calculations than its predecessor (using the same benchmarks Apple offers for the iMac and MacBook Pro), thanks to the inclusion of the new Intel Core Solo CPU. For the Core Duo models, it’s 4.8x faster in integer calculations and 5.5x times faster in floating point calculations on those same tests.

The updated Front Row application is also being offered to users of other Macs running Front Row — Jobs is calling it “Front Row with Bonjour,” Apple’s nomenclature for zero-configuration networking.

Predictably, the new Mac minis also feature iLife 06, Apple’s recently refreshed suite of applications that includes iTunes, iPhoto, iDVD, iMovie, GarageBand and iWeb. Also standard is Mac OS X v10.4 “Tiger,” a remote control, Front Row, AirPort Extreme, Bluetooth, four USB 2.0 interfaces, FireWire 400, GigaBit Ethernet, DVI video out, and Dolby Digital 5.1 and analog audio in and out.

Also worthy of note is that the new Mac mini features integrated graphics on the motherboard in place of a discrete ATI Radeon 9200 graphics chip that was on the G4-era model.

The entry-level Mac mini system, available starting today, is a 1.5GHz Core Solo system with 667MHz bus, 512MB RAM, 60GB SATA hard drive and “Combo” DVD-ROM/CD-RW drive for $599 — $100 more than the previous base model.

The 1.67GHz Core Duo-based model features an 80GB SATA internal hard disk and 8x “SuperDrive” that can burn DVDs as well as CD-Rs, for $799.

“Fifty percent of our entire product line is now available with Intel processors, in less than sixty days,” said Jobs.

New iPod products

Jobs recapped a recent event of import to Apple’s iTunes Music Store: The sale and download of its billionth song.

“Let’s move on to new products in the music space,” said Jobs. “We’re going to have iPod leather cases. We’ve been working on these for a while, but wanted to get them just right.”

Apple is introducing $99 leather cases for the fifth-generation “video” iPod and ipod nano. The slide in cases don’t appear to leave users with any access to the iPod’s controls, unlike various offerings from third parties.

Jobs then turned his attention to the automobile. “Forty percent of all automobiles sold offer iPod connectivity as an option,” he told the audience. “So ‘on the go’ is big for us.”

Home stereo products lack that functionality, however. And while some manufacturers are starting to add direct iPod connectivity to new amplifiers and systems, “You’re not getting rid of your home stereo,” said Jobs.

Jobs talked about the requirements of audio enthusiasts. Audiophiles want a soundstage, he said, precise imaging and separation, and a wide frequency range.

“You want to be able to have great bass but also be able to hear the highest frequencies,” said Jobs. “You want room-filling power without distortion.”

iPod Hi-Fi: Home Stereo. Reinvented.

Calling the new iPod accessory “Home stereo. Reinvented,” Jobs explained that iPod Hi-Fi “has some of the attributes of iPod products today, but with home stereo quality.”

It’s a three-driver system in one unit featuring an iPod dock on top. An auxiliary input rests in the back of the iPod Hi-Fi if you have an iPod shuffle. The device also ships with inserts designed to accommodate virtually all of Apple’s dockable iPod models.

Built-in handles let you tote the system around — it’s white and rectangular, and features a black grille on the front of the speakers. The power supply itself is integrated, so there’s no bulky external brick feeding juice to the unit. And it can run on batteries — six D cells, in fact. The speaker system includes two 80 millimeter (mm) mid-range drivers with a sealed acoustic suspension and a 130mm dual voice coil woofer featuring a ported bass reflex design, inside a sealed resin enclosure.

“We get great bass out of this thing and it doesn’t distort when you crank it up,” said Jobs.

Apple has updated the iPod’s software to accommodate the new speaker system — a new software update will add a “Speaker” menu to the iPod’s interface, allowing users to adjust tone control, control the backlight and turn on large album art.

What’s more, the iPod Hi-Fi can be controlled with the Apple Remote. It can also accept input through an auxiliary jack and SPDIF optical audio input.

The iPod Hi-Fi goes on sale today for $349.

This story, "Apple Event Live Update" was originally published by PCWorld.

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