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Friday, March 21, 2008, 10:50 am PT (01:50 pm ET)

Eating our words: Apple's Mac mini to rock on

Apple Inc.'s Mac mini, a tiny desktop system previously pegged for extinction, won't fade into the distance after all, at least not yet.

Last Memorial Day, AppleInsider cited sources in reporting that it appeared to be the end of the line for the itsy-bitsy Mac, which had seen limited adoption and an uncertain role during the first 24 months on the market. 

Since then, the product line has remained in a state of limbo, with subsequent updates consisting of minor component swaps that required little if any engineering effort. 

For the first time in nearly a year, however, people familiar with the matter tell AppleInsider there's new life in the Mac mini department, where a small team of engineers have recently been tasked with gutting the diminutive desktop and applying fresh internals.

Thanks partly to Intel's rapid phase out of previous generation Core 2 Duo mobile processors and associated components, the impending update will see the mini gain its most significant architectural overhaul since its transition from Motorola-made PowerPC processors to Intel chips back in February of 2006.

Among the improvements destined for the new lineup are 45-nanometer Core 2 Duo mobile chips starting at 2.1GHz with 3MB of shared L2 cache, an 800MHz front-side bus (up from 667MHz), and a step up to the same Intel GMA X3100 integrated graphics processor employed by the existing line of 13-inch consumer MacBooks. 

Apple's long-term plans for the Mac mini remain a bit of an enigma given the limited attention and resources devoted to the product line in comparison to the company's other personal computer offerings. Nevertheless, the update to Intel's 45nm architecture should assure the mini a seat within the Mac maker's product line for another 12 months at the very least. 

Mac mini


While those people familiar with plans for the Mac mini were unclear on a precise release date for the forthcoming makeover, the Penryn-3M-based systems reportedly remained within the engineering build stage as of mid-month. 

Also on tap from Apple in the not too distant future are a refreshed line of all-in-one iMac desktops which will similarly shed their 65nm, second-generation Merom chips for Intel's new Penryn-based models ranging up to the 2.8GHz Core 2 Extreme.

International resellers have recently begun clearing stock of existing iMac models in anticipation of the update.