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Informed players say Apple's Mac mini still kickin'

First on AI: With Apple's recent 'State of the Mac' omitting any mention of the Mac mini and reports surfacing over the current line's discontinuation, there's been some speculation that the diminutive desktop's days may (again) be numbered. That's unlikely the case, say insiders, who are sharing new details.

In a report published in May of 2007, AppleInsider wrote off the mini, noting that development of the systems had screeched to a halt inside Apple, with little engineering effort having gone into the systems since an update to Intel's Core 2 Duo architecture a year earlier.

The mini was essentially shelved, lingering in a state of indefinite limbo; its development team reportedly dissolved. With little effort, Apple bumped the mini's processor, memory, and hard drive specs in August of 2007. The systems haven't  seen a public update since.

Earlier this year, however — and shortly after NVIDIA pitched its new integrated graphics chipsets to Apple — AppleInsider reported a pulse in the Mac mini department. The tiny systems were reportedly coming out of their coma, with a dedicated team of engineers performing the first top-to-bottom reconstruction since the product's inception three year's earlier.

In a report published this week titled the "The State of the Mac mini," Las Vegas-based Macminicolo, the largest Mac mini colocation firm, reaches the same conclusions. The company, which operates a server farm of 400 Mac minis, notes that "it's just about as familiar with the Mac mini as anyone" and claims it "is certain there is another mini on the way."

The report both attempts to dispel some common misconceptions about the mini's sales volume, as well as outline a few features that are said to be "100% confirmed" for the impending update. Specifically, it notes that the mini sells to businesses over consumers at roughly a 2 to 1 ratio.

"For instance, here in Las Vegas, I know there are at least 10,000 Mac minis running in the different hotels and casinos on the strip," said Brian Stucki, who owns and operates the Mac mini colocation service. "Many are used for video security points. Certain casino companies use Mac minis in each of the slot islands on a casino floor to manage the backend. I know of one nationwide salon franchise that uses two Mac minis for each one of their stores."

He tells AppleInsider that small businesses comprise the majority of his clientele, primarily due to cost savings. Not only does a mini fetch about one fourth the cost of an Xserve, but hosting fees for the smaller systems are similarly a quarter of that of the Apple rack-mount servers.

The above photos show Macminicolo's server room with roughly 400 Mac minis in operation | Photo: macminicolo, AppleInsider.

"When I read online of people stating 'poor mini sales,' I'm surprised," Stucki wrote in the this week's report. "The Mac mini is consistently in the top five of Amazon's Bestselling Desktop Computers. (It's currently number one.) If you watch Apple's Refurb site, anytime some Mac minis are posted they sell out in under an hour. Even the three year old G4 Mac minis on ebay go for a price close to the brand new Intel machines sticker price. The market speaks even if Apple doesn't."

Looking ahead, he claims to have confirmed two of the following with "100%" certainty, while another is a highly probable guess based on recent changes to Apple's product lines:

  • The Mac mini will adopt the new Mini DisplayPort that was recently showcased on the Macbook line. This will save considerable port real estate on the back of the Mac mini.
  • The Mac mini will join all other Macs in being able to address 4GB of RAM. Currently, they are officially sold with up to 2GB of RAM, but can also support 3GB of RAM. (Though the latter configuration loses the minor dual channel benefits.)
  • Like the new Macbook, the Mac mini optical drive will be changed to a SATA connection. (It is currently a standard ATA/IDE cable.) This will increase performance. But even more, it will benefit those who use the Mac mini as a server. In ordering a Mac mini from Apple, there will be an option to have two SATA HDDs and eliminating the optical all together. With the new Remote Disc introduced with the Macbook Air, this option will be tempting for many.

Stucki says his customers commonly employ Mac minis as web, mail, video and file servers. They're also sometimes used to handle financial transaction or act as remote watchdogs for larger, more intricate servers. However, the advent of the App Store has reportedly sparked an alternative interest in the little desktops.

Some developers who intend to write applications that take advantage of the iPhone's planned push notification features are considering minis as a backend for their apps. Others, whose applications facilitate user logins like MobileChat, have recently chosen minis for rapid scalability.

In August, Apple began informing some small European resellers that they should no longer expect shipments of the current Mac mini models. More recently, however, the company issued a broader announcement to European resellers —  first reported by Gizmodo and later corroborated by MacBidouille — that the existing Mac mini was going EOL, or being discontinued.

Speculation is that Apple may be running low on its supply of the mini's nearly two year-old Core 2 Duos and may have started to trim back availability as a result.