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Apple ups Mac build plans on strong reception to new desktops

Apple this month is increasing the number of Macs on order from its Taiwanese suppliers following a better than expected response to its refreshed desktop line, according to a new report.

Speaking to clients in a research note Wednesday, Kaufman Bros. analyst Shaw Wu said sources within the Cupertino-based company's supply chain and distribution channels are seeing a "stronger-than-expected reception" to new iMacs, Mac minis and Mac Pros announced last week.

"We find this quite impressive in light of very difficult macroeconomic conditions," he wrote, noting that Mac build plans have been increased as a result. "If current rates keep up, we believe Street estimates looking for 2.2 million-2.3 million Macs for the March quarter could turn out conservative."

In particular, Wu said feedback on the new Mac mini from distribution sources has been "surprisingly positive." And while he was hoping to see Apple drop the system's price alongside the refresh, he now concedes that "perhaps $599 is a decent entry point" given that the new minis sport faster processors, larger hard drives, and much faster NVIDIA graphics chips.

The analyst even went as far as to equate the petite desktops to a premium sub-compact automobile alongside predictions that the new models could "turn out to be a surprise dark horse hit" of the Mac maker's desktop line.

"To us, the new Mac mini is like a Mini Cooper, a premium small form factor product but with decent horsepower. We believe the Mac mini could turn out to be a surprise dark horse hit," he wrote.

Wu, who was responsible for some of the off-base reports (1, 2) of quad-core iMacs leading up to last week's launch, says he believes Apple made the right move by sticking with Core 2 Duo processors in the refreshed line of all-in-one desktops, which "provide plenty of power" for the majority of users.

As for the first quad-core iMacs, he now says he's hearing a likely introduction in the "summer or fall time frame" to better coincide with the release of Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard, which will be optimized to take advantage of systems with more than two processing cores.

In the same research note, the analyst also cited "sources" who tell him Apple is working on a couple of new initiatives, namely a "smaller MacBook Air" and "larger iPod touch." The commentary, which seem more like speculation, suggests the former could arrive as "MacBook mini" and serve as the company's answer to the netbook segment.

Shares of Apple, which came under immense pressure Friday and Monday when a pair of analysts trimmed their outlook on the company citing concerns of slowing sales amid an ailing economy, have risen more than 10 percent in the last 48 hours — after rising some 6.6 percent on Tuesday to close at $88.63, shares are up another 5.16 percent in Wednesday morning Nasdaq trading to $93.20.

In light of the positive momentum driven by new iMacs and Mac minis, Wu maintained his Buy rating and $120 price target on shares of Apple.

iMac Discounts

For those interested in one of Apple's new iMacs, Apple authorized reseller ClubMac is offering AppleInsider readers an additional 3% off its already discounted pricing using coupon code APPINSDRCWB03053 or by following the price links in our Mac Price Guide. The result is the cheapest prices we've seen so far on the new desktops, with combined discounts between $115 to $175.

Similarly, MacMall is offering 3% off new MacBook Pros with coupon code APPINSDRMWB19222, resulting in combined discounts between $188 and $320. The discounts also apply to the previous generation iMacs and MacBook Pros, meaning you can pick up a 20-inch 2.4GHz iMac for $899.17 and a 15-inch 2.35GHz MacBook Pro for $2,178.52. Full details for those interested can be seen here.