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Apple's new Mac mini, server surprise with strong sales start

While Apple's new iMac got all of the desktop-related attention when new hardware was announced in October, the new Mac mini and its debut Server companion have found early success.

Stephen Baker, vice president of industry analysis with market research firm NPD Group, told AppleInsider that he was surprised by the strong performance of the Mac mini. Previously, he said, the low-end desktop had been "dead in the water" in terms of sales.

"The new mini has done very well compared to what we received previously," Baker said. "I think (it was due to) Apple giving it a little bit of support and talking about it a little more. They went back and kind of reminded people it was there again."

In October, Apple introduced three new Mac mini models: a $599 model with a 2.26 GHz processor, a 160GB hard drive, and 2GB of RAM; a $799 model with a 2.53GHz processor, 320GB hard drive and 4GB of RAM; and a $999 version equipped with Mac OS X Snow Leopard Server and sporting two 500GB hard drives. The server option drops the optical drive to make room for its 1TB of total storage, in addition to a 2.53GHz Core 2 Duo processor and 4GB of RAM, all fit into the system's 6.5-inch square, 2-inch high frame, weighing in at 2.9 pounds.

The new Mac minis were part of a desktop refresh from Apple and were released alongside new iMacs. The 21.5-inch iMac was the best-selling desktop in the U.S. in the month of October, while the 27-inch model came in third for all hardware. The new Mac minis did not crack the top 10 for hardware sales.

But combined with the success of the new iMacs, desktop sales for Apple increased 74 percent year-over-year in October and November. While some assumed that increase was based solely on the strength of the iMac, Baker said the new Mac mini line played a significant role.

"We definitely saw some uptick on that as well," he said, "and it was probably a surprise for me too."

When Mac mini sales were flat years ago, Apple left the hardware line mostly stagnant, with only a handful of minor updates. Though sources suggested Apple could abandon the desktop line entirely, in 2008 new life was breathed into the Mac mini. It was a smart move by Apple, given the apparent success of the October refresh.

Baker said the addition of the Mac mini Server helps to diversify Apple's line of products, and will likely prove to be an important asset to the company. The dual-drive, optical-free Mac mini Server saw a relatively quiet launch in the face of the new iMacs and MacBook.

"I think it's going to help it in the long term," Baker said of the server version. "It probably broadens the audience a little bit."

The new hardware is optimized for Mac OS X Snow Leopard Server, and comes bundled with the operating system software. Previously, users had to spend $500 for the retail box option. For comparison, prior to Snow Leopard, the unlimited user version of Mac OS X Server cost $999. Now, users can pay the same cost and get a Mac mini along with the software.

Also significant is the fact that the Mac mini Server comes with the full-featured version. On the mini PC side, business users must spend hundreds of dollars extra to obtain the Small Business Server Standard software. For a greater comparison and close look at Snow Leopard Server, see AppleInsider's in-depth analysis of the Mac mini Server.

Shoppers can find the best deals on the Apple's new Mac mini models in the AppleInsider Mac Pricing Guide: