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$100 increase for Apple's redesigned Mac mini seen as disappointment

Apple's redesigned Mac mini was released on Tuesday starting at $699, a $100 premium over the previous model — a new price that one prominent Wall Street analyst said he believes is somewhat disappointing.

Shaw Wu with Kaufman Bros. issued a note to investors noting that the Mac mini refresh is the most significant for the desktop hardware since it was first introduced in January of 2005. The new hardware added an HDMI port and now has an aluminum unibody exterior. But those additions weren't enough to offset some dissatisfaction with the new price for Wu.

"The only disappointment we have is the price point of $699 vs. the previous price of $599," Wu wrote. "For the new form factor, faster processor, faster graphics, HDMI port, and more HDD storage, (Apple) believes the $100 premium is justified. The original Mac mini cost $499 and over the past (5-and-a-half) years the price point has increased by $200, though the technology has gotten significantly better."

Still, Wu remains impressed by the new hardware, particularly the adoption of the 320M embedded graphics chip already found in the 13-inch MacBook Pro and $999 MacBook. He said having the same embedded graphics across a variety of devices will allow Apple to simplify its supply chain and streamline software development.

While Tuesday's update to the Mac mini was welcome, Wu said he is still waiting for refreshes to the Mac Pro desktop and ultraportable MacBook Air notebook. He expects those updates to come soon, as signs of pending changes from supply chain sources have indicated to the analyst.

Rumors of a Mac Pro update have persisted for months. The new desktop is believed to adopt Intel's latest Core i7 processor with six cores. In March, AppleInsider reported that Apple is expected to release a major update to its Mac Pro workstations in June, along with a larger version of its LED Cinema Display.

The last major refresh to the Mac Pro equipped it with its Nehalem Xeon processors, with a high-end eight-core Mac Pro offering two 2.26GHz Quad-Core Intel Xeon 5500 chips. Earlier this month, Apple quietly upgraded that to a potential maximum 2.93GHz eight-core system.

Rumors of a MacBook Air upgrade have also lingered, but failed to materialize thus far. In January, it was suggested that the MacBook Air refresh might have seen a delay due to limited availability of Intel's Core i5 ultramobile processors. Those reports suggested Apple could adopt the ultra-thin 18W TDP processor. The Core i5-520UM has a maximum processor speed of 1.86GHz, and an integrated GPU with 500MHz of processing power. The 32nm dual-core chip also includes 3MB of L3 cache.

Apple last updated the MacBook Air in June 2009, dropping its entry price to $1,499 for a 1.86GHz Intel Core 2 Duo-based system.

Wu and Kaufman Bros. reiterated their recommendation for investors to buy AAPL stock. The firm has a $320 price target based on expectations of $15.77 earnings per share in calendar year 2011.