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Hands-off analysis of Apple's new Mac Minis

Our specs-based first impressions of Apple's new Mac Minis

We can't claim to have even seen Apple's updated Mac Minis, let alone reviewed them, but we can still form a few opinions of the updated specs and the addition of an OS X Server version to the Mac Mini line-up.

To recap, Apple updated the CPU, default RAM, and hard-drive capacities of both its $599 and $799 Mac Minis earlier today. The Core 2 Duo chip in the $599 Mac Mini goes from 2.0GHz to 2.26GHz, the RAM doubles from 1GB of RAM to 2GB, and the hard drive jumps from a 120GB to a 160GB model. The $799 Mac Mini gets a bigger performance boost with its Core 2 Duo chip going from 2.0GHz to 2.53GHz. Its RAM also doubles from 2GB to 4GB, but its hard drive stays the same size.

The hands on this photo? Not ours. Apple

When we review Macs, we like to pretend we live in a world where computers are tools, where we can be operating system agnostic, and where we appreciate, but stop short of fetishizing, good design. Under those assumptions, and based purely on its specs, we have concerns with the price of both new Mac Minis next to competing small scale Windows-based PCs.

Gateway's SX2800-01, and systems like it, could give the new Mac Minis some stiff competition. CNET/Sarah Tew

We'll withhold judgment until we can actually test the new Mac Minis, but our hunch is that Gateway's $459, Core 2 Quad-based SX2800-01 slim tower would outperform or come close enough to either new Mac Mini in processing typical workloads. The benefits of the smaller Mac Mini case may also have a hard time competing with the Gateway's versatility that comes from an HDMI output and its upgrade options. We also expect more competitive small PCs to come out over the next few weeks as the holiday buying season continues.

Even if the standard Mac Minis do compete well on performance, the server iteration of the Mac Mini is more interesting, and we credit Apple for listening to a specialized portion of the Mac Mini's current user base. For $999, Apple will now sell you a Mac Mini that essentially mirrors the new $799 model, except that instead of OS X you get OS X Server, and the DVD burner has been replaced by a second hard drive, for 1TB of storage overall. The price might be more than the DIY crowd will tolerate, but any small workgroup environment that might benefit from an out-of-the-way traffic cop it can plug in and forget could very likely be interested in what the Mac Mini Server has to offer.

With luck, we'll get our hands on all three versions soon.