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Apple details Mini release

The $499-$599 Macs are aimed beyond the diehard crowd to the mainstream user.

SAN FRANCISCO--Apple Computer confirmed the upcoming release of a $499 computer aimed at increasing its audience beyond the Mac faithful.

Apple chief Steve Jobs announced the Mac Mini on Tuesday at the Macworld trade show. There are two versions of the Mini--both without keyboards, monitors or mice--that will be available starting Jan. 22 for $499 and $599.

"This is the most affordable Mac ever," Jobs said. "People who are thinking of switching will have no more excuses."

The white box resembles a thick notebook computer--measuring 6.5 inches wide and 2 inches thick--and includes a slot loading combination DVD- and CD-ROM drive, 256MB of memory, 32MB of video memory, and a series of ports (including a FireWire port, two USB ports, DVI output and VGA output).

The $499 Mac Mini comes with a 1.25GHz PowerPC G4 processor and a 40GB hard drive, while the $599 Mac Mini comes with a 1.42GHz processor and an 80GB hard drive.

Both models come with wireless options, such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and use version 10.3 of the Mac OS X operating system.

Beyond price points and features, the Mac Mini's case may open the most doors for Apple, according to NPD Techworld analyst Stephen Baker.

"After a while, we'll likely see unique uses for the Mac Mini, given its form factor," Baker said. "It's almost the size of a notebook computer, so you can carry it around easily, and with its array of ports, you'll be able to plug it into such devices as TVs. The form factor gives it a lot of potential."

Mac loyalists were confident the Mac Mini would bring Apple computing to a mass-market audience increasingly interested in Apple products because of the iPod.

"This is a way of seducing those people into using a Mac-based computer," Raymond Howard, a San Francisco property manager, said from the show floor. "It'll be the entry point for a lot of people who purchased iPods and are thinking about using them with a Mac."

Eric Case, a blogger support technician at search giant Google, agreed the Mini would be Apple's vehicle to convert the computing masses. "I think it's brilliant," he said. "If you're using a (Windows PC), you've already got the monitor, mouse and keyboard. $499 is a great price point to turn those into a Mac experience."

CNET News.com's David Becker contributed to this report.