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Apple launches new Intel Mac Minis, iPod Hi-Fi

Mac maker introduces two new Minis with Intel chips and a speaker system that CEO Steve Jobs says is of home stereo quality.

CUPERTINO, Calif.--Apple Computer on Tuesday introduced its third Intel-based Mac, a revamped version of its petite Mac Mini.

The new Mac Mini will be available, starting immediately, in two models. The low-end model sells for $599 and comes with a 1.5GHz Intel Solo single-core chip, a 60GB hard drive and a combo drive that can play DVDs and burn CDs.

Photos: Apple's Intel Mini, iPod Hi-Fi

The higher-end version will sell for $799. It comes with a dual-core 1.67GHz Core Duo processor, an 80GB hard drive and a SuperDrive that burns CDs and DVDs.

Both models come with 512MB of memory, Gigabit Ethernet networking, FireWire ports and four USB ports.

"We think this is going to be a strong product for us," CEO Steve Jobs said at a special event at company headquarters here.

Apple also unveiled the "home stereo quality" iPod Hi-Fi, which Jobs said is of higher quality than the speakers available today. The large speaker system comes with an iPod dock built-in, as well as an auxiliary port to connect an iPod Shuffle or other device.

"It's really a home stereo reinvented," Jobs said. "It's home stereo reinvented for the iPod age."

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Video: Apple's new Mac Mini
At Apple headquarters, CEO Steve Jobs shows off the new Intel-powered Mac Mini to a group of reporters.

The iPod Hi-Fi will sell for $349 and goes on sale on Tuesday. The device can plug directly into the wall or run with six "D" batteries.

Jobs also introduced Apple-branded leather cases for the video iPod and iPod Nano. The cases will sell for $99 and will be available in mid-March.

The new Mac Mini does move Apple a step closer to offering a living-room PC similar to a Windows Media Center. The new computer is loaded with the company's "Front Row" multimedia navigation system, which allows viewers to use a remote control to browse and play music and video files, and the company showed its capabilities connected to a flat-screen Sony TV.

But Mini still lacks built-in abilities to record video from a television, which would turn it into a natural TiVo competitor, or a simple way to hook into a cable or satellite TV system. Analysts said that neither the industry overall nor consumer expectations have settled on a mainstream blend of computer and TV functions.

"This has been a long transformation, having consumer electronics devices and PC devices in the house play well together," said IDC analyst Susan Kevorkian.
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Video: The iPod goes hi-fi
Steve Jobs introduces the "home stereo quality" iPod Hi-Fi speaker system, which will sell for $349.

Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster said in a research note that Tuesday's releases were likely to be strong products, but were unlikely to materially affect Apple's growth. Future versions of the Mac Mini would likely be more specifically designed as home media hubs, he predicted.

Apple confirmed last week that it planned to introduce some "fun new products" on Tuesday but declined to say more at the time about what those offerings might be.

Once details of the mystery products became public, CNET News.com readers were quick to respond. Some said they were perfectly happy with the news, and others said the announcements were "boring" and fell short of expectations.

"Too bad Apple doesn't come out with a universal gaming platform that works with PlayStation, Game Boy and Xbox," wrote reader Mark Walinske. "Now that would be Apple's style...and definitely be FUN."

A reader who goes by the name Markdotnet lamented: "Yet another in a long string of disappointments from our friends at Cupertino. Steve Jobs is a master at making something from nothing. Somehow, I just knew this one would be no big deal."

But other readers pointed out that Apple usually saves its biggest-ticket products roll-outs for trade shows and chided other product watchers for letting their visions get too grandiose.

"Wow, what's with everybody?" Roberto Felgueiras asked fellow readers posting on CNET News.com's Talkback boards. "Apple never promised anything other than new fun products, and that's what they delivered."

Added Dexter Sampson, "I think the Mac Mini was long past due for an upgrade. The boombox is a nice added touch and thank goodness for a nice-looking leather iPod case that doesn't look like it was sold at a swap meet."

At $599 and $799, the new Mac Minis do add a bump to the machine's price tag, however. The previous, non-Intel versions, were priced between $499 and $699.

CNET News.com's John Borland and Leslie Katz contributed to this report.

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