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Mac Mini suits up with MacBook silicon

Apple has standardized on specific Intel-Nvidia silicon across its low-end desktop and laptops.

Apple has standardized on low-end but reasonably snappy Intel-Nvidia technology for the redesigned Mac Mini released Tuesday and recently rolled-out 13-inch MacBook Pro.

While the Nvidia chip in the new Mac Mini is still low-end, it's considerably faster at certain tasks than the Nvidia chip it replaced. Apple

In short, both the 13-inch MacBook Pro and Mac Mini offer Intel Core 2 Duo 2.4GHz or 2.66GHz processors and an Nvidia GeForce 320M graphics chip. Moreover, this standard silicon is only a stone's throw from the white MacBook, which comes with the same graphics but does not offer the higher-end 2.66GHz Intel processor.

As spelled out by CNET's Rich Brown in his review of the new Mac Mini, performance is good enough. Comparing it to the compact Gateway SX2840-01 desktop, the Gateway's 2.93GHz Core i3 processor does outpace the Core 2 Duo though "in practical terms that performance difference likely won't mean much to those shopping for a system in this price range," he writes.

The MacBook, 13-inch MacBook Pro, and Mac Mini Apple, however, are more about Nvidia than Intel: Intel's Core 2 Duo silicon is pretty much the same (aside from the requisite speed upgrade) as that in the previous Mac Mini.

The Nvidia graphics, on the other hand, got a more distinct upgrade. The newer Nvidia GeForce 320M chipset has 48 processing cores versus 16 cores in the older GeForce 9400M chipset used in the previous-generation Mac Mini (and MacBooks). Though that doesn't necessarily qualify it for demanding game duty, the 320M does provide about twice the performance of the previous 9400M and better transcoding--the latter referring to the chip's ability to convert file formats on the fly.

And CNET's Brown says the one of the most important requirements for buyers of the Mac Mini is HD video performance, which the Mac Mini handles with aplomb, thanks, in part, to Nvidia's new chip.

For Apple, the secret sauce is more of a financial brew than a technical concoction: all of this low-cost silicon allows it to make money while giving consumers decent performance, even without Intel's newest Core i series chips.