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Race is on to accessorize Mac Mini

Will Mini owners be as nuts for companion gear as iPod users have proven to be? Photos: Dressing up the Mini

As initial interest in Apple Computer's new Mac Mini surges, accessory makers are rushing to come up with a host of add-ons to the petite desktop PC.

Accessorizing the Macintosh is a long-held tradition in the Apple market, and it's one that has flourished with the iPod. With little advance notice, companies hurry out with a line of gear, hoping to make a bundle before the next new thing, or a change in color schemes, renders their products out of date.

The $499 Mac Mini is an ideal candidate for companion products. With so little on the inside, a lot of possibilities exist for beefing up the machine, including external hard drives and TV tuners.

Among the first out of the gate with Mini-specific products is a tiny San Carlos, Calif.-based company called Plasticsmith. On Monday, it announced three stands for the computer.

Kathi Beerbohm, vice president of the three-person company, said the idea came from her son, a college student and long-time Mac user. In the past, Plasticsmith has made products that were sold by other companies. The company grabbed one of the first Mac Minis when they went on sale Jan. 22 and quickly got its designs into production.

"This is really our only proprietary thing," Beerbohm said in an interview. "It's kind of exciting to have our own products."

The company's Mac Mini products include the Grandstand, a monitor stand that comes in clear plastic and steel and sits above the Mini to hold the display; the Mini Tower, a stand that positions the Mini vertically on its side; and the Mini Skirt (groans understandable), a plastic pedestal that raises the Mac Mini slightly from a desk surface. The products range in price from $20 to $40.

Another popular add-on to the Mac Mini is the KVM switch, which has actually been around for some time. KVM, which stands for Keyboard Video and Mouse, allows a computer owner to use a single keyboard, pointing device and monitor with two PCs. Because the Mac Mini doesn't come with its own set of those accessories, users might want to split time with an existing PC.

Iogear, for example, has a page on its Web site devoted to KVM switches, external hard drives and other products for the Mac Mini.

"If you are Mac Mini-minded, you've come to the right place," Iogear says on its site.

The Mini's small size is already inspiring a variety of uses beyond the entry-level PC market that Apple has discussed. One company, for example, plans to install Mac Minis into automobiles.

Another talked-about use for the Mini is as a living room media-oriented PC. However, because neither the Mac Mini nor any other Mac has built-in TV tuning abilities, one needs an add-on such as the EyeTV series of products from Elgato Systems.