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Will This Be the Brains Behind the New Mac Mini?

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Apple’s (s aapl) current chipset bedfellow, NVIDIA (s nvda), has just announced that the first iteration of its upcoming Ion platform will come in desktop form, and should be expected this upcoming Spring.

The new architecture integrates Intel (s intc) Atom processors with the NVIDIA GeForce 9400M integrated graphics card, making it a good candidate for netbooks, as many suspected the chipset’s inaugural device would likely be. Instead, the graphics card maker says the new desktop will be a “very small and affordable,” low-power consumption model.

While the demo they showed off was a tiny, black model, they say it will bear no resemblance to the actual, purchasable production model to arrive later this year. One candidate for the maker of that upcoming device? Apple, whose Mac mini seems to be languishing in neglect, with specs that are quickly becoming less and less appealing to the improvement-hungry tech crowd.

A Mac mini with an Intel Atom processor might not seem like a step in the right direction for those who were hoping for bump in processor power from the existing Intel Core 2 Duo processor, but according to NVIDIA’s accounts of the performance capabilities of the Ion platform, there might not be that many drawbacks for going with the lower-powered chip. For instance, the 9400M card should be able to handle 1080p video without issues, and even play many current video games at acceptable frame rates, which is not something that can be said for the current Mac mini models.

The idea of an Ion-based Mac mini is backed up by AppleInsider’s claims, based on investigations of code and other sources, that the next generation of Apple’s compact desktop will indeed be based on an NVIDIA chipset. Electronista points out, though, that Apple would likely shy away from a sub-$500 desktop, especially since it might cannibalize Apple TV sales.

That said, Apple may move to collapse, rather than expand their product line, releasing a Mac mini with Apple TV features built in, and splitting the difference between the two price points. Their recent survey of what Apple users would like out of Apple TV indicates that they are at least thinking about revamping the line, and this kind of product streamlining makes good fiscal sense in a troubled economy.

It’s about time for some real shakeups in Apple’s offerings, and this is an area where potential and actual growth has been demonstrated (Apple TV sales tripled last year). Plus, it would offer an additional product option for the top end of consumers, who already have an Apple notebook and desktop, and are looking for an HTPC, and it would appeal to entry level users who might otherwise seek out an Eee Box as an affordable alternative to the current Mac mini.

5 Responses to “Will This Be the Brains Behind the New Mac Mini?”

  1. It’s nice to see how we can relate cars to other products in life. I am a mini fan myself. I have two original Classic minis (one is a Cooper S MkII and one is Custom convertible with suicide doors and lowered windscreen, and I still enjoy driving them when I have the time. Here is a good mini related site to check out = it’s an Australian directory web site: Lots of great goodies and ideas there, so check it out!
    Cheers Alex

  2. I have to agree with Lightfoot. I don’t see the Atom processor as a good change for the Mac mini but it does make sense for the Apple TV. Not sure why this rumor keeps getting recycled but it make next to no sense to me.

  3. Lightfoot

    I don’t see this as a good replacement for the current mini. The video card would be the only big upgrade, and I expect they would leverage that to claim it was an improvement on the current 2007 mini.

    Whatever desktop Apple releases for the sub-$999 range should be at least as good as the white Macbook, which only costs $200 more than the best mini, has much better specs, and is a laptop.

    I don’t see any Atom processor-based computer being worth $799.