Rumored Mac Mini: I Don’t Think It’s Fake

macminiSeems nearly everybody believes the rumored Mac mini is fake. At least, that’s what I see in most of the comments to the published rumors.

Predicting what Apple (s aapl) will do next is nearly impossible, and I usually don’t bother going there. But today, what the heck. I think these rumors are valid. My issue with a lot of the comments saying “Fake!” are that they don’t pass any reasonable test I apply to them.

No New Form Factor

A lot of people seem to think this can’t be the new mini because it’s been so long since it was updated it needs to be a new design. Some even speculate it coming in black or white, or at least with a new (black) plastic top. They all seem to agree it should be smaller.

The mini, at only 6.5″ square and 2″ high, in silver, is still a beautiful machine if you ask me. How much smaller can it be made? There are thermal considerations, and I don’t think it can shrink much further and still run a decent-speed modern processor. Sure, Apple TV is thinner (though also wider and deeper), but it runs a processor that’d choke on the general purpose computing expected of a “real” Mac.

And, yes, I know processors run cooler now than when the mini first appeared, but rather than take advantage of that by making the mini smaller, Apple would prefer (rightfully so, in my opinion) to simply run more powerful processors instead. In this case, it’s also likely they’re adding much better graphics. Indeed, a question I have is if they’ll “clock down” the 9400M graphics in this thing like they did for the MacBook Air.

Too Many USB Ports

Five USB ports? The iMac doesn’t have that many, and the argument goes that Apple would not allow that many on a Mac.

Setting aside that the Mac Pro has that many, this makes sense to me anyway. Comparisons to the iMac don’t. While the iMacs only have three, Apple knows your keyboard on that system is a two-port USB hub. With the mini, however, you bring your own keyboard, so Apple can make no such assumption. It makes sense to put extra on. They had four before, but perhaps have more room (or more thermal “breathing room”) so adding another was not that big of a deal.

Two Video Ports? No Way.

This one is trickier, in that having two video ports seems odd. I wonder if they could both be used at the same time (i.e., will there be dual monitor support?). It wouldn’t surprise me if it was only one port or the other.

I suspect this is a case where they included mini-DVI because it’s well-known and supported; for someone buying a budget machine they shouldn’t have to fish around for something that uses the “new” mini-Display Port. However, they included Display Port because it’s the direction Apple’s moving in, and there was no sense leaving an upgraded mini out of the loop.

FireWire 800

They left FireWire out of the MacBook, it can’t be on the mini!

Really? Why not? Being a laptop, more choices had to be made on the unibody MacBook than the mini. I mean, the MacBook doesn’t sport five USB ports, either.

From a cost perspective, since I suspect Apple has long since recovered the cost of developing FireWire years ago, an 800 port is likely similar to the 400 port. Since 800 can also run 400, it made sense to use it.

Why didn’t they drop FW completely? Because, despite the small size, the mini is still a desktop system and they have more room to work with. Yet another argument for not making it smaller.

Still, the above being said, I admit this tends to emphasize the MacBook as the “odd man out” in Apple’s lineup. I use FW only for my 8-year old video camera, and am moving to a USB model when I get a new one. I don’t think the MacBook or the overwhelming majority of its target market was hurt by the lack of FireWire, but I’m not sure the mini would be either.

Summary

To me, this seems like an expected and reasonable upgrade to the mini. The only surprises, in my opinion, are the existence of mini-DVI (we knew Display Port was coming) and the retention of FireWire. But those are the “good” kind of surprises. I’ll take those.

A better surprise would be a cost reduction. I know Apple typically keeps prices the same when upgrading, choosing instead to let the added value speak for itself. I actually agree with that, but that’s because I feel their products — for what you get — are usually pretty well priced.

Not so for the mini. I believe the low-end mini at $599 is simply too much, and the above upgrades don’t change that. They simply make it more modern (long overdue) but its value is still questionable. Apple should lower the price on both models.

And just to be clear, I’m not suggesting they lower the price because of the economy, I’m suggesting it because, at the dog-eat-dog low end, the mini does not compete very well.