January 27, 2005 4:00 AM PST

Will Mac Mini spur petite-PC revolution?

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using standard parts. A tinier machine that uses a widely available motherboard, a 3.5-inch hard drive and a full-size 5.25-inch optical drive can be offered for a lower price compared with a standard desktop, they said.

HP found that pricing its small PCs even as little as $50 more than standard machines turned buyers off, Anderson said.

Miniature PCs must also leave out certain things, such as a second optical drive, a floppy drive or the absolute fastest processor. Instead, they might come with a combination CD-burner/DVD drive, memory card readers and midrange processors, making them capable of easily performing tasks such as Internet access or showing video.

Still, PC makers should also be careful to strike the right balance between performance and size, Anderson said. Building in 120GB, 160GB or higher capacity drives, for example, will mean miniature PCs able to match larger machines in storing large numbers of MP3 files or even digital photos.

"We're continuously looking at small form factor (desktops) as a possibility," said Gary Elsasser, vice president of product development at Gateway. But, as a PC maker, "you've got to look at the marketplace and decide what's going to drive the highest amount of volume...and what's going to meet customers' needs. It takes time for customers' perceptions to change, and I don't think (they're) going to change anytime in the immediate future."

Changing consumer taste will amount to a monumental task for the tiny Mini. To date, the vast majority of consumers purchasing Windows desktops have shown little desire for anything other than a standard mini tower. Even stylish, all-in-one machines such as the iMac and the Gateway Profile have sold in small numbers compared with the tens of millions of standard desktops purchased by consumers annually.

But Apple has paved the way before. Take the company's iPod music player, which has changed the way many people listen to music. Although it has yet to be determined whether the Mini will be the product that turns around the entire desktop computer market, the machine has arrived at what could be an opportune time.

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