Looks like the rumors were true. This morning Apple updated both the iMac and the Mac Mini. The Mac Mini in particular was long overdue for a refresh, having relied on the same specs since August 2007.
The updated Mac Mini has new default configurations, although the prices remain the same, at $599 for the low-end model and $799 for the step-up version. The $599 system gets a new 2GHz Core 2 Duo processor, the same 1GB of RAM, and a larger 120GB hard drive. The $799 model also retains its 2GB of RAM and the same 2.0GHz Core 2 Duo chip, but with a larger 320GB hard drive.
An Nvidia MCP79 chipset drives both new Mac Minis, in line with the MacBook Pro which came out with Nvidia circuitry just a few weeks ago, but minus the second 9600M GPU. That means each Mac Mini has an Nvidia GeForce 9400M graphics chip driving its display, which improves the Mac Mini's outlook for video and photo editing and to a certain extent gaming. We found the MacBook Pro with the 9400M chip was at capable of at least playable frame rates in Quake IV.
With the specs also come new ports on the rear of the Mac Mini, and you get the same inputs and outputs at either price level. That means five USB 2.0 ports, Gigabit Ethernet, and upgrades to FireWire 800 as well as Mini DVI and Mini DisplayPort for monitor connections. Mini DisplayPort is for now only a feature of Apple systems and monitors, but that could grow as Apple has also offered the spec to VESA for incorporation into its official DisplayPort standard.
We don't have a Mac Mini on hand to test (yet), but we have a few questions regarding its bang for the buck. Comparing raw hardware with the $480 Vista-based Acer Aspire X1700, the Mac comes up short on core processor clock speed (2.4GHz vs. 2.0GHz), RAM allotment (4GB vs. 1GB), and especially hard-drive size (640GB vs. 120GB). The Acer lacks the Mac Mini's wireless networking, and Bluetooth, but instead of DisplayPort and FireWire 800 it gets you HDMI and eSATA jacks--essentially a wash, if not an outright Acer win for eSATA's faster data throughput.
We'd agree that the Mac Mini has a more pleasing design than any of its Windows competitors, and you may prefer Apple's OS X to Vista, in which case your decision is already made. We're less sure about the new Mac Mini's value proposition, which was a challenge for earlier models. Hopefully we can run one through the lab soon.