Entry-level PCs are cheaper than ever these days, but don't tell Apple. The company has refreshed the Mac mini with a slimmer chassis and quicker components, taking the opportunity to enact another price hike. You're now expected to pay at least $699 for Apple's cheapest Mac, up from $599 for last year's model and $499 for the original PowerPC iteration of five years ago.
Inside the new unibody aluminum enclosure, which has a thinner but wider and deeper cuboid shape than its predecessor, Apple packs a 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo processor, a GeForce 320M integrated graphics chipset, 2GB of RAM, a 320GB mechanical hard drive, and a slot-loading DVD burner. That's it—still no keyboard, mouse, or display. That's not much of a step up over the $599, late-2009 Mac mini, which had a 2.26GHz Core 2 Duo, GeForce 9400M graphics, and 160GB of storage.
Apple's PR machine nevertheless boasts about the new system's "powerhouse" graphics performance, claiming doubled frame rates in Quake 4 and Doom 3. The money shot shows a Mac mini hooked up to the $899 24" Cinema Display and running Valve's Team Fortress 2. Total cost with the pictured Apple wireless keyboard and Magic Mouse: $1,736. That's terrible value even by Apple standards, since a 27" iMac with better graphics and the same peripherals can be had for $1,699.
To Apple's credit, the 2010 Mac mini does have a couple of useful additions: an SD card slot and an HDMI output. Perhaps that will please Macolytes who thirst for an expensive home-theater PC... even with the Apple TV still selling for $229.
With its new pricing and barely improved specifications, the new Mac mini may have a hard time fulfilling its original purpose—letting PC users make the switch to OS X without spending an arm and a leg. Perhaps Apple realized it can move boatloads of inventory without going through all the trouble of trimming margins and capturing market share.