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Apple Homogenizes its Lineup with More iMac, Mac Mini

Apple pulled the wraps off a suite of new hardware today—all upgrades to its desktop computing line, with both the iMac and Mac Mini getting some modernization. Although what Apple is doing might be better labeled "homogenization."

Rumors of a Mac Mini refresh have been circulating for months, and with good reason: Apple last updated the diminutive machine in August 2007.

The machine hasn't had a physical tweak, which isn't surprising since the Mini's been clad in aluminum for ages—the recent MacBook "unibody" aluminum re-jig brought every computer Apple makes into the same design folder. Inside the new entry-level $599 machine sits a 2.0 GHz Core 2 Duo processor, 1GB of RAM, a 120GB hard drive and 8x superdrive and Nvidia GeForce 9400M graphics: The more expensive $799 model has twice as much memory and storage. That makes the internals of the Mini pretty much a copy of the new MacBooks—though the desktop machine sports the fast Firewire port for external drives that commenters missed on the notebook machines.

The iMac was also updated. It too has been wearing an aluminum suit for awhile, so the upgrades are internal only. There's just one 20-inch model now, and three 24-inch models with increasingly beefy specs. The 20-inch iMac runs a 2.66 GHz Core 2 Duo, with 2GB of RAM and a 320GB hard drive, and Nvidia GeForce 9400M. Meanwhile the top-end machine runs a 3.06 GHz CPU with 4GB of ram, a 1TB drive and GeForce GT130 graphics card with 512MB on-board RAM—the other two 24-inch machines occupy the middle ground in storage, memory, CPU speed and GPUs between these two options.

And what does this mean for Apple? It means the company is still offering just four main "consumer" computer options. Workhorse laptops: the MacBook and MacBook Pro. An ultraportable: the MacBook Air. A media-center/small installation desktop: the Mac Mini. A desktop machine: the iMac. But now all the machines follow the same design theme, they all run the same OS, they have common Intel CPU architectures and similar Nvidia GPUs. It's an exercise in homogeneity—with different price points to suit your particular computer power requirements. 

The company's also pushing the eco-aspects of the new machines—the new Mini is apparently "the most energy-efficient desktop in the world" as it consumes less than 13W when idle, and both Mini and iMacs meeting Energy Star 5.0 requirements (which aren't even in action yet) and avoiding brominated flame retardants and PVC inside and in cables.

Compared to the plethora of Eee PCs, each with a choice of OS, and even the expansive but confusing range of sweetly-designed Sony Vaios, Apple thinks what the consumer needs is eco-friendliness and consistent quality rather than needless hardware options—it's a production philosophy that should do well in the current economic climate.

[Apple Updates Consumer Desktop Line (press release)