This week, Apple finally announced a long-awaited upgrade to the Mac mini product line.

If you're an Apple watcher, you may recall that at MacWorld earlier this year, anticipation was high that Apple would be announcing an update to the Mac mini. The mini had been unchanged for almost two years, so consensus was that it was overdue. The web was rife with speculations, rumors, and predictions with everyone positive that a new Mac mini would be announced. But... nope, didn't happen.

As a big fan of the mini, I found this discouraging. But this week, with only moderate fanfare, Apple announced upgrades to several of their Macintosh product line, including the iMac, the Mac Pro, and the Mac mini.

Apple claims that the new Mac mini is "the world's most energy-efficient desktop computer". This is good to know, because this makes the mini even more appropriate for a purpose near and dear to my heart: using it as a home server. Since servers generally are left powered on 24/7/365, they need to be as efficient as possible when it comes to power consumption and energy management. According to Wired (which has referred to the mini as "Apple's red-headed stepchild", given the way Apple still doesn't seem to know how it should be marketed), 22% of Mac mini owners are using the box as some kind of home server (either a specialized media server or a general purpose server) and another 18% use it as part of their home theater system. I'll be talking more about how you can use the Mac mini as a home server, and why you would want to have a home server in the first place, in an upcoming blog post (or three...).

So, looking back at all the speculation in January, how close were all the Mac-psychic-wannabes in predicting what the new mini would be like, even if they were two months off on the announcement date?

The post on Wired's GadgetLab blog listed numerous items they were "sure" would be part of the new mini. They were wrong (as were most people) about the use of aluminum "unibody construction" as we saw in the latest MacBooks. They were wrong about the price dropping (it stayed the same). But they were correct in saying that "some internal parts will be PVC-free" and that Apple would "tout this as the greenest Mac ever". They were also correct about the use of the NVIDIA GeForce graphics card, except that this is true for all versions of the new mini, not just the higher-end configurations. But the difference between the high- and low-end configurations turns out not to be processor speed, but the size of the internal hard drive (starting at 120GB for the low-end going up to 320GB) and the amount of memory (starting at 1GB RAM for the low-end, with 2GB for the high-end, going up to 4GB as an option for both configurations). The low-end configuration, however, now comes with a double layer SuperDrive (as opposed to the combo drive which did not write DVDs at all), making it a much more viable option. There seems to be enough flexibility in configuration options for you to make your own choices balancing processor speed, hard disk size, and memory, according to your own needs.

As always with Apple-watching, there were new rumours presaging these recent announcements. Just a couple of weeks ago, a video surfaced purportedly showing the soon-to-be-released new Mac mini. In the spirit of "fool me once... fool me twice", cries of "Photoshopped" rang out, but on close examination now, it sure looks like the new mini.