Among the letdowns for Apple faithful at this month's Macworld show was the lack of a new Mac Mini model -- despite weeks of rumors, gossip and even images floating around the Web of what many Mac fans believed to be a case for a new Mini.
That setback hasn't stopped the rumor mill from starting up once again. And now, it's churning out more detail. Tom's Hardware, the popular hobbyist Web site, cited an nVidia partner in a report that says Apple was the first PC manufacturer to receive samples of nVidia's Ion graphics processor, ostensibly for use in an Intel Atom-powered Mac Mini.
This would confirm a report on MacRumors that the Mac Mini and iMac would support the new GPU from nVidia (NASDAQ: NVDA). That move would make sense, since Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) is already using the same GPU core in its new MacBook/MacBook Pro notebooks.
If accurate, the news would also come as a win for a third party: Intel. That's because thus far, Atom has been used primarily in netbooks, low-cost, ultra-portable notebooks that have created a thriving new market. Mac Mini would be Atom's first desktop win.
In addition to a boost for Intel, the news would be the first design win for nVidia's Ion as well.
To some observers, the rumors seem likely. The MacBook and MacBook Pro unibody notebooks -- that is, they're constructed using single-piece cases -- use nVidia's 9400M GPU for graphics. The Ion is based on the 9400M chip but designed for ultra-low power devices like netbooks.
According to that line of thinking, Apple would simply continue with the 9400M if a new Mac Mini is going to use a regular Intel CPU. But by using an Ion processor, Apple is signaling that the Mini is going the Atom route.
All parties involved -- Apple, nVidia and Intel -- declined to comment on rumors and speculation, as is their standard operating procedure.
Would Apple do low-cost?
But is Apple likely to adopt the Atom for its low-end desktop machine?
"It gives them a configuration that would be very inexpensive and they could be very aggressive on the price point," Van Baker, an analyst with Gartner, told InternetNews.com. "In this economy, it doesn't hurt to have a low-cost product in the market. It could be Apple's way to having a really inexpensive PC in the market," he added.
However, switching to Atom for the Mac Mini may not be without its drawbacks, Baker added.