October 23rd was mostly the iPad mini's coming out party; an event with one major headliner. But that newborn product didn't enter Apple's ecosystem alone. Amidst the flurry of announcements, there was one other wee hardware relative on hand ready to join in on the launch festivities: a refreshed 2012 Mac mini. Addressing criticisms of last year's model, Apple added USB 3.0 ports, upgraded to third-generation Ivy Bridge Core processors and boosted the standard RAM allotment to 4GB (you can configure it with up to 16 gigs). Perhaps most interestingly, it's now offering a hybrid storage option, the so-called FusionDrive, which combines flash memory with a SATA HDD.
One quirk still remains, though: the product's demographic leanings. Just who is the Mac mini for? Is it the go-anywhere, portable desktop best integrated in yachts, airports, automobiles and living rooms? Or, with a starting price of $599, is it the perfect, low-cost migration assistant (pun intended) for consumers making the switch from a Windows desktop? Follow on to see which hat this not-quite-an-HTPC wears best.
Gallery: Mac mini review (2012)