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The Mighty iMac

August 9, 2010
By Dave Hecei,

There's a new iMac in town. Actually there are four new iMacs recently released from Apple. This is good news for Mac lovers who may have been worried with all the effort Apple has been putting into mobile computing. What with iPods, iPads, and the new iPhone 4, mobile is definitely on Apple's mind. Seeing shiny new iMacs proves that Apple is still a computer company.

On the outside the four new iMacs, that's two 21.5-inch and two 27-inch models, have not changed any. On the inside there have been a few changes, for the good of course. The iMac is still based on Intel processors, but gone is the Core 2 Duo. All four iMacs now use one of the Core i-series chips.

The two 21.5-inch iMacs and the base 27-inch model are outfitted with the Intel Core i3 processor. The base 21.5-inch runs at 3.06GHz and the other two run at 3.2GHz. The top-of-the-line 27-inch iMac has the Intel Core i5 processor running at 2.8GHz. This sounds slower but you must remember that the i5 is a quad-core processor and the i3 is just a dual-core.

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The Core i-series processors do have some nifty extra features. The i3 has Hyper Threading, which means that OS X thinks it has two more extra cores. The Core i5 processor has four cores inside, but it doesn't have Hyper Threading. It does, however, have something called Turbo Boost. This allows the processor to shut down some of the extra cores and speed up the active one. This can be a nice speed boost for software that is not optimized for multiple core computers.

All four iMacs now have discrete ATI video systems. No more nVidia GeForce 9400M integrated video on the lower end models. This is good news for those wanting faster graphics for their gaming and production software (3D, video, and even Photoshop). The base model has the Radeon HD 4670, while the mid and top models have the HD 5670 and HD 5750. Respectively, these cards have 256MB, 512MB, and 1GB of VRAM. It is really nice to see Apple putting more modern video processors in their computers, something the Mac has been sorely lagging behind.

The base iMac comes with 512GB of RAM and all others have 1GB. There is a slot-load dual-layer DVD burner, which Apple calls the SuperDrive, and an SD camera card slot, just below the DVD slot. Software wise, the iMac comes with OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard along with the iLife 09 media suite.

Other than these improvements, the iMacs are pretty much the same. Ports still include USB 2.0, Gigabit Ethernet, Firewire 800, Mini DisplayPort, and analog/digital audio in/out ports. Built-in features include iSight Web Cam, 802.11n WiFi, Bluetooth, and stereo speakers. Included in the box is a nice, but small, Bluetooth wireless keyboard and Magic Mouse.

The new iMacs use the same IPS color LCD screens, with LED backlighting. The 21.5-inch model shows a full HD resolution of 1920 by 1080. The 27-inch iMac shows an amazing 2560 by 1440. The 27-inch iMac can also be used as a display for another Mac, like a MacBook Pro, or a compatible video device, like a Blu-Ray player.

Another new twist in the 27-inch model is an additional space inside for another internal hard drive. Don't get too excited, there is not enough space for a full sized hard drive. What Apple has done is add hardware and space inside the 27-inch iMac for a 2.5-inch 256GB SSD hard drive. SSD stands for Solid State Device, or a drive with no moving parts, just memory chips. Supposedly this is something that has to be ordered when you purchase the iMac. It is not something that can be added later on, or so they say. If you buy an iMac off-the-shelf it does not have the cables and holder. Plus, the amount of work involved in upgrading a hard drive in an aluminum iMac is not for the faint of heart.

By installing OS X on an SSD drive the iMac will get a dramatic boost in performance. Boot times will be cut almost in half and other OS related functions will also become much faster. These drives are very limited in storage space so the 3.5-inch traditional type hard drive would then be used for data. This option does not come cheap though, the extra 256GB SSD drive adds another $750 to the price.

The iMac remains the mainstay of Apple desktop computers. The mini is the entry-level desktop and the Mac Pro is the 'Pro' level workstation. For most the mini is too low-end, but with a price of $699 it is the least expensive Mac. The Mac Pro is the super computer, available with four, eight, or coming soon 12 processor cores. For most, the Pro is too much computer with prices starting at $2500.

Starting at only $1199, the iMac is affordable as well as fast. It's also quite beautiful. The updated models offer only a slight performance boost, but the new iMacs are now more consistent with the latest Intel processor line, the core i-series, and fast ATI graphics systems.



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