The 24-inch iMac: Are We Missing Something?

September 7th, 2006

All right, I’ll confess. I’ve not used a the new, large-screen iMac, I haven’t even touched one, but I have a pretty good idea of the user experience, since I’ve worked on 23-inch and 24-inch LCD displays for several years. Since it’s a tad larger than the former, you can expect text to be a little more readable, especially in small sizes. It will also be supremely fast, as one expects of any computer equipped with Intel’s new Core 2 Duo chip.

The specs are pretty spot-on for the power user who doesn’t need lots of space inside for extra hard drives, a spare optical drive, four processors and all the rest. There’s even a FireWire 800 port, a critical extra if you need a speedy external drive for backups and perhaps video rendering. In fact, even gaming results appear to be decent according to Apple’s own benchmarks, although I suspect the dedicated gamers in our audience will want something better. On the other hand, some of you don’t believe Apple when it tells you how fast its computers run, so maybe you should just wait for the independent reviewers to have their say about performance.

I’m also pleased that Apple actually got the basic consumer version of the iMac down just below the magic $1,000 figure. Yes I am sure that the “nasty, noisy, negativists,” as my friend, Stanton Friendman, refers to skeptics, will tell us all that it’s still too expensive, that you can put together a comparable PC box with a 17-inch flat-panel display for $400 plus change.

But I’ve already dealt with that subject at length, as most of you know. Instead I have another priority this time, which is whether having only one truly upgradeable product line is the right decision for Apple. Yes, an all-in-one is a very convenient product for many of you. At the same time, what happens if you need an extra optical drive, a speedier graphics card, and all the rest of the things you can put inside a regular minitower, even if it doesn’t look as pretty?

I have no doubt that the 24-inch iMac is an awesome computer. I have little doubt it may even cannibalize sales from the Mac Pro, although I suppose a sale is a sale. However, Apple limits your choices severely if you require true expandability. The cheapest Mac Pro, if you pick the slowest processor and hard drive, is $2,124. Sure it packs quite a wallop in benchmark tests, but you still have to buy the display, unless you have one at hand of course.

Now imagine, just imagine, that the guts of the iMac were placed in a box with a slim form factor, with a discrete removable graphics card, plus enough room for one extra PCI Express card, and an extra hard drive, and sufficient memory slots to justify those 64-bit processors. Now imagine if this computer was priced as you’d expect the iMac to be priced without the monitor, say starting at $999 or thereabouts.

Yes, I’m returning to my old argument about the headless iMac, the computer I first envisioned several years ago, before the Mac mini debuted. However, the Mac mini, which is a chore to even open for a RAM upgrade, is closer in concept to a headless iBook. I think Apple needs to deliver something more.

Is there a real demand for such a beast? Well, those of you who have commented so far on the subject seem to indicate there is. Just look at all the orphaned monitors out there, for example, and certainly a business or educational institution would want to repurpose those things and hook them up to a band new box.

Naturally, you can’t ask Apple about the suitability of such a product and whether they intend to produce one. They don’t comment on such things. Or they will just dismiss the idea, even if the rollout is only weeks away.

But one you consider the huge, gray void that exists between the Mac mini and the Mac Pro, which cannot be filled economically or sensibly by an all-in-one solution, you wonder why Apple hasn’t entered that arena.

Today, they would expect you to just buy an iMac, and maybe take that extra monitor and use it to expand your desktop. I’d like to see Apple deliver another option. What do you think?

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36 Responses to “The 24-inch iMac: Are We Missing Something?”

  1. justme says:

    “What exactly does one need “expansion” slots for? We have a four Mac household and I do support for my nieces who have two ageing, but still working, iMacs.”


    With more and more *APPLE* OS functions, and software, being DEPENDENT on GPU performance… Is it really reasonable that only ONE Mac currently made offers GPU upgradability?

    Either GPU upgradeability should be added to one of the existing consumer Macs… or a mini Extreme, mimi Tower, Cube neo, type Mac should be offered with at least one open PCIe slot… 2 for SLI type cards would be great, but one would suit my needs just fine. Have Intel Integrated *spit* Graphics built-in, and offer BTO for better GPUs and future upgradability, for when iLife 08 requires a better GPU than a c.2006 1.5yo mini has.

    More and more, the limiting factor in the whole “User Experience” isn’t the CPU. It’s the GPU. (Dashboard? as one example in 10.4 that many were disappointed in how it behaved on their otherwise well equipped Macs..) Is it so hard to imagine that there will be some feature of 10.5, or a future version of iLife, that won’t run properly, or at all, on what amounts to the least powerful GPU in any Mac currently sold?

    Again. I’m just saying that if the GPU, rather than the CPU, is going to be such a limiting factor in the “User Experience”, that Apple should at least offer one consumer Mac with upgradeable graphics. One would think that the headless mini would be that Mac. Since it isn’t … a Cube neo, mini Extreme, mini Tower.. Well… *something* between the current offerings would be an ideal solution..

    I’d buy 3 of em…

    just my $0.02US

  2. Dana Sutton says:

    If I were buying my first Mac, I’d make a bee-line for this new 24″ iMac. But I already own a very nifty 23″ cinema monitor. Buying a MacPro would require me to pay for a second dual-core processor I don’t see any real need for (it would make a lot more sense to spend the same amount of money beefing up the memory). Heck, I don’t even need a new keyboard and mouse. I guess the smartest thing might be to hang on to my PowerMac for a couple or three years until Apple makes a MacMini that can seriously outperform it. You see the common denominator here: I don’t want to be forced to buy stuff I don’t need or want in order to get what I do need and want, but both the iMac and the MacPro require me to do just this. Am I some sort of oddball, or am I speaking for a large enough group of Mac users that we could be called “the rest of us”?

  3. George Berger says:

    I have a contrarian position. We have one of the last 20″ G4 iMacs made, and the Apple store loaded it with the max RAM (1Gig). We use an external Seagate hard drive for daily backup, and it’s a bootable drive. The beauty of the 20″ G4 iMac is the capability to position the screen almost anywhere you might want – – in, out, left right, up, down, all with vertical rotation. You’re not stuck with the “one size fits all” fixed position of the screens on the G5 and later iMacs. Also, with the iMac G4, I don’t have to sweat heat buildup.

    We’re just average users and don’t need the capability to either upgrade or to expand. I would suggest that for every individual who DOES require upgrade / expansion capability, that there are many more of us who do not. IMHO, Apple designed the iMac for home / family use, and not for the professional who needs everything he or she can cram into a Mac carcass for extensive graphic design and printing, CAD/CAM. Photoshop, Mathematica, magacolumn spread sheets, etc.

    I’d almost be willing to bet that the average iMac user probably would never find his or her way to The Mac Night Owl.

  4. RobInNZ says:

    Well, for starters, most tech-savvy PC I work with, and myself, cant stand the idea of All-In-One computers. The only model any of them would consider would be the MacPro, but given that these are horrendously priced compared to what you can build something similar for, so there is no way they would consider that option either.

    We want displays that can be upgraded seperately when required OR can be used to plug the laptop into when required. If there were a Video-In on the iMac so that the display was usable by another computer, then Im not losing my display when I go to do my next system upgrade.

    Where does that leave us. Hmmm, Mac Mini on the bottom-end, Mac Pro on the top end.

    I use Aperture on my present RevA G5 PowerMac for my photography. The Mac Mini ISNT a supported option, doesnt have any real form of upgradability, and doesnt have the grunt. The Mac Pro is way overkill in both performance and price for a casual home-user of highend applications.

    All the other models (iMac, laptops) have no ability to upgrade one of the most important pieces of the computer in terms of future-proofing, the GPU. GPU cant hack it for the next super-app from Apple? Tough! Throw it out and buy another over-priced mid-range machine which will still only have a mid-range GPU for the time. I can live with that in a laptop, but not a desktop. At least the 24″ has a 7600GT option, which is getting to be a card which isnt bottom of mid-range.

    And yes, in New Zealand, Macs ARE overpriced compared to any of the competition. I dont know if this is due to a distributer that has a huge markup, or whether the distributer doesnt get a particularly good price from Apple. I DO know the pricing given to retailers by the distributer and there certainly isnt much fat there between the RRP and the buy-price from the distributer.

  5. Carlos says:

    The headless iMac is not going to happen for some time to come. But what they could do now is allow the iMacs monitor to be used by another computer by using an adapter. The problem with buying the 24in iMac is that you have to give up the monitor when you upgrade. If they built the iMac with a kvm switch, more people would buy it and use it alongside their regular computers. They could even charge a bit more for that privilege, I am sure most would buy it for the extra feeling of security it would give.

  6. Jorge says:

    IA am a long-time pc user andd recent “switcher” . Supporting macs and pc in the publishing field. I love my 20″ imac, but would love upgradable video and a hdmi/dvi/composite/svideo in. , I’m not thinking of processing the data, I can do that with a capture card, I just want to use the monitor as either a display for my game consol, other pc or external video ipod. if I could ude the imac as a 24″ lcs display, I would love it. I am disabled and have very little desk space, so my other monitor sits unused. It would also be great to use the imac display as a docking station for my macbook, without using the macbook as just an external hd.

    is this even possible? Powermaxx, how about a third-party adapter?
    being able to exchange the internal hd would be nice, but external drives work fine ( too many plugs everywhere)


  7. Point taken about the GPU upgrade. What else do people actually add or upgrade? Dashboard runs well enough on my old 500MHz Pismo, but I could see more serious graphics or gaming types wishing for better drawing performance.

  8. Bill says:

    No one has yet posted a reasonable business case, from Apple’s point of view, to build another Mac model.

    The headless iMac everyone’s talking about here would significantly cannibalize iMac and Mini sales.

    Considering how much Apple charges for a screen in the iMac they’re enjoying some significant margins in that product.

    I don’t see why they would accept lower margins for a “Mac Midi”.

    Apple knows they can’t “make it up on volume”

    Pick the base (now Core Duo) Mini and boot off a fast external hard drive.

    That’s as close as you’re ever going to get to headless iMac as long as Steve Jobs is calling the shots.

  9. Marc says:

    Of course a 24-inch iMac really doesn’t make much sense for the average, highly cost-conscious utilitarian computer user. Remember, Mac’s are all about image, and increasingly they are about performance. And that’s cool with me. The new iMacs in general and the 24-incher in particular are simply a unique experience in terms of form factor and OS “styling”. Okay, okay… they’re probably just shoving out new boxes in order to tweak the hardware and make an early bid for end of year holiday dollars. And I’m okay with that as well. I run a network of just over 130 mid-range Dells. They’re cool for what they do. But to compute on a 24-inch Mac is simply productivity and computing fun at its best. Sure they are “still” a bit more expensive (generally speaking) but who cares. When you “invest” in an Apple computing product you shouldn’t analyze that purchase along side your typical Dell or lump it in the matrix of white-box drone machine found in the bargan basement of mass computer hardware vendors (or weekend circular). Rather, its about a cultural phenomenon that’s a little weird and sometimes capricious, but alway high on style and if you let youself go, they can really be a really fun experience. The new iMac specs don’t offer much dazzle, nor are these machines necessarily “better” that Windows-Runners, rather they are a departure from the status quo. Bottom line, no worries. If you’ve got the cash, go get the slickest Mac you can afford and enjoy the experience, bumps and all! I’m just waiting for a 30-inch box to hit the street! (don’t tell my wife!)

  10. Lee says:

    The question about upgradeability is a bit of a paradigm shift for many people. When I (many many years ago) was a windows user we used to upgrade our PC all the time. Back then when I had more time on my hands I used to even enjoy it. I’d guess that many PC users upgrade their machines in some way at least once a year. I’ve had my PowerBook for 3 years now and it’s just reaching the end of the road as my main machine as it’s just not powerful enough. However that’s 3 years without spending any money on upgrades, I’ve probably saved maybe $200 a year? So when I’m looking at buying a new Mac soon, I’ll happily pay that bit extra and not spend days worrying about upgradeability.

  11. Neil says:

    The biggest question I’d like answering is which processor should I buy with the 24″ iMac? A late question as I’ve already ordered one with upgraded graphics, HDD and memory … but should I also have upgraded the processor from the standard to a 2.33GHz? I only use iLife apps so I’m no power user, but would I see a marked difference with a better processor; and would it have comanded a better resale value in 2 years time? HELP!!!

  12. The biggest question I’d like answering is which processor should I buy with the 24″ iMac? A late question as I’ve already ordered one with upgraded graphics, HDD and memory … but should I also have upgraded the processor from the standard to a 2.33GHz? I only use iLife apps so I’m no power user, but would I see a marked difference with a better processor; and would it have comanded a better resale value in 2 years time? HELP!!!


    I’m sure you’ll have answers on the site, but my own is that, if you spent for all the rest, another 5-10% performance improvement might be worth a little more. But in the end, it won’t be that noticeable to you, and shouldn’t meaningfully impact resale value. In two/three years, they’ll be two/three times faster anyway.


  13. Aaron says:

    if you look at the Competion [Dell] go to there website and see the end less choices! given that Apple needs to fill a few gaps in the product line! If it wants to get more of PC crowd! after all they are use to seeing many choices.

  14. -hh says:

    if you look at the Competion [Dell] go to there website and see the end less choices! given that Apple needs to fill a few gaps in the product line! If it wants to get more of PC crowd! after all they are use to seeing many choices.

    Try going to and find RAM for a Compaq Presario … too many choices!

    The real bottom line is that Apple still has less than 10% of the market. As such, they can’t afford to kill themselves by having a million models to support – – that almost killed them last time.

    All in all, I think that 66% of the whining about ‘upgradable’ Macs would disappear in 1.3 nanoseconds if the Mac Pro tower only cost $999.

    And the other 33% would vanish if the mini were not-quite-so-mini and ran off a standard 3.5″ drive and only cost $299.

    Insofar as the 24″ iMac, I think it is targeted partially at the urban apartment dweller, who lacks the elbow room to not have a desire a convergence of TV and computer. The other target is the Manager who wants a wall-hanger in his office for desksides, but politically, can’t go as big as the big display that’s down in the conference room.


  15. Jeff Foster says:

    you didn’t happen to see this did you?

    …ofcourse it’s just a (fake) rumor, but it’s exactly what i want (and you too apparently)

    i must admit, though, that my office just got a 20″ iMac, and i’m just about sold. it really is a solid machine. As much as i crave expandibility, which is a lot, i think i might just but an iMac now and wait until a consumer tower is released, or until i can afford a MacPro.

    My one HUGE complaint is that once the internals in my iMac are outdated and old, even a perfectly working 20″ screen must be sacrificed. If there were a DVI input on the iMac, and a “Monitor only” mode, i’d be sold. That way when it comes time to upgrade, no matter what i choose to buy, i can use my old iMac LCD to expand my desktop.
    Without that it seems like such a waste to buy a 20″ screen who’s fate is already sealed.

  16. bob smith says:

    This is now 2008 and I am still waiting for this so called headless mac…aka mac nano…aka mac..aka something

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