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  • 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. Lock says:

      After getting an iMac, it makes you wonder why you didnt get a laptop. The iMac is kind of like a giant laptop w/o battery, trackpad, and keyboard.

      Just make a cheaper version of XServe. It’s nice and small (flat). You can call it the “HiMac”, short for “headless iMac”.

    2. Sis says:

      Yes we are missing something. There are lot’s of mini PCs out there such as Shuttle.com Those computers are very popular. They are small, yet expandable. A return of the Cube is in order (an affordable one).

    3. Sonny says:

      No they don’t need any other products. Apple always leaves gaping holes like this in order to temp you to “buy up” to the next, more expensive model (in this case, a Mac Pro). If you did actually get an iMac or Mini, you’re locked in to a specific graphic card/chip, you quickly outgrow your computer and have to buy another one (exactly what Apple wants).

      I’m certain they do want to avoid having too many products. As I recall, this was a great problem in the past with Apple. They wouldnt want to repeat that mistake.

    4. Dan says:

      I suggested this in a thread over at Spymac : http://www.spymac.com/forums/showthread.php?threadid=259072

      The proposal was :
      (Proposed) Mac Midi : I’m thinking of a smaller version of the G5 / Pro case. Runs a socketed Core 2 Duo and decent non-FBD memory. 2 or 3 SATA drives, 1 tray-load optical drive and the usual I/O. At least 128MB graphics. 2 PCI Express slots. Price point at about $1900 / £1200.

      There were a fair few people there who were interested in the well specced Prosumer Desktop. Given the price point for the C2 iMacs, I don’t think I was that far off.

    5. Andrew says:

      I like the idea and fall right into that “in between” category. I have a souped-up 7-year-old Power Mac G4 that is making strange scary noises (but still working) and a very nice 19″ LCD that I am very happy with. My choices are to get a Mini and be limited on upgrades, or get a new iMac and find another use for the monitor (not enough room for dual displays).

      The current entry-level Mini (thanks Apple) would more than satisfy my needs today, but I doubt it would do so for 7 years like my Power Mac did. A Mac Pro is absolute overkill and far over the amount of money I’m willing to spend on a computer for home use. A $1000 minitower Mac would be a perfect fit.

    6. Andy says:

      Sis – errr – have you been in a cave for the past couple of years ? There’s something called the ‘Mac Mini’ – which is where those so called ‘min PCs’ got their inspiration.

      Now, what we really need is something inbetween the mini and the Pro – a Mac (using proper ‘desktop’ chips and chipsets and motherboards) that doesn’t have an integrated display,

    7. Tammy says:

      Still too expensive.

    8. Dave Barnes says:

      We use our Macs to develop websites. We don’t play games.
      We want (note: want, not need) to have 30-inch monitors.
      Today, that means MacPro + 4GB RAM + Monitor for $5000 USD.
      What I want is MacMidi + 4GB RAM for $1900.
      I don’t need a SUPER graphics card. The nVidia 7600 in the new iMac is more than adequate.
      I don’t need 4 processors as in the MacPro. I don’t need 16GB RAM. Four is more than enough.

      For the short term, we are replacing one 20-inch iMac with a 24-inch. Still want a 30-inch screen, but won’t pay an additional $1500 to get it.


    9. Bruce says:

      People reading this and other mac sites are not normal users. We are in the era of the massive amount of new users in the late 90’s and early 00’s buying their second or maybe third computer and guess what? The majority never upgraded their system! Upgradability is not the selling point it used to be.

    10. daddydoodaa says:

      Apple markets their computers like automobiles to consumers.

      They aren’t selling you wheels, frame, and motor for you to drive and customize forever. They’re selling you the “Cube”, the “Power Mac”, the “iMac”, “Mac Pro”, the “Mac mini”…they sell models. We geeks have our own model shorthand – “Blue and Whites”, “Quicksliver”, “lamp stand iMac”…Some models attract cult followings despite their limitations – the Color Classic.

      Even more today than previously Apple sells the consumer the entire experience – Hardware, OS, and Applications. I think the number of shade tree computer mechanics is dwindling while the number of people who use a computer, but who don’t want to be “computer people” is rapidly increasing. These are people who are going to have their iMac in the living room, maybe on a VESA mount, not in the computer room.

      On the enterprise side, we purchase 20 – 30 Macs a year – both desktop and laptop. Other than RAM upgrades, we don’t customize any of them (other than an occasional USB or Firewire device). While computer power has increased dramatically (and price has dropped!), the speed of our job has not – mostly print publishing with some video production. iMacs are great buys. The iMac blows away the Power Macs they are replacing – actually the Mac Pro is overkill. With a 24″ iMac, our video production can easily be done. The iMac line is no longer the 1024 x 768 gum drop cutsey machine.

      The network, the servers, and the communication infrastructure are more important than individual workstations and that’s where we’re going to sink the money.

      Maybe Apple will come out with the mid-range tower, but I think the chances of that happening diminish everyday.

    11. Daniel Decker says:

      The tale of the 24 inch iMac is told in the screenshots in the promo material. They all show it running Aperture, plus with Tuesday’s upcoming announcement the HD resolution tells another tale. 🙂

    12. Travis Butler says:

      Is there a market for a Mac that’s a) expandable, b) headless, and c) cheap (or at least cheaper than the flagship workstation)? Of course. The real question is whether this market is big enough to matter – and I’m not talking about in the technosanti world of the Mac blogs, but the everyday world where people walk into the Apple Stores and CompUSAs and Micro Centers to buy a Mac. And I really doubt it does, at least in Apple’s view.

      Let’s look at who this market actually is – essentially people who want more expandability than the mini or iMac, who for some reason don’t want to buy a Mac Pro (mostly for price, I’d imagine, though there’s probably a few who don’t have room for the tower).

      * I would guess somewhere around 2/3 to 3/4 of Mac users don’t need to expand their machine beyond RAM and hard drive; RAM is covered in the mini (though installation needs to be easier) and iMac, and drives can be added externally. (Which is more expensive than adding one internally, but very few ordinary users I know feel comfortable adding anything more than RAM internally.)

      * People who need high-end equipment interface that won’t run over USB or Firewire; I may be showing my age here, but the main things I can think of here are the Digidesign audio boards and dedicated lab instrument data capture. And I’m going to go out on a limb and say that people dealing with that class of equipment have both the money and the need for a full-fledged workstation like the Mac Pro.

      * Gamers who want to stay cutting-edge with graphics hardware. I think this market is real, but is it large enough for Apple to go after without losing money? There’s Alienware, true, but in a way that just proves my point; it wasn’t a big enough market for even Dell to go after on their own resources, so they bought Alienware instead.

      * Tech-savvy people who don’t mind tinkering around in the guts of their machine (or even enjoy it), but who can’t or won’t spend the money on a Mac Pro. This is where I’d put myself, and where I’d also put the vast majority of online posters who’ve been pushing for a headless iMac (or an xMac, or whatever). The thing is, are we a significant enough market for Apple to address? If I’m being honest with myself, I have to admit: Probably not. The fact that we aren’t willing to pony up for the Mac Pro means we’re probably not high-dollar high-margin customers. We’re not a big enough market to make it up in volume, considering that the minis and iMacs will meet most people’s needs just fine. And despite what some people suggest about how cheap it would be to ‘slap a simple board with a couple of slots into a case,’ it’s not going to be that simple or cheap; the last machine I can remember Apple ‘slapping together’ like that with generic parts was the PowerMac 4400 – and we can remember how much of a winner that was. 🙁 To be successful Apple’d have to do it right, and that means spending the money to design a new logic board and a new case.

      So, much as I’d like to have a machine as you describe, I’ve resigned myself to the likelyhood that it isn’t going to happen.

    13. ron says:

      So much whinging… 1. How many extra optical drives do you need? 2. How many HDD? External units work well for the 1 or so extra units you might want. The Mac Mini with one of the add-on ‘stacks” looks to be a good arrangement.

      I agree with the comments about the product offerings being moderated by a)Marketing (buy up) and b)Realistic constraints to being financially successful. Never fear though, I think Apple will offer better mid-range (and upgradeable) options at the point where it is financially positive. And if AMD maintains its pressure on Intel, Apple might get good enough price breaks on the processors to make that happen in the not-too-distant future.

    14. Jim says:

      Sounds like your asking for what was the pizza-box Macs back in the day of IIsi.

      Never sold well, not a big enough market.

      Either people want all-in-one, or expandability.
      Apple offers both.

    15. David says:

      “…Since it’s a tad larger than the former (23-inch vs. 24-inch LCD display), you can expect text to be a little more readable, especially in small sizes.”

      Actually, the opposite is true regarding readability. When the resolution gets spread out over a larger area, small type becomes even more anti-aliased and unreadable. What I’d like to see – and what a few of the rumor sites have recently suggested – is a refresh of Apple’s displays with a higher resolution screen. When working with type, my 23″ display can’t comapre to the crisp type of my Sony CRT – or my wife’s 15″ WSXGA 1680×1050 PC laptop for that matter. Disappointing since Apple up’d the res (a bit) of the Macbook Pros last year…

    16. Steve says:

      Yes, there is a market in my house for an expandable computer between the Mac mini and Mac Pro. I have a monitor already and a budget in the mid to high iMac range. I have not ruled out buying the least expensive Mac Pro configuration.

      I remain hopeful that Apple will introduce just such a computer. Since all Mac Pros have 2 Woodcrest processors, it appears that Apple has placed the Mac Pro in a high enough performance category that there is now room for the Conroe (not yet used by Apple) based desktop. While I’m sure it’s a great machine, the new iMacs will still only provide top of the line laptop performance. A Conroe based desktop would fill the performance / price gap between the iMac and the Mac Pros very nicely. Hopefully, Apple has just been too busy updating the current product line to Intel to introduce this new computer, not to mention the chips needed to do it are just now becoming available.

    17. Actually, the opposite is true regarding readability. When the resolution gets spread out over a larger area, small type becomes even more anti-aliased and unreadable.

      In the case of some of the 24-inch displays I’ve worked on, no it’s not true. The slightly larger text is not necessarily inferior.


    18. justme says:

      I’ve been describing something similar to a few discussion boards…

      A Mac mini Extreme, Cube neo, mini tower, etc… Typical array of ports (Optical audio in/out, USB2, FW 400, FW 800)… Superdrives in all standard, BTO down to combo or up to Blueray/HD-DVD. Conroe would be great, but I’d be content w/ Merom….

      BTO similar to the Mac Pro.

      1. Standard config = 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, 1GB ram (4 total slots), 160GB 3.5″ SATA HD, 2 PCIe slots (one used by ATI Radeon X1600), Airport+Bluetooth = $1299

      2. Base model a step down, similar to the Mac Pro BTO options… = 1.83GHz Core 2 Duo, 512MB Ram, 120 GB 3.5″ SATA HD, 2 open PCIe Slots (Intel Graphics only), Airport. = $999.99

      (If Apple can include a half decent ATI/NVidia card in place of the Intel Integrated *SPIT* Graphics and still hit the magic $999 price, great.)

      3. BTO Option top end = 2.3GHz Core 2 Duo, 4 GB Ram, 500 GB 3.5″ SATA HD, both PCIe slots taken for Crossfire or SLI graphics package… $ ?

      These configs assume a compact design requiring the same merom chip in the iMac.. Conroe would be better, but I think Jobs will continue to go small, requiring a lower power chip.. I’d love to be wrong … I’d love to see a Conroe 2.67GHz or 2.93GHz in the above BTO Top end Cube neo, mini Extreme, or mini Tower… 😉

    19. Steve Kayner says:

      I could use one mid-tower for home and about 25 of them at the office. I think the mini is a problem due to the notebook drive choking performance, and the difficulty with opening the box to upgrade. The Mac Pro is too big. It won’t fit under our desktop cabinets and it’s much more expensive than suitable PC’s we could get. Give us something in the $1400-$1900 range.

    20. 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. Once memory gets maxed out, what exactly is there to add to a Mac? Extra disk storage? We have firewire and USB2. More USB slots? They sell USB hubs at drugstores now. Extra optical drives? We use firewire, and we can plug them into any machine we want. Having to pop the processor box to move a Blu-ray optical drive from machine to machine sounds like a pain in the rear. Who wants to move back to 1985?

      Do people actually sit around looking at their screen and muttering, gee, if only the frame refresh rate were faster I could really IM my friends with cooler text messages? When was the last time some one said, golly, if only I could swap in a bigger power supply, then Photoshop would really rush? What planet do these people live on? Do they even have Apple stores there?

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