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  • Don’t Tell Anyone: Apple Quietly Updates iMac!

    April 28th, 2008

    At one time, whenever Apple released a new or upgraded product, it would get major coverage at a Macworld Expo and WWDC. Today, two annual events are simply not sufficient to cover the range of Apple’s development process. Indeed, every few weeks, something new arrives with the Apple logo on it, from a new, cutting-edge product, to a simple refresh for an existing product line.

    With few exceptions, most of those introductions seem to happen on Tuesdays, perhaps to give you and me time to recover from the weekend and get caught up with our daily routine. Sometimes, Apple breaks the mold, as they did Monday morning with the quiet news that the iMac line received its anticipated speed bump with the new Intel Penryn processors.

    At first brush, it’s just the processor speed ratings that are higher. The lower power requirements of the new chips, though, might result in a minor decrease in your monthly electric bill, and everything helps. But there’s rather more than meets the eye here, and for once Apple is actually moving its iMac line ahead of its portable sibling, the MacBook Pro.

    According to Apple’s almost ignored press release on the subject, the updates include “a 1066 MHz frontside bus; up to 4GB of 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM memory.” Both signify a potentially measurable if not significant performance boost. Compare that to the latest MacBook Pros, which retains the 800MHz frontside bus and 667MHz RAM.

    In addition, the new iMac’s “Extreme” model tops at at 3.06GHz, compared to 2.6GHz on the MacBook Pro, along with the promise of a more powerful graphics chip. Combined with the faster front-side bus and memory, the iMac will indeed provide a pretty decent improvement over what Apple’s most powerful note-book can offer when the performance benchmarks appear.

    Since iMac pricing is unchanged, this makes the iMac a more compelling mid-priced desktop option. In fact, I wonder if some folks who might have otherwise considered a Mac Pro will now be willing to compromise on expansion options and select the cheaper option.

    Notably missing from Apple’s announcements is the still-forgotten Mac mini, which remains saddled with last year’s chips. Oh well, maybe Apple still has a large stock of spare parts around and they’re not planning on refreshing the mini until they need to reorder, and perhaps select faster chips from Intel’s 2008 inventory.

    That’s unfortunate, as the Mac mini remains an excellent product that will suit the needs of millions of Mac users who already have displays and input devices and for whom the added performance of the iMac is just overkill for the kind of work they do.

    Meantime, it’s fair to say that the iMac has been the shining star of Apple’s desktop line, and its good looks and superior performance have resulted in great sales at a time where it was believed that only note-books were important in this day and age.

    On the other hand, I still think there’s a huge audience out there, and some of you appear to agree with me, for the mid-range Mac minitower, the 21st century IIci. You see, I still don’t believe that everyone who wants a desktop computer of this sort is willing to pay extra for the integrated display, even if the glossy picture is just glorious — and I think it is! No, I’m not going to get into the matte versus glossy argument here, though I see the point of favoring the former in some cases.

    So here goes the argument all over again!

    What if Apple provided a compact, fancy-looking expandable desktop with the fundamental options of today’s iMac? To that you add the ability to easily add a second internal drive, swap the existing graphics card and add a second PCI card for additional displays or specialty use.

    Indeed, like the souped-up iMac, such a model might cannibalize some Mac Pro sales. But I still think there are lots of people who’d embrace such a computer, particularly Windows switchers, and the end result would be far more units sold in the quarterly financials.

    Now that Apple has reinvigorated the iMac with the latest Intel parts, I can’t imagine that it would take a whole lot of development money to deliver a headless version with modest internal expansion capabilities. It’s also clear, in light of the apparent successful launch of the MacBook Air and the many choices in the iPod line, that Apple isn’t averse to fleshing out its product lines.

    So, Apple, when are you going to take the next logical step?

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