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  • Apple Gets Greener — And It’s Not About Money!

    March 3rd, 2009

    When Apple created TV ads to tout the updated 17-inch MacBook Pro, which sells for the same $2,799 as the previous model, they didn’t emphasize so much its great performance, although its snazzy looks were certainly not ignored. Instead, they extolled its green-tinted virtues, such as easy recycling, particularly with the new long-life battery.

    In delivering the long-neglected upgrade to the poor, neglected Mac mini this week, it was referred to as, “The world’s most energy-efficient desktop computer.” At idle, for example, the refreshed mini uses a mere 13 watts of power, down 45 percent from the previous version. Clearly the complaints from such activist organizations as Greenpeace have had their impact.

    Indeed, the mini carries a laundry list of environmentally friendly features that, in large part, are shared with other models in the new lineup:

    • BFR-free
    • PVC-free (internal cables)
    • Highly recyclable aluminum and polycarbonate enclosure
    • Meets ENERGY STAR Version 5.0 requirements
    • Rated EPEAT Gold

    I don’t pretend to know enough about such matters to comment on their ultimate value, except to remind you that ENERGY STAR Version 5.0 specs do not become effective till July 2009, so Apple is clearly ahead of the industry in that respect. However, it’s also true that our society is moving in this direction, particularly with the new administration in the U.S., so this comes at an appropriate occasion for Apple. Lest you forget, former Vice President Al Gore, who acts as if he regards himself as the ultimate environmentalist, is a member of Apple’s board.

    But let’s ignore the political implications of Gore’s presence, or Apple’s actions. Certainly it doesn’t hurt to have a desktop computer that’s more powerful and more power efficient at the same time. The same apparently applies to the iMac, where Apple boasts that the new model “uses an advanced power management system leveraged from the technology that makes the most of battery life in Apple’s MacBook family. To reduce energy consumption, the iMac hard drive spins down automatically when inactive. iMac also decides which processor — CPU or GPU — is best suited to perform a task efficiently. That means when iMac is idle, it’s using as little power as possible.”

    Even the uber-powerful Mac Pro workstation makes a nod towards environmental friendliness, and Apple boasts that, ” compared with the previous-generation Mac Pro, the power used when the system is idle has been reduced by 15 percent.” That may not seem like an awful lot, but when you have a desktop computer with up to eight cores and advanced graphics chips chugging along, every little bit helps.

    It also helps that, when you finally submit this gear to the recycling plant, it’ll be easier to repurpose the raw ingredients for other purposes. Or even to build more Macs, I suppose. I wonder when Apple is going to tell us that they have released upgraded models built, at least in part, from recycled parts?

    From a value equation, it also seems that the new Macs present a far greater value to the customer, aside from environmental considerations. Now maybe the changes in the new Mac mini seem fairly minor, except for the souped up NVIDIA integrated graphics, surely the iMac has become, as much as any Apple product can be, a real bargain. Take the $1,499 version with a 24-inch display, 4GB RAM, and a standard 650GB hard drive. Lest you forget, you spent the same amount on the previous model with a 20-inch screen, half the memory and hard drive storage space.

    True, the switch to standard integrated graphics may seem to portend a lessening of graphics capability, but if you’ve seen the widely-published benchmarks of the unibody MacBooks, which contain the same NVIDIA chipset, you’ll see that nothing has been sacrificed, except for shared memory. Graphics performance is actually superior to the discrete ATI graphics chip on the previous model.

    As you might expect, there are already blow-out sales to dump the older models, but the reduced price just isn’t worth it. Saving $100 or $200 on a blowout iMac of the previous generation provides no advantage, unless you are really challenged financially. Even then, just consider the new $1,199 20-inch iMac, which is actually a better value than its $1,499 predecessor. It’s rare for that to happen, but I suspect Apple was constrained by the state of the economy to be more aggressive in packaging its speed bumped computers.

    Naturally, the critics will be out in force suggesting that Apple isn’t doing enough to pay heed to the environment — despite the steps they took — and they’ll continue to complain that Macs still cost too much. Again, we return to the value proposition. As before, when you take any Mac and equip a Windows PC with the same level of standard equipment, including the software, prices will be extremely close. More often than not these days, Macs will even come out ahead, more so with the Mac Pro where workstations from Dell and other companies don’t even come close.

    Whether this will accelerate Mac sales is another question, and surely one that I wouldn’t presume to be able to answer. That is an issue way above my pay grade, but I’m always willing to listen to the business experts in our audience.

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