New Sandy Bridge processors deliver speed; Thunderbolt port offers promise
Remember the old ad campaign for Miller Lite? "Tastes great, less filling."
The latest update to Apple's iMac line, which rolled out in May, in a way reminds me of that. Apple left unchanged the minimalist aluminum-and-glass design while switching to Intel's Sandy Bridge processors, AMD graphics chips and adding the new Thunderbolt port for high-speed connections with peripherals.
The new iMac still looks great, and it's even faster.
That sums up what Apple has done with its all-in-ones, with the biggest change being the introduction of Thunderbolt, a technology that's definitely still ahead of the curve but could prove to be quite popular down the road.
Specs and prices
Like the previous generation, this iMac lineup starts at $1,199 for a 21.5-in. model with a 1920-by-1080-pixel resolution screen and $1,699 for a 27-in. version, which sports 2560-by-1440-pixel resolution. There's also a high-end $1,999 model, which comes with a 3.1GHz quadcore i5 processor; this is the model Apple provided for my review.
All iMacs feature Intel's Core i5 quadcore processors (and you can upgrade to an i7 if you need more speed), a 720p wide-angle FaceTime camera for high-definition video chats, 4GB of memory, and at least 512MB of video memory. The entry-level model uses an AMD Radeon HD 6750M video card with 512MB of RAM; the pricier iMacs rely on the AMD Radeon HD 6970M with 1GB of video memory. (You can double that to 2GB on the 27-in. iMac, but it'll cost you $100.) The $1,199 model has a 500GB hard drive; the rest come with 1TB of storage, which can be expanded to 2TB or combined with a solid-state drive for a more responsive machine.
All of the changes Apple made to the lineup match the company's past practice of beefing up hardware while leaving prices intact, yielding a thoroughly modern all-in-one computer, with a sharp, bright screen that's perfect for editing movies, organizing/editing photos, watching streaming video or making your own presentations. Best of all, the iMacs come with Apple's iLife suite of apps -- iMovie, iPhoto, GarageBand, iDVD and iWeb. I still haven't found any software quite as intuitive -- or as easy to use -- on the Windows side that beats the iLife suite.
For the environmentally conscious, the iMac meets Energy Star 5.2 requirements, and is rated EPEAT Gold in the U.S. and Canada.
The iMac still comes in the unibody form factor Apple rolled out several years ago. The main iMac chassis is carved from a single slab of aluminum for solid, seamless, quality construction. The design is an instant attention-getter, and this iMac was a draw no matter who was visiting, regardless of technical proficiency. The silver of the aluminum and the black framed-glass remains striking; it's minimalism at its best, while still incorporating needed functionality. For instance, the deep black border around the screen hides the HD FaceTime camera and a green LED, which lights up when the camera is on.
The iMac has the same retinue of ports and wireless networking as before, with one very important addition: the inclusion of the new Thunderbolt port.
Thunderbolt was developed by Intel and implemented as the DisplayPort connection on Apple products. (If you've purchased a new MacBook Pro since February, that port you've been plugging your display into is a Thunderbolt port.)
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