Apple shifts to newest Intel CPUs in iMac refresh

Dumps aging Core 2 Duo, drops Nvidia graphics from the line

Apple today refreshed its iMac line for the first time since October 2009 by adopting Intel's Core i3, i5 and i7 processors across the board and abandoning NVidia's integrated graphics chipset for ATI-branded graphics processors.

The revamp should boost desktops sales, which have been lagging of late.

"The last few refreshes, the iMac has done surprisingly well, and has driven some decent growth numbers for Apple," said Stephen Baker, a retail analyst with the NPD Group. "Apple usually gets some really nice [sales] bumps when they do this."

In the second quarter of 2010, Apple sold 1 million desktops worldwide, down from 1.15 million the quarter before, and also off from the 1.23 million it sold in the final three months of 2009, the quarter when it last revised the iMac.

During a conference call with Wall Street analysts last week to discuss its second-quarter earnings, Apple said that the slower desktop sales were due to the long interval since the last refresh, as well as the continued move toward laptops.

As is Apple's custom, the company did not lower prices for any of today's new iMac models.

Unlike in October 2009, when it bumped up the iMac screens to 21.5-in. and 27-in. -- Apple did not revamp the exterior design today. Instead, it swapped faster, beefier components for slower and less capable parts.

Among the most significant moves was Apple's dropping of Intel's Core Duo dual-core architecture.

The Core Duo, and the follow-on Core Duo 2, have been the foundation of the iMac since Apple introduced the Intel platform to the line in 2006. Today, however, the company dumped the Core 2 Duo for Intel's Core i3 on the three-lowest priced models, with speed bumps on two of the three new configurations. The higher-priced of the two 21.5-in. iMacs, for instance, now sports a 3.2GHz i3 rather than a 3.06GHz Core 2 Duo.

Both the higher-priced 21.5-in. and the lower-priced 27-in. iMac can be upgraded to a 3.6GHz i5 dual-core processor for $200.

The top-end 27-in. comes with a 2.8GHz Intel Core i5 quad-core processor, a slightly faster version of last year's chip; a $200 upgrade to a 2.93GHz i7 quad-core is also available. The highest priced iMac remains the only model that can be equipped with a quad-core processor.

Apple also tossed the last Nvidia graphics chipset from the iMac line, replacing it on the lower-priced 21.5-in. model with an ATI-labeled discrete graphics processor from Advanced Micro Devices (AMD).

All four iMac models now boast ATI graphics processors, running from an HD 4760 with 256MB of memory on the low end to the HD 5750 with 1GB of graphics RAM on the high.

Nvidia remains an Apple supplier, however: All the company's laptops, as well as its compact Mac Mini, sport graphics chipsets from the Santa Clara, Calif. company.

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