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Apple's desktop refresh 'underwhelming,' says analyst

Updates complete line, but Apple holds firm on entry prices for iMac, Mac mini

March 3, 2009 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Apple Inc. updated its consumer desktop line today, refreshing the iMac and Mac Mini with faster processors, more memory and storage, and more capable graphics.

For the most part, prices have not changed, although the least-expensive iMac with a 24-in. screen has been reduced $300, to $1,499, a price point previously occupied by a now-eliminated second 20-in. model.

"No surprises," said Ezra Gottheil, an analyst at Technology Business Research Inc. "This is exactly what you'd expect from Apple, more stuff for the same price. But for anyone expecting them to be a little more price-conscious, it's underwhelming."

The iMac, which continues to be available in both 20- and 24-in. models, boasts twice the amount of RAM found in yesterday's models: 2GB for the 20-in. model and 4GB for the 24-in. one. Apple also doubled hard drive space in the 24-in. models -- from 320GB and 500GB to 640GB and 1TB -- and increased storage on the smaller 20-in. iMac from 250GB to 320GB.

Apple equipped the new iMacs with faster processors as well to put the low end at a 2.66-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo rather than a 2.4-GHz chip, although the top end remains a 3.06-GHz Core 2 Duo.

Prices range from $1,199 for the 20-in. iMac to $1,499, $1,799 and $2,199 for the three configurations of the 24-in. system.

"Another thing they've done across the entire line is to equip it with fairly hefty graphics," noted Gottheil. "They did that not only to be competitive, but also because when Snow Leopard launches, there will be the opportunity to make a bunch of applications run much faster."

Snow Leopard, the name given to Apple's next operating system upgrade, Mac OS X 10.6, will support technologies that let some software offload part of the processing from the computer's CPU to the graphics processing unit, or GPU. Apple has not set a timeline for Snow Leopard's launch, but in June 2008 said it was shooting for a release in about a year, which would put it on the street in three months.

With today's refresh, Apple has dropped Advanced Micro Devices Inc.'s ATI graphics chip sets from its standard configurations, swapping them out for ones built by Nvidia Corp., a shift it began last October when it moved the MacBook and MacBook Pro laptops to Nvidia graphics hardware.

In fact, the two lower-end iMacs -- the $1,199 20-in. and the $1,499 24-in. -- use the same Nvidia GeForce 9400M integrated graphics chip set as the MacBook and MacBook Air. The upper half of the iMac line, however, retains the discrete graphics of their predecessors: The $1,799 model offers a GeForce GT 120 with 256MB of memory, while the $2,199 system runs a GeForce GT 130 with 512MB of RAM.

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