Review: Apple's newest 24-in. iMac 'a sight to behold'

Better than that, it's also $300 cheaper than before

Earlier this month, Apple completed a round of hardware updates to its Mac Pro, iMac and Mac mini lines, offering up modest speed boosts, some pricing tweaks and -- most importantly -- the Nvidia 9400M chipset for graphics.

Best of all for iMac fans, Apple also made the 24-in. version of its popular all-in-one configuration a more tempting proposition by making it less expensive. Smart move in the middle of a recession.

For those who've waited almost a year for an iMac update, the latest round of changes has made all of Apple's computers Snow Leopard-worthy, putting in place hardware that can best handle Mac OS X 10.6, due out later this year. More about the Snow Leopard implications in a minute.

With the Mac mini taking up the low-end of the Mac market and the Mac Pro on the pricey side of things, Apple's flagship iMac line sits in the middle. There are four iMacs, starting with a 20-in. version that sells for $1,199 and extending all the way to the top-of-the-line 24-in. model that costs $2,199.

I'm focused on the least-expensive 24-in. version, which now sells for $1,499 -- $300 less than the cheapest 24-in. iMac used to cost. That extra screen real estate at a suddenly cheaper price point should be a real draw for buyers looking to get the most for the least.

Apple sent over for review the basic 24-in. iMac, though there's not much basic about this particular model. It runs on the same 2.66GHz Core 2 Duo processor used by the previous iMac at this price point. (It's also the same chip that's in the entry-level 20-in. model.) But hard drive space has been doubled to 640GB; memory has gone from 2GB of 800MHz DDR2 RAM to 4 gigs of 1066MHz DDR3 RAM; and the graphics subsystem gets the new integrated Nvidia 9400M. Like other recent Apple products, it has no FireWire 400 port, relying instead on FireWire 800 for peripheral connections and for use in Target Disk Mode.

The new 24-in. iMac is now $1,499 -- $300 less than the earlier 24-in. model sold for.
The new 24-in. iMac is now $1,499 -- $300 less than the earlier 24-in. model sold for.

All new iMacs now ship with the Mini DisplayPort to which you can connect one of Apple's 30-in. displays (with an adapter), a first for the iMac lineup; gigabit Ethernet; and four USB ports, which according to Apple officials operate on two controllers. Having more than one controller is important for avoiding low-power warnings, given how dependent many people have become on USB to connect all their peripherals to the computer. The iMac also has built-in stereo speakers, a headphone jack and an audio line-in jack.

Wireless connectivity includes Bluetooth 2.1+EDR and 802.11n Wi-Fi networking. All four iMacs ship with a SuperDrive, meaning they can read and write CDs and DVDs. There's still no sign of a Blu-ray drive, though, which would seem a natural addition to the iMac line given its stunning hi-def LCD screen. Screen resolution on the 24-in. model remains 1920-by-1200 pixels, with the smaller 20-in. version offering 1680-by-1050 pixels.

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