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

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

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I also ran a quick benchmarking test using Xbench. It returned an overall score of 141, the same as my own MacBook Pro. For comparison purposes, my laptop has a faster 7,200-rpm hard drive and both the integrated Nividia 9400M graphics chip and the 9600GT processor with 512MB of discrete video memory.

As noted earlier, the biggest under-the-hood change with this iMac release is the inclusion of the Nvidia graphics chips. That may not seem like much at first glance, but it actually completes the transition of Apple's computer lineup to full Snow Leopard compatibility. Snow Leopard is the code name for Mac OS X 10.6, which is due out by mid-year. The next generation of Apple's rock-solid OS doesn't offer lots of whiz-bang new interface features, but instead streamlines and adds to the foundation laid by Mac OS X 10.5.

All Macs running on Core 2 Duo processors (or any newer chips) will be able to utilize Snow Leopard's 64-bit architecture, but it wasn't until this round of updates that all desktops could take advantage of OpenCL and Grand Central, two major features in Snow Leopard.

Briefly, OpenCL allows software developers to tap into a computer's graphics processor for general processing, putting the GPU to work during times when it normally sits idle. (And who doesn't want more processor firepower available if needed?)

Grand Central is a new set of multi-core optimized APIs built into Snow Leopard, allowing developers the ability to allocate tasks across all available processors and cores easily and much more efficiently.

If those technologies don't sound exciting, consider this: while a Core 2 Duo chip features two 64-bit cores, in Snow Leopard, those cores will play in concert with the processing cores of the Nvidia 9400M GPUs, of which there are 16! (The Nvidia GeForce GT 130 that ships in higher-end models has 48 processing cores, by the way.)

The current crop of iMacs, continues the same design theme rolled out in 2007.
The current crop of iMacs, continues the same design theme rolled out in 2007.

While that doesn't mean your Mac will be 16 times faster with the advent of Snow Leopard, developers who take advantage of the technology in their apps can certainly produce notable performance increases -- even on the same hardware. I've seen a couple of updated application demos (under a non-disclosure agreement, so I can't hash out details), and I was very impressed by what I saw. The performance increases are very real.

With these latest hardware updates, Apple has increased the overall value of its entire iMac lineup. Since their performance will improve with the next release of Mac OS X, Apple is actually extending the real-world life span of these machines. The latest models are at least as fast as the previous generation, and they stand to gain yet another boost in speed with the release of Snow Leopard.

The bottom line is this: With its sleek lines, thoughtful and minimalist design, large and beautiful screen, robust operating system, polished iLife suite of apps, and updated hardware, the new iMac is a great value for anyone looking for a desktop computer.

Michael deAgonia is an award-winning writer, computer consultant and technologist who has been using Macs and working on them professionally since 1993. His tech-support background includes tenures with Computerworld, colleges, the biopharmaceutical industry, the graphics industry, Apple and as a Macintosh administrator at several companies.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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